Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Good News
About Bad News

'It’s not the world that’s got so much worse, but the news coverage that’s got so much better.'
—G. K. Chesterton. The late British author was profiled this summer by the New Yorker (you'll find a brief online abstract here, but you'll have to head to the library stacks for the entire piece). Through an odd sequence of events that I've never quite gotten to the bottom of, but hope to soon, the John Carroll University library contains what was (and perhaps still is) reputedly the largest collection of Chesterton materials in the world. We shudder to think of how much truer this prescient statement has become in the decades since he uttered it. His work lives on through the Chesterton Society, which (naturally) has a blog, as well as a small Cleveland contingent.


At 5:36 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Old G.K. didn't live to see Fox News and friends. If he had, he might have swallowed that quip.

At 5:40 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Good point. That sorry propaganda operation is of course a crucial exception, but only if one considers it a news organization, which I don't.

At 7:12 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Sadly, Fox' style has been picked up in varying degrees by CNN and the big three networks.

Example: the disgracefully stupid questions posed by ABC's Charlie Gibson in the Democratic debate.

Happily, Fox has been shut out from moderating any of the upcoming Presidential debates. That should help to further delegitimize them.

At 7:52 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

The idea of Fox moderating something as important as a presidential debate is enough to turn one's stomach. Thankfully, that'll probably never happen. As for Gibson's questions, I don't really agree there. I think it was more a case of Obama fans being angered by their guy being asked tough questions when he had mostly been thrown softballs by the entire media up till then. "Beanpole Guy," as Maureen Dowd called him this morning, had better be ready for lots more of that before this is over.

At 8:24 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Excerpt from the WaPo's review of the debate:

"For the first 52 minutes of the two-hour, commercial-crammed show, Gibson and Stephanopoulos dwelled entirely on specious and gossipy trivia that already has been hashed and rehashed, in the hope of getting the candidates to claw at one another over disputes that are no longer news. Some were barely news to begin with."

The audience actually booed Gibson.

Interestingly, ABC won't be moderating any of the Presidential debates, either. Gee, I wonder why.

True enough, Obama needs to be prepared for puerile, catty questions, because in this toxic media environment, they will continue to come.

G.K., glad you didn't have to see what news coverage has come to.

At 9:33 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Yes, I remember that review, by their TV critic, the always-entertaining Tom Shales, who recently took a buyout and will soon be leaving the staff. He's a great writer and incredibly acute about TV and other pop culture topics, but politics is a bit outside his forte, I'm afraid.

In fact, though, that article figured prominently, even centrally, in the media narrative that developed after that debate. The morning after, the piece was linked to from the Jim Romenesko Poynter site that's read by the entire American media. It helped touch off an avalanche of me-too coverage.

All I can tell you is that I watched that debate live, and I don't remember thinking too many of the questions were that untoward. The tone wasn't much like PBS's Jim Lehrer news hour, but I guess we just have very different expectations of American TV networks in the year 2008. ABC is owned by Disney, and its news division, like the news divisions of all the old broadcast networks, have been reduced to a shell of its former self. If you want gravitas, I'm afraid you'll have to stick with the handful of serious print outlets, PBS, or NPR. And sometimes CNN. You can pretty much forget about ABC, CBS and, to a lesser degree, NBC.

At 9:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you read much of Chesterton at JCU John? Clevenet has only one G.K. offering and that is on microfiche. The linked website says, "The reason he was the greatest writer of the 20th century was because he was also the greatest thinker of the 20th century." That just does not add up when his work is not easily available.

I learned that he "wrote a book called The Everlasting Man, which led a young atheist named C.S. Lewis to become a Christian. This was the man who wrote a novel called The Napoleon of Notting Hill, which inspired Michael Collins to lead a movement for Irish Independence. This was the man who wrote an essay in the Illustrated London News that inspired Mohandas Gandhi to lead a movement to end British colonial rule in India."

Pretty impressive stuff, but do his words really pack such a whallop today, and would it be worth the effort to hunt some of these works down?

At 11:39 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I can't say I've read a lot by him. Probably more about him. I'm not sure one could make a reasonable case that he's the greatest writer of the century (I think Orwell and a handful of others beat him there), but he's probably among the greatest. As your impressive listing of people he influenced nicely demonstrates, he was incredibly influential, which of course speaks to his greatness.

I think I know the source of the apparent contradiction between that and the fact that his books aren't as widely available as they might be or probably should be. He has come to be thought of in intellectual circles hostile to Christianity and especially to Catholicism as a writer who's only concerned about religion, and thus is sometimes dismissed. You can listen for the signal phrase: "Catholic apologist," which you often come across in reference to Chesterton. But that's a silly, short-sighted take that says more about those doing the interpreting than it does about him. The proof, as always, is in the writing, which is strong and interesting. But at times his style can sound a little old-fashioned to modern ears (and to others a little too Old Testament), which is another reason he tends not to be thought of quite in the same breath as the likes of Orwell. But hey, there are worse things than to be remembered as not quite Orwell. By that exacting standard, just about everyone's a failure.

At 1:29 AM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

"(Shales is) a great writer and incredibly acute about TV and other pop culture topics, but politics is a bit outside his forte..."

The CBS Evening News, Entertainment Tonight and The Daily Show work similar mixtures of news, pop culture and politics, and of the three, the comedy show is the most enlightening.

Shales, with his pop culture savvy and cynicism, is perfectly positioned to comment on a farce like that debate.

"ABC is owned by Disney, and its news division, like the news divisions of all the old broadcast networks, have been reduced to a shell of its former self... You can pretty much forget about ABC, CBS and, to a lesser degree, NBC."

My point exactly.

Anonymous said: "I learned that (Chesterton) 'wrote a book called The Everlasting Man, which led a young atheist named C.S. Lewis to become a Christian.'"

I too confess that I haven't read much Chesterton, but I did read Lewis' "Mere Christianity." Very weak apologetic, and not a great reflection on Chesterton if the above is true. Lewis comes off as a nice old guy, but confused and prone to wishful thinking.

At 6:16 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Bluster, you make a persuasive case, as always. For reasons I can't easily put my finger on, I'm not quite as much of a fan of the Daily Show and its host as some. I think I'd just prefer a little less silliness and playing to the crowd. But of course at its best, it can be devastating, and I gather your point. As for your point about Lewis, that's interesting. I confess I've never read Mere Christianity, though have long meant to. Your comment might finally get me off the ball. Then again, since you pan it, maybe just the opposite. Either way, I always appreciate your smart commentary. It adds much yeast to this blog, allowing the dough to rise.

At 9:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe Lewis did have a weak apologetic, I'm no expert. HOWEVER, many of his works such as his Space Trilogy, Narnia, The Abolition of Man, and so on, reveal the depth of his understanding and have made deep spiritual and philosophical principles accessible to me in a way that nothing else has.

I would welcome the opportunity to be so impressed by Chesterton if only his work would be more easily available. I may ask the library to do a more extensive search for me. Mr. Bluster, any recommendations?

At 1:41 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Anonymous, I do have a good suggestion for you. Go to and search for "G.K. Chesterton". There are quite a few free, downloadable books of his available. I found only one by C.S. Lewis, "Spirits in Bondage".

At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

On this page is a 1944 BBC audio recording of Lewis giving the talk that became the final section of "Mere Christianity."

Since he was of Irish origin, I was surprised to hear a voice that sounds better-suited to requesting Grey Poupon. I presume this was the accepted way academics of his generation spoke.

At 2:38 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Great idea on, Bluster. That's the incredibly ambitious nonprofit project to scan and put online an entire library of everything ever published, or at least what's no longer covered by copyright. Google, in partnership with some leading universities, is feverishly at work on the same thing, but has thus far hit some walls because of its typically over-agressive approach. Book publishers and others have sued to stop them. But the Gutenberg project has way more buy-in because of its nonprofit nature and benevolent intent. Anyway, it warms a blog author's heart to see one reader helping another find resources. Perhaps I'll soon be able to retire and just listen in to those conversations.

At 12:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Bluster, I was absolutely delighted with the Lewis recording. Thank you SO much. One of the subjects he discussed was extremely meaningful to me and I look forward to letting those ideas reverberate through my understandings over time.

As for, I had trouble locating downloadable books. Noticed John spelled it differently so tried and that worked. Thank you both!

At 2:17 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Yet another reminder that paying attention to picky little things like the proper spelling can sometimes be a big deal.

At 2:41 AM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Oops, sorry about that. I know that "guten" means "good", and "Burg" means "castle" in German. I probably unconsciously thought "good castle" seemed plausible and went that way on the spelling.

Wikipedia informs me:

"At the time, patricians in Mainz were often named after the houses they owned, and around 1427, the name zu Gutenberg, after the family house in Mainz, is documented for the first time. This house had previously been known as 'Judenberg,' Jewish Hill."

At 8:47 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Bluster, you're a man of endless knowledge. And you seem to do your best work in the early pre-dawn hours.


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