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The Aquilian

The Aquilian

The politics behind political journalism of the past and present


De gustibus, a Latin phrase, roughly translates to “of one’s taste.” This powerful utterance echoes the idea that most things in life are a matter of preference. Often, a “right” option doesn’t exist as much as having the availability of two different, unique choices. 

The same can be said for political journalism across recent decades from the 1970s to the present. Journalism and reporting during the Nixon administration, for instance, was vastly different than it was during the Trump era. This isn’t to say one style was better than the other, but rather that they each have their own benefits, making this a true matter of de gustibus.

The 1970s teemed with eager — mostly male — journalists looking to push boundaries within the confines of societal norms. The publication of the Pentagon Papers in The New York Times was perhaps one of the most bold yet authentic instances in which these journalistic ideals were on display. Think about it…using government informants to obtain copies of some of the most classified, most confidential documents (so classified, in fact, that the United States went to the Supreme Court to attempt to stop the papers from being published) the nation has to offer is as bold as one can get.

For the most part, the media acted independently from the government, not trying to please one party or another. In doing so, outlets had an easier time unveiling the truths of various stories. What made the 1970s such a great era for political reporting was that there was such a desire to stick to facts. From the Papers to the Watergate scandal, journalists, such as Neil Sheehan, Ben Bradlee, and Kate Graham, stuck to a soothing monotony in their writing. Facts were in the spotlight for these media outlets — something media networks of the present have a harder time claiming. 

It was a better time for journalism, in which such a staunch devotion to honesty produced more trustworthy articles, writers and outlets as a whole. And this honesty was rewarded through the public’s reception of groundbreaking pieces like those mentioned previously. 

While today’s breaking news is often seen non-declaratively, about 70% of viewers in the ‘70s reported having a great deal of trust in the media. If you’re keen on a journalistic method that employs fact and confrontation, the 1970s is the decade for you. Nonetheless, the writing of today has its own advantages.

Though the media of the 1970s can undoubtedly boast a greater implementation of bipartisan fact, it falls short in its inclusivity of perspective. Take a look at any major media outlet today — regardless of its inferred political affiliation. CNN is led by Don Lemon, Fareed Zakaria and Brianna Keilar. Fox News has a lineup featuring Harris Faulkner, Kelly Wright and Laura Ingraham. All of these hosts are women or people of color, demographics almost never represented in the 1970s in the media. Despite whatever political ideologies each of these anchors holds, they offer a fresh perspective on issues that only white men used to talk about on-air. The insights a person of color might offer on a story about police brutality is fresh. The insights a woman might offer on an Op-Ed about the #MeToo movement is fresh.

As diversity has become more prominent in media workplaces, so too has journalists’ willingness to step outside of industry behavioral norms, making their own political claims known and authoring more opinionated pieces. Though far less fact-based than the reporting of old, Op-Eds help make narratives and ideas accessible and interpretable to more people since they drop the figure-based jargon we once saw more frequently. 

As with most topics in life, the lines separating the pros and cons for each era aren’t just black and white. Still, audiences are force fed the illusion that such a solid coloring on these borders exists, as the media of recent uses its advantageous accessibility to self-promote its virtue. Like it or not, the availability of 1970s-esque outlets — that is, companies that report around pure fact and confrontation – are dwindling in the face of sprouting media corporations that invest heavily into the more inflammatory, 2020s–approach. 

In any case, there’s still room to at least have a preference in what you consume, regardless of if that preference is actually made available to you. In making that determination of preference, it truly does become a matter of de gustibus.

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