In a 1960 article in Daedalus, Leo Rosten spoke up for intellectuals in criticism of the American press. “A great deal of what appears in the mass media is dreadful tripe and treacle,” he wrote, “inane in content, banal in style, muddy in reasoning, mawkish in sentiment, vulgar, naive, and offensive to men of learning or refinement.”
But how much has changed in 50 years?
Rosten enumerated the specific complaints of intellectuals:
1. The mass media lack originality.
2. The mass media do not use the best brains or the freshest talents.
3. The mass media do not print or broadcast the best material that is submitted to them.
4. The mass media cannot afford to step on anyone’s toes.
5. The mass media do not give the public enough or adequate information about the serious problems of our time.
6. The aesthetic level of the mass media is appalling; truth is sacrificed to the happy ending, escapism is exalted, romance, violence, melodrama prevail.
7. The mass media corrupt and debase public taste, they create the kind of audience that enjoys cheap and trivial entertainment.
8. The mass media are what they are because they are operated solely as money-making enterprises.
9. The mass media are dominated—or too much influenced—by advertisers.
10. The mass media do not provide an adequate forum for minority views—the dissident and unorthodox.
I found this summary of Rosten’s argument in Lee Brown’s 1974 book ‘The Reluctant Reformation: on Criticizing the Press in America,’ published by David McKay, New York. The original citation for the Rosten article is “The Intellectual and the Mass Media: Some Rigorously Random Remarks,” Daedalus 99, no. 2 (Spring 1960): 333.
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