Evan Thomas Mangles Memories of the Seventies

Brent Bozell's last column referred to a year-end think piece by Newsweek's Evan Thomas on our hurtfully "hyperpartisan" political atmosphere called "The Closing of The American Mind."

I was especially fascinated when Thomas wrote wistfully of the golden days when America had an "old order – a large, more politically moderate voting public...In 1970, at about 6:30 pm at least two or three nights a week, about half the country could be found watching the evening news on one of the three major networks. The broadcasts tended to be fairly sober-minded, on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand presentations by trusted anchors like Walter Cronkite."

It’s understandable that media elitists would mourn for the Nixon era, when conservatism was still a small remnant and most Republican office holders were almost as liberal as the Democrats. But the idea that there were no hyperbolic divisiveness or harsh rhetoric, with the Vietnam War raging and the radical left on the march, is just bizarre. It’s even more bizarre to claim that biased liberal anchormen like Walter Cronkite, lobbying LBJ to get out of Vietnam, were fair and balanced in their presentation.

What Thomas and the rest of the media mourn are the days when they felt the media really ran America, when they felt the government and the people heard their pronouncements and obeyed their political whims. Today, most voters ignore the networks, ignore the news magazines and national papers, and many even get their information from – gasp – talk show hosts and bloggers and other experts.

Old books about the liberal media are fascinating on this subject. From The Left-Leaning Antenna by Joseph Keely, a quotation from National Review's July 28, 1970 issue about Chet Huntley (youngsters, he co-anchored the NBC Nightly News with David Brinkley):

Mr. Chet Huntley reveals in the current Life his secret thoughts. About Nixon: 1) "The shallowness of the man overwhelms me; the fact that he is President frightens me." On Spiro Agnew: 2) "...Agnew is appealing to the most base elements. The networks almost created him, for God's sake." And on the network news programs: 3) "It deeply concerns me that 55 percent of the American people are getting most of their news from TV. These are people who, for the most part, are being confronted with news for the first time. And these are the people who form the Agnew claque." And it occurs to us that all this gallimaufry adds up to is that 1) the people who like Agnew do so because 2) they get their news from television networks and know that Agnew's criticisms are just, and 3) were always able to see through the shallow impartiality of such as Chet Huntley.

You can also enjoy The Gods of Antenna by Bruce Herschensohn, The News Twisters by Edith Efron, and another book I've used on Agnew: The Impudent Snobs by John Coyne. (A little Agnew review of mine is here.)

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