This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
Your sense of timing is exquisite. Hard on the heels of publishing an article—to say nothing of your own editorial comment—that is directed at discrediting me and everyone else at this company in the eyes of our professional colleagues, you send us invitations to subscribe to your magazine.
Until the article by Ben Bagdikian appeared, I had held the Columbia Journalism Review in considerable respect. That respect has now been lessened considerably if not dissipated entirely.
It is an editor’s responsibility to check on both the accuracy and completeness of the story that is submitted to him. This, I submit, you failed to do in the case of Mr. Bagdikian. Worse, you have allowed his account to sway your own editorial judgment. The result is a disservice, not only to these newspapers and those who staff them, but to the entire profession of journalism.
Mr. Bagdikian’s story purports to recount many instances of alleged interference by ownership. Unfortunately, two things are missing in most of these cases—the time element and the final outcome. A very natural question to ask is, “What happened?” Why did not you, as editors, ask it? My personal knowledge of most of these incidents is slight; on those of which I do have personal knowledge, I know that Mr. Bagdikian’s story misrepresents or overstates the case.
The whole effect of the story (and I suspect its purpose) is to make Creed Black [vice president and executive editor who resigned in April] look the knight in shining armor put to rout by the evil forces of management. This is scarcely the case. Mr. Black was not the only professional newspaperman on the premises here, although it must be admitted that he was far and away the most active newspaper politician. He also had weaknesses, which should have been clearly apparent from the way he handled his resignation, that were painfully obvious to those who worked under him as well as to those who own the papers. Not the least of these was the inability to admit that anyone but Creed Black could be right.*
You have been exceedingly quick to find something “deficient or irresponsible,” but you have failed to note the underlying irresponsibility of the story you ran. Is this the hallmark of “a meeting ground for thoughtful discussion of journalism?”
You have been guilty of the very irresponsibility you seek to “deal forthrightly with”—whatever that may mean.
Thomas R. Dew
* Mr. Black was named managing editor of the Chicago Daily News on Aug. 11, 1964.—The editors.
To the Review:
If Ben H. Bagdikian had gone whaling in a rain barrel he would have come off better than he does in this article. His attempt to blow up a cause célèbre out of the recent sacking of Creed Black was as futile as trying to popularize baldness. He ran around the facts like a poodle circling a grizzly bear and his net product, a smokescreen, is as transparent as one of the peek-aboo fashions from Paris.
In a propaganda school, his flap might rate a D-plus; but graded straight, as a “case history,” it not only doesn’t make a case, it doesn’t even make a point.
The whole piece, including his petulant sniping at the Du Ponts, could quickly be dismissed as a gnat-bite if it were not for the reflection it brushes on present News-Journal employees, myself included. This comes in his theme, parroting Black’s own outcry, that the executive editor got the old heave-ho because he was struggling to prevent the papers from becoming “house organs” for the Du Pont Company. The inescapable inference here is that the employees are, or would be, content to labor for “house organ” newspapers; and that, of course, cannot be allowed to sail by.
With the claptrap stripped away, the simple truth of Black’s severance was that he had a blind spot—he couldn’t recognize the owners. He thought they were part of the furniture until they started speaking. Then, apparently, he got the big idea that step No. 1 in making the papers “independent” (the quotes are Bagdikian’s) should be making them independent of owner control. What a whizzer that was!