Letters to the editor

Readers respond to our November/December issue

Editors’ Note

CJR begins a new era this month, as Liz Spayd joins the Review as editor in chief and publisher. Spayd, who spent 25 years at The Washington Post, most recently as its managing editor, becomes the tenth top editor in CJR’s 53-year history, and the first to serve as both editor and publisher. We welcome her, and look forward to working together to refine CJR’s mission—in the print magazine and at cjr.org—as a vital voice in the ongoing debate about the future of journalism. Brent Cunningham, CJR’s deputy editor who has served as its interim editor in chief since June 2013, begins a four-month leave to finish a book.

—The Editors

Culture shock

Smart column (“Off the road,” CJR, November/December). As the boss of Lyft told me the other week, it’s not a car culture anymore, it’s a “phone culture.” The implications of that—and of better, more walkable city neighborhoods, expanded light rail, bike paths that link up so you can actually get somewhere on them, hybrid-electric drive automobiles, Zipcar, Uber, Sidecar, Lyft and the other emerging semi-outlaw livery services could make for a really juicy beat just by themselves.

Cars used to define their drivers, socio-economically and emotionally. That they were expensive semi-durable goods meant a lot for middle-class American incomes. The same just can’t be said for the Galaxy S or iPhone, made in China by people who cannot dream of owning one.

Therein lies the rub, of course: You follow the money on the “mobility” beat and pretty soon you’re writing like a “labor reporter,” and we can’t have that!

Edward Ericson Jr.
Comment on cjr.org

Downward mobility

Culturally, the car used to stand for freedom and independence—and style (“The love affair is over,” CJR, November/December). And the cars were designed with those traits in mind. If you look at old cars—the MGA of 1959, say, the Chrysler New Yorker of 1962, the Ford Bronco through the early 1970s—these vehicles (and many others) were built and marketed around character. As in: They had it and wanted to attract a certain type.

Through the early ’70s, too, an average kid with a kid job could afford to buy one, new. Putting the product within reach of the target market played a role.

Today, everything looks like a caplet—you want the red pill or the blue?—and costs, as you say, $30,000 or $40,000, which is two years’ wages for any 20-year-old lucky enough to be slinging groceries or burgers.

So, two problems, only one of which—styling—can be easily solved by car manufacturers.

The shift is real, but I think it’s more economically than purely socially based. In that it’s a symptom of the country’s larger problem, which is mostly about economics and equity.

Edward Ericson Jr.
Comment on cjr.org

The increase in gasoline prices, coupled with the permanent recession that we’re now enduring, can explain the supposed decline in driving that so excites Micheline, who, as editor of Curbing Cars, is probably less than dispassionate when it comes to these matters. Car and Driver sells 1.2 million dead-tree issues a month. What is Curbing Cars’ circulation?

Alan Vanneman
Comment on cjr.org

Telling secrets

Are we talking about the same Daniel Patrick Moynihan (“America’s secret fetish,” CJR, November/December) who wrote this?

The release of secret Soviet documents after the collapse of the Soviet Union has also provided conclusive evidence of the American [Communist] party’s disloyalty, thus demolishing the theory that domestic anti-Communism was simply a conspiracy against the Left.

Tell me, Mr. Shafer, according to this, are you one of the revisionists who seek to minimize or dismiss the real threat posed by the Soviet Union during the cold war? While Moynihan thought excessive secrecy was counterproductive to real national security needs, he firmly believed the Soviet Union and its paid and loyal lackeys in the West posed an existential threat to the United States.

I firmly believe that decades from now when access to troves of classified material is made available to all we will see a similar thread between the GWOT and the cold war: There was a serious threat against the United States. This threat was at times used for political purposes by individuals and organizations who overstated it or dismissed it, and a not insignificant portion of individuals who dismissed it held loyalties with the forces and organizations who threatened the United States.

Mike H
Comment on cjr.org

In Bob we trust

Thank you for the moving piece “In the name of the Father” (Re: Robert Hoyt) by Mike Hoyt (CJR, September/October).

Bob Hoyt was, without a doubt, the dean of religious journalists in the latter half of the 20th century and beyond. His accomplishments were manifold. He created the outstanding National Catholic Reporter, which unhesitatingly, courageously, and continuously took on the issues of church and state from its founding by him in 1964.

I first met Bob in the early days of the “Protestant-Roman Catholic dialogue” when I was managing editor of Christianity & Crisis (C&C), a liberal Protestant journal founded by Reinhold Niebuhr. He and I were asked by CBS to do a Sunday morning show interviewing Bishop Charles Helmsing of Kansas City in 1963, shortly after the First Session of Vatican Two. Helmsing had evidently been tapped as a liberal at the session. Bob told me he could never understand why.

A few years later we were invited to join a group of Protestant and Roman Catholic editors on a trip to the Middle East conceived by the American Jewish Committee and the United Church of Christ. We spent five days in Cairo, five in Jordan, and 10 in Israel. We traveled pretty freely throughout and generally got to see who and what we wanted to see. We interviewed King Hussein in Jordan, Prime Minister Golda Meir in her Tel Aviv office, where she told us there was no such thing as a Palestinian people, and Abba IIban in his Jerusalem home. Each of us responded differently and were essentially supporters of the State of Israel. Some of us were disturbed by what we had seen in Jordan and by the way Palestinians were treated, as we reported when we went to a debriefing at the State Department in Washington.

In the early seventies, NCR lost significant circulation, and its publisher blamed Hoyt and ousted him. Those of us in the field who had significantly fought for civil rights and opposed the Vietnam War knew better as we had suffered similarly. NCR’s loss turned out to be C&C’s gain as Bob moved to New York.

We prospered as he made a great contribution to us with his writing, thinking, and editing for more than a decade. Our outlook on the world and the issues before us were quite similar. We were of one mind on racism and sexism and openly supported the gay community. In the 1960s only 1 percent of what we published was written by females. By the ’80s, 20 percent was, and by the mid-’80s a third of our reviews were also. Few journals could match that record.

Bob eventually moved on to make a significant contribution as senior writer at the much respected Commonweal.

Mike Hoyt’s essay was a brave piece of writing and remembrance of his father, who became the Walter Lippmann of the nation’s religious press.

Wayne H. Cowan
South Hadley, MA


In “America’s secret fetish” (CJR, November/December), we incorrectly stated the number of terms Daniel Patrick Moynihan served on the US Senate. The correct number is four.

Notes from our online readers

In early december, CJR’s Ryan Chittum wrote a critique on a “study” making its way around the Web that reported on abuse suffered by female journalists, published by the International Women’s Media Foundation and the International News Safety Institute. While a salient topic of discussion, Chittum wrote, the study was less than scientific, merely culling responses online from volunteers. Elisa Lees Munoz, executive director of IWMF, defended the work:

I wish that you had reached out to me for this article (“Credulous press for a report on abuse of female journalists,” cjr.org, December 6, 2013). I am the executive director of the IWMF. I could have given you a much better understanding of what we are trying to do with the study. While we can’t control headlines, we are well aware that we are not representing a scientific picture of the percentage of women journalists threatened, just the women journalists who responded to the survey. In addition, the survey does require information about where the individual works as well as contact information to enable us to go back to respondents.

The kind of information that we are gathering is critical to the work of the IWMF and that of many other journalism development organizations. We have been gathering stories of women journalists in extreme threat around the world for nearly 25 years. The study helps us to pinpoint the kinds of threats women are facing and thereby create programs to help address and mitigate them. Clearly a comprehensive survey is necessary. Funding for that kind of work is extremely hard to come by. This is a good first step to provide important information about the conditions under which many women journalists are working.

I feel you are condemning the study based on the articles written about it, not the intent of the survey, without having spoken to anyone directly responsible for the study; potentially falling into the same trap as the one you accuse the authors of the articles of falling into. —Elisa Lees Munoz

Chittum responds:

It’s fair to criticize your report without talking to you about it. I contacted the INSI and the consultant behind the report, but neither got back to me. I wanted to know more about the methodology, but there was enough about it in your report to know that the survey was not rigorous.

I read the report as well as the press release and the press coverage above hardly distorted either of them. I criticized the report based on the report itself, and I criticized the coverage of it for failing to do the same.

I hope to see a better study of this critical issue sometime. 

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.