Commentary Magazine


The New Journalism

To the Editor:

In “The Presidency & the Press” [March] Daniel P. Moynihan inveighed against the press because it makes being President awkward. Not until July were there answers, and then only two from members of the press [Letters from Readers, July]. Perhaps only two of them seemed worth publishing; but suppose there were only two answers? Could it be that the working journalists of America could not work up sufficient choler to care? They know they are out of date, even if Mr. Moynihan doesn’t.

Mr. Moynihan objects to the press because it tells the public more about the Presidency than it ought to know. He told us that the Pentagon Papers were “stolen goods” before we—or he!—knew they existed. This proves intellectuals are smarter than lawyers. Attorney General Mitchell didn’t refer to stolen goods until the New York Times told him that there were such things as Pentagon Papers.

Where is news made? Mr. Moynihan thinks it is made in the Washington Post and the New York Times, and hints without saying so that the President thinks so, too. Max Frankel, the bureau manager, and Elie Abel, the journalism-school dean, also think so. But a journalism school is an institution; so is a Washington bureau; so is the Presidency. Institutions by definition must be defended.

But the people are stirred by night. The true New Journalism is the New Show Business. Middle America is being hit below the Borscht Belt, and it’s a big hit. Inside every Jan Murray there is a Barry Gray struggling to emerge. That explains ninety minutes of Daniel Ellsberg on the Dick Cavett show, and both of them edified by it. . . .

News is made for the middle-class, middle-educated insomniac by a quintessential—if minority—show-business type; the superficially Yiddishized Wasp, as embarrassing at it as a white jazz musician trying to be black. His Loch Sheldrake is Las Vegas; his I.Q. is high and he learned golf from his father.

The Kennedys went on the Paar show, and those transcripts, if printed in the Times, would give them the same role in the history of American journalism as those other Papers did in the Westernization of Southeast Asia.

On screen the major-domo, renowned for quick answers in Midwestern syllables which puncture fading stars and draw jokes out of the memories of lady singers. Enter the Man of Affairs. No puncturing here. I am honored, said Joey Bishop to Ronnie Reagan. You are kind to have me, was the gracious reply. Only Bob Hope, peddling his next movie, gets lubricated like those who wander into night-talk from the news pages.

Why would Dean Rusk rather talk to Barbara Walters than be interviewed?

At home, the lady Bachelor of Arts, whose last academic reading was her yearbook. . . . She fantasizes conversations she would be too tongue-tied to pursue with the people one learns about in Reston and Marquis Childs. And there they are, on the glass face, talking to someone from Nebraska. New media are born this way. . . .

The Barry’s, Gray and Farber . . . are for the bedroom, where the sexist master smokes and dozes.

Gone the way of the prostitute by profession is the reporter by profession. There is no further need for him who goes to where the treaty is signed, the needle is plunged, the rifle is fired, the subpoena is served, the switch is thrown. Information follows Dean Martin and Marcus Welby. Set a few chairs within camera range so Men Who Know Better can launch their briefs at the sleepless bourgeoisie.

Who, any more, would see the joke if Herbert Marcuse would talk to Johnny Carson following Dionne Warwick and preceding Shecky Green? And yet it is not established that they realize, Ellsberg or Agnew, a Kennedy or a Herb Klein, Bismarck or Lassalle, that it is Johnny Carson who is the Important One.

David Frost not only swivels chairs with the Top Verbalizers, but his accent is British. This is important for the same reason that once apartment houses were named for English counties, and now the streets in suburban tracts are. Not accident but logic sends David Frost to headline at the Concord.

Thus Nature imitates Commercial Art.

Jacob Shomer
New York City

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