In 1986 and 1987, journalists did not head toward the Biblical patterns of law and ethics. Instead, the Supreme Court seemed willing to try tinkering once again. In one case, the Court (with Justice Rehnquist writing a dissent) even refused to grasp a splendid opportunity to review Times v. Sullivan.
The case, Coughlin v. Westinghouse Broadcasting, was a blatant example of investigative reporting run amuck. A television station, investigating the alleged failure of Philadelphia police to enforce state liquor laws, hid a camera across the street from the bar and videotaped police officers entering and leaving the bar. On October 11, 1981, policeman James Coughlin, carrying an envelope, entered the bar to investigate a vandalism complaint. Finding that all was quiet, Coughlin came out a minute later.
The television station ran film of Coughlin's entrance and exit, with a reporter saying, "The only paperwork we saw [Coughlin] doing was carrying this envelope out of the Club less than a minute after he went in." A freeze frame with a circle around the envelope emphasized the clear implication that Coughlin had accepted a bribe.
Actually, the envelope contained Coughlin's incident report book. He sued and received judicial sympathy, but no redress, because of Times v. Sullivan. As one appeals court judge wrote, "The New York Times standard makes it hard enough for a public figure to win a libel suit, even when faced, as here, with what any fair observer must agree is egregious conduct on the part of the media."
In a second case, Hepps v. Philadelphia Newspapers, the Supreme Court on a 5-4 vote ruled that a news organization even in dealing with a private figure could make defamatory statements of supposed fact that could not be proven. This time, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a ferocious dissent, calling the decision a "blue print for character assassination . . . a wholly unwarranted protection for malicious gossip." Stevens added, "In my opinion deliberate, malicious character assassination is not protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution."
In another case, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, the Court ruled that judges should have more power to dismiss (without benefit of jury trial) most libel charges against the press. The majority opinion, written by Justice Byron White, declared that libel suits filed by public officials and public figures in federal courts must be dismissed before trial unless the evidence suggests plaintiffs can prove libel with "convincing clarity."
White's language stressed the judge's right to decide whether a "fair-minded" or "reasonable" jury could side with the plaintiff. His opinion clearly was designed to reduce the opportunity for runaway juries to act in ways thought by journalists to be "unfair" or "unreasonable." But it was unlikely that the decision would lead to speedier trials. As U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Antonin Scalia (whose opinion was overturned by the Supreme Court) noted, under the new standards "disposing of a summary judgment motion would rarely be the relatively quick process it is supposed to be."
Scalia (who was soon afterwards appointed to the Supreme Court) pointed out that the plaintiff would now have to "try his entire case in pretrial affidavits and depositions"; the defendant would also want to use all of his ammunition in response. The real difference would not be time and expense, but the movement of the trial from open court with jury to judge's chambers. Furthermore, it still seemed likely that smart lawyers would find a way around the latest attempt to stifle the popular anti-press uprising.
Ironically, Justice William Brennan, who had unwrapped the Supreme Court's gift to well-paid libel lawyers with his Times v. Sullivan decision, was in dissent this time. He complained that the Court majority's decision could "erode the constitutionally enshrined role of the jury." Brennan argued the decision would be seen as "an invitation-if not an instruction-to trial courts to assess and weigh evidence much as a juror would." A few reporters seemed to take Brennan's argument to heart, but even concerned journalists often said there was no choice if press freedom were to be saved: The citizenry from which juries are selected is no longer appreciative of the press.
Those who were historically-minded asked, "Why can't today's juries be like the Zenger jury?" They were referring to the famous 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger for criticism of New York's royal governor. During that fondly remembered episode of journalism history, the judges in their red robes and white wigs were ready to impose stiff penalties, and juries had little authority.
Defense attorney Andrew Hamilton, though, turned directly to the jurors and asked them to find Zenger innocent, since he had published the truth. The jury retired and returned quickly with a verdict of "not guilty," after which there were "huzzas in the hall." The angered Chief Justice threatened to put those cheering in jail. In the face of overwhelming popular support for an independent press, though, he could not safely set aside the verdict. Zenger was freed.
The belief that journalists today are modern-day Zengers who are being let down by the public is one of the prevalent current press myths. This chapter, though, argues that the public-as measured by polls and jury reactions recently, and jury verdicts from several centuries ago-has been fairly consistent for three hundred years in its expectations concerning the press. It is the predominant journalistic ethic that has changed.
TRUTH AND JURY
In both England and its American colonies during most of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, newspapers legally were supposed to serve as public relations vehicles for government, with the goal of creating warm feelings toward state authorities. British Chief Justice Holt argued that "it is very necessary for all government that the people should have a good opinion of it," and it therefore would be wrong "to say that corrupt officials are appointed to administer affairs."
Holt's legal concern was not truth or even factual accuracy, but maintenance of the status quo: "If people should not be called to account for possessing the people with an ill opinion of the government, no government can subsist." Holt and his brethren even developed the doctrine that has come down to us as, "the greater the truth, the greater the libel." Since something that is true is likely to do more damage to a person's reputation than something considered fantastic, judges saw a writer's claim to truth as no defense, and even increased offense.
The political theology of English kings demanded such illogic. As J.F. Stephens explained in his definitive 1883 work, History of Criminal Law in England, "If the ruler is regarded as the superior of the subject, as being by the nature of his position presumably wise and good . . . it must necessarily follow that it is wrong to censure him openly. . . whether mistaken or not, no censure should be cast upon him likely or designed to diminish his authority." Common people were supposed to sit still before governmental officials, minding their manners.
The crown's Court of the Star Chamber, beginning in 1542, was given the right to try without a jury those who published opinions considered seditious. It punished, among others, Dr. Alexander Leighton, a Scotsman who declared early in the 1600s that both king and Anglican state-church were under "laws from the scripture." The Star Chamber had both of Leighton's ears cut off, his nose slit, and his face branded.
The Star Chamber was busy until the Puritans gained power. In 1637, for example, the Star Chamber cut off the ears of John Bastwick, Henry Burton, and William Prynne, three Puritans who also spoke openly of their resolution to follow the Bible only. Later John Twyn was hanged for writing that the king is accountable to the people under God.
The bravery of men such as Leighton, Bastwick, Burton, Prynne, and Twyn showed that, even as the law was hardening, a Protestant ethic opposed to such arbitrary state power was developing. It had arisen out of the Reformational belief that there were laws superior to the state or to any other human institution. The medieval Catholic Church had presented itself as a divine-human bond of Heaven and earth, the Kingdom of God on earth. Reformers such as Calvin and Knox, though, had denied that the Kingdom of God could be equated with state or church-state. Instead, thc goal of journalists and others would be the application of God's truth, as found in the Bible only, to everyday events, regardless of personal consequences.
Puritans, within the theological context of their era, increased the freedom to proclaim truth once they attained power in England. They abolished the Star Chamber in 1641, and allowed a broader range of discussion than had been possible under Henry VIII and his successors. John Milton, poet and Puritan leader, wrote in 1642 that truth and falsehood should be allowed to grapple in a freer press, for "who ever knew truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?''
The Puritans, and Milton himself, were not always consistent, and in any case the Puritan revolution ended in defeat in 1660, with the English monarchy restored. But the idea was on the record: Truth and falsehood should be allowed to fight each other openly. This was a startling view, especially in an age when many governments yearned for unlimited power.
Given that view, those who aspired to journalism faced hazards throughout Europe. In France, under Louis XIV, printers and writers were branded, imprisoned, strangled, burned at the stake, or given life sentences in the galleys. In Venice, Italy, in 1650, Ferrante Pallavicino was executed for"disrespectful remarks." England did have a Parliament, but that did not make British political theory all that different from its neighbors. Even when the king lost power to Parliament, it was in the interest not of checks and balances but a new locus of supreme authority. As the famous jurist Blackstone wrote, "The power and jurisdiction of parliament" is "transcendent and absolute . . . sovereign and uncontrollable." (English lawyers put it this way: "Parliament can do everything except make a woman a man, or a man a woman.")
In such a system, journalists had to fight for even the smallest bit of elbow room-and fight they did, with popular support.
Juries primarily concerned with the ethics of truth rather than the law of libel sometimes ignored judges' instructions. As early as1689, when William Bradford was tried for seditious libel, he was insisting that the jury should decide not only whether he had printed the publication considered offensive, but also whether it was seditious; the jury, against the judge's instructions, debated both questions and ended up deadlocked.
Again, when William Maule was tried in 1696 in a Massachusetts court for publishing a book said to contain "wicked Lyes and Slanders . . . upon Government," the presiding judge asked the jury to return a verdict of guilty. A runaway jury, though, returned a verdict of not guilty. A decade later, two Presbyterian ministers of New York, Francis Makemie and John Hampton, were arrested for sedition, but the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.
The famous Zenger trial in 1735 also was a battle between state power and the Christian faith in truth-telling. Attorney Andrew Hamilton emphasized, in his noted speech to the jury, "The cause of liberty. . . the liberty both of exposing and opposing arbitrary power by speaking and writing Truth." Hamilton argued that "Truth ought to govern the whole Affair of Libels." The jury sided with Hamilton and Zenger, even though the law said otherwise.
While there were some eighteenth-century atrocities in seditious libel cases, journalists who were able to demonstrate that their articles had been factual generally did well before juries. Thomas Fleet, publisher of the Boston Evening Post, was prosecuted in 1742 for "libelous Reflection upon his Majesty's Administration" that could "inflame the minds of his Majesty's subjects here and disaffect them to his Government.''
Fleet produced witnesses who attested to the truth of his news item, and the prosecution was dropped. Also in the 1740s, William Parks of the Virginia Gazette was acquitted when he proved in court that the legislator he had criticized as a sheep-stealer actually had been convicted of that.
Throughout the century in England as well, the number of jury revolts seemed to increase. In 1752, Chief Justice Lee told a London jury that bookseller William Owen was guilty, but the jury brought in a verdict of not guilty.[2l] In 1770, during what became known as the Junius trials, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield told juries that they must find guilt if the defendants had published the piece said to be libelous. The defendants acknowledged that they had, but the jury still ignored the judge and declared the defendants not guilty. The issue for the jury, once again, was truth: When editors were able to show that their statements, though sharply critical, had a factual base, they often went free.
Transcripts of the trials themselves readily show the political suppositions of prosecution and defense. In the Owen trial, Attorney General Dudley Rider berated those who spoke of a right to appeal judicial decisions to juries: "An Appeal! To whom? To a mob? Must justice be appealed? To whom? To injustice?" Solicitorgeneral Murray defined the legal situation: "The question is, whether the jury are satisfied that the defendant Owen published the pamphlet. The rest follows of course. If the fact is proved, the libel proves itself, sedition, disturbance, &c."
Defense counsel Ford, however, responded by speaking directly to the jury-a jury made up of three merchants, three grocers, three linen-drapers, one baker, one hosier, and one oilman. He called the prosecution's emphasis on judicial power "a doctrine that may be full of the most fatal consequences to all sorts of men." Ford asked, "If legal courts do wrong, must our mouths be shut, and not complain or petition for redress? God forbid!"
Ford then told the jury, "I understand not the shutting of men's mouths. Let every man clap his hand upon his heart and examine how he would like it, was it his own case.... Surely, gentlemen, your own breasts, your own consciences, must tell you, which you consider of it-and pray consider it as your own case, fancy each of yourselves here under a rigorous prosecution, like this poor man,-there is no crime proved."
According to Chief Justice Lee, there was crime. He instructed the jury "to find the defendant guilty; for he thought the fact of publication was fully proved; and if so, they could not avoid bringing in the defendant guilty." The jury, however, returned after two hours with a verdict of "Not guilty." Lee then asked a leading question: "Gentlemen of the Jury, do you think the evidence laid before you, of Owen's publishing the book by selling it, is not sufficient to convince you that the said Owen did sell this book?"
Here the jurors were in a fix. According to one commentator, "The Jury could not say, to the question, that the evidence of publishing was not clear, without perjury; and if the jury had answered Yes, and not found the defendant guilty, one does not know what might have been done to the jury." When the judge demanded an answer, "the foreman appeared a good deal flustered," but he did not answer. He merely kept repeating, "Not guilty, not guilty." Several other jurymen chimed in, "That is our verdict, my lord, and we abide by it." The attorney general wanted to ask more questions, but the crowd was cheering and the noise did not permit more dialogue; the judge gave up.
Similarly, in the 1770 case of Rex v. Miller, Solicitor General Thurlow argued for the prosecution that the case was "so plain, and in so ordinary a course of justice, that it would absolutely be impossible to have mistaken, either the application of the proofs of the charges that are laid or the conclusion to be made from them."
Defense counsel Davenport, though, exaggerated somewhat and told the jury to "consider the nature of this question that comes before you, and the full and the absolute power which you have over it; for no power in this kingdom has the least control over you." Davenport asked jurors to go beyond examination of the fact of printing: "It is for you, and you only, to determine whether this paper deserves all the branding epithets with which it is loaded."
Near the end of the trial, Chief Justice Mansfield said with apparent resignation, "I am used to speeches made to juries, to captivate them, and carry them away from the point of enquiry." Nevertheless, he emphasized the legal point: The jurors were to concentrate on the question of publication.
As it turned out, the jurors spent over seven hours discussing the supposedly open-and-shut case, then carried their verdict to Mansfield at his house in Bloomsbury Square: "His lordship met them at his parlour door, in the passage, and the foreman having pronounced their verdict, Not Guilty, his lordship went away without saying a word." Hundreds of people who had assembled outside, though, "testified their joy, by the loudest huzzas.''
The thrilling part of this history is the willingness of some jurors to produce verdicts suggesting that government was not a private preserve for rulers. Jurors often reacted harshly when confronted by arrogant demands for punishment of seditious libel, such as those coming from Chief Justice Hutchinson of Massachusetts in 1767 and thereafter. An English lawyer with the pen name Candor asked in 1764, "What business have private men to write or speak about public matters? Such kind of liberty leads to all sorts of license and obloquy." But juries generally sided with the press against such a political theory, and the press, consequently, worked to extend jury power and restrict that of judges.
Jurors, when they saw individuals threatened by state power, even took direct action at times. When William Bradford had been on trial in 1689, he may have been saved by a juror who "accidentally" shoved with his cane the bottom of the typeform that Bradford had used to print the tract in question. When it collapsed and all the type spilled onto the floor, the evidence that Bradford had done the printing was gone. Similarly, when Henry Woodfall was tried for seditious libel in 1770, he escaped renewed prosecution when a juror walked off with the prosecutor's only copy of Woodfall's newspaper.
Eventually the law was changed to conform to belief in the power of truth. In England, Fox's Libel Act of 1792 proclaimed truth as a defense and provided that the jury rather than the judge would rule on whether published material was seditious. In the United States in 1791, the passage of the First Amendment meant that newspapers would be free (except in extreme situations such as wartime) to publish what they chose without prior restraint. The New York legislature in 1805 spelled out the meaning of the First Amendment by erecting the doctrine of truth as a defense against libel, and other states followed.
One of the most ringing court decisions concerning the central issue of truth and falsehood came in Commonwealth v. Clap (1808), with the Massachusetts supreme court observing that publication of truths concerning the fitness and qualifications of a candidate for public office, "with the honest intention of informing the people, are not a libel. For it would be unreasonable to conclude that the publication of truths, which it is the interest of the people to know, should be an offense against their laws."
The court also added sternly, though, that "For the same reason, the publication of falsehood and calumny against public officers, or candidates for public offices, is an offense most dangerous to the people, and deserves punishment, because the people may be deceived, and reject the best citizens, to their great injury, and it may be to the loss of their liberties." That court statement succinctly described the Christian ethic of publication freedom within limits: Truth was a defense against prosecution, but falsehood was no defense.
That was the common understanding of press freedom throughout the nineteenth century.
Why, then, in the late twentieth century, have jurors become the frequent enemies of journalistic media, rather than the devoted friends they once tended to be? Many hypotheses have been thrown around: Newspapers are now big, established powers. They are often monopolies within their communities. Television stations package news as entertainment and entertainment as news. The class composition of journalists has changed. The public cares less about freedom to tell the truth than it once did.
Most of those generalizations have much to be said for them. Some recent surveys, though, throw suspicion on that last one, the idea that somehow the public is losing faith in truth-telling. One Gallup-conducted survey posed this question to a cross-section of the American public: "Some people feel that in a free society news organizations should be able to say anything about a person, whether true or false, without having to face libel suits. Others believe that even in a free society news organizations should be subject to libel suits if they say critical things about people that are false.... Which position comes closer to your opinion?"
Only 4 percent of those polled said that news organizations should be free to say anything without penalty, while 89 percent took the position pushed for in the eighteenth century and solidified in the nineteenth century by cases such as Commonwealth v. Clap: Truth is a defense, but falsehood is no defense. (Seven percent answered, "don't know.")
Other survey questions showed very large majorities of the populace also saying that truth is essential in stories involving public officials or public figures, as well as those concerning private individuals. This popular sentiment is evident in the actions of recent runaway juries as well. For example, the jury in one noted case of the 1980s, Tavoulareas v. The Washington Post, ignored the judge and found for the plaintiff because the Post had not proved that the story was true.
So many runaway juries have decided against newspapers during the past few years, often against the leanings of judges, that journalists now want judges rather than juries to hear cases in which they are the defendants. That is exactly the opposite of the tendency that prevailed from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. The change may say less about beliefs of the citizenry than beliefs among journalists. Opinion polls and jury verdicts tell us of continuing popular concern with basic questions of truth and falsehood-but what about the concerns of many journalists? Has the public abandoned the press, or has the press abandoned the public?
REVOLUTIONARY VS. RESPECTFUL JOURNALISM
Complaints about public unwillingness to follow the press have emerged at crucial turning points of the past. Historian James Billington has noted that for leaders of the French Revolution two centuries ago "journalism was the most important single professional activity." As Billington pointed out, "In revolutionary France journalism rapidly arrogated to itself the church's former role as the propagator of values, models, and symbols for society at large." Those citizens who would not go along were excommunicated from the new church of journalists, and sometimes decapitated.
The centrality of the press to the French Revolution is indicated by a statement of Nicholas Bonneville, editor of Le Tribun du Peuple. Bonneville wrote that he looked for deliverance not to any political republic, but to "the republic of letters," a rallying of writers who would lead mankind.
Bonneville saw his new journal as a "circle of light," with writers who would transform the world by constituting themselves as "simultaneously a centre of light and a body of resistance." They were to be "legislators of the universe," preparing a "vast plan of universal regeneration." Bonneville published a pledge of allegiance to the nation which began, "I Believe in the Infallibility of the People." But since the people were to be instructed by journalists, Bonneville and his colleagues were really saying that they believed in their own infallibility.
The French Revolution destroyed itself, as other revolutions since then also have, but it left a legacy. As Billington noted, "The new breed of intellectual journalist during the French Revolution created both the basic sense of legitimacy and the forms of expression for the modern revolutionary tradition." Marx, Lenin, and others spent much of their lives as journalists, both to produce some income and to recruit followers. They believed that journalism could work fast where government often was slow. As one revolutionary Frenchman put it, the press could build a "new democracy" by providing a tribunal for the people that was "higher than the tribunal of judges, the throne of kings, and, I shall say, even the altar of the living God.''
That revolutionary idea never caught fire in the United States. It had its moments early on, with a few editors during the 1790s imitating their French brethren. The best-known Francophile editor, Benjamin Franklin Bache, had been educated in France while living there with his grandfather Benjamin Franklin. Bache edited in the 1790s a newspaper filled with malicious gossip, unsubstantiated by fact, directed against American leaders.
Typically, Bache wrote of George Washington that "If ever a nation was debauched by a man, the American nation has been debauched by Washington. If ever a nation was deceived by a man, the American nation has been deceived by Washington. Let his conduct then be an example to future ages . . . that the masque of patriotism may be worn to conceal the foulest designs against the liberties of the people."
Bache also attacked "bald, blind, crippled, toothless Adams." (Adams was bald, but one out of four was Bache's average for veracity.) Adams attacked Bache and others for "contaminating the country with the foul abomination of the French revolution" and conspiring to "prostrate liberties at the feet of France."
Adams' wife Abigail, blunter than her husband as she often was, complained of "this lying wretch of a Bache," and others called him a "dull-edged, dull-eyed, haggard-looking hireling of France." When only a few Americans backed Bache, he criticized the populace generally for not only letting him down, but for opposing press freedom as well.
Most famous of the journalists who tried to revolutionize the United States during the 1790s was Thomas Paine. Riding on his immense popularity during the American Revolution, when he wrote the pamphlet Common Sense with its stirring introductory words, "These are the times that try men's souls," Paine tried to agitate for a very different kind of revolution twenty years later.
Paine's belief in intellectual freedom was indicated by his statement to a French friend, Etienne Dumont: "He said to me if it were in his power to demolish all the libraries in existence, he would do it so as to destroy all the errors of which they were the depository." When Paine received little support, he also accused Americans of not caring for freedom of the press.
A few Americans during the nineteenth century tried to popularize a concept of journalistic godliness. In 1833 Joseph Warren of Cincinnati argued that "public influence is the real government of the world," and that printing should "henceforth be the main arm of this governing power." But more typical was the Christian conception of the relationship of citizen, government, and press that was published in the Boston Recorder's explanation of its editorial policy: When it "be necessary to disapprove of public measures, that respect for Government, which lies at the very foundation of civil society, will be cautiously preserved; and in such cases, a tone of regret and sorrow will best comport with the feelings of the Christian patriot."
The same held for other established institutions: They could be criticized, but regretfully. A policy of that sort would be useful today. The press should not be seen by Christians as an enshrined fourth estate, legislating without portfolio. Instead, reporters should report without assuming that those in governmental authority are adversaries. As Paul wrote in Romans (13:2), "He who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves." When leaders rebel against God's authority, though, Christians may advocate opposition.
Some twenty years ago, though, the idea of "adversary journalism"-reflex-action opposition to governmental leaders-took root among leading American journalists. The idea in its modern form originated with the tendency of the French revolutionary press never to give authorities the benefit of the doubt. As noted in Chapter Three, publisher E. W. Scripps summarized well the ideology of revolutionary journalism, past and future; "Whatever is, is wrong." But Oakland Tribune editor Robert Maynard acknowledged the hard edge in practice when he spoke of journalists who are "hungry for blood-it sometimes seems to readers that we will not do the story unless we can do someone in."
Adversary journalists assemble regularly to pat each other on the back. At the 1984 meeting in Miami of a group appropriately called IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors), Geraldo Rivera orated, "We are part of the process of the positive social change." David Halberstam brushed off criticism: "The more we do our job of questioning accepted norms, the more we can expect to be questioned." As former reporter Kurt Luedtke noted about such apologia, "The press is full of itself these days, and frequently, it is simply full of it.�
Recently, journalists such as former Washington Post editor Larry Stern have been praised for their hatred of America's "huge mindless institutions that devour our substance and corrupt our fundamental ideals." (Washington Post foreign editor Karen de Young's comment about leftist guerrilla groups also comes to mind: "You assume they must be the good guys.") Max Frankel of the New York Times, complaining about restrictions on press coverage during the Grenada invasion of 1983, expressed his astonishment at the "assumption by some of the public that the press wanted to get in, not to witness the invasion on behalf of the people, but to sabotage it." Given the precedent of the last years of the Vietnam war, the assumption was valid.
Christians are not necessarily conservatives. For Christians, institutions such as the state have delegated authority, not absolute authority. Governmental leaders, as Peter wrote, are sent by God to punish those who do wrong and commend those who do right; when they do the opposite, they have no proper authority, and Christians may have to act in civil disobedience. (Samuel Rutherford, in his 1664 book Lex Rex, wrote that law is king, and when kings and governors disobey the law Christians may disobey them.) Yet, Christians do not see it as their function to oppose government automatically; that is a last resort. For many contemporary journalists, though, opposition is the first resort.
According to adversary journalists, a writer in opposition has the right to break most of the Ten Commandments. Top investigative reporter Robert Scheer has stated strightforwardly that it is "the journalist's job" to break into offices or seduce people to get a story. Others would not be as blunt, but the New York Times and other leading newspapers have had no compunction against publishing stolen documents. As the last chapter noted, media false witness is frequent.
Reporter Julius Dascha described how many elite journalists "look upon themselves almost with reverence, like they are protecting the world against the forces of evil." But for many, those forces are now arising mainly from the American middle class. Over and over again, the theme of liberation from middle America emerges. Nicholas von Hoffman of the Washington Post praised during the l 960s "now people," those who were "groovy, sexy, beautiful, swinging, mellow, hip and hep." He attacked those who were "old, ugly, square, plastic and out of it."
Similarly, during the 1970s Post Editor William Greider acknowledged the bias that "turns up in the columns of the Post, Times and other members of the media axis. The core of it is the unspoken assumption that the rest of the country is filled with boobs." During the 1980s Tom Brokaw, in a MotherJones magazine interview, called those middle-class values "pretty simplistic, pretty old-fashioned," without "much application to what's currently wrong or troubling a lot of people."
Many journalists also seem to desire "liberation" from Christian roots. In 1980, Stanley Rothman of Smith College and Robert and Linda Lichter of George Washington University surveyed and interviewed a sample of the "media elite": 240 journalists at the three big television networks, the three leading news magazines, and the three most influential newspapers (the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Wall StreetJournal). They found that 86 percent of the elite seldom or never attended church, and only 25 percent favored prayers in public schools (74 percent of the American public favored such prayer).
Polling on social issues that often have a theological component also showed that the journalistic elite had separated itself from the American mainstream. Ninety percent of the elite approved of abortion on demand. (The American public registers at about 20-30 percent on the question of abortion as a woman's "right.") Seventy-five percent of the elite saw nothing wrong with homosexuality. Over half thought adultery was fine (American public: 15 percent). While a good survey of journalists' deeper religious beliefs still needs to be taken, these statistics are evidence of the divide between press and public.
The results of that divide are evident. Public opinion poll ratings of press performance have slipped to only 16 percent favorable. Juries found news organizations guilty in forty-two of forty-seven libel trials during the early 1980s. Journalists had to go running to judges for protection against "the people" whose tribunes they were supposed to be. As James K. Batten, president of Knight-Ridder newspapers, told fellow publishers, "A lot of the American public don't much like us or trust us. They think we're too big for our britches."
It is sad to contemplate the decay of institutions which started off with such hopes and still possess enormous wealth and talent. But U.S. News and World Report noted that "America's press, which often views itself as a knight on a white horse, is finding that the public sees its once shining armor has badly tarnished." Even Time could see the reason for the tarnishing: Many journalists are "arrogant and self-righteous, brushing aside most criticism as the uninformed carping of cranks and ideologues."
Christians can oppose that arrogance and self-righteousness through prayer, through establishment of alternative media, and through thoughtful criticism of mainline journalism; sometimes, we have to admit, some of us have engaged in "uninformed carping." The next chapter suggests several informed and specific ways of analyzing journalistic products.
|PART TWO QUOTE
|Man without God is a beast, and never more beastly than when he is most intelligent about his beastliness.|