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Political Bookworm
Posted at 05:23 PM ET, 08/15/2011

Where’s the next Walter Lippmann?

The common rap on public discourse today is that it’s coarse, biased and ill-informed. But two scholars offer reason for hope in their new book, “The Space of Opinion: Media Intellectuals and the Public Sphere,” based on a careful analysis of the past 20 years of newspaper op-eds and Sunday morning political talk shows and evening cable news programs.

“Is it shallow to imagine more Lippmann or Cronkite types in our future?” asked Mount Holyoke sociology professor Eleanor Townsley in a phone interview, referring to legendary journalist-intellectual Walter Lippmann and longtime CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite. “The high quality of work across many mediums suggests absolutely not at all.”

Townsley co-wrote the book with Ronald Jacobs, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Albany.

The authors applaud the wider dissemination of opinion across an array of media – from television, print, news websites, blogs, even Twitter and Facebook postings – that draws in a diverse audience ready to debate the issues.

“Today, a column can have a huge half-life and is increasingly interconnected to political discourse,” Townsley said.

But she took issue with the trend among some broadcast outlets that have formats that pour out vitriolic opinion from either the left or the right. “To the extent that certain forums, especially cable shows, emphasize polarization, they are quite unhealthy for democracy,” she said.

“The Space of Opinion” is due out in early October from Oxford University Press.

By Alexander Heffner  |  05:23 PM ET, 08/15/2011

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