The political reporters who cover Presidential politics are the cream of Washington’s crop. The fact that even they have a “credibility gap,” in spite of their experience and sense of ethics, is in itself significant. In that connection, I note David Broder’s reference (The Washington Monthly, February 1969) to Hubert Humphrey’s walking arm in arm with Lester Maddox and saying nothing about the latter’s racial views. The fact of the matter is that Title VI was a subject of the Vice President’s meeting with the Governor, with Humphrey urging that Georgia comply with antidiscrimination laws of the federal government.
Broder is correct in recognizing that the press faces a credibility problem with the people it covers and the public it serves. But its influence remains great. For what else is there? It is like the gambler who shot craps with dice loaded against him because it was the only game in town.
The press is perhaps the second most powerful institution in the country next to the Presidency. Its power is particularly awesome because it is relatively unrestrained, given the constitutional protection and the lessening of competition. Ben Bagdikian once explained that “no one likes to make enemies with the town crier.”
No matter how well intentioned the custodians of relatively unbridled power may be, the problem for democracy created by that power remains a serious one. It would be encouraging if effective and realistic answers to the problems came from within the profession itself.
Why not a code of ethics and a formula for professionalism which will include a concern for the problem of bias?
Why not a provision which will permit public figures to sue for declaratory judgments when they believe they are defamed, even if no money damages flow as a legal consequence?
Why not an independent arbitration panel sponsored by the newspaper business itself to consider complaints arising out of alleged unfair press treatment, with a possible monetary indemnity fund?
Why doesn’t another newspaper follow the lead of the Louisville Courier Journal and appoint an ombudsman “armed with authority to get something done about valid complaints?” Mr. Broder’s distinguished newspaper might well follow the example.
MAX M. KAMPELMAN
Mr. Karnpelrnan is a Washington lawyer.
As I read the magazine, I found myself returned from the classroom and academia to the realities that I knew in Washington. But this immediately raises a question. The question as to whether those realities are the real ones. Admittedly what is described in The Washington Monthly is the way things really happened. They raise tremendously important questions as to whether indeed it is the way things should happen. I found that my students’ reaction to it was to reject it, be angry at it. I hope that it’s clear why this is depressing to students. The falsity of statistics described in Ross’s article, Boyd’s perceptions of the way a Senator really works; the various kinds of special assistants that Russell Baker described so well; and all the other articles are cynical, and make you really wonder is it worth it all.
Hopefully then, I would see it as tremendously important to not only have descriptions of Washington’s happenings, but to find ways of confronting the particular pattern of ways of doing things so that new values can be expressed, and, indeed, more rationality and human values be built into the decision-making apparatus.
LEONARD J. DUHL
Dr. Duhl teaches at Berkeley.