Wednesday, July 28, 2004

E-mail Response

Dear Mr. Johnston:

I really appreciate receipt of your email even though you said something I wrote was "nonsense" and that my "use of such simplistic black-and-white thinking is surprisingly [sic] for a law school dean." The reason I appreciate your email, as I also appreciate receipt of other emails about my blogs, is that they show that somebody is reading what I’ve written. And that at least is gratifying, even if you disagreed violently with something I said.

But let me also respond to the criticism you raised. As you realize, I didn’t speak of political reporters. The insertion of the word "political" was your insertion, and the portion of your criticism directed to saying that political reporters are not to write on government or policy is actually addressed to your own narrowing interpolation rather than to my own far broader point. (I will accept on faith your view that "political" reporters are to write purely on politics, and not on the policies which are inherently intertwined with the politics -- although this does seem to me to be like saying that "science" writers should write solely on faculty appointments, who is receiving federal grants, etc., and not explain the intertwined science.)

But aside from what political reporters do, you do, of course, take issue with a broader point: you say that "every major newspaper" has non-political reporters who report on policies "with skill and without fear or favor. And so do some radio and TV organizations." I think we disagree on this, unless perhaps the disagreement stems merely from your use of the words "major" as in "every major newspaper" (emphasis added) and "some" (as in "some radio and TV stations (emphasis added). I would agree that there are major newspapers in this country that enlighten the reader on policy. The Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal come to mind, and there probably are some others (The Los Angeles Times? The Christian Science Monitor?). I would also agree that there are "some" radio and TV organizations that do the same, e.g., CSpan, NPR, PRI. But these organizations, I would think, are in a distinct minority numerically, and are in at least as small a minority, if not an even far smaller minority, in terms of readers, viewers and listeners. As one looks at the huge number of newspapers in this country, and at all the radio and TV organizations and stations, it strikes me that the kind of coverage and discussion one gets from the thin upper crust such as the aforementioned organizations is in relatively short supply elsewhere. Do you think this is incorrect?

If it is incorrect, how does one explain the generally terrible reputation of local TV news (from which, apparently, most people get their news), the widespread belief that nightly network news shows are now a dumbed down version of what they once were, and the awful print journalism one sees in so many cities and towns? If it is incorrect, how does one explain that Robert Samuelson, whose column sparked my blog article, wrote an entire piece castigating the media for dealing in nonsense while ignoring important matters, and how does one explain Lee Bollinger’s desire to change Columbia’s school of journalism? If it is incorrect, how does one explain the fact that often I myself will see only one or two references to something even in The Times, and no reference to it anywhere else. (Most recently, for example, I have thus far seen only one reference in The Times, and no reference elsewhere, to the fact that the 9/11 Commission says that the government got reports in the 1990s of the possible use of airplanes as missiles, and that the NAADC had even developed exercises to counter this.)   And if it is incorrect, I would ask you, with all sincerity, why did "friends and fellow reporters around the world [call] to congratulate" you "When The New York Times hired [you] early in 1995," as said in the first sentence of the Preface to your fine recent book on the tax system?

So, as said, I guess we may disagree on the quality of journalism practiced at the print and electronic outlets which are the vast majority numerically and at least a heavy majority in terms of readership, viewership, and listeners. Also, I concede to you in this regard that, perhaps mistakenly, I do not regard my own views as nonsense or as simplistic black and white thinking. But that, of course, is always open to dispute.

In any event, as said at the beginning of this email, I do very much appreciate receipt of your email, since this shows that someone is reading what I write, and I appreciate as well the fact that you took the time to write the email.

In conclusion, let me say that I look forward to meeting you when you come to Andover for the one hour television show on your book. I hope this will be as soon as late August, if sometime around then would be convenient for you.

Sincerely yours,

Lawrence R. Velvel


----- Original Message -----

Sent: Tuesday, July 27, 2004 3:00 PM

Subject: Re: Robert Samuelson's Lament For Truth

You wrote:

If there were concern for truth, (political) reporters would learn the ins and outs of serious issues so that they could present these matters to readers, viewers and listeners."


  Political reporters cover politics -- not government and not policy.

  And every major newspaper has OTHER reporters who report on the policies
and who do so with skill and without fear or favor. And so do some radio and TV organizations.

   Anyone who takes the time to actually readthe newspaper can learn plenty about policy. And often right on the front page.

   The job of the political reporter is to tell you what the politicians on the hustings are saying and doing, just as the job of the reporter covering a
ballgame is to cover the game and tell you the score, not the policy issues of
taxpayer subsidies to build stadiums.

   Your use of such simplistic black-and-white thinking is surprisingly for a law school dean.

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