Friday, December 22, 2006

Roles for reason and passion
in American journalism

Once you get past the windy, somewhat antique introduction and hagiographic reminisence of Theodore H. White, E.J. Dionne's recent speech at Harvard has some intriguing insights about the press and public affairs nowdays. If you have some time over the holidays, this makes interesting reading.

Dionne makes an impressive argument for finding a marriage between the indispensible honest, non-partisan reporting of mainstream media and the passionate engagement of bloggers and others who bring the virtues of genuine argument back to the center ring of public affairs. He says:

... there is also an obligation not to confuse partisan media with independent media. There is an enormous need for information that is developed outside the confines of political struggles. Honest debate requires at least some consensus on what the facts are -- and honesty, not obfuscation, where there is genuine confusion over the nature of the facts.

What we need, in other words, is to welcome the newly partisan and participatory outlets while finding ways to nurture and improve independent journalism. The two are very different forms. They need not be enemies, even though they should and will correct and criticize each other. If we see one as an alternative to the other, we will be wrong analytically, and we will miss a great opportunity. If we see them as complements to each other, we arrive closer to answering Christopher Lasch's demand that democracy live up to its vocation of being the most educational form of government.

There's also a useful, quick history of "objectivity" in American journalism, and some forward-looking prognostication, as well:
... I began thinking about what [Theodore] White would make of the new back rooms in American politics: the offices and kitchen tables of those Andrew Sullivan described as the pajamahadeen, the bloggers, and the other technological developments that have challenged the journalism and the old ways of doing politics. What would he make of the fact that the two most powerful outside influences on my son James' politics -- I say "outside" because I pray we parents still have some modest influence -- are Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. (I confess I don't mind that a bit.) What would he make of the conflicts between the so-called old media (or the so-called mainstream media) and the new media?
The conservative PowerLine blog approves, here, in a post by Paul Mirengoff that's also worth a look.
–Howard Weaver

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