October 20, 2005

Fallows Eve

I had the honor and privilege tonight of getting to meet James Fallows, the ace writer for The Atlantic Monthly and former editor of US News & World Report. Fallows wrote a book in the mid-'90s called "Breaking the News," which I later read in Intro to Journalism, and it was one of the first glimpses I ever had into what actually goes on in later became known as "MSM."

The occasion was Fallows' speech at Ursinus College in the far-flung Philadelphia suburbs, and he had sort of a neat reason for being there: Fallows' father had attended Ursinus in the 1940s before leaving earlier to attend medical school and later serve as a medic in World War II. Fallows visited Ursinus in order to accept a diploma on behalf of his father, and also to make a speech on Iraq, the economy, politics, and the media.

Fallows had interesting things to say about all of the above. On Iraq, he pointed out that the US has an essential choice to make between two extremes: either to commit to staying in the country for 5-10 years, or leave now. He then elaborated on a piece he recently wrote for the Atlantic in which he looked back on U.S. economic history from 2016, which was much, much better than Richard Clarke's similar written-from-the-future piece in that same magazine.

On politics, Fallows slammed both parties, in pointing out that according to all historical indicators, both Bush and Kerry should have lost the 2004 election. As for the media, he immediately jumped into the bias debate, giving the answer that I've generally heard from most "MSM" figures, namely (I paraphrase):

"Everyone who consumes the media sees biases in different places, which correspond inversely to their own political beliefs. But the real problem isn't institutional bias, but rather that the media companies are treating journalism more as a business than anything else, and doing what sells."
He used the example, of course, of the "Aruba girl," a story with no political dimension which is of course beaten into the ground constantly because it's what people want to see.

In the Q&A session, I got to tell Fallows how much I enjoyed his book back in the day, and also asked him how he feels about the blog phenomenon. Putting the lie to all that "MSM Hates Blogs" nonsense, Fallows said that on balance, the blog phenomenon is a good thing, while he was careful to point out that "85% of all blogs are peoples' journals, or pictures of their cats."

All in all a fascinating evening, and here I was afraid I'd never get to attend this sort of cultural event anymore now that I'm out of Manhattan. I once even wrote a paper about Fallows, analyzing whether or not he had followed the example of his book after taking over US News shortly after it was published (I wish I still had the paper, so I could have given him a copy.)

Posted by Stephen Silver at October 20, 2005 10:34 PM
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