A Look Back January/February 2005

45 Years Ago in The Atlantic

"The Job of the Washington Correspondent"

On September 23, 1959, his seventieth birthday, the columnist Walter Lippmann gave a speech before the National Press Club, in Washington, D.C. The text, an excerpt of which appears below, was published in the January 1960 issue.

Last summer, while walking in the woods and on the mountains near where I live, I found myself daydreaming about how I would answer, about how I would explain and justify the business of being opinionated and of airing opinions regularly several times a week.

"Is it not absurd," I heard the critic saying, "that anyone should think he knows enough to write so much about so many things? You write about foreign policy. Do you see the cables which pour into the State Department every day from all parts of the world? Do you attend the staff meetings of the Secretary of State and his advisers? Are you a member of the National Security Council? And what about all those other countries which you write about? Do you have the run of 10 Downing Street, and how do you listen in on the deliberations of the Presidium in the Kremlin? Why don't you admit that you are an outsider and that you are, therefore, by definition, an ignoramus?

"How, then, do you presume to interpret, much less to criticize and to disagree with, the policy of your own government or any other government?

"And, in internal affairs, are you really much better qualified to pontificate? No doubt there are fewer secrets here, and almost all politicians can be talked to. They can be asked the most embarrassing questions. And they will answer with varying degrees of candor and of guile. But, if there are not so many secrets, you must admit that there are many mysteries. The greatest of all the mysteries is what the voters think, feel, and want today, what they will think and feel and want on election day, and what they can be induced to think and feel and want by argument, by exhortation, by threats and promises, and by the arts of manipulation and leadership."

[Volume 205, No. 1, page 49]

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