What the communications business -- in all of its branches -- greatly needs is a bon mot exchange.
Let me explain. Since the appearance of erudition is highly valued in this era of diminishing erudition, contemporary writers and speakers often strive to commence their deliveries with acknowledged borrowings from long ago: "As Julius Caesar had occasion to remark..."
Literary ore is full of nuggets, but, as it turns out, it is often difficult to find venerable referneces mathchable to particular present-day purposes. This comes to mind at New York's desk-cleaning time, as I encounter my bon mot file, bulging with learned liftings for which I have been unable to find any plausible application.
For example, leaving both the Bakke decision and the Proposition 13 tax revolt and its implications in the good hands of others, I offer H. L. Mencken's observation: "The war on privilege will never end. Its next great campaign will be against the special privileges of the underprivileged."
Or, again, borrowing from Mencken, an offering for Senator William (Golden Fleece) Proxmire's next depredation against scholarship: "a metaphysician is one who, when you remark that twice two makes four, demands to know what you mean by twice, what by two, what by makes, and what by four. For asking such questions, metaphysicians are supported in oriental luxury in the universities, and respected as educated and intellignet men."
Amidst much commentary on so-called celebrity journalism, someone ought to take notice of what Joseph Addison wrote when he revived the Spectator in 1714: "I have observed of late that few writings sell well which are not filled with great names and illustrious titles."
Addison also had some words relevant to the recur ring controversy over proximity between journalists and their sources: "When writers have the least opportunity of knowing the truth, they are in the best disposition to tell it."
And then there is Boswell's Johnson, which, in its riches, is to liftable quotes as Middle East is to oil, though you's never realize it from the tiresome reliance on Johnson's slurring observation about women preachers and their resemblance to dogs walking on their hindlegs. Perhaps I missed it, but nowhere in last year's glut of commertary on legalized gambling did I encounter Johnson's insight: "I do not call a gamester a dishonest man; but I call him an unsocial man, an unprofitable man. Gaming is a mode of transferring property without producing any intermediate good..."
Johnson's words on the relationship between patronage and scholarship ought to be inscribed over the doorway of every philanthropic foundation: "Is not a patron, my Lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling in the water, and, when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help?"
Then, too, a lovely Johnson quote that clamors for a contemporary application. Asked whether an acquaintance was an infidel, Johnson replied: "I do not know, Sir, that the fellow is an infidel; but if he be an infidel, he is an infidel as a dog is an infidel; that is to say, he has never thought upon the subject."
Notice is long overdue for a Johnsonian Overservation on the press, namely, that the practice of "fair, open, and exact report of the actual proceedings... of representatives and legislators... is highly to be valued; though unquestionably, there has been of late too much reason to compain of the petulance with which obscure scirbblers have presumed to treat men of the most respectable character and situation."
Or, as H. L. Mencken put the matter some centuries later: "A newspaper is device for making theignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier."