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Monday, July 03, 2006

 

The Rise and Fall of Propriety

- By David Morrell

Sweeter than candy is gossip to the American people. Americans are like children at a grocery check-out line begging for just a taste of chocolate. We love the sordid, the scandalous, the grotesque. We would rather read of breaking sexual affairs in government than of President Bush's twenty-fifth wedding anniversary in the White House. We prefer to hear for weeks the details of Cheney's minor hunting accident rather than the nature of his six tie-breaking votes on the Senate floor. We love fights rather than peace, scandal rather than integrity, and entertainment rather than argument. What has happened since the days when Pat Nixon--after the defeat of Richard in 1960--could explode at reporters and remain out of the evening news? This scene, where reporters continued their interview as if nothing had happened, "belongs to a world that has vanished utterly." This shift in focus toward the sensational is, in part, a shift away from defined limits and boundaries of what is fair-game for journalists. Fair-game, now, is limited only by availability. Medical records, dating history, and family crises are among the long list of items now "fit to print." Tragically, the days of restraint and propriety in reporting have waned with the arrival of a new culture of journalism.

A sense of propriety once permeated journalism and the wider American culture. The assumption reigned that journalists had incumbent limits placed upon themselves regarding what they ought and ought not use in their writing. And the demands to set themselves apart from the pack of writers had little bearing on this decision. For defined--or at least approximated--limits governed what material a responsible journalist would draw upon in publishing an article. Often private handicaps or personal affairs were viewed as beyond the legitimate scope of inquiry. Things like Franklin D. Roosevelt's need for a wheelchair and John F. Kennedy's solitary tears at the loss of a child were seen as not important, or material, to the news. The media in those days possessed a restraint long since excised from the world of popular journalism. ...........
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