On this day of mourning for President Ford, while people here and elsewhere are once again discussing journalism as if it mattered and heroes as if they matter, I thought I'd reproduce an excerpt from the published screenplay of one of the great movies released during the period of time when Gerald R. Ford was President of the United States of America. Only some of this dialogue survived the final edit. It is the first words spoken in an Academy-Award-winning performance and is delivered under narration.
Good evening. It is Monday, September the Twenty-Second, Nineteen Seventy-Five, and, today, a shot was fired at President Ford's motorcade in San Francisco. The President was unharmed. The incident happened late this afternoon, and we still do not have a filmed report. The shot was fired as Mr. Ford was leaving the St. Francis Hotel on his way to the San Francisco Airport. The President was shaking hands with people in front of the hotel when the shooting occurred. Secret Service agents rushed Mr. Ford into his car, and the motorcade went immediately to the airport. Police arrested a man with a six-shot revolver in his possession, although there is some confusion about this. Our last reports indicate the attempted assassination may have been made by a woman. In any event, this is the second attempt on the President's life in eighteen days, and we will have a comment to make about that later in the program. Right now, though, we have a telephone report from Halsted Mayberry in San Francisco. Halsted, are you there?
—Paddy Chayefsky, Network
Paddy Chayefsky was one of my journalism-trained, skeptic of a father's heroes. Rod Serling was another.
The direction immediately preceeding the dialogue transcribed above reads:
CAMERA MOVES IN to isolate. Howard Beale, who is everything an anchorman should be—fifty-eight years old, silver-haired, magisterial, dignified to the point of divinity.
I'm reminded of another fictional journalist of the time:
It all started in a five thousand watt radio station in Fresno, California...
Journalism still mattered then, but its importance was fading and Network identified why that was so—it doesn't pay. I've written before that my father only offered me two pieces of career advise which both amounted to: Don't do what I did. He found military service mostly tedious and annoying and when it wasn't he often wished it were. He thought there wasn't much of a living to be made in journalism if you did it right unless you were an extremely gifted writer. On military service I only doubted him until I was out of his house. On journalism I doubted (and not because I ever thought I was much of a writer) for a good long while before concluding sometime in the '80s that few, if any, really, day in and day out, cared enough about having it done right to pay what that would cost.
That being written, I wish those who are trying to do it right (and make it pay) whatever success they may someday achieve. Wretchard posted The Blogosphere At War last Thursday. It's an interesting read. An absent (lurking?) contributor here asked a good question based, in large part, on the last three sentences of the monograph in the comments.
The blogosphere does not contain any preordained political or cultural bias. Structurally, however, it is extremely hostile to cant and disinformation. The political side which tells the most lies and falsehoods is likely to suffer more at its hands than one which hews more closely to the observable truth.
To me the most interesting hypothesis (it still seems to have the epistemological status of an hypothesis) is that the blogosphere tends to favor those parties with more "truth" on its side.
You would think that would tend to extinguish the readership of the hard left blogs, like Kos and Huffpo.
But don't the statistics assert that these still get the most traffic?
Discounting the obvious head cases and filtering out the noise, the blogosphere has been putting out a remarkably faithful signal. That's not to say it is perfect, but only relatively better than the old agenda and access journalism with which we have lived so long.
Perhaps, on good days, but even then that's not saying much. It is, however, what most people focus on and focus on and focus on. I focused on the first two sentences in the monograph.
There is considerable interest in the idea that "blogs" are somehow able to offset the mainstream media's (MSM) ability to sell a given narrative to the public, a power which is of considerable interest in peace and even more so in war. It is widely recognized that molding public perceptions through narratives is nearly as important in war as the outcomes on the actual battlefield.
Whether journalism matters again will, in my opinion, depend on whether this or that medium and message plays and, thus far, the biggest shortcoming of the new media is in its inability to consistantly create and deliver a narrative which engages that huge segment of "the public" which is normally indifferent to or antagonistic towards the interests and views of its creators.
To almost close, two journalists:
Historian: An unsuccessful novelist —H.L. Mencken
History: An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools. —Ambrose Bierce
To, in all ways, better narratives in 2007.
P.S.: I was eighteen in 1976. Gerald Ford, survivor of two assassination attempts, is the first person for whom I voted to be my President on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. May he rest in peace.
This was a comment by loner. I took it upon myself to make it a post on its own.
3 minutes ago