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

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...

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...

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