It Was Ever Thus: Press Bias


“The very process of discourse was misted over, poisoned, with distrust—there was not only ‘the credibility gap’ in Washington, but a wide resentment toward the vehicles of what must be bad news, or false news. In 1964 many thought it shocking that, at the Republican Convention, delegates turned to the press booths and shook their fists in anger after Eisenhower’s criticism of reporters. But by the 1968 convention, cops beat newsmen and broke their cameras. What is more interesting, the demonstrators in the parks were often hostile to the press, suspecting them of being plainclothesmen, or—after their credentials had been established— demanding loyalty to ‘the revolution’ before they would talk. Meanwhile, newsmen who followed Wallace said they felt like patsies, straight men for the candidate’s act, so much did he use them to elicit boos and jeers from his crowds. Spiro Agnew got a similar response when he held up a copy of the New York Times and mocked it. Disturbed by the angry wash of criticism after Chicago, Reuven Frank, head of NBC News, said of the American viewer: ‘The world as reported by television threatens him. It is a short and understandable step for him to conclude that television threatens him.’ There was, back of all these localized complaints, a basic sense of futility in attempts to communicate. What one said would be distorted; what one heard had been confected. We had miles of cables, batteries of cameras, bouquets of microphones under every nose. And we could not talk to each other.”
–Garry Wills, Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man (1970)

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