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

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...

Straight From the Sixties: What Conservatives Owe the Decade They Hate

Apocalyptic intemperateness, paranoia, a loathing of compromise, a demonization of the enemy -- where have we run into this before?

T he politics of the Gingrich revolution of the nineties are locked in a strange obsession with the politics they purport to repeal—the politics of the late sixties. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Republican of Texas, forthrightly set out the conventional loathing: "To me all the problems began in the sixties." But the troops of the New Right are far more nourished by the sixties than they appreciate. The sixties provide the right both an evil to extirpate and a libertarian ethic to emulate. In the words of Speaker Newt Gingrich, Ph.D., American history breaks in half in the sixties. During the years 1607 through 1965, Gingrich said not long after assuming the leadership of the House, "There is a core pattern to American history. Here's how we did it until the Great Society messed everything up: don't work, don't eat; your salvation is spiritual; the government by definition can't save you; governments are into maintenance and all good reforms are into transformation." Then came...

State of the Debate: Indelible Colors

A book by two political theorists argues that new, cultural definitions of race can be as insidious as the old, biological ones.

WORK DISCUSSED IN THIS ESSAY K. Anthony Appiah and Amy Gutmann, Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race (Princeton University Press, 1996). R aces have godlike power in history. Like gods, there is good reason to doubt that they exist, but the belief that they do exist has enormous consequences. Of course, races are also unlike gods in a particular way. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, the claim that races exist has purported to be scientific. That is, from physical attributes (skin color, nose shape, hair texture), moral and intellectual essences are derived. Not all the pseudoscientists go all the way to the end of the line at Nuremberg. Some get off with Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, affecting compassion for the differently abled, and wrapping their charges in statistical hocus-pocus so intricate that it took a technical book to refute it ( Inequality by Design: Cracking the Bell Curve Myth) , by a group of sociologists at the University of California at...

Pages