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My dry-eyed remarks about Tim Russert here last week elicited a large number of enthusiastic letters from CounterPunchers astounded at the commotion at his passing. In a separate piece I did on Russert I concluded thus:
After the Watergate scandal was over in 1974 and Nixon bundled off in disgrace to California, Katharine Graham, chairman of the Washington Post Company and employer of Woodward and Bernstein, cautioned journalists: ““The press these days,” she sternly told them, “should … be rather careful about its role. We may have acquired some tendencies about over-involvement that we had better overcome. We had better not yield to the temptation to go on refighting the next war and see conspiracy and cover-up where they do not exist.” Out of that warning came the failures to see conspiracy where it did exist, in the manufacture of the WMD threat and in the treatment of politics as business-as-usual, somewhat like a game — an approach in which Russert excelled and which made him many friends and far too few enemies. He never had to lunch alone. In the 1880s, Joseph Pulitzer hung a sign in the newsroom of his paper, the New York World, which read: “The World has no friends.” Russert, as the recent obsequies attest, had far too many.
A few days later, on June 25th, came this amusing sequel from Chicago-based CounterPuncher, John Mauck:
Hey Alexander, Today on the Washington Post website, they had an online discussion with Len Downey [The Post’s dreary editor]. Per your column I asked a simple question:
Chicago: Hey Len, What is your opinion of Katharine Graham’s quote: “The press these days should be rather careful about its role. We may have acquired some tendencies about over-involvement that we had better overcome. We had better not yield to the temptation to go on refighting the next war and see conspiracy and cover-up where they do not exist.”
To this I got an amusing answer: Leonard Downie Jr.: It’s timeless wisdom. She said that many years ago, and it was true then and it’s true now. We keep that responsibility in mind every day.”
The Washington Post has some of the best reporters anywhere and it regularly publishes great work, but the sentiment from the top against “over involvement” — otherwise known as aggressive reporting about the powers-that-be — can make for very dull journalism. And too often the Post sees itself as the torchbearer of conventional wisdom and, on the flip side, the gatekeeper against unconventional opinion. (See, for example, Howard Kurtz and David Broder.)
You would never entirely trust Detroit newspapers to honestly cover the automobile industry nor Pittsburgh newspapers, during the city’s steel boom, to aggressively cover the steel industry. Likewise, in the one-industry town of Washington, the Post often can’t be counted on to cover government. Institutionally, the newspaper is too close to and dependent on government officials, lobbyists and other powerful people.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”