From the Editor

John Turner

A difference that forces itself on my attention more and more lately is the separation between journalists and genuine scholars. I hesitate to say so because among people who call themselves scholars there are droves of pedants who have little of significance to say.  But when I direct my attention to those I believe are genuinely serious scholars, I find an astoundingly different tone and set of assumptions than anything I encounter in newspapers or on TV.  Scholars are able, for the most part, to look at world developments from a historical perspective. By contrast journalists appear so bound up with the assumptions of the current power structure they can't step outside mindsets severely limited by class and nationality.  As a consequence, we get from journalists little realistic appraisal of the forces contending in the world. In short, if you pay attention solely to journalists, you won't know what's going on.

I don't understand why this should be so. Surely journalists can read books. But in their professional work, they give little evidence that they have read them.  Media stars are far more ready to palaver endlessly on the clichés of a leading politician than they are to mention the most deeply reasoned arguments of a careful and well-informed theorist.

Journalism is obsessed with who will win over the short run and not with what's going to happen to a majority of people over years and decades. The latter, from the media's point view, is boring.

Therefore,  persons who will viewed by history as disastrous dolts are, in their heyday, often lionized by the press as shrewd and knowing leaders. And, a few years hence, when the historical reputation is beginning to emerge, the media won't care how wrong they were because they'll be off in the wake of the next dolt to come strutting down the path.

The media have no memory. That's why their judgments can't be trusted.

A function of a publication like this, which is neither journalism nor scholarship, is to point readers towards valid sources of information.  So, I hope we can help you find good books to read, and after you've read them, I hope you'll tell us all what they said.



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Harvard Square Commentary, September 25, 2006