Todd Gitlin

Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University and the author of Letters to a Young Activist. He is currently working with Liel Leibovitz on a book about chosen peoples.

Recent Articles

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...

New York Minutes

Nobody here but us good cops On most channels, the Republican funfest shines forth as a genial display of red-white-and-blue, on-message sincerity. Everyone is so earnest, everyone exudes optimism, all virtues are on parade. Only good cops pass through these pearly gates. When Senator Lindsey Graham introduced John McCain, saying that McCain had always respected other veterans (wink wink), no august commentator was heard to say that this was a dig at John Kerry. Laurels, however, to the ABC World News Tonight and CNN for noting that Virginia delegate Morton Blackwell was passing out Band-Aids adorned with Purple Hearts on the convention floor Monday night. Among those spotted wearing these adorable emblems of Republican compassion were the secretary of the Oregon Republican Party and delegates from Dick Cheney's own Wyoming. Where are the historians when you need them? When Rudy Giuliani spoke of Winston Churchill and George W. Bush in the same breath, Monday night, all the house...

Dumbing Him Down

Is it a huge surprise that American multitudes say they don't know what John Kerry and the Democrats stand for? How would they know? And who bears responsibility? First point about the attention that's being paid: An ABC representative took to The New York Times (July 28) to brag that the network had made the right -- that is, the commercially correct -- call in deciding to cut convention coverage to the bone. “The figures released Tuesday by Nielsen Media Research,” wrote Neil A. Lewis and Bill Carter, “suggest that the number of total viewers for the Democratic convention's first night fell to about 13.5 million this year from about 17 million four years ago.” But hold on. Two paragraphs later, Lewis and Carter wrote, “[V]iewing on the cable news channels showed a big increase, with about two million more viewers watching this year's first-day coverage than did four years ago.” And then, “PBS, the one broadcast network that has continued to provide gavel-to-gavel coverage, also...

Pages