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

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...

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...

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