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Journalists, Inc.

Journalists, Inc.

Sam Donaldson: What is your salary?

Reverend Jerry Falwell: My salary is $100,000,


Falwell: How much do you make, Sam?

Donaldson: Well, I make quite a bit, Reverend


... A Los Angeles Times poll showed in 1985 that almost half of newspaper journalists but only 18 percent of the general public had incomes over $40,000. The pollsters, I.A. Lewis and William Schneider, wrote in Public Opinion magazine, "What we end up with is an impression of newspaper journalists as something like `super yuppies.' They are emphatically liberal on social issues and foreign affairs, distrustful of establishment institutions (government, business, labor), and protective of their own economic interests."

I think it's fair to say, although I can't prove it, that many print journalists in Washington earn more than Supreme Court justices, cabinet officials, governors, mayors, full professors, school superintendents, and other community leaders. It didn't used to be so.

Is this why journalists have not pressed an agenda that would focus on the economic problems of many Americans--including a generation of immigrants not offered the same opportunities as my parents and me? Can one be so comfortable, living among such wealth, and not avert one's eyes and professional attention from the problems of the less affluent?

Frank Mankiewicz, vice chairman of Hill and Knowlton in Washington, says, "Consider the fact that the drafting and the debate on the 1986 Tax Reform Act was covered for the first time by journalists, most of whom had a serious stake in the outcome. Securities regulation, restoration of capital gains tax favoritism, government attitudes toward real estate, student loans--all of these matters are no longer academic and no longer neutral for almost all our colleagues who cover these stories."

James Fallows, the Atlantic editor just returned from a tour in Asia, remarked on public radio that American cities are like Manila in the degrees of homelessness and poverty evident on their streets. "Where is the Izzy Stone of the homeless?" asks Ronald Ostrow of the Los Angeles Times.

As a depression baby I look at the new affluence, indifference, and excess and it scares me. I wonder if there is a moral kondratieff wave soon to wash over us for our sins of omission, sweeping away our authority and prestige, if not our wealth. I wrote to a number of reporters and writers, most in Washington, and asked if they thought this new affluence, and the celebrity status of many talk show contributors and other journalists, affected the quality and scope of the reporting from Washington. Their answers are worth sharing. For the most part they made a sharp distinction between the journalist as celebrity and the journalist as wealthy. The real problem, almost all agreed, has to do with work habits and the absence of plain old shoe leather....

Hodding Carter III sent along a five-year-old Wall Street Journal "Viewpoint" he had written, noting that it "understates how strongly I feel about the subject." The top journalists, the column said, "move in packs with the affluent and powerful to Washington (just doing their job, of course), then swarm with them in the summer to every agreeable spot on the eastern seaboard between Canada and New Jersey. When any three or four sit down together on a television talk show to discuss the meaning of current events, it is not difficult to remember that the least well paid of these pontificators (in whose rank I occasionally fall) makes at least six times more each year than the average American family .... The truth is that there is not a hell of a lot of tolerance or empathy among the leading figures of national journalism for outsiders, losers, nonconformists, or seriously provocative political figures or causes."...

John Herbers, contributing editor at Governing magazine and a distinguished Washington correspondent for The New York Times until his retirement two years ago, wrote, "The prevailing orientation of Washington journalists began to change from populist-working middle class to moneyed elite in the early seventies. It took well into the eighties to be fully evident." He offers a personal benchmark for the change, from his days covering urban affairs: "One day a group of us were discussing the government's efforts to bring about a better order of economic justice--people really did talk about things like that back then." An idea discussed seriously in academic circles was broached--taking away some of the home mortgage tax write-off and using the money for low-income housing. "No one suggested it might be a good idea, even for consideration," Herbers reports. "In the past most everything we had written affected other people, other places." Now higher salaries, television appearances, book contracts, and speaking fees, "put us securely with the haves. The world of the have-nots is a world we no longer know."...

Author J. Anthony Lukas writes, "I suspect it is the ability, nay eagerness, of many Washington reporters to socialize with the powerful, to dine at their Georgetown tables and natter at their McLean garden parties, which drains their skepticism and blunts the edge of their reporting. There is also the relentlessly political tone of Washington reporting which leads--except at places like The Washington Monthly and The New Republic--to a woeful lack of interest in the social, cultural, not to mention economic and class dimensions of what they are writing about."

"I see two problems in Washington journalism," says Lars-Erik Nelson, bureau chief of the New York Daily News, "This city has no white working class, no industries, no factories... The normal stresses of American life are barely visible here, and apply mostly to a black population on the other side of town."...

Joseph C. Goulden, the author and former Philadelphia Inquirer bureau chief, is director of media analysis for Accuracy In Media: ... "Reporters seem to have lost any grasp of the frustrations of blue collar workers and the lower middle-class. The reports on the `urban poor' and `farmers' I read in The Washington Post and elsewhere remind me of a sociologist's field notes."...

Stanley Karnow said, "The real danger is the feeling of self-importance among many reporters. In 1971 when I returned home after years abroad, the national editor of The Washington Post said to me: `There are 25 members of the Post national staff and 25 members of The New York Times Washington bureau and we are the most powerful people in America.' What hubris!"

James S. Doyle, a veteran Washington, D.C., correspondent, is now vice president of The Times Journal Company of Springfield, Virginia, and editorial director of the Times group. This article is excerpted from Nieman Reports of winter, 1989.
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Title Annotation:yuppie values of journalists and their negligent focus on economic problems
Author:Doyle, James S.
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Mar 1, 1990
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