22 May 2012

From Eisenhower's Diary

Another group to be considered is the Press Corps, in which I include not only representatives of the newspapers, but of television, radio and newsreels. The members of this group are far from being as important as they themselves consider, but on the other hand, they have a sufficient importance--and particularly in the eyes of the average Washington office holder--to insure that much government time is consumed in courting favor with them and in dressing up ideas and programs so that they look as saleable as possible. (For example, I am right now scheduled to go to a cocktail party--something I have not attended in twenty years--for the Washington Press Corps and given by the Senatorial Committee on Elections. I am to drop in for the purpose, I suppose, of showing that I am not too high hat to do so.)

On the whole the press group violates the old adage "Always take your job seriously, never yourself." This old saw they largely apply in reverse. As a result they have little sense of humor and because of this they deal in negative criticism rather than in any attempt toward constructive helpfulness.

I once heard that human minds are divided into three great classes, depending upon the kind of subject in which the greatest intellectual interest is taken. The essayist contended that the highest type of mind was concerned with philosophies and ideas and their application to the problems of life. He thought the second class of mind was concerned with the physical things about us, the products of our industry, the natural resources of the country, the machines we use, the food that we eat, and so on. The third class he thought was concerned primarily with personalities. This kind of mind is the one, he said, that enjoys gossip.

If this kind of thing has any semblance of truth in it, I would say that it does not speak well for the average writer of the press. They love to deal in personalities; in their minds personalities make stories.

I suspect that most of these men took up writing as a career for a peculiar purpose. Everybody loves distinction. If a writer can achieve a by-line in the paper for which he writes, he gets a certain thrill out of seeing his name in black type at the head of his own column every day. Beyond this, everybody likes the feeling of authority. There is a quality that has been described as authorial omnipotence. When the author succeeds in having his words published, there is normally no chance for refutation by anyone. Consequently, the author feels that his word is authoritative, and that, as a result, he has great influence on world events. (At least both words come from a common root.)

If any or all of these things are true, it could account for the extraordinary amount of distortion and gross error that characterizes so much of what appears in the newspapers. For more than twelve years, I have been, in one capacity or another, at spots in the world that have been considered newsworthy. Consequently, I have seen, when they occurred, the actual incidents reported, or I have clearly understood the motives of the individuals written about. Rarely is such writing accurate.

— Dwight Eisenhower, journal entry dated January 18, 1954.