constant air of self-congratulation…
At times, when after a martini I feel too content with life as it
is, I pick up a copy of the University of Chicago Magazine.
Its constant air of self-congratulation provides a never-failing
In the December/03 issue there was a piece about
David Broder, AB’47, AM’51, dean of Washington correspondents
In a survey of 200 opinion-page editors, he had been voted the “least
ideological” columnist. “Ideological,” as any
reader who can spell “cat” knows, is the perverse euphemism
for “having an opinion.”
May I offer a rejoinder? It is not mine; it is
that of James Cameron, who for the last half of the 20th century
was the nonpareil of British roving correspondents: “I cannot
remember how often I have been challenged, especially in America,
for disregarding the fundamental tenet of honest journalism, which
is objectivity. This argument has arisen over the years, but, of
course, it reached its fortissimo when I had been to Hanoi, and
returned obsessed with the notion that I had no professional justification
left if I did not at least try to make the point that North Vietnam,
despite all official Washington arguments to the contrary, was inhabited
by human beings….
“This conclusion, when expressed in printed
or televised journalism, was generally held to be, if not downright
mischievous, then certainly ‘non-objective,’ within
the terms of reference of a newspaperman, on the grounds that it
was proclaimed as a point of view, and one moreover that denied
a great many accepted truths. To this of course there could be no
answer whatever, except that objectivity in some circumstances is
both meaningless and impossible.
“I still do not see how a reporter attempting
to define a situation involving some sort of ethical conflict can
do it with sufficient demonstrable neutrality to fulfill some arbitrary
concept of ‘objectivity.’ It never occurred to me, in
such a situation, to be other than subjective, and as obviously
so as I could manage to be.
“I may not always have been satisfactorily
balanced; I always tended to argue that objectivity was of less
importance than truth, and that the reporter whose technique was
informed by no opinion lacked a very serious dimension.”
Having offered Cameron’s credo, I shall
have another martini to drown my quotidian discontent.
To keep the record straight, the piece about
Bruce Cumings and North Korea in the same issue was wonderful.
Studs Terkel, PhB’32, JD’34
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