Each spring the members of the American Newspaper Publishers Association assemble in convention and spend a good deal of their time eulogizing themselves. Conventions of editors and reporters, whether for newspapers or radio news, are more practical and less complacent. The American news business, press and radio, certainly deserves some eulogies; it is the most copious in the world, and I think its average quality is at least as good as any other's. But it is not yet good enough. Too often we tell the customers not what is really going on, but what seems to be going on. And I am not referring to the small minority of newspapers, and the smaller minority of newspapermen, who don't want to tell the truth; but to the great majority who do want to tell the truth, but often fall short.
Too much of our news is one-dimensional, when truth has three dimensions (or maybe more); we still have inadequate defenses against men who try to load the news with propaganda; and in some fields the vast and increasing complexity of the news makes it continually more difficult—especially for us Washington reporters—to tell the public what really happened. Some of these failings are due to encrusted habits of the news business, which can be changed only slowly, but which many men are now trying to change; some of them will be harder to cure because they are only the reverse side of some of our greatest merits, and it is difficult to see how to get rid of them without endangering the merits too.
The merits which entail the worst drawbacks are competition and the striving for objectivity; and we should be much worse off without either. But objectivity often leans over backward so far that it makes the news business merely a transmission belt for pretentious phonies. As for competition, there is no doubt that the nation is much better served by three wire services—the Associated Press, the United Press, and the International News Service, sometimes supplemented by the English Reuters—and by several radio networks than it would be by monopoly in either field. But competition means an overemphasis on speed, as has been noted by the Associated Press Managing Editors (not the editors of the AP but the men who use its service); and sometimes it leads to an exaggerated build-up.
Like most radio newsmen, I am heavily dependent on the wire services. I am supposed to be aware of all the world's news, and to report what seems to me most important or that to which I can add something in the way of interpretation. But I can't cover it all myself—not even all that happens in Washington; usually I cover about one story a day on foot, get angles or elucidations on half a dozen others by telephone, and must depend on the wire services for the rest. Experience has taught me, when the versions of the same story given by two wire services differ materially, to prefer the less picturesque; the other might have been souped up to beat the competition.
The President announced his decision not to run again at the end of his speech at the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner on March 29—an extemporaneous addition to a script distributed several hours in advance. All the wire services sent out the text, of course; early editions of the Sunday papers were going to press and had to have it at the earliest moment. The UP and INS merely sent out the text; the AP, desirous of making everything clear (and maybe of getting the jump on the competition), prefaced it with a lead saying that the President made no disclosure of his intentions. Papers carrying that lead were on the street as he was disclosing his intentions. At least one radio station—a good one, too—writing its eleven o'clock news out of the AP, went on the air and said that he had made no disclosure of his intentions; whereas many of the listeners a few minutes earlier had heard the President say he wouldn't run.
I do not suppose that any of the wire services ever consciously sacrifices accuracy to speed; but speed is what counts most, because what every wire service wants is to get newspapers to use its story rather than its competitors' stories. I have seen many service messages on press association wires boasting about how many minutes, or even how many seconds, they were ahead of the competition; how their story got the play. I have seldom if ever seen a message saying, "While our story was unfortunately a few minutes behind time, it had more truth in it." Yet these outfits live, and must live, by competition; and we are better off with that competition, whatever its shortcomings, than we should be without it. One of the wire services has a motto, "Get it there first—but first get it right." I am sure they all try to do that; I am not sure that a wire service which actually succeeded in doing it would last long against the competition.
Nine days before the Germans surrendered in 1945 there was a great, though brief, flurry over an AP report from San Francisco—where the constituent assembly of the United Nations was then meeting—that they had surrendered and an announcement could be expected at any moment. The story was sent by one of the ablest reporters in the country; he got it from a person described as a high American official, who wouldn't let his name be used—something that happens every day; and it may have been mass self-delusion that persuaded many people that the high official was the Secretary of State, who would have known. Actually it was Senator Connally; but he might have known too; and if the reporter had stopped to check up with the Secretary of State or anybody else, the competition might have got the story out ahead of him. So it was left to the President of the United States to do the checking up, and find out that the story was false.
That time, the AP got a beat on a surrender that didn't happen; nine days later it got a beat on the one that did happen—because one of its correspondents broke a release date that fifteen other correspondents observed. Now some of those hold for release regulations of the SHAEF public relations officers—imposed in an endeavor to get simultaneous release in all Allied capitals—may have seemed ridiculous; the German radio was already announcing the surrender; nevertheless the sixteen correspondents who had covered the actual ceremony had all promised to hold the story till a certain hour. Fifteen of them did; one of them did not. If that incident had been repeated once or twice it would have made it extremely difficult for any correspondent to get any news.
Here the fault clearly lay with the pressure of competition. I am told, by a man who should know, that the three principal AP correspondents on the western front had identical instructions; besides competing with everybody else they were competing with one another, presumably on the theory that that would keep them on their toes. It is not surprising that one of them got so far up on his toes that he fell over on his face.
It was the United Press that ended the old war four days early in 1918—an incident now remembered chiefly because Roy Howard, who was responsible for what was then the greatest boner in American news history, was able enough to live it down. He happened to be in a position to see, quite legitimately, what appeared to be an official dispatch; and he flashed it without checking up on it. It was in contradiction to the known intention of ending the war four days later; but I do not suppose there was or is a reporter for any wire service, American or foreign, who would not have done what Roy Howard did. It is hard to say how much actual harm was done, aside from taking the edge off the celebration of the real armistice; but there is some reason to believe that the message that fooled Howard was planted by a German agent in Paris, who presumably hoped that it would do harm.
Now these were not bad reporters; they were all good reporters, among the best; but they were all in too big a hurry, for fear somebody else would beat them to it. We have seen many forecasts of what will happen in the next war, if we have one. I do not know what the course of operations will be; the one thing I feel safe in predicting is that some American reporter will end it a few days before it actually ends; and the families of men who were killed after he said it was over will, for the rest of their lives, be convinced that you can't believe what you see in the papers.
Most Russian propaganda nowadays needs no fumigation in this country; it defeats itself. The Russians appear to regard us as enemies, and their routine propaganda is put out with no expectation that it will have any effect on us, but may only help to keep other nations as neutral as possible as long as possible. There is one outstanding exception—the occasional answers that Stalin vouchsafes to inquiries from American correspondents.
Certainly, an "interview" with Stalin would be a great journalistic achievement. But you don't interview Stalin, ask him questions face to face. You send in your questions in writing and he answers them or not, according to whether the answers would do some good to Stalin. The kind of questions he will answer is the kind asked him by Kingsbury Smith of INS three years ago last winter, during the Berlin blockade. The questions were: Would Russia join the United States in a declaration that we had no intention of going to war with each other? (Russia has made such promises to other nations, and broken them; in somewhat altered form, this proposal is a staple of Russian propaganda in the United Nations.) Would Russia join us in gradual disarmament toward that end? (The Russians always say they are for disarmament, on their terms.) Would Russia lift the Berlin blockade if the Western Powers would abandon the establishment of a West German state? (Prevention of that establishment was obviously the principal purpose of the Berlin blockade.) And would Stalin meet the President to discuss such a "pact of peace"?—a project which the President was known to regard as useless.
It has been reported—and, so far as I know, not denied—that Kingsbury Smith had been tipped off that Stalin would answer those questions, and presumably no others. Whether or not Stalin wrote the questions, they were exactly the questions he would have written to get his propaganda arguments before the world. He could have done that by a statement in Pravda; but this would have had much less authority and got much less attention than one coming through an American news service. Most editorial pages, of course, analyzed the Stalin statement as what it was; but those editorials were read by far fewer people than saw the statement itself under big headlines on the front page. Yet American newsmen keep asking Stalin the kind of question he likes to answer. Stalin is an important man; if he wants to say something, let him say it; but why give him the build-up?
Reporting of the Korean war has in general been very good—some of it, such as Homer Bigart's dispatches in the early months to the New York Herald Tribune, exceedingly good; but we have let the enemy slip a few fast ones past us. There are two English-speaking Communist correspondents, the Englishman Alan Winnington and the Australian Wilfred Burchett, who had been with the Communist armies and then came down to Panmunjom to cover the truce talks. British and Australian correspondents would have nothing to do with them; but some of the Americans were innocent enough to suppose, at first, that they were just newspapermen like themselves, and quoted them as authorities not only for conditions behind the enemy lines, but for what was going on in the truce talk tents. I am told by correspondents returned from Korea that sometimes they had to use what they got from Winnington and Burchett because they could get nothing out of our public information officers. But what did they get out of Winnington and Burchett? Not objective truth, you may be sure, unless by accident.
Lately we haven't heard so much from Winnington and Burchett; but enemy propaganda still makes hay with photographs—many of them taken by an American, Frank Noel, an AP photographer who is a prisoner; but transmitted to our side of the lines, of course, by the Communists. According to those photographs the life of a prisoner of war in North Korea is indeed a happy one. We see groups of prisoners, warmly dressed against the Korean winter; fat, well fed, and smiling. Well—a man who knows that his picture is going to be printed in the American papers where his family will see it wants to look cheerful; they feel bad enough about his being a prisoner and would feel worse if they thought he was mistreated.
It seems possible that among the American prisoners there are some who are not well fed and warmly dressed; I shouldn't be surprised if Frank Noel has a whole packet of pictures of men like that buried somewhere, for publication if he ever gets out. But that is not the kind of pictures that the Communists pass on for publication in the American press.
The United Nations Commission on Freedom of Information has been trying to work out an international code of ethics for newsmen; not an easy task in view of the different concepts of news (and of ethics) on the two sides of the Iron Curtain. At this writing they have adopted only one article of the code, and that one by a vote of six to nothing with five abstaining. It says only that reporters, editors, and commentators shall do their best to make sure that the information the public receives is factually accurate, with no fact wilfully distorted and no essential fact deliberately suppressed.
I don't know why the American delegate abstained from voting for that innocuous declaration, unless the reason was that it doesn't go far enough. What is factual accuracy? Not merely what a man says, for sometimes he has said the contradictory thing in times past; and sometimes, indeed, what he says is known to be false. Truth has three dimensions; but the practices of the American news business—practices adopted in a praiseworthy ambition to be objective—too often give us only one-dimensional news; factually accurate so far as it goes, but very far indeed from the whole truth.
There was not much objectivity in the American press through most of the nineteenth century; if a story touched on the political or economic interest of the editor or owner, it was usually written so as to make his side look good. Some papers still follow that practice; but most of them, for some decades past, have accepted the principle that they ought to try to be objective in the news columns, leaving argument to the editorial page. Publish everything that is said on both sides of a controversial issue, and let the reader make up his mind. A noble theory; but suppose that men who talk on one side (or on both) are known to be lying to serve their own personal interest; or suppose they don't know what they are talking about. To call attention to these facts, except on the editorial page, would not, according to most newspaper practice, be objective. Yet in the complex news of today how any readers have enough personal knowledge to distinguish fact from fiction, ignorance from knowledge, interest from impartiality?
This practice is perhaps not quite so prevalent now as it was twenty-five years or so ago—in the golden age of Calvin Coolidge, when it was the general opinion that things are what they seem. In those days, if the Honorable John P. Hoozis was an important person, you were likely to see him quoted at length in the newspapers on almost any subject; with no indication that he knew nothing at all about it, or no indication that he had a strong personal interest in getting people to believe what he said—even if the editor who printed the story happened to know it. He was an important man; he had made a statement; and it would not have been objective not to print it. We have been getting away from that dead-pan objectivity of late years—or were, till the rise of Senator McCarthy.
In the opinion of Professor David Manning White of Boston University, writing in the Nieman reports of Harvard, McCarthy in the beginning was largely created by the newspapers. (I don't think they could help it; the violent Senate debate over his first attacks on the State Department was news that could not be ignored.) Anyway, says Professor White, McCarthy has got away from them now like Frankenstein's monster; reporters may not believe him but they have to go on reporting what he says because everybody else will. The result is that "a cult of incredibility has permeated the American press"; the newspapers have become "unwitting or unwilling accomplices in creating an atmosphere in which prejudice, half truths, and misinformation bloom with a noisome stench." McCarthy may be a unique case, but he is far from the only case in which the press (and radio) misinforms the nation through the habit of regarding anything that the Honorable John P. Hoozis says as news. Take an example more to the point, since there seems no question of any deliberate intention to mislead. Last year Pat Hurley was testifying in the MacArthur hearings—former Major General, former Secretary of War, former Ambassador to China Pat Hurley. About military affairs and Chinese politics he may be supposed to know something—though even that may be open doubt in view of his remark, some years ago, that Chinese Communists are just like Oklahoma Republicans except that they carry guns. Somehow he had got off the subject and into criticism of some hearings by Congressional committees, which had acquitted people whom he considered guilty.
"For instance," he said, "the hearings on the atomic energy organization. I read the report of the committee that heard that case, and it was a clean bill of health, a certificate of purity and patriotism for everybody in the organization. Yet less than six months, just a little after, Dr. Klaus Fuchs confessed in London; and the result is that they were not pure, they were not patriotic in that organization, and two of them are under sentence to death at this moment."
This of course was completely false; though the falsehood may presumably be charged to General Hurley's defective memory. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, sentenced to death, did their spying (as Fuchs did practically all of his) when the atomic energy program was operated by the Manhattan Engineering District under General Groves—two years or more before the Atomic Energy Commission (which had received the "certificate of purity" that Hurley mentioned) was established; indeed before it was even thought of. Furthermore, the Rosenbergs never worked even for Groves, let alone for the Atomic Energy Commission. Yet a prominent man had said that in an important hearing, so it was news; it ran in one or more editions of the evening papers, and doubtless on some news broadcasts, before it was corrected.
Who should have corrected it? Well, you would think any Senator would remember that Hurley was completely wrong; but nobody said so. Two members of the committee who certainly knew, Senators McMahon and Hickenlooper, happened not to be in the committee room when Hurley made the statement. McMahon was told about it, came back while Hurley was still on the stand, and managed to get it into the record that Hurley had made "a downright misstatement of facts." That duly got into the newspapers and on the radio; a Senator had said it, so it was news.
But any competent news editor must have known that it was a downright misstatement of facts; yet I doubt if there was a newspaper in the country, printing Hurley's statement before McMahon's correction, that followed it with a bracketed insert, "This simply is not so." To do that would have been editorializing, interpreting the news, failing in objectivity. You can do it to Stalin; you could do it to Hitler in his day; but tradition forbids doing it to one of our fellow citizens when he is engaged in controversy. Failure to make such a correction may salve a man's conscience about his loyalty to the ideal of objectivity. But how about his loyalty to the reader, who buys a newspaper thinking (or at least hoping) that it will tell him the truth? The newspaper is not giving him his money's worth if it tells him only what somebody says is the truth, which is known to be false.
It was the realization that objectivity had leaned so far over backward that it had become unobjective which led to the rise of the syndicated newspaper column, and a little later of the radio news commentary. These are both news and interpretation; our listeners, or readers, understand that we are saying, "This is the news and this is what I think it means." But even for us, with much more latitude than the ordinary reporter, it is becoming harder and harder to get at the three-dimensional truth in Washington—partly because the news becomes more and more complex; partly because so much of it is coming to consist of never ending serial melodramas, like soap operas on the radio, or those newspaper cartoon strips that used to be comic.
Especially is this true of Congressional committee hearings, where the same witnesses appear and reappear. Adequate coverage of such stories entails reporting not only what a man says now, but the very different thing he may have said last year—or last week.
Most people may remember that McCarthy said there are 205, or 57, or 81 Communists in the State Department. But this is only one of McCarthy's many self-contradictions; who can keep track of them all? I have a stack of his speeches two feet thick on my office shelf; but when he says something that stirs a vague recollection that he once said something very different, I seldom have time to run through his speeches. I can't afford to hire a full-time specialist to keep up with what McCarthy has said and if I had a McCarthy specialist I should also have to hire a Louis Budenz specialist, a Harold Stassen specialist. For these favorite witnesses of Congressional committees are, like McCarthy, gifted with self-refreshing recollections; if the first story doesn't stand up they have no trouble remembering something better. And their talents have been given an open field by that new doctrine of Congressional jurisprudence, perpetual jeopardy.
It was written into the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution that no man shall be subject, for the same offense, to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb. The men who wrote that did not foresee that Congressional committees would take over much of the judicial process, and would not be bound by the constitutional limitation since they deprive no man of life or limb—only (unless he is foolish enough to perjure himself, or to refuse to answer their questions) of his good name and his opportunity to earn a living. Acting on the principle that nothing is ever settled till it is settled right, they can disregard the fact that a man has been examined and found guiltless by another Congressional committee—or by more than one—not to mention grand juries, loyalty boards, and so on. They just keep on setting up committees till they find one that will get him.
Senator McCarran's Internal Security Committee seems to have undertaken to correct any errors that anyone else may have made in the direction of leniency; and it carries on the good work by procedures that are, so far, novel and indeed unique—at least on this side of the Iron Curtain. A witness before the McCarran Committee—especially if he is a witness for the prosecution—knows what is expected of him. He doesn't have to stop and think about his answer; it is usually handed to him wrapped up in the question—"You would say this is an indication of Communist sympathies, wouldn't you ? " And this technique is made more effective by a new investigatory instrument known as the pertinent excerpt.
The pertinent excerpt is a refined and modernized version of our old friend, the sentence taken out of context. (One pertinent excerpt from a document used against Owen Lattimore turned out to be two sentences eleven pages apart, but put together.) Sometimes it is a line from a letter written fifteen years ago, read out of context to the man who wrote it (and didn't keep a carbon) with a demand that he explain what it means; but it is most effective when read to a man who didn't write it, indeed may never have seen it before, but is expected to say what it means with no idea of the reasoning of which it was a part. How does he know—or how does a reporter know who is covering the hearing—that in context it might have a quite different meaning?
Some years ago Lattimore wrote a book called Solution in Asia. John Carter Vincent had read it—years ago. When the McCarran Committee had him on the stand they read him a number of pertinent excerpts from chapters about Mongolia and Chinese Turkestan—statements about Russia, which they kept trying to get him to stigmatize as party-line stuff; and eventually he had to say that some of it did seem to indicate an inclination toward Communism. Not till that evening, when Vincent had a chance to look at the book again, did he realize that these pertinent excerpts came from a chapter which began, "To all of these peoples Russia and the Soviet Union has a great attraction. In their eyes," etc. (The italics are mine, not the McCarran Committee's.) They had seemed to be asking him about what Lattimore thought; actually they were asking him about what Lattimore believed other people thought. I had read that book—but years ago, and hurriedly, as I have to read most books; I had forgotten all about it, and I doubt if any other reporter at the hearing had read it at all. So the story had to go out that evening that Vincent had found Communist leanings in Lattimore's book.
I am not here concerned with the ethics of this sort of thing—though that is a topic on which much might be said—but with its effect on a reporter's endeavor to give the public a reasonably accurate story. Reporters covering the McCarran hearings are continually in danger of giving the public a false report, not of what is actually said in their hearing, but of the three-dimensional truth of which what they hear is only one dimension. But who can read all the books or documents from which "pertinent excerpts" may be drawn? Who could remember them all, if he did?
William S. White of the New York Times happened to remember that there were material discrepancies, in emphasis if not in content, between General Wedemeyer's testimony before the McCarran Committee and his testimony in the MacArthur hearings three months earlier—because White had covered them both and the memory had not had time to fade.
What is remarkable about that episode is that the Times permitted White to report that discrepancy—something which many editors would regard as unobjective. But White seems to have more latitude than most reporters. Harold Stassen told the McCarran Committee that at a conference consultants to the State Department some years earlier, Lattimore had headed a " prevailing group " which recommended a ten-point program following the Communist line. When the stenographic record of the conference was published White analyzed it and demonstrated that there was hardly even a chemical trace of truth in Stassen's story. The Times published his analysis; few papers would.
But to analyze and find the truth requires not only a good memory but time. How does the average reporter get at the truth in cases like this, if he has to sit all day in a committee hearing and then come back and write his story, with no time to check up on the witness's past testimony or on the validity of the pertinent excerpts? How do I do it, compelled as I am to keep an eye on all the world's news, pouring in at the end of the day, besides the story that is right in front of me? Yet, unless we try it, we give the public only one dimension of the truth—mere surface, under which something different may lie concealed.
The McCarran Committee is very sensitive to anything that might seem an imputation against its motives. I know nothing of its motives; what concerns me is that its procedures make it extremely difficult for reporters to find out the truth and pass it on to the public. Objectivity requires me, however, to report that those procedures have been praised by many people; including the Daughters of American Revolution and (though somewhat absent mindedly) the American Bar Association.
I have dwelt at length on the McCarran Committee; because it is a remarkable phenomenon and so far unique. But it is not the only committee whose doings have encouraged, in reporting, another habit that is likely to mislead the public—the use of loaded words. One of those loaded words is "named." Now when a man is named as a Communist by Budenz, or named as a grafter by some of the witnesses before committees investigating corruption, that means nothing at all without corroboration. Yet if that man keeps appearing in the news the tag will stick to him; he has been named. A defendant on trial before a Congressional committee does not often, any more, say anything; he admits it, he acknowledges it. I have seen stories that came pretty close to saying, "The witness admitted that last year Christmas came on December 25."
Yet, searching my conscience while I was compiling these criticisms of others, I had to realize that lately I used an unloaded word when a loaded one would have been more accurate. That loaded word is "lobbying." There is nothing at all illegitimate about lobbying; there can be lobbying for good causes as well as bad, and by good or bad methods—though the most effective method, for the righteous as well as the wicked, is to convince a member of Congress that if he doesn't do what you want him to do, it will cost him votes. Nevertheless there has been so much lobbying for bad causes, by bad methods, that the word has become loaded; it means something evil.
The most effective job of lobbying that was done on Capitol Hill this past winter—out in the open, anyway—was done by the Citizens Committee for the Hoover Report, in persuading the Senate to accept the President's plan to put the Bureau of Internal Revenue under civil service. I happen to be in favor of that reform, as well as most of the recommendations of the Hoover Report; and when I reported these operations of the Citizens Committee, subconsciously realizing that "lobbying" has become a four-letter word, I said that they had reasoned with the Senators. But I am afraid that if this had been an outfit that I didn't like, working for a measure I didn't favor, I should have called its operations lobbying; which they were. Mea culpa; I shall try to reform, and lead a better life.
One more example, which shows how the complexity of the news can lead to downright though quite unintentional misrepresentation. There are no more honest newspapers in the country than the New York Times and Herald Tribune and the Washington Post; perhaps no better newspapers either. Yet one morning last year they all made the same mistake—and a mistake which happened to give support to their editorial policies. General Marshall had been testifying in the MacArthur hearings about MacArthur's personal and unilateral peace proposal of March, 1951; and the next morning the top line of the Times's eight-column head told us, "Marshall Says MacArthur Upset Peace Move "; and the eight-column heads were substantially the same in the Post and Herald Tribune.
Now General Marshall hadn't said that; he had said that MacArthur had lost "whatever chance there may have been" of making peace at that time. This verbatim quotation appeared in the lead of every story, of course; but there was room in the headline only for a very misleading simplification. Misleading because actually the chance of making peace at that time was infinitesimal—almost nonexistent. There was no agreement among the nations with troops in Korea as to what peace terms ought to be, and there is no indication that the Chinese ever even thought about it till they had taken a couple more first-class lickings. This fact was known to the State Department reporters for the Post, the Times, and the Herald Tribune; but they weren't covering the MacArthur hearings, they were busy on their beats. It was not known to the men who were covering the hearings, or to the men who edited their stories, and it was nobody's business to tell them. I know of no newspaper which has a regular system of lateral internal communication by which one man tells another what he ought to know (unless they are both assigned to the same story); indeed he probably doesn't know the other man needs to know it. And news has become so complex that it is just good luck if any one man knows all he should know to cover his story properly.
There was of course far graver distortion of the testimony in the MacArthur hearings in some other newspapers. I have selected this instance only because the papers involved are technically among our best, and ethically above suspicion of slanting the news to support their editorial policies. Yet that is what, quite inadvertently, they did.
What to do? More and more, from inside as well as outside the trade, there is a demand for interpretive reporting, which puts into the one-dimensional story the other dimensions that will make it approximate the truth. But this entails serious dangers. I have seen some undeniably well-intentioned endeavors to put in those other dimensions, but the dimensions were derived, not from the evidence, but from the opinions or prejudices of the reporter; and if the practice were to become general they might in some cases be derived from the opinions and prejudices of the publisher, as they so often used to be. One Chicago Tribune is enough. And even if a man's conscience is as rigorous, his mind as relentlessly objective, as the weights and measures in the Bureau of Standards, he may still fall short of doing as accurate a job as he means to do because he doesn't know all the angles, or hasn't time to get around to them under the pressure of covering what is in front of him and writing a story about it.
No wonder then that editors are slow to accept the need of interpretation. Last fall Senator Alexander Smith of New Jersey, a very moral and religious man, was a member of a subcommittee passing on the fitness of persons nominated as delegates to the United Nations Assembly, including Philip Jessup. McCarthy and Stassen had accused Jessup of Communist affiliations and sympathies; and after two weeks of hearings, the committee rejected Jessup by a vote of three to two. Senator Smith said he had absolute confidence in Jessup's ability, integrity, and loyalty; he explicitly repudiated any belief in the charges against him; yet, because,Jessup was a "controversial figure" and for other reasons quite irrelevant to the issues before the committee, he voted against Jessup and for McCarthy.
The committee approved the appointment of Dr. Channing Tobias, Negro religious leader, against whom similar charges had been brought; he admitted that he was a joiner and had sometimes been careless about what he joined, but he brandished the Negro vote at them. Whether there is a Negro vote is open to doubt, but Senators scare easily. It is impossible to escape the conclusion that Jessup too would have been approved if he had only been black.
One of the best reporters in Washington thought of beginning his report of that episode: "Yesterday afternoon Senator Alexander Smith wrestled with his conscience. He won." He didn't because he was afraid his paper wouldn't print it. But it might have printed it; in any case it seems to me an objective report of what happened; it is unthinkable that so high minded a man as Senator Smith would have come to such a decision without wrestling with his conscience, and he certainly pinned it to the mat. Yet it could be argued that if that had been printed, it might have encouraged more freewheeling interpretation by reporters of less ability or less integrity.
The good newspaper, the good news broadcaster, must walk a tightrope between two great gulfs—on one side the false objectivity that takes everything at face value and lets the public be imposed on by the charlatan with the most brazen front; on the other, the "interpretive" reporting which fails to draw the line between objective and subjective, between a reasonably well established fact and what the reporter or editor wishes were the fact. To say that is easy; to do it is hard. No wonder that too many fall back on the incontrovertible objective fact that the Honorable John P. Hoozis said, colon quote—and never mind whether he was lying or not.
Yet more and more newsmen, in press and radio both, are coming to realize that we ought to do better than we are doing. Perhaps their thinking will bring some agreement on the answer; and that answer will be more dependable if we all remember that our primary responsibility is to the man who buys his newspaper, or turns on his radio, expecting us to give him, in so far as is humanly possible, not only the truth and nothing but the truth, but the whole truth.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.