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James Fallows
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  • NPR Commentary
  • Articles currently available on The Atlantic Monthly's Web site
  • Executive Decision Memos


    NPR Commentary

    • A Dip in the Bathos Tub: September 3, 1996
      The oldest rule in press-management, and one of the hardest to obey, is that when news is really bad, you need to get it out really fast.

    • Flying Through the Void: July 22, 1996
      There has always been exceptional power and fascination in the story of groups struck by unforeseen tragedy -- the theme that connects the destruction of Pompeii by Mount Vesuvius, to the sinking of the Titanic, to the novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

    • Trial by Jury: July 2, 1996
      "A jury room is about the only place in which Americans of different classes have to deal with each other as equals."

    • Cuba: Bipartisan Bungling: June 6, 1996
      Do we isolate Cuba because this is the best way to tip the internal balance and bring its dictator down? Hah! The U.S. pressure started under Dwight Eisenhower, and eight presidents later Fidel Castro is still there.

    • The Perverse Darwinism of Public Office: May 22, 1996
      The political scene is full of people who, by ordinary standards of embarrassment and shame, might well decide to find life intolerable.

    • A Blank Slate?: May 16, 1996
      Why is it, exactly, that our usually hard-eyed media types now swoon in the presence of high-tech? I think it has to do with a fear of being left out, even of being old.

    • Ethics and Public Journalism: May 7, 1996
      Reporters naturally squirm when cast in the role of ethicists.

    • Issues -- or Politics: April 19, 1996
      The first duty of any campaign is to be smart and win, but politicians become hacks when they think of winning as their ultimate duty too. Historically we admire leaders who stand for something beyond the least it takes for victory.

    • Hosokawa's Prophecy: April 8, 1996
      The communiqués from Tokyo next week, saying that the alliance is just fine, will be on the evening news; Mr. Hosokawa's speech last month received barely any press. But years from now his will seem the more prophetic statement.

    • Primary Targets: March 8, 1996
      Some people have guessed that "Anonymous" concealed his or her name to avoid outrage from the Clinton administration. Perhaps there is a different group whose wrath the author fears even more.

    • Buchanan Might Disappear -- but His Concerns Won't:
      February 28, 1996

      The mistake of Buchanan's opponents is to act as if any question about the impact of trade is so outrageous that it cannot even be raised.

    • What to Cover?: February 19, 1996
      "As the Iowa vote was being counted last week, one TV analyst noted that so many primaries would now be coming so fast that the Republican race could be over by the end of March. After that, he asked wistfully, what would journalists talk about until the fall?"

    • Constant Change: January 15, 1996
      "Much like the U.S. army, where chiefs of staff come and go but the institution endures, Japan's educational, economic, and financial structures brush off the political hubbub, and shift priorities only when historic circumstances dictate."

    • Imperial Relics: December 29, 1995
      "The right conclusion is not that Balkan life is tangled or that there is a lot of history going around. Rather it is to be impressed, at the end of a year and near the end of a millennium, with the durability of human deeds. Many newsworthy realities of the modern day are the continuing effects of decisions made, or avoided, long before our grandparents' grandparents were born."

    • Weather Forecasting: December 18, 1995
      "Last week, on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the Weather Channel ran a historical special on the role of clouds in the attack. "Weather, which made it all possible," were the final words. Each exposure to such thoughts takes 1 point off your IQ."

    • Buckle up -- please: November 20, 1995
      "Airline language has always been peculiar, with its stress patterns that are found in no actual human language. "The captain HAS turned on the seat belt sign, so we DO ask that you remain seated." But the language has become nearly 100 per cent insincere as well."

    • Powell the Democrat: November 8, 1995
      "Today's Republicans say that the best approach to bureaucracy is just to get rid of it. Colin Powell devoted 30 years of his life to the more Democratic-style goal of making a very large bureaucracy -- the military -- work better."

    • Has Japan Hit the Wall?: October 12, 1995
      "Rushing to write off the Japanese once more is silly. It sets us up to be 'surprised' by their competitive vigor all over again."

    • Pornography and the Internet: September 17, 1995
      "Although it may be tasteless to mention this, the reality is that grainy computer images from the Internet simply don't look as good -- or as bad -- as those in magazines or on VCRs."

    • Hoopla: August 24, 1995
      "Americans often think of themselves as a nation of innovators or tinkerers, but long ago the world saw us as a nation of salesman. With Windows95 we are returning to our roots."

    • The Trade Deal with Japan: June 29, 1995
      "So rather than asking the impossible, a total change in this Japanese system, the U.S. negotiators asked for what matters to America: that is, conditions that will create larger sales for high-value American goods. And that, in its limited way, is what this deal may provide."

    • Trade with Japan: May 23, 1995
      "Japan will eventually have to choose which it values more: its export structure, or its military tie to America, since in the long run it can't have both."

    • Japanese Steering Wheels: May 15, 1995
      "I think my head will explode if I hear one more Japanese official say that the reason U.S. cars have only one per cent of the Japanese market is that the steering wheels are on the wrong side."

    • Too Late to Say He's Sorry: April 11, 1995
      "In the cycles of life, the desire to square accounts is natural, but Robert McNamara has forfeited his right to do so in public. You missed your chance, Mr. Secretary. It would have been better to go out silently, if you could not find the courage to speak when it would have done your country any good."

    • Right on the Money: March 15, 1995
      "A new round of hand-wringing stories is now coming out of Tokyo, telling us how "worried" Japanese manufacturers are about their yen's "troubling" new strength. You can take this at face value if you want, and assume that Japan is on the ropes. Or you watch for its comeback, along with me - remembering that I'm the one who's been right."

    • Microsoft and the Courts: February 21, 1995
      "Most of the computer industry ... is saying 'Constitution, Shmonstitution.'"

    • Congress, Gridlock ... and the Baseball Strike?: February 13, 1995
      "The baseball strike has shown something about America's Mind, which is that some of our leaders are losing theirs."

    • Clinton a "One-Termer"?: January 23, 1995
      "Movies and TV shows often feature a character who learns he has a year to go before a tumor overtakes him, so he suddenly starts doing everything he always meant to do. The implied question of these shows is, Why don't we live this way all the time?"

    • New Year's Resolutions ... for America: January 2,1995
      "Number eight: a change in the first amendment, to ban whining in news reports. Newscasters whose stories encourage Americans to feel sorry for themselves should be reassigned immediately to Somalia or Tibet. For example: the next report on rising gasoline prices saying piteously that Americans will be "paying more at the pump" must add that people pay three times as much at pumps any place else on earth."

    • Clinton and the State of the Union: December 19, 1994
      "In that memorable first State of the Union speech, President Clinton said that nations and their leaders must decide how they wish to be thought of, based on "whether they are prepared to rise to the occasions that history presents." Instead of rising to this occasion, the president sank."

    • Computer Shows: November 21, 1994
      "To be at a computer show these days is like being in the Klondike a century ago. Of each dozen people you see, you know that one will soon be rich; you just don't know which one."

    • Clinton and the New Congress: November 10, 1994
      "Harry Truman, the last Democrat to face a Republican congress, rose to the challenge and came back from heavy off-year election losses to win a second term. We don't know whether Bill Clinton can do the same. But we're beginning to see how he'll try."

    • Nobel Supply and Demand: October 24, 1994
      "In a Nobel-inspired quest for excellence, let's think how the awards themselves might be improved."

    • The Coffee Connection: October 11, 1994
      "My own pioneering research came a dozen years ago, when I spent a week with a family that had, without telling me, substituted decaf for all the coffee in the house. Each morning, as I guzzled cup after cup of the strangely unsatisfying brew, I wondered who exactly had driven a spike into the back of my head."

    • Is the GATT Good?: October 5, 1994
      "This year another seemingly-tedious question is about to become interesting for a while."

    • Anything More Than a Vision?: September 28, 1994
      "President Clinton's critics often say that his foreign policy lacks any central, guiding theme. Let's consider a more alarming possibility -- that it does have a theme."

    • Meaning in Tom Clancy: September 19, 1994
      "Tom Clancy hardly needs my endorsement, but even if you don't plan to read his new book, Debt of Honor, let me suggest that you notice its existence."

    • The Haitian Surprise: September 16, 1994
      "Americans may disagree, as I do, with what the President has chosen to stand for. We have learned that he will stand for something."

    • The New Bestseller by ...Ozawa?: August 30, 1994
      "There is one Japanese politician whose name is worth remembering. The name is Ichiro Ozawa, and it can be found on the author's page of a new book."

    • Clinton, Johnson, Nixon ... and the Stick: August 24, 1994
      "A president without a stick will end up having to forgive too often, like an owner too soft-hearted to housebreak his pet. Before the summer ends we may see pictures of President Clinton on the beach. With rolled newspaper in hand he could practice the crucial words -- Sit, Stay, Bad Dog."

    • Consider Brazil: August 16, 1994
      "I have a suggestion for anyone who has "been there" and sees the world as familiar and grey. The suggestion is: Consider Brazil."

    • Ritual Graduation: June 13, 1994
      "In the very first row sat the oldest living alumnus, a 102-year-old from the class of 1913. In the very last row sat a few fresh-faced members of classes of 1992 and '93. In between were the rest of us, a systematic tableau of what time does. "



    Articles currently available on The Atlantic Monthly's Web site

    • Zoot!, August 1997
      A new software program available on the Internet shows the usefulness and flexibility of shareware.

    • Address: Play Northwestern, June 1996
      In a speech to the graduates of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, James Fallows exhorts journalists to "make what's important interesting."

    • Navigating the Galaxies, April 1996
      New ways of indexing and presenting information might help to tame the Internet's unmanageable sprawl.

    • The Java Theory, March 1996
      Will the Internet take over functions now performed by personal computers?

    • Why Americans Hate the Media, February 1996
      Treating politics as a game, ignoring the real issues, refusing to disclose potential conflicts of interest, spouting off on raucous political talk shows that not even the participants take seriously -- these habits are jeopardizing the credibility of everything that journalists do.

    • A Triumph of Misinformation, January 1995
      Most of what everyone 'knows' about the demise of health-care reform is probably wrong--and, more important, so are the vague impressions people have of what was really in the Clinton plan.

    • What Is an Economy For? January 1994
      We know the answer: to grow so that we can all buy more and keep the world economy spinning. Asians have a different answer: to grow so that a country can produce more--whoever buys the goods--and keep the country's, not the world's, economy spinning.

    • "Washington and The Contract With America," 1994
      In this review published in The New York Review of Books, James Fallows examines the context from which "The Contract With America" emerged.

    • How the World Works, December 1993
      Americans persist in thinking that Adam Smith's rules for free trade are the only legitimate ones. But today's fastest-growing economies are using a very different set of rules. Once, we knew them--knew them so well that we played by them, and won. Now we seem to have forgotten.

    • America's Changing Economic Landscape, March 1985
      Is the decline in the industrial belt a step into perilous new territory or is it merely a continuation of the ceaseless transformation that built our prosperity?

    • Immigration: How It's Affecting Us, November 1983
      The unspoken question about the immigrants is, What are they doing to us? Will they divide and diminish the nation's riches? Will they accept its language? Will they alter racial relations? Will they respect the thousand informal rules that allow this nation of many races to cohere?

    • Entitlements, November 1982
      If all Americans are "entitled" to help, who will pay for it?

    • Liberals and Ayn Rand, 1975
      Ayn Rand has no heart for those who stumble, and a good part of the left has no heart for those whose accomplishments happen to earn them a profit, rather than being foundation-supported. The usual conclusion to a case such as this is a plea for mutual understanding, but the brutal reality is something different.


    Executive Decision Memos
    Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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