Jonah Goldberg

Indeed, many journalists seem to believe that a certain impatience for patriotic appeals is a hallmark of good journalism. One such journalist is Mike Wallace. In a famous PBS-televised seminar at Columbia University (so famous I've written about several times), the moderator imagined a hypothetical in which the late Peter Jennings was imbedded with enemy troops in a Vietnam-like war. He then asked whether, if given the opportunity, he'd warn American troops they were about to be ambushed or whether he'd hang back and simply "roll tape" on the slaughter.

Jennings agonized. "I think," he said after a long pause, "that I personally would do what I could to warn the Americans."

Mike Wallace was appalled. "I am astonished" that you would interfere, he said to Jennings. "You're a reporter!" When asked if American reporters have a higher duty to their country or fellow Americans, Wallace replied, "No, you don't have a higher duty. No. No. You're a reporter."

This browbeating was enough to get Jennings to change his mind.

This is just one of countless examples of how patriotic waters run tepid in the elite media. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, ABC's David Westin told journalism students that he couldn't take a position on whether or not the Pentagon was a legitimate target. Other journalists agonized about whether or not there was an inherent conflict between wearing a tiny American flag on their lapels and doing their jobs. In World War II, American journalists - including Walter Cronkite and the legendary Ernie Pyle - wore American military uniforms and saw no conflict.

Some of this has to do with the growing cosmopolitanism of American journalism. Elite reporters like Mike Wallace and the late Jennings think they are "citizens of the world." Years ago, CNN banned the use of the word "foreigners" to describe, well, foreigners.

And some of this has to do with tendency to define good reporting or exaggerating as revealing America's problems to the world. This is a needed and important trait in reporters, but like any trait, including patriotism, one can have too much of it, or too little.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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