April 14, 2009 Leave a comment
As H.L. Mencken put it,
The more reflective reader reads next to nothing in the way of newspapers and believes the same amount precisely. Why should he read or believe more? Every time he alights on anything that impinges upon his own field of knowledge he discovers at once that it is inaccurate and puerile. The essential difficulty here is that journalism, to be intellectually respectable, requires a kind of equipment in its practitioner that is necessarily rare in the world, and especially rare in a country given over to the superficial. He should have the widest conceivable range of knowledge, and he should be the sort of man who is not easily deluded by the specious and the fraudulent. Obviously, there are not enough such men to go round. The best newspaper, if it is lucky, may be able to muster half a dozen at a given moment, but the average newspaper seldom has even one. Thus American journalism (like the journalism of any other country) is predominantly paltry and worthless. Its pretensions are enormous, but its achievements are insignificant. (Minority Report: H. L. Mencken’s Notebooks, p. 74)
Or as my father put it,
To be a lawyer you have to fail a morality test; to write for the media you have to fail English and logic.
Postscript: I had an old college friend who, after several years in a top Ivy League graduate school, showed up at my local university as a new tenure-track professor. We had lunch and played catchup. She told me, without any apparent irony, that she agreed with almost everything she read in the New York Times.