The choice topics for discussion in the lounge during the past few months have centered on politics, and more particularly on national politics. In an election year it could hardly be otherwise, and we suspect that politics will continue to dominate the conversations, at least until after the November elections. Locally, the candidacy of Mr. Goldwater and his conservative position seem to have captured the fancy of most of the doctors, and if there are any Johnson admirers around, they are either remaining silent or intimidated. There is considerable criticism, too, of the way the present political contest has been reported in the press, although, again locally, the criticism is mainly directed against the liberal viewpoint of the Atlanta papers and the television networks.
During the past Republican Convention the remarks that seemed to evoke the most spontaneous and popular response of any made in San Francisco were those of former President Eisenhower, when he criticized the press, radio and television. His criticism confirmed an annoyance and irritation felt by most of us (of reasonable intelligence, we hope) who comprise the reading, listening, and viewing public. Apparently Mr. Eisenhower also succeeded in touching the sensitive spot of many of the professionals engaged in the communications media.
In the last month the papers, news magazines, radio and television commentators have risen as one in defense of their own, and have filled their media with elaborate rationalizations, all tending to show that the criticism was superficial, misdirected and unwarranted. One of the maneuvers employed was to demonstrate by statistics that the Republicians have enjoyed the major support of the nation's newspapers and editors in each of the last eight presidential elections. While this was irrelevant to the criticism voiced by Mr. Eisenhower, it was meant to demonstate that, if any party had cause to complain about lack of editorial backing, it should be the Democrats, and not the Republicans.
Another defense that intrigued us was the one which admitted that, while possibly a small part of the communications media may have been guilty of bias, this could only represent an infinitessimal portion of the news profession. After all there are unprincipled elements among every group, even among lawyers, doctors, business men and clergy. And the press as a whole should not suffer a general indictment because of the misdemeanors of a few of its members.
We would have to agree with the principle of the last defense, but it would sound more convincing if it came from any source but the press. The medical profession has long endured, and long complained about, being misunderstood, misrepresented and indicted as a body for the faults of a few. The chief indictors who wield the tarbrush against medicine have always been those of the news media, employing the same technique, and often basing their complaints on much less fact as that which they now resent.
We had always thought the press was inured to criticism. Newspapers have been accustomed to it for a long time now. An earlier president by the name of Jefferson once wrote: "Advertisements contain the only truth to be relied on in a newspaper." (This was before the days of Madison Avenue.) Oscar Wilde, who might have had some cause, complained: "In the old days men had the rack; now they have the press." At any rate it is interesting to know that the thick skin of the news profession is capable of being irritated by an application of its own patented paste.
On a post-convention news program, we did witness and hear on TV an example of what Mr. Eisenhower had complained about.
A taped interview with Senator Goldwater was presented in which the senator charged that a specific program by CBS's Daniel Schorr had presented him in an unfavorable light, and had deliberately falsified several facts about his proposed visit to Germany. The senator stated in the interview that he had become so angered, that he, himself, had immediately picked up the phone and complained directly about it to the CBS president, Mr. Stanton.
Following the taped interview, CBS commentator, Walter Cronkite, dead-panned a neat, unemotional rebuttal defending what he felt was impartial CBS reporting. With a final twist that absolved CBS of all guilt, and at the same time questioned the truthfulness of Mr. Goldwater, he concluded that "moreover, the president of CBS states that he has never received any complaint about the program from anyone on Mr. Goldwater's staff." (Italics ours.)
Although this particular program has been commented on several times in the newspapers and news magazines, the equivocation in the wording of the final phrase was either missed or ignored.
The evaluation, today encompassing all news media, which seems still to hold true, is that given by a nineteenth century English satirist: "The most important service rendered by the press is that of educating people to approach printed matter with distrust."
(c) The Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, "The Doctor's Lounge", Sep 1964, Vol. XI No.9, p.9