Don’t Blame the People
by Robert Cirino
Diversity Press (Box 45764, Los Angeles, California 90045), 341 pp., $2.95
The Information Machines
by Ben H. Bagdikian
Harper & Row, 359 pp., $8.95
The Image Empire
by Eric Barnouw
Oxford, 396 pp., $9.75
My Life and The Times
by Turner Catledge
Harper & Row, 319 pp., $10.00
The Last of the Giants
by C.L. Sulzberger
Macmillan, 1,063 pp., $12.50
“And it was neither coincidental nor surprising that The New York Times as a whole would reflect, in miniature, the collective style of the government because the two institutions at the top are shaped by the same forces, historically, socially, and economically—what happens to the government inevitably happens to The Times. Should the United States continue as a preeminent power, The Times‘ words will continue to carry weight in the world. Should the United States decline as an international influence, so will The New York Times.”
—Gay Talese, The Kingdom and the Power
In the winter of 1945, George Orwell, who had been literary editor of the socialist London Tribune, went to Paris as correspondent for the Observer.
“In Paris,” he remembered, “Tribune had a prestige which was somewhat astonishing…. It was impossible to buy it…. Yet all the French journalists I met seemed to have heard of it and to know that it was the one paper in England which had neither supported the government uncritically, nor opposed the war, nor swallowed the Russian myth.”
The opposite number of Tribune in Paris was, Orwell quickly discovered, “a weekly paper named Libertés…which was opposed to the Gaullists on one side and the Communists on the other.”
A day or two after I reached Paris…[a] large working man in black corduroy breeches came up to me, exclaimed “Ah, vous êtes George Orrvell!” and crushed the bones of my hand almost to pulp. He had heard of me because Libertés made a practice of translating extracts from Tribune…. It seemed to me somewhat touching that one could have acquired, without knowing it, a public among people like this: whereas, among the huge tribe of American journalists at the Hotel Scribe, with their glittering uniforms and their stupendous salaries, I never encountered one who had heard of Tribune.
Our great private institutions of public information seem to have reached the point—observable in the development of so many other institutions—where very little art is required to demonstrate their deficiencies but considerable contrivance to argue their merits. So, if Mr. Cirino’s flat indictment of the press and the broadcasters seems the most persuasive of all the books under review, he can thank the condition that his is the most destructive approach.
His tone has the effect of “Let it come down.” The real world, he argues, has been concealed from us by “media bias, distortions, myths and censorship.” The commercial communications system is to him no more than the device the rich use “to persuade people to their point of view.” And experience has already made us ready to feel as he does; what we read and hear and see from the system has left us with little sentiment for its preservation.
So Cirino does not need the credentials of intimacy with the process; he concentrates on the product, and brings the peculiar authority of the consumer into a court where, most of the time, only the producer …