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Double Vision: Reflections on My Heritage, Life, and Profession.

Ben Bagdikian opens his memoir with a riveting thirty-three-page account of The Washington Post's decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971. As the Post's assistant managing editor, Bagdikian was the newspaper's contact with Daniel Ellsberg, the man who made the papers available to the press. In Bagdikian's narrative, one can clearly see the traits that mark a great journalist.

Bagdikian uses much of Double Vision to reflect upon the changes in U.S. journalism over the past half-century. He develops many of the points he made in his seminal work, The Media Monopoly, the landmark book of left-liberal media criticism which has enjoyed four editions since 1983. In Double Vision, Bagdikian personalizes his argument that U.S. journalism is profoundly and negatively influenced by the implicit pressures of advertisers and corporate media owners. It is a journalism chock full of stories chronicling welfare fraud and petty crime while studiously avoiding stories critical of capitalism and the profit system. It is a journalism where the range of legitimate debate is restricted to the range of elite opinion. As Bagdikian argues, it is a highly flawed journalism for a democratic society.

Bagdikian also adds a few new points to enrich his analysis. He writes about how the decline of journalist unions has harmed the quality of news, as reporters have less ability to stand up to the ongoing management efforts to subvert their independence. This point is often lost in much media criticism, and Bagdikian is to be commended for asserting its importance. Bagdikian himself was effectively black-balled in the 1950s for attempting to organize a newsroom at the Providence Journal-Bulletin. The lesson for readers is that any effort to revitalize U.S. journalism needs to actively support media union-organizing efforts.

In times when it is easy to lose sight of our historical markers, Ben Bagdikian has provided a delightful memoir certain to inspire.

(Robert W. McChesney, and associate professor of journalism and mass communications at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is the author of "Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy.")
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Author:McChesney, Robert W.
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1995
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