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ERIC Number: EJ927169
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 3
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 0
ISSN: ISSN-0190-2946
The Professors, the Press, the Think Tanks--And Their Problems
Alterman, Eric
Academe, v97 n3 p21-23 May-Jun 2011
Think back to the famous 1920s debate between Walter Lippmann and John Dewey. The argument--begun by Lippmann with a series of three brilliant books published between 1919 and 1925 and ended by Dewey in 1927 with his book-length response to "Public Opinion," Lippmann's masterpiece--turned on many issues simultaneously but rested foundationally on the two men's differing conceptions of truth. Whether in journalism, academia, or the policy world in between, most participants in public discussion pretend to a Lippmannlike devotion to facts but reach conclusions through Dewey's culture of communication and conversation. Academics tend to be both more knowledgeable than journalists about the topics on which they comment or write and more circumspect about what they profess to know about a given topic and the conclusions they feel comfortable drawing as a result. They test their truths with relevant counterarguments and footnoted references that can be examined by those with opposing views. Journalists, on the other hand, usually treat anything as true if someone in a position of ostensible authority is willing to say it, even anonymously (and if no one is going to sue over it). The accuracy of anyone's statement, particularly if that person is a public official, is often deemed irrelevant. If no evidence is available for an argument a journalist wishes to include in a story, then up pop weasel words such as "it seems" or "some claim" to enable inclusion of the argument, no matter how shaky its foundation in reality. What's more, too many journalists believe that their job description does not require them to adjudicate between competing claims of truth. The "truth" produced by think-tank denizens lies somewhere between that of journalism and academia. The research these organizations produce tends to be footnoted, but the footnotes themselves are often questionable, and ideological counterarguments are rarely entertained except in mocking tones. Truth is considered to be self-evident if it matches the belief of the author, though footnotes are nice, too, if only for the patina of authority they tend to lend one's arguments. The slow collapse of the newspaper industry and the growth of online, less professionalized news sources, while salutary from a Deweyan conversational perspective, has opened up public discourse to additional infusions of ideologically motivated misinformation. "The quack, the charlatan, the jingo, and the terrorist, can flourish only where the audience is deprived of independent access to information," wrote Lippmann. But the author contends that they can thrive just as easily when elites cannot be bothered to provide accurate information or refuse to do so in the service of their own political, ideological, or economic interests.
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A