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Agnew's (and Safire's) Legacy

The Right's attack on the mainstream press began more than thirty years ago, when the recently-retired Bill Safire put in then-not-yet-disgraced Vice President Spiro Agnew's mouth the words attacking "the nattering nabobs of negativism" in the press (always alliterative, that savvy Safire).
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The Left has come late to attacking the mainstream press and media, although Izzy Stone was there early and often. But the Right's attack began more than thirty years ago, when the recently-retired Bill Safire put in then-not-yet-disgraced Vice President Spiro Agnew's mouth the words attacking "the nattering nabobs of negativism" in the press (always alliterative, that savvy Safire). One of the keynotes of that attack, coming as it did during the darkest days of Vietnam, was the argument that American media shouldn't print or broadcast stories about American troops' or officials misdeeds, because such stories constituted "aid and comfort to the enemy."

We are, of course, hearing the same argument now, most recently in the case of the Newsweek Koran-flushing story. Pat Buchanan, for one, says "even if true" he wouldn't have published that story. I guess having tired of running for President he's now running for editor of Newsweek.

But what you didn't hear the first time around, and what you're not hearing now, is a full-throated argument for the other side--why it's a good idea, if it is, to publish/broadcast stories criticial of the American administration and military during wartime. This hesitancy to, as the Brits say, grasp the nettle sends a message, too: that media figures fear either that their critics are right or that the public just won't understand or support a spirited defense of critical reportage.

Safire's seeds are bearing formidable fruit.

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