Court of Public Opinion

There is a belief in some circles that news and journalism has only recently succumbed to pressures from the masses and corporate interests, dictating what’s acceptable for publication. Knowing a little about the past will quickly cure you of that notion and any nostalgia about the “good ole’ days.”

E. B. White wrote an essay for The New Yorker that the magazine published around this time (January 31) back in 1948. It was titled, “Expediency.”

E. B. White and Martha White, Allen Cove, 1957.

White was riffing about something quoted in Editor  & Publisher that read:

San Francisco—Public opinion polls are scientific tools which should be used by newspapers to prevent editorial errors of judgment, Dr. Chilton Bush, head of the Division of Journalism at Stanford University, believes.

Bush went on to be quoted as saying, “A publisher is smart to take a poll before he gets his neck out too far,” he said. “Polls provide a better idea of acceptance of newspaper policies.”

Of course, White weighed-in about this on the pages of The New Yorker.

He was of the opinion that if Bush wasn’t misquoted (apparently he wasn’t), then newspapers and journalism, “the fourth estate” became mere “parodies of human intelligence,” according to White.

Journalism isn’t supposed to be about sticking one’s finger in the wind and deciding which way it’s blowing. White was clear about that in his brief essay.

It appears that young journalists are often misinformed and ill-prepared for the task at hand upon graduation. It’s a wonder that any manage to turn into some approximation of the Menckens, Tarboxes, and Taibbis (in our day).