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The Media Show: The Changing Face of the News, 1985-1990.

The Media Show: The Changing Face of the News, 1985-1"0. Edwin Diamond. MIT Press, $19.95. From his twin perches at New York University and New York magazine, Ed Diamond has been watching the media for a good many years now. I have occasionally bumped into him as we've covered the same story (most recently, the Daily News strike, during which most of his reporting was indistinguishable from the official management line), and on one memorable evening a few years back, we were bear-baited together on the Morton Downey Jr. show. One of the pioneers of serious media criticism, he works hard at what he does, and though I often-to-usually disagree with him, I take him seriously. But this is not a very good book. It is a loosely connected series of short-attention-span takes on the behavior of the media-mostly American, and mostly TV, with print and the Soviet Union present largely for purposes of comparison-over the second half of the eighties. Particularly in network television, this was a time of corporate conglomeration followed by-at least in the news divisions-corporate cheese-paring. Though The Media Show lacks the vacuum-cleaner exhaustiveness of Ken Auletta's telling of the same story, the processes and outcomes of rampant bottom-linism are generally well reported. What is lacking, as the book's breezy, TV-ish title suggests, is something approaching a theory. Especially in dealing with yesterday's news (and the book is largely composed of recycled magazine material), what happened is less interesting than why.

This is something Diamond knows -indeed something he specifically addresses in considering the changing role of print journalism in a television age. But it is not something he does anything about. Is the decline of network news an inevitable function of private, profit-oriented ownership (Marx, who might at once have been wrong about communism and right about capitalism)? Or does the visual medium itself hold the seeds of its own destruction (Neil Postman, whom Diamond mentions only to dismiss)? Or is this simply progress, and all's for the best in this best of all synapse-straining worlds (Camille Paglia, when she's not getting all bothered by sex)?

To which Diamond's response is, more or less, "I dunno." Put this shrug together with some questionably skewed perceptions-e.g., George Steinbrenner, regularly shredded in the sports pages of every New York paper, was according to Diamond "larger than life and free of the pull of mundane judgments"-and you have a problem. Though the book's not so lightweight it threatens to float away, you wouldn't miss a whole lot-on either side-if you half-read The Media Show while half-watching the nightly news.

Geoffrey Stokes
COPYRIGHT 1991 Washington Monthly Company
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Stokes, Geoffrey
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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