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Republic of Denial

Republic of Denial: Press, Politics, and Public Life

Michael Janeway
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Republic of Denial
    Book Description:

    This thought-provoking book offers the most insightful critique of the relationship among the press, politics, and public life in decades. Disdain for politics today in the United States is almost universal. Condemnation of the press is rampant as well. Until we understand the modern condition of politics and journalism-and the cultural context in which they interact-says Michael Janeway, there's small hope of either recovering its standing. Drawing on years of experience at the top levels of the news business and in politics and government, Janeway provides an integrated, insider's critique of the profound changes in each of these professional worlds, showing how trends in each have contributed to deepening public alienation.From its confident post-World War Two era of world leadership, the United States entered a difficult period of turbulence and reversals in the 1960s and 1970s. With wit, clarity, and an eye for offbeat cultural indicators, Janeway examines the full complex of forces that have corroded our press, politics, and public life since then. The result, he argues, is a loss of substance and structure in public life as well as citizen connection to it, a vacuum all too easily filled by political entertainers, shallow coverage of "character," and-engulfing the nation in convulsive crisis for a year of its history-the politics of scandal.None of today's proposed remedies for the failings of our press or politcal system is adequate, Janeway argues, for none take full account of the integral relationship between the two spheres. In the absence of recognition of its buried democratic crisis, Janeway concludes, the United States has become a "republic of denial."

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14484-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction: A Story of Our Time
    (pp. 1-14)

    Politics in the United States today is almost universally disdained for falsity and shrillness. The media in the United States are widely condemned for bad practices and attitudes.

    This book argues that no solid understanding of one of those states of affairs can be achieved without an understanding of the other, and of the interactions between the two spheres, political and journalistic. It argues further that no sophisticated grasp of them is possible without consideration of how each has evolved over the past thirty years—and of the context of that evolution in the flow of American social, cultural, economic,...

  4. Part 1. As We Were

    • ONE “Let’s Remember the Energy”
      (pp. 17-28)

      Americans’ passage from an era of cohesive, heroic national enterprise, fortune, and spirit to times in which alienation, pessimism, loss, and disintegration became rampant is a story sensed and even known in the streets, among friends and co-workers, in families. Novelists and playwrights wrestle with it. But the story of that passage is not for the most part the subject of political or journalistic discourse.

      Save for an interlude in the 1970s, neither political leadership nor mainstream journalism have been able to name or contend with the story in a sustained and comprehensive way, for a fundamental reason. Full articulation...

    • TWO And Then …
      (pp. 29-42)

      The upheavals in American circumstances and consciousness that began in the 1960s were simultaneous, and in part interwoven, with radical transformation of the ways society exchanges information about such epic change. For television and then the computer, a “communications revolution” driving its own imperatives and effects and prompting others, landed smack in the middle of a modern American society experiencing political, economic, and cultural upheaval. Thus, what constituted the press began to change at its core just about the time the story line it was telling—the nature and content of the news—began to change atitscore.


    • THREE Malaise
      (pp. 43-54)

      With few exceptions, mainstream political and journalistic leadership stopped short of offering reflections on this accumulation of national trouble. Conventional wisdom was that America had after all managed its way through other tough challenges in recent times. Indeed many journalists and political leaders persisted in the tones of unquestioned American preeminence that took hold in the postwar years.

      Near the peak of the debate about the Vietnam War in 1967–68 the foreign editor ofNewsweek, a markedly less hawkish news organization than its rivalTime, echoed officialdom’s “one compelling reason” why the United States had to hang in: “The...

  5. Part 2. Disarray

    • FOUR Structure
      (pp. 57-73)

      Beneath the country’s outward reversals and unfocused perception of them, adding to the syndrome of depression and denial, fundamental structural elements of American politics had disintegrated. This was less a heralded event than a creeping change in the weather. The country had experienced sorely divided government many times, with presidents, Congress, or the Supreme Court stalemating one another. But by the 1970s, growing bloated in dimension and numbers, American governance was passing from merely divided to gridlocked and dysfunctional; from Walter Lippmann’s vision of mastery to his warning of drift.¹

      Contributing to governmental atrophy were factors as old as the...

    • FIVE Character
      (pp. 74-92)

      As nature abhors a vacuum, a natural effect of the disintegration of governance and the parties, and metamorphosis of politics into a media game, was the mounting obsession in the 1980s with the private lives of prominent politicians and other public figures. For the press and the public alike, this obsession with the personal helped fill the space once taken up by lively engagement with the issue-oriented and procedural aspects of politics and government.

      The press tried gamely to play by the old rules, largely ignoring the structural origins of the new fixation on the private and personal. It worked...

    • SIX Private Lives
      (pp. 93-106)

      The soap-operatic cycles of preoccupation with public officials’ character, featuring the press in the role of ever skeptical “character cop,” was a reflection of the drift of American political life from coherence to trivialized instability. The erosion of effective governance and of rooted political parties were the structural factors in that drift, overlooked amid the finger-pointing at (and within) the press. But what about the audience’s reaction to the drama—and participation in it? How could there be a drama, let alone a mass market melodrama, without an audience?

      The audience, considered en masse or in its subcategories, was hard...

  6. Part 3. The Business

    • SEVEN Bottom Line
      (pp. 109-127)

      For more than a century and a half, since the news business began to intersect with emerging technologies like the telegraph, railroads, and rapid-speed printing, it has chronicled—and reflected in its own growth—the evolution of American society from rural and small-town existence to urban, and then suburban, social organization. Similarly, the development of the American press was integral with the nation’s assimilation of waves of immigration and its transit from preoccupation with American separateness to entry onto the international stage as a great power. On up to the present, few if any industries could identify themselves more thoroughly...

    • EIGHT Managing
      (pp. 128-139)

      For the men and women who manage the press, the onset of the industry crisis in the late 1980s came in rough, cross-cutting waves, packing undertow. How exactly to characterize the pounding effect was difficult, because “the crisis” was in fact a convergence of crises. Industry leaders and analysts tended to focus on one or another aspect of them, with results that variously reflected superficiality, distraction, and confusion.

      The first waves, in the 1980s, were the consequences of privately held companies going public and of merger and acquisition fever in the go-go years. For a publicly traded corporation to maintain...

    • NINE Trying Something
      (pp. 140-154)

      Desperate to reverse the losses, striving for coherence, at odds with time and space, the major news organizations searched for the magic bullet that would help them recover circulation and advertising revenue. Some executives were sweeping in their claims, some more odd-lot. Most formulations suggested the triumph of gimmickry and promotion over substance and depth. Most of them smacked of the tenuous, Micawber-like hope that if the right heads just got together, if the right formula could just be devised, happy results would ensue. As Jim Batten—the most reflective of the lot —had put it, we have to try...

  7. Part 4. Alternatives

    • TEN Hamilton and Jefferson
      (pp. 157-167)

      One response to the plight of the news business was grounded in more intellectual and professional integrity than the others, and it tried to make the leap between the journalistic and political cultures. Moreover, its prophets neither promised nor expected “quick-fix” effects. Rather, they called for a reinvention of “public life” and of the press role in it as intermediary between government and the public.

      This was the “civic journalism” movement of the early 1990s, also known as public journalism. It too was flawed, not for want of dedicated effort but because it bit off only half of the fundamental...

    • ELEVEN Therefore …
      (pp. 168-178)

      Given the odds against which journalists work of late, given the extent to which so many journalists themselves have accepted the various doctrines of the news business rialto—from “lighten up” to “relationship marketing”—it’s astonishing that those who have followed their own professional standards and instincts have prevailed to the extent that they have.

      Most news organizations today still attract reporters, writers, and editors of fine ability and high integrity. It’s in the blood. In the newsrooms of many of them, the pursuit of news and interpretation, facts and background, as distinct from the devising of decoration, infotainment, and...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 179-202)
  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 203-204)
  10. Index
    (pp. 205-216)