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

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...

Through a Lens, Starkly

To hear American television networks talk about documentaries -- well, there's a self-canceling sentence. If they did talk about documentaries, they'd say that they're like bomb threats: they clear the room. Those eye-glazing, ad-killing relics of a stodgier age might be good for awards, but they're bad for thrills and therefore bad for business. It's supposed to be axiomatic that today's twitchy audiences -- at least the folks who aren't yet drawing Social Security checks -- won't sit still long enough to let documentaries set the scene, juxtapose divergent memories, let the story unfold. People want drama, and docs aren't dramatic, right? Pass the remote. If the networks were committed to unearthing significant truth, they'd not only feel obliged to air documentaries but would look for ways to make them watchable without dumbing them down -- as Ken Burns' best work has done on public television. In his 1990 Civil War series, for example, Burns showed that you can produce high drama...

Brooks No Argument

David Brooks is having an excellent decade. As he might have put it in his breezy, best-selling Bobos in Paradise , he's the Restoration Hardware of conservative punditry, the Starbucks of insouciant moderation. Indeed, with his frequent appearances in Newsweek , The Atlantic Monthly and other magazines, not to mention his regular TV gig, Brooks might seem to have franchised himself. At The Weekly Standard , amid much drollery and pontificating, he has done what more pundits should do: report. On Jim Lehrer's Newshour , Brooks has astutely personified suburban conservatism with a human face, squaring off every Friday against the older, more rumpled, more urban Mark Shields. Perhaps it's a camera-angle fluke, but when Brooks gazes at Shields, he looks like the perfect student -- attentive, respectful, at times a bit pained but politely waiting his turn before delivering his zinger. Better than anyone else in circulation, Brooks has mastered the high-pundit style of underplaying his...

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