IMAGE:  February 2004
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GRAPHIC:  Also in every issueLETTERS
…the Magazine’s 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 antidote.

In the December/03 issue there was a piece about David Broder, AB’47, AM’51, dean of Washington correspondents (“Chicago Journal”). 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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