Saturday, September 30th, 1995
I’m part of a generation who came of age during and immediately after the Watergate affair, and in fact, was one of the few people in my Grandview Heights, Ohio high school who actively criticized the government’s handling off the war in Vietnam, the treatment of civil rights and antiwar protesters on our nation’s college campuses, and, in general, the secrecy and duplicity that I saw in our president at the time, one Richard M. Nixon.
Nixon’s downfall, you may remember, was not due as much to the efforts of protestors as it was to the dogged efforts of a handful of reporters, particularly those of The Washington Post. Standing up to the administration’s intimidation, harassment, and miscellaneous illegalities, the people from the Post, quite simply, did their jobs. They found out the truth, and they reported it clearly, plainly, without hype or fanfare. The people from that era of the Post–especially their editor, the legendary Ben Bradlee, who, in his own curmudgeonly way, stood up for a set of values and ethics that I found courageous and appealing.
Bradlee and the Post were a big reason why I went to journalism school–and because I wan’t alone in those feelings, j-schools’ admissions skyrocketed post-Watergate. How many of my fellow students enrolled in fulfillment of the romantic image of a ‘crusading investigative reporter?’ Um…I dunno. All I can say is that the ethic of discovering the truth and telling it objectively has always been something I held in high esteem. For the folks who do this every day, it can be anything but romantic or fun, and Where We Are Now, in a culture where reading has become devalued (as has spelling–but don’t get me started), in a business environment where newspapers and television news operations must be profit centers first and purveyors of journalism second, if at all–we may well have descended a long way from the heights of what journalism can achieve. Instead we have non-journalism: we spend an hour watching Barbara Walters talking with Christopher Reeve. We watch local newscasts full of gimmicks and fluff. We read newspapers full of flashy design which wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t surround a content-free void.
And into this era comes once again the voice of Ben Bradlee, in an autobiography called ‘A Good Life’, and it reminds me once again how good–and how much a force for good–journalism can be.