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January 1960

The Job of the Washington Correspondent
by Walter Lippmann

In a democracy like ours, it is an awful responsibility to undertake the processing of the raw news so as to make it intelligible and to reveal its significance. It is such a great responsibility, it lends itself so easily to all manner of shenanigans that, when I can bear to think about it, I console myself with the thought that we are only the first generation of newspapermen who have been assigned the job of informing a mass audience about a world that is in a period of such … unprecedented change …

Last summer, while walking in the woods … I found myself daydreaming about how I would … 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? … ”

In my daydream … I turn upon him and with suitable eloquence declaim an apology for the existence of the Washington correspondent.

“If the country is to be governed with the consent of the governed, then the governed must arrive at opinions about what their governors want them to consent to. How do they do this?

“They do it by hearing on the radio and reading in the newspapers what the corps of correspondents tell them is going on in Washington, and in the country at large, and in the world. Here, we correspondents perform an essential service … We make it our business to find out what is going on under the surface and beyond the horizon, to infer, to deduce, to imagine, and to guess what is going on inside, what this meant yesterday, and what it could mean tomorrow.

“In this we do what every sovereign citizen is supposed to do but has not the time or the interest to do for himself. This is our job. It is no mean calling. We have a right to be proud of it and to be glad that it is our work.”

Vol. 205, No. 1, pp. 47–49

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