The press has traditionally been regarded as a watchdog of democracy. The theory is that only by making facts and information widely available can democratic decisions be wisely made.
Since the Vietnam War, however, many Americans have become disillusioned with the media. As the major organs of the media -- the networks, The New York Times, The Washington Post -- have shifted to the political left, they have separated themselves from the American mainstream.
The press does have a clear leftist bias. It is not an overt bias. Stories are fact-checked and most news stories are relatively free from errors of fact. There does exist a selectivity bias, however. Editors decide to pursue certain stories in depth and not others. Accusations are given large play while defenses or even retractions appear in the back pages if at all. The quarrel is not with the facts, but with how the facts are presented and which facts are presented.
The fact is, with journalism as with other things, personal prejudices and beliefs affect even the best-intended actions. The political allegiances of the press are left of center. In 1972, the year the nation overwhelmingly rejected the Democratic candidate George McGovern for president, he was the favorite of the press. These personal prejudices end up in the newspapers and on the evening newscasts for there is no such thing as an absolute truth in news reporting. Rather, the truth is what a subset of a set of possibly accurate information appears to point to in the mind of the reporter.
Journalism: a profession whose business it is to explain to
others what it personally does not understand.
Photographers are the only dictators in America.
Celal Bayar, former Turkish president
Journalists say a thing that they know isn't true, in the hope
that if they keep on saying it long enough it will be true.
Running a liberal paper is like feeding melted butter on the end
of an awl to a wild cat.
Only a few reporters...discerned that Anderson really combined
Carter's ineptness with Reagan's simplicities.
In Halberstram's fun house, television elected John F. Kennedy
in 1960 (presumably Richard J. Daley and his precinct captains
were at home on election night watching the Cook County ballots
being counted on television).
Edwin Diamond, on David Halberstram's book The Powers That Be
If a theology student in Iowa should get up at a PTA luncheon in
Sioux City and attack the President's Vietnam policy, my guess is
that you would probably find it reported somewhere the next
morning in the New York Times. But when 300 Congressmen endorse
the President's Vietnam policy, the next morning it is apparently
not considered news fit to print.
If this sort of thing [the network coverage of the primaries]
keeps up, by 1984 Howard Cossell will be deciding the nomination
on the commercial break of the Laverne and Shirley show.
George Bush, during the 1980 primaries
A Pulitzer Prize is awaiting the journalist who can find an
American who dies of hunger, and probably the Nobel Prize for
literature as well.
If one person in America had starved over the last 20 years,
you, reader, would know his name. The media would see to that. It
would be the most thoroughly documented death since John
Old ladies photographed by CBS who announced that they would die
of malnutrition if Reagan's bill were passed could probably have
saved themselves their impending penury by the simple device of
applying to the American Federation of Television and Radio
Artists for scale every time they were featured by Dan Rather or
William F. Buckley Jr.
This damn thing is going to cost us ten million dollars. Who
wants to listen to news? If I had my way we'd have some guy come
on at 11 p.m. and say, "The following six guys made horses' asses
of themselves at the Republican Convention," and he'd give the
six names and that would be it.
James Aubrey, on CBS's 1964 convention coverage
Of the press coverage of the Sandanistas: Probably not since
Spain has there been a more open love affair.
Shirley Christian, Washington Journalism Review
The coverage of Central America in recent months points up one
of the ugly truths about the American press: the better the news,
the less of it you get. As the war began to turn against the
Communist guerillas in El Salvador, there was a palpable dip in
the attention paid to it.
Fred Barnes, national political reporter for the Baltimore Sun
People's Democrat, anti-Democrat. These words mean nothing
except to people with deadlines to meet and editors to please.
PBS Frontline, on labels the press has given to various Democrats
I've often said that if I hadn't known Barry Goldwater in 1964
and I had to depend on the press and the cartoons, I'd have voted
against the son of a bitch.
The public life of our culture tends to be stylistically a kind
of New York Times editorial; it's sober, pious, responsible and
It has reached the point where the CIA has to reveal its sources
and the New York Times doesn't.
The New York Times is the official leak of the State Department.
I don't think the intelligence reports are all that hot. Some
days I get more out of the New York Times.
John F. Kennedy
The New York Times, whose editorial department sounds like
Cotton Mather rewriting Eleanor Roosevelt...
William F. Buckley Jr.
I got my job through the New York Times.
[Written underneath:] So did Castro.
Poster From Graffiti by Robert Reisner
The more boring a newspaper is, the more it is respected. The
most respected newspaper in the United States is The New York
Times, which has thousands of reporters constantly producing
enormous front-page stories about bauxite...The [New York] Post would write about bauxite only if famous celebrites were arrested
for snorting it in an exclusive Manhattan nightclub.
The New York Times will tell you what is going on in Afghanistan
or the Horn of Africa. But it is no exaggeration that The New
York Times has more people in India than they have in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn is a borough of two million people. They're not a
Bloomingdale's people, not trendy, sophisticated, the quiche and
Volvo set. The New York Times does not serve those people.
If a newspaper prints a sex crime, it's smut, but when The New
York Times prints it, it's a sociological study.
Adolph S. Ochs, publisher of The New York Times
One cardinal rule of American journalism is that The New York
Times Sunday Magazine is a chore, a bore, and a penance to be
The New York Times is a bitter, savage and proscriptive organ of
the bitter savage remnant of the Ultra-Sectional part of the
party of Eternal Hate in the Northeastern states.
The Washington Post, 1878
Some newspapers dispose of their garbage by printing it.
Popular journalists resort to the name Nixon to galvanize
feelings that remain at rest even when the name Stalin is
R. Emmett Tyrrell
The longest word in the world is "a word from our sponsor."
Editorials are written by people who have agreed to have several
strong opinions a day and to write them down, provided they do
not have to sign their names.
Television has borrowed from the carnival midway the barker's
tease: "Coming Up Next: a Perfect 10" (Sex? Bo Derek? No, the
weatherman comes on to say that tomorrow will be nice).
"You wanna deliver papers in a big city?" an expert with a bent
nose told me, "then you gotta shake the trees to find the
gorillas to do it..."
The ABC show [The Day After] might have had a very different
beginning. It could have started with the success of anti-nuclear
protests in Europe, preventing the deployment of the Pershing
missiles...leading to Soviet overconfidence, agressiveness...and
the same nuclear holocaust. The audience could look back and
think, if only we'd been strong enough not to back down...we'd be
alive and free today. If that's what The Day After had said, it
would have been denounced as one-sided propoganda designed to
weaken the protest movement and support missile deployment -- and
an improper TV show to use as a lesson for young people.
Albert Shanker, President, American Federation of Teachers
To get on American television is one of the highest priorities
on the KGB agenda.
John Weisman, author of "Why American TV is So Vulnerable to Foreign Propoganda"
I personally thought it [The Day After] was a two and a half
hour commercial for the Kremlin and they didn't even have to put
KGB actors in it.
Resident of Lawrence, Kansas
The smartest people in Washington are the political reporters.
They write about their inferiors.
Too often, newspapers view what they do as too arcane for the
public to understand or as a state secret which is none of their
David Shaw, LA Times
The news media in general are liberal. If you want to be a
reporter, you are going to see poverty and misery, and you have
to be involved in the human condition.
He who attacks the fundamentals of the American system [of
broadcasting], attacks democracy itself.
William Paley, CBS
Is there any other industry [than the press] in this country
which seeks to presume so completely to give the customer what he
does not want?
The journalist's job is to get the story by breaking into their
offices, by bribing, by seducing people, by lying, by anything
else to break through the palace guard.
Our job is to give people not what they want, but what we decide
they should have.
Richard Salant, former president CBS News
To me, what the American people think about whether or not the
press was excluded is irrelevant...I do consider myself a
surrogate for the American people.
Joseph C. Spears, Author of Presidents and the Press speaking of public acceptance of the press exclusion from Grenada
We tried to do the news without frills, without fluffy hairdos,
without graphics. It does say something about our business that
is not very pretty. It didn't matter how good the show was. What
counted was money.
Linda Ellerbee, co-anchor of NBC News Overnight when the show was cancelled
[NBC News] Overnight was our finest hour, but the cost was much
greater than the income.
Reuben Frank, President of NBC News
I'm somewhat diffident about cuffing television on its rabbit
ears for not being something else.
Covering politics is fun. It's covering government that's work.
They change scapegoats at the networks more regularly than some
people change socks.
News is what someone wants to suppress, everything else is
Harold Evans, Editor of the London Times
The television anchorman Dan Rather turns up in rag-top native
drag in Afghanistan, the surrogate of our culture with his camera
crew, intrepid as Sir Richard Burton sneaking into Mecca.
Any man with ambition, integrity -- and $10,000,000 -- can start
a daily newspaper.
All successful newspapers are ceaselessly querulous and
bellicose. They never defend anyone or anything if they can help
it; if the job is forced upon them, they tackle it by denouncing
someone or something else.
The average newspaper, especially of the better sort, has the
intelligence of a hillbilly evangelist, the courage of a rat, the
fairness of a prohibitionist boob-jumper, the information of a
high-school janitor, the taste of a decorator of celluloid valen
tines, and the honor of a police-station lawyer.
The Press is not our daily bread but our daily sugar pill.
...the indispensable requirement for a good newspaperman -- as
eager to tell a lie as the truth.
You've got to be happy if they get your facts right. Since
January I don't think I've recognized a damned thing that I've
filed. I just pour everything out of the boot. Otherwise you get
a phone call at three in the morning asking why you left out that
the candidate had his teeth drilled that morning.
John Lindsay, of Newsweek of his editors
Conflagaration: A reporter's first fire.
Television -- a medium. So called because it is neither rare nor
Remember son, many a good [newspaper] story has been ruined by
James Gordon Bennett
Just give me the facts, and I'll see what I can do with them.
Keeney Jones, The Dartmouth Review
Anyone who knows anything about journalism knows that reporters
are rarely in a position to investigate anything. They lack the
authority to subpoena witnesses, to cross-examine, to scrutinize
official records. They are lucky to get their phone calls
Irving Kristol, of the press's "investigative" journalism
Editor: A person employed by a newspaper, whose business it is
to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to see that the chaff
Television news is to journalism as bumper stickers are to
Richard M. Nixon
You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war.
William Randolph Hearst, in a (probably apocryphal) cable to Frederic Remington in Cuba, 1898
A newspaper may somewhat arrogantly assert that it prints "all
the news that's fit to print." But no newspaper yet has been
moved to declare at the end of each edition, "That's the way it
is," as Walter Cronkite does.
Journalism consists in buying white paper at two cents a pound
and selling it at ten cents a pound.
Charles A. Dana
One Englishman is a story. Ten Frenchmen is a story. One hundred
Germans is a story. One thousand Indians is a story. Nothing ever
happens in Chile.
notice in London newsroom
The modern newspaper is half ads and the other half lies between
I think if you'd had television cameras at Gettysburg, this
would be two nations today. People would not have put up with
that carnage if they saw it up close. We'd have elected McClellan
There are no indiscreet questions, there are only indiscreet
A newspaper is a private enterprise, owing nothing to the
The Wall Street Journal, 1925
Of the 4,373,000 men who read the Wall Street Journal, 1,020,000
The Wall Street Journal
Anyone nitpicking enough to write a letter of correction to an
editor doubtless deserves the error that provoked it.
If words were invented to conceal thought, newspapers are a
great improvement on a bad invention.
Henry David Thoreau
Accuracy is to a newspaper what virtue is to a lady, except that
a newspaper can always print a retraction.
The best way to get thrown out of the columnists' club is to be
uncertain about anything whatsoever on this earth.
If you lose your temper at a newspaper columnist, he'll get rich
or famous or both.
James Hagerty, press secretary to Eisenhower
I must not mix champage, whiskey, and gin. (Repeated fifty times
to fill column.)
Westbrook Pegler, American syndicated columnist
The legend arose that a green correspondent [covering the
Winnipeg flood in May 1950] cabled his London editor: God looked
down from the Pembina Hills near Winnipeg today on an awesome
scene of destruction...The editor wired back: Forget flood.
Typesetters always correct intentional errors, but fail to
correct unintentional errors.
Why does baloney avoid the grinder?
William F. Buckley, after John F. Kennedy refused to appear on his TV show, Firing Line