LACK OF PROPORTION, an obsession with celebrity and a disregard
for any issue that cannot be told in terms of conflict or the next
election. Those counts and more make up the indictment of modern
news media practice in a new book by prominent journalist James
Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., in his own new book, puts the
problem more succinctly. He describes a news-management credo that
he says got its start with local television but is spreading ever
further: "If it bleeds, it leads; if it thinks, it stinks."
Fallows will be in St. Louis today to discuss his book,
"Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy,"
with a book signing set for 7 p.m. at Left Bank Books, 399 North
Bradley will be discussing his book, "Time Present, Time Past,"
in an appearance at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 8 at the Library Ltd.
bookstore, 7700 Forsyth Boulevard in Clayton.
In interviews last week, both authors cited coverage of the
State of the Union Address as a good example of what is wrong with
politics and the news media.
Bradley said the notion that the State of the Union was the
opening shot in the 1996 campaign - and that Clinton had scored a
crucial victory over his likely Republican opponent, Senate
Majority Leader Bob Dole - was absurd.
"I do not think that come October, if Bob Dole is the
Republican nominee, that someone will vote for Clinton because
Dole looked tired at the State of the Union," Bradley said.
Had he been writing the story, he said, "I would have said that
the president delivered his State of the Union address and did not
mention the word `race' once. And then I would have gone on from
there," to discuss the implications of that omission in the year
since Clinton's last State of the Union, a year of O.J. and the
Million Man March.
Fallows, Washington editor of the Atlantic Monthly, says
coverage of this year's address was an improvement, barely, over
last year's - when the news media uniformly panned Clinton for an
81-minute recitation of policy initiatives that turned out to be a
hit with the public. But Fallows said he would like to have seen
at least something on new college scholarships or V-chip
television controls or beefed-up border patrols - the specific
policy proposals, that is, that Clinton made.
"What I'm suggesting is a matter of proportion," Fallows said.
"Should the political coverage be 100 percent of the total, or 60
percent? There might have been more emphasis on what he actually
Proportion is what Fallows suggests the news media no longer
In his book Fallows relates the news media reaction when
Bradley announced last August that he was stepping down from the
Senate after three terms. Bradley cited his frustration with the
inability of modern politics to get beyond partisan posturing and
deal with the real concerns of ordinary people. Those concerns
were largely ignored in the coverage of Bradley's announcement.
Fallows said Bradley's interview with Judy Woodruff of CNN "was
like the meeting of two beings from different universes. Every
answer Bradley gave concerned the substance of national problems.
. . . Every question she asked was about short-term political
tactics." Fallows said the interview closed with Bradley pleading
for an end to coverage that reduced every subject to its partisan
"As soon as he finished," Fallows writes, "Judy Woodruff asked
her next question: `Do you want to be president?' It was as if she
had not heard a word he had been saying."
In his own book, Bradley writes that if media coverage of
politicians in 1978 had been as invasive as it has become since,
he would never have made that first successful run for the Senate.
At that point Bradley's trajectory had already taken him a long
way from his boyhood in Crystal City, Mo. …