Heralding the rise of the daily newspaper in 1831, French poet and politician Alphonse de Lamartine declared journalism would emerge as “the whole of human thought,” but that thought itself “will not have time to ripen, to accumulate into the form of a book.” The book, Lamartine proclaimed, “will arrive too late.”
“The only book possible from today is a newspaper,” he concluded.
Lamartine was prescient. Nowness—not depth, quality, or ethics—came to define the press. This has metastasized to obscenity in the digital age. Indeed, media critic Tom Rosenstiel believes “the press has moved toward sensationalism, entertainment, and opinion.” That might be an understatement. Ripeness of thought has little refuge under mass media’s tyranny of immediacy.
Today, Americans are urged to perceive mass media as the palladium of our “democracy.” But America is hardly a democracy. “The 20th century—and with undoubted good reason—has had occasion to reiterate that view,” writes Kirkpatrick Sale, “in the face of mass parties, mass politics, and mass governments claiming to be democratic.”
In this context, “democracy” is substantially political expediency, and its most effective huckster is the press. Those concerned with how to pursue, seize, and maintain political power understand this all too well.”
Read the full story in Chronicles.