Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Attack-Dog Style of Public Discussion: Panel of Editorial Writers Says Newspaper Editorial Pages Must Bear Some of the Responsibility for It

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Attack-Dog Style of Public Discussion: Panel of Editorial Writers Says Newspaper Editorial Pages Must Bear Some of the Responsibility for It

Article excerpt

NEWSPAPER EDITORIAL PAGES must bear some of the responsibility for the current "attack dog" style of public discourse, according to a panel of editorial writers.

The shrill frothings and exchanges on talk radio and television can be countered by lively, reasonable and informed comment on the opinion pages, they stressed.

"There is a mounting perception today that our democratic society is suffering from a poverty of public discussion," observed Robert Kittle of the San Diego Union-Tribune. "We in the news media must shoulder considerable responsibility for the attack-dog environment in which the public debate is now conducted."

Speaking at the National Conference of Editorial Writers convention in Phoenix, Kittle contended that newspapers, in many ways, are the arbiters of public discourse, ranging from President Clinton's Haiti decision to the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

As such, he continued, newspapers are in a position to elevate the "degredation of intellectual dialogue," which has contributed to widespread cynicism about government and other institutions.

Kittle said a recent Time magazine poll showing that the percentage of Americans who trust their government has dropped to 19% from 76% in 1964, indicates people have become cynical to the point of dropping out, shirking their responsibilities as citizens and "thereby corroding the whole process of government."

"We in the news media should be asking ourselves whether the problem is well-served by our approach," the panelist suggested. "We have both a money-making incentive and a civic obligation to ensure that the voters are getting the information they need to make intelligent choices to make democracy succeed."

The alternative, Kittle warned, is to confirm the view of many Americans that the press is merely another selfserving institution, "one that is not much better than that lowest of the low: Congress."

Kittle and other panelists expressed deep concern that broadcast talk shows and commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, rather than the opinion pages of newspapers, are setting the tone for public discourse.

Such programs, argued Joe Stroud of the Detroit Free Press, cater to the people's short attention span and feed their impatience with reasoned discourse.

However, Stroud, at the same time, blamed editorial pages for driving readers to their tv and radio sets.

"Most editorial pages look as if they're written by people who get up in the morning and say, 'What can I write about today?' he commented. "We need more passion -- an editorial page that looks as if it's written by people who get up in the morning and say, 'Those SOBs can't do that to us.'"

Stroud urged editorial writers to stand on principle, understand the opposition's argument without being paralyzed by it," and "grant the opposition its humanity."

Don't assume the opponent is evil as well as wrong, he added.

Opinion writers also should avoid viewing life as a "morality play rather than a complex clash of values and people," he said.

Dull editorials were further rapped by Tony Snow of the Detroit News, a former speech writer for George Bush. Snow, whose column also runs in USA Today, complained that some staffers turn out editorials from a "sheer sense of obligation," causing readers to "yawn and say 'forget it.'"

"One reason for such vapid writing, he maintained, is the fear of giving offense. Snow similarly deplored the popularity of newspaper surveys to determine readers' attitudes toward them. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.