Sunday, August 15, 2010

What Happened to Journalism

Reading a collection of Mark Twain's previously unpublished work, I found his essay, "The American Press". Now I know how we ended up with Faux News and all the chattering heads: the press lost its irreverence.

According to Twain,
Well, the charge is, that our press has but little of that old-world quality, reverence. Let us be candidly grateful that this is so. With its limited reverence it at least reveres the things which this nation reveres, as a rule, and that is sufficient: what other people revere is fairly and properly matter of light importance to us. Our press does not reverence kings, it does not reverence so-called nobilities, it does not reverence established ecclesiastical slaveries, it does not reverence laws which rob a younger son to fatten an elder one, it does not reverence any fraud or sham or infamy, howsoever old or rotten or holy, which sets one citizen above his neighbor by accident of birth; it does not reverence any law or custom, howsoever old or decayed or sacred, which shuts against the best man in the land the best place in the land and the divine right to prove property and go up and occupy it.
I believe it is our irreverent press which has laughed away, one by one, what remained of our inherited minor shams and delusions and serfages after the Revolution, and made us the only free people that has yet existed in the earth; and I believe we shall remain free, utterly free and unassailably free, until some alien critic with sugared speech shall persuade our journalism to forsake its scoffing ways and serve itself up on the innocuous European plan. Our press has done a worth work; is doing a worthy work; and so, though one should prove it to me...that its faults are abundant and overabundant, I should still say, no matter: so long as it still possesses that surpreme virtue in journalism, and active and discriminating, irreverence, it will be entitled to hold itself the most valuable press, the most wholesome press, and the most puissant force for the nurture and protection of human freedom that either hemishpere has yet produced since the printer's art set itself the tedious and disheartening task of righting the wrongs of men.

Imagine what an active and discriminating, irreverence could have done with the the "smoking gun mushroom cloud" in 2002. Or about Iran these days.

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