December 6, 2006

Little Things Lead to Big Things.

James Q Wilson, the former Harvard professor of Government  who now teaches at Pepperdine University, has garnered honors too many to cite, save say, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

He may be most famous for his "broken windows" theory of crime that so influenced Rudy Guiliani in New York City when he first became mayor.  Guiliani and Police Commission Bill Bratton adopted an aggressive enforcement strategy of zero tolerance that involved cracking down on minor offenses like graffiti, turnstile jumping, and "squeegee men".  A sharp drop in crime followed to the amazement and delight of New Yorkers.

The original article by Wilson and George Kelling was published in 1982 in the Atlantic, Broken Windows.

The theory is simple - Little things lead to big things.  A broken window if promptly taken care of does no harm  to a neighborhood.    A broken window left unrepaired is a signal that no one cares, so breaking more windows costs nothing.  When one broken window is left unrepaired, soon all the rest of the windows will be broken.

I pay attention when he  writes about the Press at War in City Journal and its "drumbeat of negativity".

When the Center for Media and Public Affairs made a nonpartisan evaluation of network news broadcasts, it found that during the active war against Saddam Hussein, 51 percent of the reports about the conflict were negative. Six months after the land battle ended, 77 percent were negative; in the 2004 general election, 89 percent were negative; by the spring of 2006, 94 percent were negative. This decline in media support was much faster than during Korea or Vietnam.

Most of what I have said here is common knowledge. But it is common knowledge about a new period in American journalistic history. Once, powerful press owners dictated what their papers would print, sometimes irresponsibly. But that era of partisan and circulation-building distortions was not replaced by a commitment to objective journalism; it was replaced by a deep suspicion of the American government. That suspicion, fueled in part by the Vietnam and Watergate controversies, means that the government, especially if it is a conservative one, is surrounded by journalists who doubt almost all it says. One obvious result is that since World War II there have been few reports of military heroes; indeed, there have been scarcely any reports of military victories.

This change in the media is not a transitory one that will give way to a return to the support of our military when it fights.
Journalism, like so much scholarship, now dwells in a postmodern age in which truth is hard to find and statements merely serve someone’s interests.

The mainstream media’s adversarial stance, both here and abroad, means that
whenever a foreign enemy challenges us, he will know that his objective will be to win the battle not on some faraway bit of land but among the people who determine what we read and watch. We won the Second World War in Europe and Japan, but we lost in Vietnam and are in danger of losing in Iraq and Lebanon in the newspapers, magazines, and television programs we enjoy.

When journalists no longer care about objective reporting,  we no longer know what the truth is.   

Little things lead to big things. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at December 6, 2006 8:29 AM | Permalink