Walter Lippmann

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Walter Lippmann
Walter Lippmann.jpg
Born (1889-09-23)September 23, 1889
New York City
Died December 14, 1974(1974-12-14) (aged 85)
New York City
Occupation Writer, journalist, political commentator
Nationality American
Alma mater Harvard University A.B. (1910)
Notable works Founding editor, New Republic
Notable awards

Pulitzer Prize, 1958, 1962

Presidential Medal of Freedom
Relatives Jacob and Daisy Baum Lippmann

Walter Lippmann (September 23, 1889 – December 14, 1974)[1] was an American writer, reporter, and political commentator famous for being among the first to introduce the concept of Cold War, coining the term "stereotype" in the modern psychological meaning, and critiquing media and democracy in his newspaper column and several books, most notably his 1922 book Public Opinion. His views regarding the role of journalism in a democracy were contrasted with the contemporaneous writings of John Dewey in what has been retrospectively named the Lippmann-Dewey debate. Lippmann won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for his syndicated newspaper column "Today and Tomorrow" and one for his 1961 interview of Nikita Khruschev.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Walter Lippmann was born on September 23, 1889, in New York City, to Jacob and Daisy Baum Lippmann; his upper-middle class German Jewish family took annual holidays in Europe. At age 17, following his graduation from New York's Dwight School, he entered Harvard University where he studied under George Santayana, William James, and Graham Wallas, concentrating upon philosophy and languages (he spoke German and French), and earned his degree in three years, graduating as a member of the Phi Beta Kappa society.[4]

Career[edit]

Lippmann was a journalist, a media critic and an amateur philosopher who tried to reconcile the tensions between liberty and democracy in a complex and modern world, as in his 1920 book Liberty and the News. In 1913, Lippmann, Herbert Croly, and Walter Weyl became the founding editors of The New Republic magazine.

During World War I, Lippmann was commissioned a captain in the Army on June 28, 1918 and was assigned to the intelligence section of the AEF headquarters in France. He was assigned to the staff of Colonel Edward M. House in October and attached to the American Commission to negotiate peace in December. He returned to the United States in February 1919 and was immediately discharged from the Army.[5]

Through his connection to Colonel House, he became an adviser to President Woodrow Wilson and assisted in the drafting of Wilson's Fourteen Points speech. He sharply criticized George Creel, whom the President appointed to head wartime propaganda efforts at the committee on Public Information. While he was prepared to curb his liberal instincts because of the war saying he had "no doctrinaire belief in free speech", he nonetheless advised Wilson that censorship should "never be entrusted to anyone who is not himself tolerant, nor to anyone who is unacquainted with the long record of folly which is the history of suppression."[6]

Walter Lippmann examined the coverage of newspapers and saw many inaccuracies and other problems. He and Charles Merz, in a 1920 study entitled A Test of the News, stated that The New York Times' coverage of the Bolshevik revolution was biased and inaccurate. In addition to his newspaper column "Today and Tomorrow", he wrote several books. Lippmann was the first to bring the phrase "cold war" to common currency in his 1947 book by the same name.

Walter Lippmann in 1914

It was Lippmann who first identified the tendency of journalists to generalize about other people based on fixed ideas.[citation needed] He argued that people—including journalists—are more apt to believe "the pictures in their heads" than come to judgment by critical thinking. Humans condense ideas into symbols, he wrote, and journalism, a force quickly becoming the mass media, is an ineffective method of educating the public. Even if journalists did better jobs of informing the public about important issues, Lippmann believed "the mass of the reading public is not interested in learning and assimilating the results of accurate investigation." Citizens, he wrote, were too self-centered to care about public policy except as pertaining to pressing local issues.

On journalism[edit]

Lippmann saw the purpose of journalism as "intelligence work". Within this role, journalists are a link between policymakers and the public. A journalist seeks facts from policymakers which he then transmits to citizens who form a public opinion. In this model, the information may be used to hold policymakers accountable to citizens. This theory was spawned by the industrial era and some critics[citation needed] argue the model needs rethinking in post-industrial societies.

Though a journalist himself, he did not assume that news and truth are synonymous. For Lippmann, the "function of news is to signalize an event, the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them in relation with each other, and make a picture of reality on which men can act." A journalist's version of the truth is subjective and limited to how he constructs his reality. The news, therefore, is "imperfectly recorded" and too fragile to bear the charge as "an organ of direct democracy.”

To his mind, democratic ideals had deteriorated, voters were largely ignorant about issues and policies, they lacked the competence to participate in public life and cared little for participating in the political process. In Public Opinion (1922), Lippmann noted that the stability the government achieved during the patronage era of the 19th century was threatened by modern realities. He wrote that a "governing class" must rise to face the new challenges.

The basic problem of democracy, he wrote, was the accuracy of news and protection of sources. He argued that distorted information was inherent in the human mind. People make up their minds before they define the facts, while the ideal would be to gather and analyze the facts before reaching conclusions. By seeing first, he argued, it is possible to sanitize polluted information. Lippmann argued that seeing through stereotypes (which he coined in this specific meaning) subjected us to partial truths. Lippmann called the notion of a public competent to direct public affairs a "false ideal." He compared the political savvy of an average man to a theater-goer walking into a play in the middle of the third act and leaving before the last curtain.

On mass culture[edit]

Lippmann was an early and influential commentator on mass culture, notable for not criticizing or rejecting mass culture entirely, but discussing how it could be worked with to keep democracy functioning. In his first book on the subject, Public Opinion (1922), Lippmann said mass man functioned as a "bewildered herd" who must be governed by "a specialized class whose interests reach beyond the locality." The elite class of intellectuals and experts were to be a machinery of knowledge to circumvent the primary defect of democracy, the impossible ideal of the "omnicompetent citizen". This attitude, while it could be considered elitist today, was held as liberal by the standards of the 1920s, endorsing the continuation of civil society rather than populist fascism.

Later, in The Phantom Public (1925), Lippmann recognized that the class of experts were also, in most respects, outsiders to any particular problem, and hence, not capable of effective action. Philosopher John Dewey (1859–1952) agreed with Lippmann's assertions that the modern world was becoming too complex for every citizen to grasp all its aspects, but Dewey, unlike Lippmann, believed that the public (a composite of many "publics" within society) could form a "Great Community" that could become educated about issues, come to judgments and arrive at solutions to societal problems.

From the 1930s to the 1950s, Lippman became even more skeptical of the "guiding" class. In The Public Philosophy (1955), which took almost twenty years to complete, he presented a sophisticated argument that intellectual elites were undermining the framework of democracy. This book was very poorly received in liberal society.[7]

Later years[edit]

Following the removal from office of Secretary of Commerce (and former Vice President of the United States) Henry A. Wallace in September 1946, Lippmann became the leading public advocate of the need to respect a Soviet sphere of influence in Europe, as opposed to the containment strategy being advocated at the time by George F. Kennan.

Lippmann was an informal adviser to several presidents.[8] On September 14, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson presented Lippmann with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.[9] He later had a rather famous feud with Johnson over his handling of the Vietnam War, of which Lippmann had become highly critical.[10]

He won a special Pulitzer Prize for journalism in 1958, as nationally syndicated columnist, citing "the wisdom, perception and high sense of responsibility with which he has commented for many years on national and international affairs."[2] Four years later he won the annual Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting citing "his 1961 interview with Soviet Premier Khrushchev, as illustrative of Lippmann's long and distinguished contribution to American journalism."[3]

Lippmann retired from his syndicated column in 1967,[11] and died in 1974.

Legacy: Almond–Lippmann consensus[edit]

A meeting of liberal intellectuals mainly from France and Germany organized in Paris in August 1938 by French philosopher Louis Rougier to discuss the ideas put forward by Lippmann in his work The Good Society (1937), Colloque Walter Lippmann was named after Walter Lippmann. Walter Lippmann House at Harvard University, which houses the Nieman Foundation for Journalism, is named after him too. Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman used one of Lippmann's catch phrases—the "Manufacture of Consent"— for the title of their book, Manufacturing Consent, contains sections critical of Lippmann's views about the media.

Similarities between the views of Lippmann and Gabriel Almond produced what became known as the Almond–Lippmann consensus, which is based on three assumptions:[12]

  1. Public opinion is volatile, shifting erratically in response to the most recent developments. Mass beliefs early in the 20th century were "too pacifist in peace and too bellicose in war, too neutralist or appeasing in negotiations or too intransigent"[13]
  2. Public opinion is incoherent, lacking an organized or a consistent structure to such an extent that the views of U.S. citizens could best be described as "nonattitudes"[14]
  3. Public opinion is irrelevant to the policy-making process. Political leaders ignore public opinion because most Americans can neither "understand nor influence the very events upon which their lives and happiness are known to depend."[15][16]

Death[edit]

Lippmann died on December 14, 1974, at age 85 in New York City.[1]

He has been honored by the United States Postal Service with a 6¢ Great Americans series postage stamp.

He was mentioned in the monologue before Phil Ochs' recording of "Love Me, I'm a Liberal" on the 1966 album Phil Ochs in Concert.

Bibliography[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Wooley, John T. and Gerhard Peters (December 14, 1974). "Gerald R. Ford: Statement on the Death of Walter Lippmann". The American Presidency Project. Retrieved 2008-11-09. 
  2. ^ a b "Special Awards and Citations". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-11-01.
  3. ^ a b "International Reporting". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-11-01.
  4. ^ Who Belongs To Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Beta Kappa website, accessed October 4, 2009
  5. ^ Harvard's Military Record in the World War. pg. 584.
  6. ^ Steel, 125–26.
  7. ^ Marsden, George (2014). The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief. New York: Basic Books. pp. 44–50. ISBN 0465030106. 
  8. ^ McPherson, Harry C. Jr. Review of "Walter Lippmann and the American century" by Ronald Steel Foreign Affairs, originally published Fall 1980
  9. ^ The American Presidency Project – Remarks at the Presentation of the 1964 Presidential Medal of Freedom Awards – September 14, 1964
  10. ^ McPherson, Review of "Walter Lippmann and the American century"
  11. ^ "Writings of Walter Lippmann". C-SPAN. Retrieved 2011-06-30. 
  12. ^ Holsti,Ole, R., and James M. Rosenau. 1979. "Vietnam, Consensus, and the Belief Systems of American Leaders." World Politics 32. (October):1–56.
  13. ^ Lippmann, Walter. 1955. Essays in the Public Philosophy. Boston: Little, Brown.
  14. ^ Converse, Philip. 1964. "The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics." In Ideology and Discontent, ed. David Apter, 206–61. New York: Free Press.
  15. ^ Almond, Gabriel. 1950. The American People and Foreign Policy. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
  16. ^ Kris, Ernst, and Nathan Leites. 1947. "trends in Twentieth Century Propaganda." In Psychoanalysis and the Social Sciences, ed. Geza Rheim, 393–409. New York: international University Press.

External links[edit]