My reaction to Carey's essay The Struggle Against Forgetting
1. He's pretentious:
Journalism takes its name from the French word for day. It is our day book, our collective diary, which records our common life.
Except that news reports aren't always considered the best source for history. They are, to be sure, an important source, but by their very nature they are only one layer.
2. He's sanctimonious:
For here you will study the practice of journalism. Not the media. Not the news business. Not the newspaper or the magazine or the television station but the practice of journalism.
Sort of like going to law school and not learning how to run a law office for profit. Of course, reporters don't need to know the business end, but this paragraph invoking a 'pure' craft of journalism strikes me as a lot like the baloney I get from the state bar about how noble the practice of law is, as if it weren't about making money. (Hey, I have an idea! Let's drop the expensive and timewasting CLE requirements and send the money we save to the Southern Poverty Law Center!
This is the kind of rhetoric that tells students, "You are entering a field that makes you more important than the average slob. You're special. You're superior. You're not answerable to anybody but your fellow journalists."
3. He's militant:
Journalism arose as a protest against illegitimate authority in the name of a wider social contract, in the name of the formation of a genuine public life and a genuine public opinion.
If this is true, what do we do when journalism sets itself up as an illegitimate authority?
And in a democracy, who other than the people, should be allowed to decide that duly elected officers are illegitimate? I can just imagine a new class coming in after Watergate hearing this and thinking, "Yeah! We're the Woodwards and Bernsteins of the future, and every public official is another potential Nixon. Bring it on!" That's the kind of attitude that leads to press feeding frenzies and phenomena like Richard Clarke. He's not in authority and he's challenging the incumbent administration. He must the the hero of the piece.
What is the basis for assuming an adversarial attitude, as contrasted with a skeptical attitude? I remember hearing some reporters talking about a broadcast interview with the president the day before and was impressed by the boxing metaphors used, "He didn't lay a glove on him." Ah! For reporters, an interview isn't an opportunity for reporting; it's a cross examination. I was getting it.
But then, I listened to a few White House press briefings and press conferences. My litigation instincts were primed. But, if this had been a courtroom, every question would have been objected to and the court would have sustained the objections. Journalists don't have to take classes in evidence. Maybe that's why they don't seem to realize that the public expects reporters to report, rather than posit their own suspicions and innuendoes and press the interviewee to disprove them. Of course, if they have comments from another source, it's appropriate to ask for responses, but I think most people like me viewing the typical gaggle of reporters think they are a bunch of jerks. I have seen interviews where reporters covered the issues, asked incisive questions and got real news content without being rude at all. It's possible, and more than that, it can reveal a liar in a way that doesn't make the reporter look like the jackass. That would
be a noble aspiration for a journalism student.
4. He's full of platitudes. The last lines of the piece sound somewhat Marxist in this day and age:
The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. To make experience memorable so it won't be lost and forgotten is the task of journalism. To be able to do this and to do it well is all that one can ask for in a career.
This presumes that all power is a priori
to be resisted and struggled against. FDR had power. So did JFK. And the press acted like lapdogs for them both. They liked being on the inside of that noblesse oblige
kind of power, where it's understood that the powerful are entitled to it, because, being also rich, they're different from you and me. If there is anything as offensive as a press pack in full bay on a false scent, it is the same pack panting and wagging their tails around a charlatan.
Today the New York Times had a front page story with the headline, "PRESIDENT ASKED AIDE TO EXPLORE IRAQ LINK TO 9/11 LINK; Acknowledgment by Rice" This is supposed to be a triumphant verification of Richard Clarke's claim that Bush was distracted by Iraq, presumably because of some freudian obsession, from properly responding to the attacks which were carried out by Al Qaeda, as is now pretty much acknowledge.
I'd have said a president who didn't ask whether Iraq was involved wouldn't have been paying attention. As Mort Kondracke reacted this evening, 'What did Bush do about the attacks? He attacked Al Qaeda!" Where's the proof of Clarke's theory in that?
This is what that "struggle of people against power" mush leads to--the illusion that a lot of Ivy League grads represent the proletarian struggle for justice, when all it really amounts to is political game playing. If I were a journalist, I'd be pretty ashamed today that this is the de facto
arbiter of what news is in this country.
Instead of all this guff about the task of laying down the memory of the race, wouldn't this be better a better goal? Tell the people what is happening, both in government and other areas of interest, and get as many details right, as soon as possible, and provide those we serve, the public, a variety of angles on these events, so that they, and future historians, can decide for themselves what they mean.