Todd Gitlin

Todd Gitlin, professor of journalism and sociology and chair of the Ph. D. program in communications at Columbia University, has been writing frequently on media and the campaign for BillMoyers.com. His next book is a novel, The Opposition.

Recent Articles

Who Gives a Flying Flag?

Looking at the reactions of the right-wingers to l'affaire Novak-Rove-Wilson-Plame, you'd have to conclude that, for them, national security is a sometime thing -- a talking point or a symbolic flourish, but not a real-world imperative involving actual lives, dangers, and government workings. The smears and (to be generous) fat, sloppy errors directed against former Ambassador Joseph Wilson pour forth as thick and fast as finger paint. The anticipatory excuses for Karl Rove -- who, if he did not commit actual crimes, may have at the least leaked classified information about Wilson's CIA–agent wife en route to the smears against Wilson -- pour forth just as thick, just as fast. When there's White House discipline to be maintained, who gives a flying flag about national security? Consider David Brooks, whom many persist (but why?) in thinking must know better. Brooks has echoed the White House line, persisting in the falsehood that Wilson credits Vice President Dick Cheney with sending the...

Hello, Henhouse? Fox Calling

“Should we have affirmative action for conservatives?” This question, arresting enough by itself, becomes all the more so when the “we” in that question is The New York Times . It cropped up during a January 17 meeting in a nicely paneled Times conference room, billed as an “informal forum” at which various Times editors and reporters sought the advice of five outsiders -- a journalism professor, a liberal freelance reporter, a conservative reporter, a conservative magazine editor, and me -- on the question of the “proper boundary between news and opinion in the news pages and a host of issues that arise from the debate … [including] whether these various forms confuse readers about whether the Times approaches news coverage fairly and without a specific, preconceived point of view,” in the words of the editor who summoned the meeting. The Times rethink is motivated by long-term management concerns about the paper's stagnant circulation and how to explain and reverse it. The youth...

Swifter Than Truth

Historians of the mad pageant in which Americans chose their president in 2004 will someday note with astonishment that the quote-unquote Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, many of its members inveterate liars more swift than truthful, succeeded in hijacking the presidential campaign for the better part of the month of August, nearly one-third of the total time left to John Kerry after his apparently triumphal convention. The story of how candidate Kerry miscalculated the explosive power of the Swifties' charges and thereby lost control of his campaign will someday be told, either in relief that the damage was eventually undone or dismay that it was not. The story of how journalists performed as accomplices to liars and half-truth tellers, thereby buying them piles of publicity that money couldn't have bought, can begin to be told now. How did it happen? And if journalists did escort the Swifties into the limelight with a bodyguard of publicity, why did they do that, and what should they...

Unmistaken

Conventional wisdom says that George W. Bush flip-flopped (you might say) in the debates from petulance in Miami to belligerence in St. Louis to grins in Tempe. True enough, but the consensus story line of Bush's inconsistency masks the more significant invariant pattern: The president's idea of resolve is to repeat slogans. This is, as Republicans like to say, a matter of character. On stage without the props, the panoply, and the absolute control that fall to the president of the United States, Bush, for once, showed glimpses of -- who else? -- Bush. The first debate revealed, as “an administration official, speaking anonymously” told The New York Times ' Adam Nagourney, “Mr. Bush repeatedly display[ing] on television a disdainful look that was familiar to people who work with him in the White House.” Replaying his phrases (“hard work,” “30 countries,” “he voted to increase taxes 98 times”), Bush revealed that what he suffers from is not a speaking deficiency but a thinking...

Channel Surfing

Quacking like a canard On Wednesday evening, Karl Rove was ushered to the roundtable of PBS, where he wiped all but angelic fingerprints off the Swift boat liars. Along the way, he repeated the canard that in his April 1971 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ho Chi (sorry, John) Kerry called all American soldiers war criminals. This dirty little barnyard beast of a slur has been quacking around the airwaves for weeks, but master moderator Jim Lehrer has evidently been too busy to fact-check. In the majestic presence of Rove, he stood mute on the subject -- no question, no comment, nothing. It would be beneath his dignity, perhaps, to look up the transcript of Kerry's testimony, the Googling of which takes a grand total of 0.52 seconds. PBS' house historians had nothing to say on the subject, either, no doubt preoccupied with the burning question of the tradition of vice-presidential appearances at conventions and other such urgent pursuits. If any of these...

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