Ben Bradlee

Post Apocalypse

On July 2 of last year, Politico broke a startling story: The Washington Post was planning to host off-the-record salons at which sponsors would pay to mingle with D.C. eminences and Post writers. The dinners--the first of which had been advertised in Post fliers as an “exclusive opportunity to participate in the health-care reform debate among the select few who will actually get it done”--were to take place at the home of Katharine Weymouth, the Post’s publisher. Weymouth, granddaughter of legendary Post owner Katharine Graham, had only been on the job for a year and a half.

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Times change in the newspaper business; technologies and perceptions come and go. There is so little one can rely on. But there is this: Every few years, a writer for The New Republic or some similar magazine comes forward to announce the collapse of standards and journalism at The Washington Post. Having read these stories for 40 years, I found Gabriel Sherman's piece ("Post Apocalypse," February 4) particularly lazy. Not much new here.

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EARLIER THIS MONTH, Rupert Murdoch—the benefactor of “When Animals Attack!,” “American Idol,” Page Three Girls, “The O’Reilly Factor,” and other vital cultural institutions—announced his intention to purchase a crown jewel of U.S. journalism, The Wall Street Journal. The prospect of the Aussie vulgarian lording over the paper has whipped up an end-of-days gloom across the nation’s newsrooms. But, of course, most of these newsrooms were already in an apocalyptic mood—and with good reason. Circulation has beendropping for decades.

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Before rejoining the Dole campaign I fly with my friend Barbara Feinman to Detroit. I have made a deal with myself, as an incentive to get out of bed in the morning. For every three days I spend with Bob Dole I will allow myself a day with someone who is not Bob Dole. Normally, I would have waited until I had earned the reward to collect it. But circumstances--namely Barbara--intervened. Until a few months ago Barbara was happily making a living helping famous Washingtonians—Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward, a pride of senators—write their books.

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In 1968 a documentary producer at CBS News had the idea of creating a television show that would resemble Life magazine. The result was “60 Minutes,” the most popular TV news program in history. Its success transformed the television magazine from a conceit into a familiar journalistic form. Today these “magazines” include, in addition to “60 Minutes,” “20/20” on ABC, “1986” on NBC, and “West 57th,” a sort of yuppie cousin to “60 Minutes,” on CBS.

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The Powers That Be by David Halberstam (Knopf; $15) David Halberstam. Halberstam, that was what everybody called him (after all, it was his name). They always said what Halberstam needed was a good editor, his sentences ran on and on, he piled phrase upon phrase and clause upon clause, he used commas the way other men used periods.

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One of the roots of the confusion of the American press about its proper role lies in the kind of privileges it now thinks it can claim. There is and there can be, for example, no "right to know," the most ludicrous of claims for the press to make.

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