The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Wednesday, May 12, 2004

LA Times top editor speaks - taking the Kool-Aid, evidently

John S Carroll [1], editor of the LA Times does not, I fancy, produce 3,500 word pieces that often. So his May 6 lecture at the University of Oregon demands a certain amount of attention.

It's both liberal and conservative. Liberal in the familiar swipes he takes at Fox News and - kinda - in his defence of the timing of the Arnold Schwarzenegger groping allegations [2].

But conservative in his adherence to the dogma of objective journalism.

Talking about the Gropergate story, he says
Never has falsehood in America had such a large megaphone.

My piece on May 2 attempted to fix on when exactly the Golden Age of American journalism might be which could justify bleating like Carroll's. That I failed may be due to (all too evident) deficiencies in knowledge; or to the fact that it is an artefact of the Objective Journalism cult.

For instance - I'm making slow progress with Daniel Hallin's Uncensored War. But, surely, the megaphone offered by the nation's 'respectable' newspapers for the murderous lies of successive administrations on Vietnam was deafening enough.

True to the aficionado of Objective Journalism's Kool-Aid, Carroll devotes a section to the displacement activity of corrections.

And, a bit later, says this:
It is consoling to note that demagogues on the airwaves have come and gone ever since commercial broadcasting began. Such figures as Father Coughlin and Senator McCarthy have made their sordid appeals to the angry and the gullible and have been duly swept into the dustbin.

I'm rusty on the doings down at the Church of the Little Flower. But McCarthy, as I recall, made his initial and most striking impact through the medium of printed (I laughingly call) journalism. According to Edwin Bayley's Joe McCarthy and the Press (p178), McCarthy's first appearance on national TV was the April 6 1950 session of the Tydings Committee at which Owen Lattimore was a witness. There's references to frequent national radio appearances in 1951, and also to phonograph records of what sound like infomercials dispatched to radio stations in Wisconsin. His most notable TV appearance of 1952, Bayley says (p180), was his Alger, I mean Adlai speech on October 27 (Alger Hiss, Adlai Stevenson, natch); apparently, there were various national talk show appearances too that year.

But - my impression of Bayley - McCarthy's real broadcast impact only started in 1953, when he became Chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations. By which time he had done his inestimable service to the GOP - for which the chairmanship was, I suppose, his reward.

My point? Bracketing Coughlin and McCarthy is historically misleading - and, in tending to diminish the critical role of newspapers - and wire services - in giving McCarthy his start in demagoguery, is sleazy in a way pretty close to the methods Carroll criticises in Fox and friends.

The follow-on sentence is equally telling:
Over time, I believe, the public will become increasingly aware of the discrepancy between what they're told by pseudo-journalists and what turns out to be the truth.

Deftly and by implication, he establishes a binary model: pseudo-journalists tell you not-truth; so who is it that tells you the truth? Why, the real journalists down at the Times, of course!

Is there anyone out there who believes in The Truth who doesn't also believe in Santa Claus? Thought not.

No one's doubting that the well-calibrated clowning at Fox doesn't have an impact - the study Carroll quotes on misperceptions about Iraq is suggestive and to spare on the point; but the implicit claim that the LA Times, corrections aside, is some kind of plain-glass view of the world is truly laughable.

If Fox shills shamelessly for the GOP, the Times is hardly untainted by suggestions of undue influence. On February 27, I mentioned an LA Weekly piece suggesting that Cardinal Roger Mahony exercised a virtually mesmeric control over the papers coverage of matters relating to the Catholic Church.

Perhaps that's where Carroll gets his lack of humility.

  1. How many John Carrolls are there at the paper?

  2. True, Schwarzenegger only announced his candidacy on August 6 2003 , just two months before the election on October 7. But he'd been talking about the possibility for some time before; and I seem to recall that groping allegations had been around for some time before that. The Times would hardly have been starting from scratch on the morning of August 7.

    Given the need for journalism program-related activities on the case, it defies credibility that the story should reach fruition at just the date - five days before the election - when the news would have maximum political impact. Not a fortnight before, or a week after. The precision of the timing stinks.


The Schwarzenegger story provides a pretext to mention that great American word roorback:
A false or slanderous story used for political advantage.

The derivation:
After Baron von Roorback, imaginary author of Roorback's Tour Through the Western and Southern States, from which a passage was purportedly quoted in an attempt to disparage presidential candidate James K. Polk in 1844.

I first came across the word in DW Brogan's 1954 An Introduction to American Politics (p249).

Brogan doesn't say what the allegation against Polk was: according to this piece, on various roorbacks, down to Arnie's, it was
the eyewitness testimony of Baron Roorback, who had seen slaves in Tennessee branded with Polk's initials- J.K.P.

Does that mean that someone actually impersonated the Baron? I know there weren't talk shows back then, but there were certainly lecture halls and lyceums.

(Apparently, Polk owned slaves, but did not brand them. The Whig candidate Henry Clay was also a slaveholder. So, all round, it was a pretty ineffective Whig smear!)

According to this piece, the guilty operative was Thurlow Weed.

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