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Profiles in Cowardice: The Columbia School of Journalism 1/20/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in Courage.
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American journalism has a proud history of courage – or at least boasting about it. Adolph S. Ochs, the founding father of the modern NY Times, talked about providing news “without fear or favor.” Joseph Pulitzer famously declared his paper would “never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty,” whatever that means. Watergate reporters Woodward and Bernstein continue to be celebrated by journalists for their courage.

But if their online journal is any indication, America’s most prestigious j-school needs whatever meds the Wizard put the Cowardly Lion on. The most recent edition of the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) includes an article as remarkable for its cowardice as for its demonstration of staggering ignorance of marketplace economics. It seriously suggests that bloggers protect themselves from free market competition by forming a “Bloggers Guild of America.” This was preceded by a jaw-dropping, free-press-be-damned article floating the idea that news outlets become welfare queens — getting out of their current financial woes by getting on the government dole. Not to mention the School’s recent co-founding of a new alliance that should be called “J-School Deans Against a Free Press,” which encourages the government to dictate to local TV stations what their news programs should cover.

And when it recently came time to boldly defend the principles of American journalism, the CJR went AWOL. Regarding the fatality-causing Danish publication of an editorial cartoon of Mohammed — a cartoon that virtually no American newspaper had the courage to reproduce – the CJR helpfully explained that this revealed “different approaches” to western vs. Arab journalism. Regarding the visit of Iranian press-suppressing dictator Ahmadinejad to Columbia’s own campus, the most testosterone the CJR could muster was in an article called “Iranian Media Claims Victory. Who Cares?” that assures us “It’s important to remember that despite periodic crackdowns on satellite dishes and Internet search engines, Iranians are hardly beholden to the state media for all of their news.” To which we can only add that it’s important for Old Media journalists to remember that Americans are hardly beholden to them anymore for their news either.

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