The Magazine

Journalism’s Elusive Golden Age

Jan 13, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 17 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Like Diogenes in search of an honest man, The Scrapbook has been on an extended quest to find the Golden Age of American journalism. That was the era, not so long ago, when a literate public was downright serious about the news, and America’s newspapers, magazines, and television networks paid close, detailed attention to current events, foreign affairs, and national politics—which, of course, were civil in tone, bipartisan in nature, and concerned with finding solutions rather than exploiting problems.

Newscom

Newscom

There must have been a Golden Age, because journalists refer to it routinely, especially when elderly politicians or old colleagues expire. It sounds like a splendid epoch, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could recapture its spirit? But its elusive nature is frustrating to The Scrapbook. When was it, exactly? 

We know that it must have been before right-wing zealots captured a once-great Republican party, and newspapers weren’t owned for profit by corporations. It might have been around the time when Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill had their arms around each other’s shoulders on a permanent basis, setting aside their differences for the good of America. But it could not have been when Edward R. Murrow was interviewing Jayne Mansfield on Person to Person, or, more recently, when the New York Times was obsessing over the number of female members at the Augusta National Golf Club.

So the search continues. And thus The Scrapbook is grateful for assistance from Dana Milbank, reporter-columnist for the Washington Post. Returning from overseas last week, Milbank was appalled by all the attention that, in his absence, the media had been giving to ephemeral stories—Phil Robertson, Pajama Boy, etc.—while his colleague Brad Plumer, by contrast, “expertly outlined [that] there are four million people who have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer.” And that there are uninsured people “in states where Republican governors have refused to implement the .  .  . Medicaid expansion” in Obamacare. (It is unclear whether that second story was expertly reported by Brad Plumer or by another Post colleague-expert.) 

The Scrapbook can only say Amen to all that—and thank the Post and Dana Milbank for reminding us that, in a modern media universe of overnight sensations, there are serious issues to be seriously addressed by serious people with serious intent. The only problem is that Dana Milbank and the Washington Post are manifestly unqualified to register such complaints. The Post, after all, is the big metropolitan newspaper where scant cultural coverage is found in a section called “Style,” and its current daily crusade is not about chronic unemployment or health care but about the name of Washington’s professional football team. 

And Dana Milbank is an opinion writer—or reporter; it’s unclear since his column runs in the news pages—whose habitual stock in trade is snark/hilarity/sarcasm at the expense of public servants he dislikes. 

Journalist, heal thyself.

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