Sunday, August 02, 2009


Crucial social ideals are not maintained by the magic of personal virtue. Something like tout comprendre c'est tout pardoner applies to good as well as evil acts. I have frequently asserted that American journalism is not atrocious because of the venality of its personnel, but because of the viciousness of a system that promotes and rewards bad behavior. Moralizing about the failings of this or that pretty face on cable amounts to blaming the electrons for the short circuit. Thing is, the same logic applies in reverse. If Cronkite and the other luminaries of the early decades of T.V. news were especially admirable, we should not forget that their careers were made possible because the big company executives temporarily tolerated an integrity from their employees they did not possess themselves—David Sarnoff, after all, was every bit as deplorable a human being as Rupert Murdock. Television news was a loss leader. If the execs of the 50s and 60s had insisted on making a profit from it, it would probably have been as bad as the current cheesy mix of entertainment, advertising, and propaganda.

Both virtue and vice are explicable, which does not mean, however, that we aren’t entitled to praise the former and despise the later.

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