William Katz remembers: Media mutters

William Katz has had a long and varied career, as an assistant to a U.S. senator; an officer in the CIA; an assistant to Herman Kahn, the nuclear war theorist; an editor at the New York Times Magazine; and a talent coordinator at The Tonight Show. He is the author of ten books, translated into 15 languages. He admits to degrees from the University of Chicago and Columbia. When I asked him if he’d ever written about his various careers, he said that he hadn’t but that he would be happy to do so. His reflections on his work for the Tonight Show are here and here. He took a look at the film industry in the posts “Hollywood, hurray for?” and “Hollywood, hurray for? The sequel.” His most recent post is “A tale of two speeches.” Today he writes:

The following is a secret transcript of a meeting held in the publisher’s office of a major newspaper. I can’t reveal which one. Let’s call it The New Amsterdam Chimes, whose motto is, “All our views that fit, we print.” The publisher is deep in thought with one of his top editors.
EDITOR: Sir, I need your okay on something.
PUBLISHER: Tell me.
EDITOR: You know the Duchess University case?
PUBLISHER: Of course. Three croquet players harassed the head of the Womyn’s Center at a tofu party.
EDITOR: That’s it.
PUBLISHER: The scum. Croquet always attracted that kind – rich white boys swingin’ their hammers. I loved the way Duchess went after them, those 88 professors who signed that statement…
EDITOR: Uh, sir, there’s been a reverse. The case collapsed. The boys didn’t do it.
PUBLISHER: Oh, come on. They’re jocks, they’re male, their parents love Bush, they did it.
EDITOR: Sir, I hate to break it to you, but they’ve been cleared. The D.A. faked the case. We want to correct our stories.
PUBLISHER: Why? So we can be pummeled to the pavement by the pontificating Power Line police?
EDITOR: Sir, it’s the right thing to do. We are The Chimes, the newspaper
of record.
PUBLISHER: Not a chance. Look, okay, maybe we missed some details. Guilty, innocent, you can get them mixed up. But we ripped bare the croquet establishment. I’m very proud. I’m talking Pulitzer Prize.
EDITOR: But we were wrong.
PUBLISHER: There is no wrong. There’s only cultural difference.
Now, that meeting never took place. Let me rephrase that: I don’t think it took place. Let me rephrase it again: Hey, you never know.
And that’s the point. While the scene above is fiction, there are millions who think that something like it, with that point of view, could happen, and probably does. Sadly, the media provide ample fuel for their fears. Never, in my time, has trust in journalism been lower. More important, the kind of trust that’s dying is something new, and dangerous for democracy.
A few days ago Richard H. Brodhead, president of Duke University, finally apologized for Duke’s behavior in the rape/lacrosse case. The North Carolina bar has also acted, vigorously so, in punishing the behavior of the district attorney who brought the case, Michael B. Nifong.
That leaves one institution that remains silent over its sins in the Duke affair

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