A thoughtful if sometimes ponderous history of the capital’s newshounds from the New Deal to the present.
A journalist or two probably followed Abe Lincoln around, and we know that ink-stained wretches dogged Jefferson and Adams. But, US Senate associate historian Ritchie writes, the numbers have changed: “More Washingtonians hold press passes than hold office.” Given such odds, it’s amazing that anyone can keep a secret inside the Beltway, but secrets are kept all the same—in part, one might infer, because even if Washington journalists tend to be liberal, they are also part of a culture that serves them very well, meaning, as Russell Baker observed, “They are, in the pure sense of the word, extremely conservative.” Respect for and even deference to authority have never been much of a problem, then, even when politicians do not merit such consideration; as Ritchie notes, the collective DC press gave Joe McCarthy a pass for years, and McCarthy obliged by presenting reporters with cases of Wisconsin beer and wheels of Wisconsin cheese until finally playing out his Red Scare card. Early newsman Arthur Krock, the New York Times’s man at the White House, managed to tick off FDR so much that the president fed information to anyone but him. Krock got his revenge by being appointed DC bureau chief and pestering FDR for the remainder of his years in office, but by the time the country got around to Nixon, Woodward and Bernstein had to pound on a lot of desks to get their paper to pay attention to the misdoings on Pennsylvania Avenue. Today, Ritchie suggests, journalists still tend to go easy on politicians. And if in the wake of 9/11, Washington’s journalists take themselves more seriously and push for harder information, many still “discard some of their professional distance to rally around the flag and the president.”
Academic in tone, though full of good dish about the likes of Lippman and the Alsops. Of much interest to students of national politics and the media.