Few things can contribute more to the understanding of what may be called “The New Face of Liberal Journalism” than the manner in which major sectors of the American press have treated Senator Goldwater during the past three months. This holds true not only for the secular news media but for the religious press as well.
During the convention in San Francisco and the period that immediately preceded it, the writer was in Europe. There were available the European editions of two major New York dailies, and the German press quoted exhaustively from other sectors of our metropolitan press. It was impossible to escape the conclusion that the liberal newspapers, both in their editorial commitments and through the commentators to whom they gave prominence, had in advance adopted a position of unconcealed bias against Goldwater and in favor of President Johnson. In the reporting, everything that the Senator from Arizona did or said was presented in an unfavorable light, while at the same time every move made by President Johnson was glamorized and made to appear well advised.
The major thrust of those editorials that did seek to reason concerning the matter was that Goldwater represents an era that is long past. Almost with one voice, they joined in the chorus that the prospective candidate from Arizona is naïve—that he has never considered the complexities of the world of today. Condescendingly, some of them attributed to him as a conservative the minor virtue of sincerity (if there be in him any virtue at all); but the general attitude was that he reflects outlooks and values that are no longer meaningful. By implication, they suggested that as a conservative, Goldwater could not be the intellectual equal of his opponents.
One is not certain whether the alarm expressed by editorialists and columnists over his statement that “moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue” was genuine or not. Certainly the liberal commentators have shown no disposition whatever to listen to any explanations of the intent of the statement. What is conveniently forgotten by them is, of course, that we live in a day in which every group seeking reform tends to abandon moderation. Perhaps this is the inner logic of social change.
The liberal press gives the impression of condoning excessiveness by advocates of some forms of social change, and of having little or no concern for the maintenance of public order where certain forms of immoderation are concerned. The frightening thing in all of this is that those who profess open-mindedness have shown no inclination to stop and examine issues or meanings. Goldwater’s statement was treated, almost uniformly, as being sinister.
A similar lack of objectivity was manifest in the attitude of the liberal press toward Goldwater’s views on national defense. No effort was spared to depict him as trigger-happy—as one who would without doubt pursue a policy of unmitigated “brinkmanship” and who would probably push his country into war with the Soviet Union. Having jumped to this conclusion, the columnists are scarcely likely to attempt any objective examination of the respective merits of the two candidates.
It is significant that these journalists secured their desired results in Europe. Following the nomination at the Cow Palace, well-meaning and intelligent Europeans mournfully informed this writer that the election of Senator Goldwater would certainly mean war! One gets the impression that major sections of our metropolitan press have determined to decide the highly complex issue of the choice of a President for the years 1965–69 upon the basis of an emotional and highly biased tour de force.
This is being written by an independent voter who at the time of writing is undecided about his vote for President in November. Normally, he would like to feel that at least the religious press of the land would, in the midst of the near-hysteria of the secular liberal press, maintain some objectivity. In point of fact, he finds that the liberal religious press has locked step with its secular counterpart.
One looks in vain in such publications as Christianity and Crisis or the Christian Century for any really objective discussion of the respective merits of the two major candidates. While in general these and similar periodicals have disavowed such agencies as “Christian Political Parties” and the like, yet now they seem to have no hesitancy in identifying the views of the Democratic party with what John C. Bennett calls “everything for which America’s three faiths stand in respect to international relations, civil rights and economic policy” (Christianity and Crisis, Aug. 3, 1964, p. 1).
Bennett declares that Goldwater is clearly opposed to what is religiously normative at these points, and adds that the Christian Century has discovered the same to be true. Now, it surprises nobody that these periodicals should ultimately favor the nominee of the Democratic party. This is clearly their privilege. What is disturbing is that they reached this position with such ease, and in advance of any reasoned discussion of the issues at stake.
It tells us little or nothing that the Century published the views of several professors of social ethics, each of whom voted a thumping No for Goldwater. The discussions printed in this connection did not, if the reaction of this writer is correct, seek to examine the issues at stake and to permit Goldwater to elucidate his case. They seem, rather, to be searching for reasons to support a position already taken.
One expects such secular journals as the Nation to respond to any conservative candidate in terms of a negative conditioned reflex. This is again certainly the privilege of a periodical under the conditions of a free press. Actually, the Nation impresses one as giving more place to a reasoned analysis of the issues at stake than did some of the religious journals. Certainly one welcomes such analyses as those Carey McWilliams presents, whether one agrees with the conclusions or not.
One is perplexed by the apparent inconsistency in Professor Bennett’s article, from which an excerpt was taken above. While deploring what he believes to be a tendency upon the part of Goldwater to wrap “an immoral nationalism, an immoral nuclear recklessness, an immoral racism and an immoral economic individualism” in “the mantle of religion,” Dr. Bennett does not seem to hesitate to identify himself with the editorial policy of the Christian Century, which frankly identifies the policies of Goldwater’s opponent with at least the major principles of a Christian ethos.
It would be ironical in the extreme if the unfair and biased attitude of both the secular and the religious liberal press should provoke a backlash (to use a jaded term) in favor of Goldwater. Certainly the critical reader, as of this date, might well see the Republican candidate as the underdog. If the liberal press finds that it has cast him in this role, it has only itself to blame.
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