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

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...

We Disport. We Deride.

"F OX NEWS ALERT," screams the screen, in red. "FOX NEWS LEARNS OF POSSIBLE THREAT TO NY HARBOR." Do we have your attention now? Who cares if FOX's reporter goes on to say that the New Year's Eve threat is "uncorroborated, noncredible [sic] and suspect"? Attention will be paid. Attention is television's everyday grail -- its prize, its power and glory, its advertisers' delight and necessity. How to get it and keep it is about the only subject that network chiefs take seriously. There's nothing new about this, but the means have been transformed. Pre-cable, in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, television news used to get attention with a compromise strategy: Put crisp voices over theatrical pictures. Crispness was an assurance of objectivity; objectivity was what the audience required. The stentorian voice of the movie newsreels wouldn't comport well with the hush of the living room, but a restrained tone would certify that reasonable men (for males they were) were in charge. Out in the field...

Showtime Iraq

T he pregame show is ticking toward the opening kickoff. The networks are up- dating their SHOWDOWN and COUNTDOWN logos, upgrading their drumrolls and trumpet snippets, cueing their cruise missile videos and maps of hitherto obscure regions. The color commentators and military consultants are sipping their coffee in the green rooms, getting pumped. War is the spectacle of spectacles, and for television news there's no business like spectacle business. To air debate about whether war makes sense is decidedly a lesser priority. The tedious stuff of policy chats is for Sunday mornings, when the political wonks get to come out and play, not the evenings, when, despite ratings declines, the pharmaceutical companies still pay top dollar to win the attention of maximum eyeballs. If you seriously crave an argument that takes more than five minutes, get you to C-SPAN. Thus, it is not exactly surprising that on Sept. 23, when Al Gore spoke in San Francisco against the Bush administration's...

Film Business

W ork is the dirty secret of contemporary life -- to judge by the movies, at any rate. Although work is where people experience roughly half their waking hours over the course of four or five decades, working life is not considered glamorous or electric enough to hold the attention of audiences. Filmgoers, after all, treat the movies as a respite from (among other things) working life. Yet much of our experience of human relations takes place at work: the victories and defeats, purposes and routines, thrusts and counterthrusts, lies and impositions, passions large and small, affections and disaffections, actions, reactions, ambitions, thrills, and disappointments that frustrate and animate life. Not only that. Working life doesn't stop when people punch out. People take the workplace home with them, for better and worse. It gives them a literal and even spiritual place in the world. It shapes satisfactions and dissatisfactions off the job. The workweek surrounds the weekend. Even in a...

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