Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Giant of American Journalism Walter Lippmann Looks At Fake News

Lippman has been called the "Father of Modern Journalism." He knew his trade.
First up The Nation, December 13, 2007:

Lippmann and the News

In the early 1900s Walter Lippman laid the groundrules for public debate in America. Have the US media followed his prescriptions?
The “present crisis of western democracy,” the 30-year-old Walter Lippmann announced in 1920, “is a crisis in journalism.” A co-founder of The New Republic in 1914, a Wilson Administration confidant and Army captain with responsibility for propaganda in Europe during World War I, Lippmann spoke with authority. And originality. His view of the crisis was an unhappy one because, as he went on to argue in Liberty and the News, which was recently reissued as a slim and attractive paperback, journalism could never–unaided–provide an accurate account of reality for purposes of democratic self-government. But whereas other critics of wartime news coverage sought a journalism not beholden to advertisers or governments, Lippmann saw the core of journalism’s corruption elsewhere–in its own smug assurance of knowledge and its eagerness to assert opinion rather than provide facts. Even so, Lippmann offered suggestions for what editors and reporters could do better. He urged them to commit themselves to the cardinal virtue of “truthful reporting” and recognize that opinionmongering, or what polite society might call “edification,” cannot become a “higher law than truth.” In fact, he wrote, “There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and shame the devil.”

The “crisis” Lippmann detected in both democracy and journalism arises because the sheer volume of political affairs in an interconnected national and global world–the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in the capital of a small Slavic country, after all, had drawn American farmboys into a world war–surpasses the capacity of even the most conscientious citizens to monitor. “I know of no man, even among those who devote all of their time to watching public affairs, who can even pretend to keep track, at the same time, of his city government, his state government, Congress, the departments, the industrial situation, and the rest of the world,” he wrote. We depend on the press in our attempts to make sense of politics–and we are vulnerable to its weaknesses: “If I lie in a lawsuit involving the fate of my neighbor’s cow, I can go to jail. But if I lie to a million readers in a matter involving war and peace, I can lie my head off, and, if I choose the right series of lies, be entirely irresponsible.”

For Lippmann, veracity is not easy to attain, nor is its enemy in journalism primarily or necessarily a matter of government pressure or corporate ownership. The same year he published Liberty and the News, Lippmann, assisted by fellow New Republic editor Charles Merz, published a forty-two-page supplement to the August 4 issue of The New Republic called “A Test of the News,” which dissected the New York Times‘s coverage of the Russian Revolution. Lippmann and Merz concluded that the coverage was vastly distorted, most of all by the hopes and fears of reporters and editors themselves, who saw in the Bolsheviks what they wanted to see. The Times assured readers on ninety-one occasions that the revolutionary regime was near collapse...MUCH MORE
Lippmann died in 1974 so he was able to see the New York Times' Walter Duranty win the Pulitzer in 1932 for his lies about Stalin's deliberate starvation of millions of people in Ukraine during the 1932 -1933 Holodomor. See after the jumps if interested.

Lippmann himself won two Pulitzers.

Here's the report at the Internet Archive:

A Supplement to The New Republic of August 4th 1920 Vol. XXIII. PART II. No. 296
A Test of the News - by Charles Merz and Walter Lippmann
Publication date
Collection opensource
Language English
From Wikipedia's page:

A Test of the News is a 1920 study done by Walter Lippmann, a US journalist, and Charles Merz, later editorial page editor of the New York Times.
They examined press coverage of the Bolshevik revolution for a
three-year period beginning with the overthrow of the Tsar in February
1917. They used the New York Times as their source because of its reputation for accurate reporting.

Their study came out as a forty two page supplement to the New Republic
in August 1920 and demonstrated that the Times' coverage was neither
unbiased nor accurate. They concluded that the paper's news stories were
not based on facts, but were "dominated by the hopes of the men who
composed the news organizations." The paper cited events that did not
happen, atrocities that never took place, and reported no fewer than
ninety-one times that the Bolshevik regime was on the verge of collapse.
"The news about Russia is a case of seeing not what was, but what men
wished to see," Lippmann and Merz charged. "The chief censor and the
chief propagandist were hope and fear in the minds of reporters and
Also in HTML, Kindle, PDF etc.
48 page PDF

And via Scribd:

Regarding Duranty, 
Both the NYT and the Pulitzer peeps have felt the need to explain the award. Neither have disavowed the tchotchke:
New York Times Statement About 1932 Pulitzer Prize Awarded to ...