Thoughts on the media
I've been doing some 14th Amendment research, reading newspapers of 1866-68. One thing is striking: they actually reported news then. The change has been so gradual that we can't see it (I've seen the alternative my entire life). But back then the New York Times would report, say:
A concise summary of what happened to the 14th Amendment that day in Congress. Rep. ___ moved to change it by adding these words, Rep. ___ opposed, arguing this way.
On days with really important action -- e.g., the day when Sen. Howard introduced it, with a speech, in the Senate -- they'd devote a page or more to setting out a transcript, or near-transcript paraphrase, of the floor speeches. The Times then didn't even have an editorial page!! The closest I could find was two issues (out of many I read) that had a long letter to the editor, like a modern op-ed, arguing about the amendment.
Today, of course, it'd be all their interpretation of events. With lots of articles on how this side was trying to spin it this way, and the other side was hoping to do something else, and nothing approaching giving you what was really said and done.
Someday I'll try to find out when the transition came. Might even be with advent of radio and TV, when it was hardly feasible to give details and the talking head became the rule. Perhaps that carried over into the print media? Or maybe not.
I've read Arizona Territory newspapers of the 1870s-1890s, and they were much the same. All were quite partisan, but their version of that consisted of printing their party's platform. Again, telling you what happened rather than interpreting it. They made no secret of their partisan nature. Today's Arizona Republic was then the Arizona Republican, and there was, if I recall, a Tucson Democrat. And these were published by people, not institutions. Often a paper would have an editorial quoting a rival paper's editorial and arguing it was all pap.
UPDATE: Yup, reporters were more respected then. I recall reading of the Civil War ... at one point Grant needs to get a message to President Lincoln, so he just sends it with a reporter who is going to DC. He adds a verbal message. The reporter only reveals that years after the event; Grant told him that it was for Lincoln alone. After Shiloh, I think, Grant for the only time gets blind drunk and passes out. A reporter (with whom he was riding) throws his coat over him to hide his stars if anyone rides by, and only reveals the event long after the war is over. A reporter is within earshot of Grant giving orders to his commanders, and is chastised -- you're not supposed to listen in at this level! Nobody thought anything unusual of a reporter traveling with army headquarters, it's just that there's an unwritten rule you won't actually listen in to Grant and Meade giving orders for the day. No need for interviews: you're there when everything is happening, out riding and drinking with them, etc.
"I've been doing some 14th Amendment research, reading newspapers of 1866-68. One thing is striking: they actually reported news then."
I think part of the reason is that it was a different generation of reporters then. Most journalists of that period still believed in the old-fashioned idea of reporting facts, rather than editorializing everything. I remember those days quite well, and journalists at that time were respected a lot more than now for that reason.
Just my opinion.
Posted by: BobG at September 23, 2008 09:17 AM
Wob BobG you have been around!
Or did you miss the 1866-68?
I have to wonder if it's even feasible for someone to try bringing back a 'real' newspaper - reporting news as opposed to opinion, etc..
Posted by: KCSteve at September 23, 2008 09:27 AM
Whoops, my mistake. I was thinking of 1966-1968; the news was reported better then. That's what I get for commenting before my morning coffee.
Posted by: BobG at September 23, 2008 05:08 PM
"Someday I'll try to find out when the transition came." I think some of it can be traced to Woodward & Bernstein, whose claim to infamy is destroying a President, a goal aspired to by the press. The attacks on Judge Robert Bork were further carbon on the bonfire; when the press does not correct the facts, their silence consents. And the post-modern idea (sic.?) that objective facts do not exist, except the objective fact that only narrative, and not facts any long exist. (Also, as named by Richard John Niehaus in his book, Catholic Matters, the "meta-narrative that there is no meta-narrative.) Thrown back on one's own opinion for all facts and moral decisions, the argument goes to the weasel with the sharpest tooth. (Yeats' poem "1919": "We, who seven years ago, Talked of honor and of truth, Shriek with pleasure if we show The weasel's twist, the weasel's tooth."
Posted by: Broadsword at September 26, 2008 08:05 AM
I have an alternative proposition: that the media has changed to reflect what people will buy for. I try to apply this simple idea to explain alot of things, that market forces rule the day in ways that aren't easily perceived. My explanation for changes in government is much the same; that individuals and state governments have become unwilling to perform the duties they once did, however the work must be accomplished. With or without valid powers to do so, the federal government fills the void. Hence my maxim: Do for yourself, or someone may soon do for you in a manner and with methods that you do not prefer.
Posted by: Jared McLaughlin at September 27, 2008 08:53 PM