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

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...

Signs of a Pulse

I noted in the June Prospect that while the bombs were bursting over Iraq, America's TV networks were so excited about embedding with troops that they declined to subject the war's rationale to serious scrutiny. How could hype, hysteria, wishful distortion and rank deception in high places be news when there were no -- well, not many -- pictures to interrupt the all-conquering crusade? The networks, America's channels for what is euphemistically called information, had untold hours to spare for desert travelogues, retired generals' briefings and the spectacular deliverance of Jessica Lynch. But they tiptoed around the spurious Iraq-Niger uranium deal, a story that had started to leak into lower-circulation public view -- thanks to Seymour Hersh's exposé in The New Yorker last March -- but was evidently not ready then for prime time. Early on, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) smelled a rat and demanded a Pentagon explanation, but news of his challenge stayed safely online and, to the big-...

Embed or in Bed?

In a standard supplement to their regular war package, mainstream media now occasionally feature -- what else? -- mainstream media criticism. This time around, the two prime subjects were (1) embedded reporters and (2) bombastic cable networks. Easier targets have never presented themselves. The cheerleaders of FOX News are surefire objects of scorn for networks and newspapers aiming to occupy the center. No complaint here: FOX's high-volume bluster and low-doubt punditry deserve all the criticism they get. FOX and MSNBC marinated their reportage in bathetic music and drum tattoos, binding their audience to the war effort and stifling thought. As for the embeds, what a setup for easy cohabitation gags. Reporters in bed with the people they cover surely couldn't be intrepid independents. Who wouldn't favor the people who carry you around in their tanks? Who wouldn't hesitate to offend them? But in truth, many of these accusations were misplaced. Embedded reporters did reasonably well...

The Pro-War Post

What's the role of an op-ed page? Echo chamber for a newspaper's editorials? Ping-Pong table for both sides of the story? Or supplier of third, fourth, and nth sides and angles of the polyhedral truth? The reader might guess that this writer prefers a lively page that improves the debate, makes new arguments and surveys intelligent thought from all manner of viewpoints. If you're The Wall Street Journal , the answer is (excepting Al Hunt) "echo chamber." No surprise there. It's rather more odd that if you're The Washington Post , the disconcerting answer, at least during December and January, was also echo chamber. To pump up its chorus of hawkish editorials, the Post called up a flock of yes-birds. For the 12-week period of Dec. 1 through Feb. 21, hawkish op-ed pieces numbered 39, dovish ones 12 -- a ratio of more than 3-to-1. The doves have been coming from behind -- though probably too late to shake the White House. In December the total number of dovish columns, including...

From Put-Down to Catch-Up

After months spent diligently not noticing -- or belittling -- the anti-war movement, mainstream news media are suddenly listening up. But their sluggishness and incapacity illustrate a more general flaw: the inability of journalists to connect dots and put together big pictures. The movement's sudden arrival on media radar screens comes about partly because the movement is spreading, becoming "more of a story." But the movement was already spreading last Oct. 26, when large demonstrations in Washington and San Francisco got rather short and snippy shrift. Lynette Clemetson's New York Times page 8 piece of Oct. 27, under the headline "Thousands March in Washington Against Going to War in Iraq," astoundingly -- and falsely -- claimed that "fewer people attended than organizers had said they hoped for ... ," and in a sudden plunge into explanatory journalism, theorized that what had kept attendance down were the sniper attacks. The accompanying photo, meanwhile, exceeded the article in...

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