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(1889-09-23)September 23, 1889, New York, New York
December 14, 1974(1974-12-14) (aged 85), New York, New York
Harvard University A.B. (1909)
Writer, journalist, political commentator
Founding editor, New Republic, Pulitzer Prize, 1958 & 1962
Jacob and Daisy Baum Lippmann
Walter Lippmann (September 23, 1889 - December 14, 1974) was an American public intellectual, writer, reporter, and political commentator famous for being among the first to introduce the concept of Cold War; he coined the term stereotype in the modern psychological meaning as well. Lippmann was twice awarded (1958 and 1962) a Pulitzer Prize for his syndicated newspaper column, "Today and Tomorrow".
Walter Lippmann was born on September 23, 1889, in New York City, to Jacob and Daisy Baum Lippmann; his upper-middle class German Jewish family took annual holidays in Europe. At age 17, he entered Harvard University where he studied under George Santayana, William James, and Graham Wallas, concentrating upon philosophy and languages (he spoke German and French), and earned his degree in three years, graduating as a member of the Phi Beta Kappa society.
Lippmann was a journalist, a media critic and an amateur philosopher who tried to reconcile the tensions between liberty and democracy in a complex and modern world, as in his 1920 book Liberty and the News.
In 1913, Lippmann, Herbert Croly, and Walter Weyl became the founding editors of The New Republic magazine. During World War I, Lippmann became an adviser to President Woodrow Wilson and assisted in the drafting of Wilson's Fourteen Points speech. He sharply criticized George Creel, whom the President appointed to head wartime propaganda efforts at the committee on Public Information. While he was prepared to curb his liberal instincts because of the war saying he had "no doctrinaire belief in free speech", he nonetheless advised Wilson that censorship should "never be entrusted to anyone who is not himself tolerant, nor to anyone who is unacquainted with the long record of folly which is the history of suppression."
Walter Lippmann examined the coverage of newspapers and saw many inaccuracies and other problems. He and Charles Merz, in a 1920 study entitled A Test of the News, stated that The New York Times' coverage of the Bolshevik revolution was biased and inaccurate. In addition to his Pulitzer Prize-winning column "Today and Tomorrow," he published several books. Lippmann was the first to bring the phrase "cold war" to common currency in his 1947 book by the same name.
It was Lippmann who first identified the tendency of journalists to generalize about other people based on fixed ideas. He argued that people--including journalists--are more apt to believe "the pictures in their heads" than come to judgment by critical thinking. Humans condense ideas into symbols, he wrote, and journalism, a force quickly becoming the mass media, is an ineffective method of educating the public. Even if journalists did better jobs of informing the public about important issues, Lippmann believed "the mass of the reading public is not interested in learning and assimilating the results of accurate investigation." Citizens, he wrote, were too self-centered to care about public policy except as pertaining to pressing local issues.
Lippmann saw the purpose of journalism as "intelligence work". Within this role, journalists are a link between policymakers and the public. A journalist seeks facts from policymakers which he then transmits to citizens who form a public opinion. In this model, the information may be used to hold policymakers accountable to citizens. This theory was spawned by the industrial era and some critics argue the model needs rethinking in post-industrial societies.
Though a journalist himself, he did not assume that news and truth are synonymous. For Lippmann, the "function of news is to signalize an event, the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them in relation with each other, and make a picture of reality on which men can act." A journalist's version of the truth is subjective and limited to how he constructs his reality. The news, therefore, is "imperfectly recorded" and too fragile to bear the charge as "an organ of direct democracy."
To his mind, democratic ideals had deteriorated, voters were largely ignorant about issues and policies, they lacked the competence to participate in public life and cared little for participating in the political process. In Public Opinion (1922), Lippmann noted that the stability the government achieved during the patronage era of the 19th century was threatened by modern realities. He wrote that a "governing class" must rise to face the new challenges.
The basic problem of democracy, he wrote, was the accuracy of news and protection of sources. He argued that distorted information was inherent in the human mind. People make up their minds before they define the facts, while the ideal would be to gather and analyze the facts before reaching conclusions. By seeing first, he argued, it is possible to sanitize polluted information. Lippmann argued that seeing through stereotypes (which he coined in this specific meaning) subjected us to partial truths. Lippmann called the notion of a public competent to direct public affairs a "false ideal." He compared the political savvy of an average man to a theater-goer walking into a play in the middle of the third act and leaving before the last curtain.
Early on Lippmann said the "bewildered herd," his way of referring to the masses, must be governed by "a specialized class whose interests reach beyond the locality." This class is composed of experts, specialists and bureaucrats. The experts, who often are referred to as "elites," were to be a machinery of knowledge that circumvents the primary defect of democracy, the impossible ideal of the "omnicompetent citizen". Later, in The Phantom Public (1925), he recognized that the class of experts were also, in most respects, outsiders to any particular problem, and hence, not capable of effective action. Philosopher John Dewey (1859-1952) agreed with Lippmann's assertions that the modern world was becoming too complex for every citizen to grasp all its aspects, but Dewey, unlike Lippmann, believed that the public (a composite of many "publics" within society) could form a "Great Community" that could become educated about issues, come to judgments and arrive at solutions to societal problems.
Following the removal from office of Henry A. Wallace in September 1946, Lippmann became the leading public advocate of the need to respect a Soviet sphere of influence in Europe, as opposed to the containment strategy being advocated at the time by people like George F. Kennan. In July 1959 Lippman denied that Castro's regime will be allied with the USSR saying: "It would be a great mistake even to intimate that Castro's Cuba has any real prospect of becoming a Soviet satellite."
Lippmann was an informal adviser to several presidents. On September 14, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson presented Lippmann with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He later had a rather famous feud with Johnson over his handling of the Vietnam War, of which Lippmann had become highly critical.
Lippman retired from his syndicated column in 1967, and died in 1974.
Legacy: Almond-Lippmann consensusedit:
A meeting of intellectuals organized in Paris in August 1938 by French philosopher Louis Rougier, Colloque Walter Lippmann was named after Walter Lippmann. Walter Lippmann House at Harvard University, which houses the Nieman Foundation for Journalism, is named after him too. Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman used one of Lippmann's catch phrases--the "Manufacture of Consent"-- for the title of their book, Manufacturing Consent, contains sections critical of Lippmann's views about the media.
Similarities between the views of Lippmann and Gabriel Almond produced what became known as the Almond-Lippmann consensus, which is based on three assumptions:
Public opinion is volatile, shifting erratically in response to the most recent developments. Mass beliefs early in the 20th century were "too pacifist in peace and too bellicose in war, too neutralist or appeasing in negotiations or too intransigent",
Public opinion is incoherent, lacking an organized or a consistent structure to such an extent that the views of U.S. citizens could best be described as "nonattitudes",
Public opinion is irrelevant to the policy-making process. Political leaders ignore public opinion because most Americans can neither "understand nor influence the very events upon which their lives and happiness are known to depend.",
Lippmann died on December 14, 1974, at age 85 in New York, New York.
He has been honored by the United States Postal Service with a 6¢ Great Americans series postage stamp.
A Preface to Politics (1913) ISBN 1-59102-292-4,
A Preface to Politics at Project Gutenberg,
Drift and Mastery (1914) ISBN 0-299-10604-7,
The Stakes of Diplomacy (1915),
The Political Scene (1919),
Liberty and the News (1920),
Public Opinion (1922) ISBN 0-02-919130-0,
Public Opinion at Project Gutenberg,
The Phantom Public (1925) ISBN 1-56000-677-3,
Men of Destiny (1927) ISBN 0-295-95026-9,
American Inquisitors (1928),
A Preface to Morals (1929) ISBN 0-87855-907-8,
Interpretations 1931-1932 (1932),
The Method of Freedom (1934) out-of-print,
The New Imperative (1935),
Interpretations 1933-1935 (1936),
The Good Society (1937) ISBN 0-7658-0804-8,
U.S. Foreign Policy: Shield of the Republic (1943),
U.S. War Aims (1944),
The Cold War (1947) ISBN 0-06-131723-3,
The Public Philosophy (1955) ISBN 0-88738-791-8,
With William O. Scroggs:
The United States in World Affairs 1931 (1932),
The United States in World Affairs 1932 (1933)