Walter Lippmann

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Walter Lippmann

Born September 23, 1889(1889-09-23)
New York, New York
Died December 14, 1974 (aged 85)
New York, New York
Nationality United States
Alma mater Harvard University A.B. (1909)
Occupation Writer, journalist, political commentator
Known for Founding editor, New Republic
Pulitzer Prize, 1958 & 1962
Parents Jacob and Daisy Baum Lippman

Walter Lippmann (September 23, 1889 - December 14, 1974) was an influential American award-winning writer, journalist, and political commentator. Lippman was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 1958 and 1962 for his syndicated newspaper column, "Today and Tomorrow."


[edit] Early life

Lippmann was born on September 23, 1889 in New York City to German-Jewish parents, Jacob and Daisy Baum Lippmann. The family was upper-middle class, taking annual family trips to Europe. At age 17, he entered Harvard University where he studied under George Santayana, William James, and Graham Wallas. He concentrated on philosophy and languages (he spoke both German and French) and graduated after only three years of study.

[edit] 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 Weyl became the founding editors of The New Republic magazine. During World War I, Lippmann became an adviser to President Woodrow Wilson and 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 Plato did, 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. 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. Wallace in September 1946, Lippmann became the leading public advocate of the need to respect a Soviet sphere of influence in 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.[citation needed] He had a rather famous feud with Lyndon Johnson over his handling of the Vietnam War, of which Lippman had become highly critical.[citation needed]

A meeting of intellectuals organized in Paris in August 1938 by French philosopher Louis Rougier, Colloque Walter Lippmann was named after Walter Lippmann. Walter Lippmann House at Harvard University, which houses the Nieman Foundation for Journalism, is named after him too. Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman used one of Lippmann's catch phrases, the "Manufacture of Consent" for the title of their book, which contains sections critical of Lippman's views about the media: Manufacturing Consent.

[edit] Death

Lippman died on December 14, 1974 at age 85 in New York, New York.[1]

[edit] Bibliography

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Wooley, John T. and Gerhard Peters (December 14, 1974). "Gerald R. Ford: Statement on the Death of Walter Lippmann". The American Presidency Project. Retrieved on 2008-11-09. 

[edit] References

  • McAllister, Ted V. (1996). Revolt against modernity: Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin & the search for postliberal order. Lawrence, Kansas, University Press of Kansas. ; pp. 58-68; ISBN 0-7006-0740-4. 
  • Riccio, Barry D. (1994). Walter Lippmann - Odyssey of a liberal. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 1-56000-096-1. 
  • Steel, Ronald (1980). Walter Lippmann and the American century. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-7658-0464-6. 
  • Ferri, Mascia (2006). Come si forma l'Opinione pubblica. Il contributo sociologico di Walter Lippmann. Milan, Franco Angeli. ISBN 88-464-7627-1. 
  • Lozito, Virgina (2008). By Walter Lippmann. Opinione pubblica, politica estera e democrazia. Rome, Aracne. ISBN 978-88-548-2220-7. 

[edit] External links

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