Nicholas Lemann, Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, essays on new media in The New Yorker.
The second period is the second half of the 1960s and on through the 1970s and 1980s, when the dominant print media (the NYT, Washington Post, Time, and Newsweek) and the three broadcast news networks, as yet unchallenged by cable news, took an increasingly adversarial stance toward American government and institutions and an increasingly partisan stand against Republicans and conservatives. Lemann, who was on the Harvard Crimson in the 1970s, in his writings has seemed reluctant to admit that what I call Old Media have taken such an adversarial and partisan stand; he seems wedded to the idea that Old Media are simply being “objective” and that reasonable people could not be expected to operate differently.
Which brings to mind a conversation with a broadcast network news executive I remember from many years ago.
Q. Don’t you think it affects your work product that 90 percent of your people are Democrats?
A. No, no, our people are objective, they have professional standards, they report fairly.
Q. Then doesn’t that mean that your work product would be the same if 90 percent of your people were Republicans?
(Quickly) A. No, then it would be biased.
Only liberals, in this view, can see the world accurately.
Lemann seems to subscribe to that view too, though he’s too careful to say so out loud. Which mars what otherwise is quite a thoughtful and perceptive analysis of new media over the centuries.
I have previously written about what Dean Lemann believes about media old and new. He is indeed “wedded” to the idea that old media cannot be faulted for its relentless agenda journalism. He is amiable about his rejection of the obvious critiques, but no more stubborn defender of the imperial press and its rights –both real and imagined– can be found.