- Walter Lippmann
Walter Lippmann (
September 23, 1889- December 14, 1974) was an influential American writer, journalist, and political commentator.
Lippmann was born in New York City to German-
Jewish parents, Jacob and Daisy Baum Lippmann. The family lived a comfortable, if not privileged, life. Annual family trips to Europe were the rule.
At age 17, he entered
Harvard Universitywhere he studied under George Santayana, William James, and Graham Wallas. He concentrated on philosophyand languages (he spoke both German and French) and graduated after only three years of study.
Journalism and democracy
Lippmann was a journalist, a media critic and a philosopher who tried to reconcile the tensions between liberty and democracy in a complex and modern world, as in his 1920 book "Liberty and the News".
In 1913 Lippmann,
Herbert Croly, and Walter Weylbecame the founding editors of " The New Republic" magazine. During World War I, Lippmann became an adviser to President Woodrow Wilsonand assisted in the drafting of Wilson's " Fourteen Points".
Lippmann had wide access to the nation's decision makers and had no sympathy for
communism. After Lippmann had become famous, the Golos spy ring used Mary Price, his secretary, to garner information on items Lippmann chose not to write about or names of Lippmann's sources, often not carried in stories, but of use to the Soviet Ministry for State Security. He examined the coverage of newspapers and saw many inaccuracies and other problems.
Walter Lippmann and
Charles Merz, in a 1920 study entitled " A Test of the News", stated that " The New York Times"' coverage of the Bolshevik revolution was biased and inaccurate. In addition to his Pulitzer Prize-winning column "Today and Tomorrow," he published several books. Lippmann was the first to bring the phrase " cold war" to common currency in his 1947 book by the same name.
It was Lippmann who first identified the tendency of journalists to generalize about other people based on fixed ideas. He argued that people—including journalists—are more apt to believe "the pictures in their heads" than come to judgment by
critical thinking. Humans condense ideas into symbols, he wrote, and journalism, a force quickly becoming the mass media, is an ineffective method of educating the public. Even if journalists did better jobs of informing the public about important issues, Lippmann believed "the mass of the reading public is not interested in learning and assimilating the results of accurate investigation." Citizens, he wrote, were too self-centered to care about public policy except as pertaining to pressing local issues. Lippmann saw the purpose of journalism as "intelligence work." Within this role, journalists are a link between policymakers and the public. A journalist seeks facts from policymakers which he then transmits to citizens who form a public opinion. In this model, the information may be used to hold policymakers accountable to citizens. This theory was spawned by the industrial era and some critics argue the model needs rethinking in post-industrial societies.
Though a journalist himself, he held no assumption of news and truth being synonymous. For him the “function of news is to signalize an event, the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them in relation with each other, and make a picture of reality on which men can act.” A journalist’s version of the truth is subjective and limited to how he constructs his reality. The news, therefore, is “imperfectly recorded” and too fragile to bear the charge as “an organ of direct democracy.”
To his mind, democratic ideals had deteriorated, voters were largely ignorant about issues and policies, they lacked the competence to participate in public life and cared little for participating in the political process. In "
Public Opinion" (1922), Lippmann noted that the stability the government achieved during the patronage era of the 1800s was threatened by modern realities. He wrote that a “governing class” must rise to face the new challenges. He saw the public as Platodid, a great beast or a bewildered herd – floundering in the “chaos of local opinions."
The basic problem of democracy, he wrote, was the accuracy of news and
protection of sources. He argued that distorted information was inherent in the human mind. People make up their minds before they define the facts, while the ideal would be to gather and analyze the facts before reaching conclusions. By seeing first, he argued, it is possible to sanitize polluted information. Lippmann argued that seeing through stereotypes (which he coined in this specific meaning) subjected us to partial truths. Lippmann called the notion of a public competent to direct public affairs a "false ideal." He compared the political savvy of an average man to a theater-goer walking into a play in the middle of the third act and leaving before the last curtain.
Early on Lippmann said the herd of citizens must be governed by “a specialized class whose interests reach beyond the locality." This class is composed of experts, specialists and bureaucrats. The experts, who often are referred to as "elites," were to be a machinery of knowledge that circumvents the primary defect of democracy, the impossible ideal of the "omnicompetent citizen". Later, in "
The Phantom Public" (1925), he recognized that the class of experts were also, in most respects, outsiders to particular problem, and hence, not capable of effective action. Modern critics of journalism and democracy say that history has borne out Lippmann's model. The power of the governing elites, they argue, stretches from the early days of the 20th century to the New Dealof the 1930s to today.
Lippmann came to be seen as
Noam Chomsky's moral and intellectual antithesis.Fact|date=December 2007 Chomsky and Edward S. Hermanused one of Lippmann's catch phrases, the "Manufacture of Consent" for the title of their book about the media: "". Philosopher John Dewey(1859-1952) agreed with Lippmann's assertions that the modern world was becoming too complex for every citizen to grasp all its aspects, but Dewey, unlike Lippmann, believed that the public (a composite of many “publics” within society) could form a “ Great Community” that could become educated about issues, come to judgments and arrive at solutions to societal problems. Following the removal from office of Henry A. Wallacein September 1946, Lippmann became the leading public advocate of the need to respect a Soviet sphere of influencein Europe, as opposed to the containment strategy being advocated at the time by people like George F. Kennan.
Lippmann was an informal adviser to several presidents.Fact|date=August 2008 He had a rather famous feud with
Lyndon Johnsonover his handling of the Vietnam War, of which Lippman had become highly critical.Fact|date=August 2008
A meeting of intellectuals organized in Paris in August 1938 by French philosopher
Louis Rougier, Colloque Walter Lippmannis was named after Walter Lippmann. Walter Lippmann House at Harvard University, which houses the Nieman Foundation for Journalism, is named after him too.
A Preface to Politics" (1913) ISBN 1-59102-292-4
Drift and Mastery" (1914) ISBN 0-299-10604-7
Public Opinion" (1922) ISBN 0-02-919130-0
The Phantom Public" (1925) ISBN 1-56000-677-3
Men of Destiny" (1927) ISBN 0-29595-026-9
A Preface to Morals" (1929) ISBN 0-87855-907-8
The Good Society" (1937) ISBN 0-7658-0804-8
U.S. War Aims" (1944)
*"The Cold War" (1947) ISBN 0-06-131723-3
Essays in the Public Philosophy" (1955) ISBN 0-88738-791-8
* [http://wiki.uscpublicdiplomacy.com:16080/mediawiki/index.php/Walter_Lippman USC Center on Public Diplomacy Profile]
* [http://nobsblog.blogspot.com/1999/03/men-of-destiny-by-walter-lippman-1927.html Walter Lippmann "Men of Destiny" (1927)]
* [http://foia.fbi.gov/foiaindex/walterlippmann.htm Walter Lippman FBI FOIA]
* [http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAlippmann.htm Biography with excerpt from works]
* [http://mssa.library.yale.edu/findaids/eadHTML/mssa.ms.0326.html Guide to the Walter Lippmann Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library]
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