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

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...

An Exercise in Futility

Sunday morning's guardians of American virtue helpfully prepared a presumably pre-jaded people for the Democratic national convention by asking the questions that burn in the hearts of ordinary Americans. Wasn't it a thrill to hear Cokie Roberts ask John Edwards how he was going to explain his positions on repealing tax cuts for billionaires to the citizens of South Carolina, on keeping Social Security socially secure and not privately privatized, on defending Americans against massacre, on defending the national parks against the subsidized tree killers? Weren't you struck, as I was, by her uncanny grasp of what Americans have on their minds? Kidding, of course. American morals have no fiercer defender than Roberts, so she had more urgent business of the man who would be vice president. Here was her actual question: “How do you explain politically to the people in Seneca, South Carolina [where Edwards was born], votes against ‘partial-birth-abortion' ban or against the banning of...

Media: It Was a Very Bad Year

There was a time when readers of The New York Times never knew what they were missing. You had to run down to Hotaling's, the out-of-town newsstand in Times Square, to check The Washington Post or the Los Angeles Times , or wait a few days for the Manchester Guardian . Or you subscribed to I.F. Stone's Weekly and relied on him to call your attention to the 23rd paragraph of the Times piece, the one where your eyes had glazed over but Izzy had unearthed some nugget that shattered the story's otherwise anodyne arc. Today, all a reader need do to shine a light on the paper is log on and surf around to see what the Times -- "the indispensable newsletter of the United States' political, diplomatic, governmental, academic, and professional communities, and the main link between those communities and their counterparts around the world" (according to ex–Executive Editor Howell Raines' unexceptionable summary in his recent, impassioned, self-serving, and, by many accounts, at least half-right...

Soft News, Hard Cash

Backstory: Inside the Business of News By Ken Auletta, Penguin, 296 pages, $24.95 All the News That's Fit to Sell: How the Market Transforms Information into News By James T. Hamilton, Princeton University Press, 342 pages, $35.00 There's a lot of muttering nowadays about the future of a minor, almost wholly owned subsidiary of the entertainment conglomerates that nevertheless fascinates and irritates most readers of this magazine: the news business. With most American newspapers stuck with slowly ebbing circulations during most recent years, and television news stagnant or worse in quality while inflating in quantity, there are plenty of reasons to mutter. Indeed, no one grumbles more than journalists themselves about the dumbing down of the news or what the French charmingly call "cretinization" -- catch-all terms for the consequences of the infotainment boom and the foreign-news bust (despite the post-September 11 boomlet); the rise of 24-7 cable, the fall of the networks; the rise...

Culture War, Round 3077

Americans, thankfully, are not being gunned down in disputes over political correctness. But disputes over who should decide which ideas should circulate where are very much in play. In fact, a new front has opened. On Oct. 21, the House of Representatives declared incontrovertibly that, "The events and aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, have underscored the need for the nation to strengthen and enhance American knowledge of international relations, world regions and foreign languages." Or to put it in the vernacular, the nation should know more about this vast, inscrutable planet where, amid billions of human beings who have the nerve not to be American, thousands seem to think that they can bring paradise nearer by slaughtering large numbers of Americans. The House went on to pass -- by unanimous vote -- the International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2003 (H. R. 3077), authorizing the secretary of education to spend more money to promote "foreign language fluency and knowledge of...

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