Newstalgia Reference Room with a continuation of The Great Challenge debate series with the subject "Is The American Public Getting All The Information It Needs?" Broadcast on April 7, 1959.
March 22, 2011

The New York Times' James Reston - he worried about a disconnect. He was right.

Another episode in the radio discussion series The Great Challenge. This segment from April 7, 1959 asks the question "Is The American Public Getting All The Information It Needs?".

And in 1959 the opinion was pretty much divided. However, the feeling was unanimously shared that information was becoming more complex and subsequently harder to absorb. This was in 1959, fifty-one years ago.

Joining Eric Sevareid on the panel were Arthur Schlesinger, Charles A. Sprague, James Hagerty, Robert E. Swayze and James Reston - all respected journalists, authors and historians at the time.

Eric Sevareid (CBS News): “Are we coming to the point here where more and more only rather highly educated people can really understand the news of our universal faith, the news that we’re getting every day? Is the complexity, the volume of this outrunning the rise in the average and normal level of understanding? What do you think Mister Reston?”

James Reston (New York Times): “I think . . yes, I think we are coming to that point. I think a fundamental thing has changed in this country on this very point. I remember when I first went to England as a reporter, being astonished at the passivity of the English electorate. Coming from a part of the country where everybody second-guesses Washington, has a chip on its shoulder, is naturally skeptical as the American people have always been, this astonished me. But I think we’re becoming much more like the English now in our own attitudes toward government. I think, I have the feeling, it’s a disturbing feeling and it may be wrong, but I have the feeling that this country would support the President if he sent an armed convoy into Berlin or if he made a deal on Berlin. Or support him on Quemoy and Matsu or support him if he abandoned Quemoy and Matsu. I think this is something new in American life. At least I feel there has been a fundamental change due to the complexity.”

I think by 2011 the consensus of opinion regarding the complexity of news and events on the parts of Mainstream Media is "don't even try", and opt for the "info-tainment" approach which is long on puff and woefully lacking in substance.

But you wonder, in that time, has it been a conscious decision to give up presenting useful information or is this the product of that universal dumbing-down we've been getting so much of the last thirty-or so years?

You'd think, with the amount of access we have now and the ease with which to get it, we'd all be disgustingly well informed. And maybe its that cultural divide we're seeing a lot more of lately.

The gap, it appears, is getting larger by the minute.

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