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The Press and 'Group-Think'

September 03, 1989

Particularly striking to me is Shaw's observation that "as conventional wisdom becomes more prevalent, it becomes both more conventional and less wise. When all think alike, none really think; society ultimately suffers."

I found myself wishing, as I read, that Shaw had included reference to the independent reporter I.F. Stone as described in The Times just two months ago by Henry Weinstein and Judy Pasternak, on the occasion of Stone's death at age 81. They quoted Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post:"At a time when the herd instinct ran rampant in our profession, he almost alone remembered what being a real reporter was about." They cited Stone as "likely to be remembered as a reporter who asked questions that others didn't think of" and as "the conscience of investigative journalism."

Then there was The Times editorial on June 20, concluding that Stone "was best at holding high the record and demanding accountability of governments to that record.

"His role in strengthening that tradition will be his memorial among us who understand how essential accountability is to freedom."

Reflecting on the meaning of Shaw's articles, it occurs to me that the creation of our nation was in part a result of people who questioned conventional wisdom, who probed behind "the news" that was presented to them, "who asked questions that others didn't think of," and who understood "how essential accountability is to freedom."

We consumers of the news, while we might hope for more like I.F. Stone, need not wait for that. Just as we are skeptical about what the stereotypical car salesperson tells us or doesn't tell us about that car, so also we should treat what the media tell us or do no not tell us as a signal for further analysis and comparison with other sources.


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