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Those Were the Days

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Posted on Mar 25, 2010

By Ruth Marcus

The writer was an upstate New York lawyer active in Democratic politics. When his column, “Between Neighbors,” debuted in 1928, he outlined his goal of offering an evenhanded assessment of current events.

“The day has gone by when you can fool people into believing that the nation, or a state or a country or a city is going to the dogs just because one political party happens to be in power in it,” he wrote. “People are sick of the kind of editorial writing which sees only good in every measure and every man sponsored by one party and only bad on the other side. ... That is one reason why the bitterly partisan press is losing its influence in this country.”

My friend John Barrett, a law professor at St. John’s University who is writing a biography of Justice Robert H. Jackson, shared this quote at a particularly apt moment. It serves as a useful reminder that the days of a hyperpartisan news media did not begin with Rush Limbaugh and Daily Kos, Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann.

The columnist’s complaint that “the little provincial papers ... today in the news-columns magnify as first page news any disagreements in their opponents’ camps and run only a half inch on the back page about any trouble in their own camp” pretty much sums up the role of the liberal and conservative blogosphere today.

Then again, his conclusion that the days of such hyperpartisanship were over doesn’t exactly seem to have panned out. With “more and better education everywhere,” he wrote, “readers do not as much as formerly take the views and news of a one-sided paper as Gospel Truth.”

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Substitute “cable channel” or “blog” for “newspaper” and ask yourself whether that is true today. The partisan segmentation of newspapers that existed in the early part of last century is gone, along with too many newspapers themselves, only to be replaced by partisan segmentation in other forms of media.

The writer, it turns out, didn’t last long enough to judge whether he lived up to his own standards. After writing 10 columns in two months, he was nominated to be his party’s candidate for governor.

“That November,” Barrett notes, “the former Beacon Standard columnist, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was elected governor of New York. In that office and in his next office, he got, at least sometimes, the fair and balanced media coverage that leaders and policies, and also we neighbors in the audience, deserve.”

Ruth Marcus’ e-mail address is marcusr(at symbol)washpost.com.

© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group


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By AmiBlue, March 26, 2010 at 9:22 am Link to this comment

gerard - What an excellent analysis.  The only thing I might quarrel with is the phrase “get -back- together”.  I’m not sure the country has ever been together except possibly in times of crisis.

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By gerard, March 25, 2010 at 3:33 pm Link to this comment

If you stop and think about it for half a second, you see that words like “rugged individualism” and “private enterprise” and “individual liberty” don’t make for much mutual caring or cooperation or community.  Give such words a couple hundred years to get embedded in people’s minds as politically correct “patriotic” goals, “American values” and “what makes us great” and you have a nation of social orphans, lonely, unrelated, unable to take care of each other, and ultimately of themselves. It’s called “isolationism” in its extreme form, anomie, inability to relate, lack of empathy. Nobody should be surprised, but everybody should be searching for ways to get back together again on some common ground where we can help each other to survive.

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By marcus medler, March 25, 2010 at 2:23 pm Link to this comment

The twist in this is that we, the masses, are
just now catching on. WE were hoodwinked for
forty years by the media going on and on about
fairness, balance, objectivity and an insistence
on extolment of their truth giving role in a
democracy.
  I suspect the younger generation those
twenty five and under are under no such
illusion. We are returning to a healthy and
bawling, screaming, raw and most often silly
press. The people know about the press the
worry is in the education system! Reader
beware!

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By tomack, March 25, 2010 at 12:41 pm Link to this comment

I would be happy with “fair and balanced”. It’s even worse with the airwaves since reagan eviscerated The Fairness Doctrine in 1988. An American travesty it seems few remember.

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