Public understanding and journalism are inseparable. If journalists don't know of the ties between past and present, then the general public will most likely share that limited view. Let me give you an example -- a piece of Virginia journalistic history. . . .

The first newspaper of any real influence in Virginia was The Richmond Enquirer, established in 1804 by Thomas Ritchie. . . . He took delight in antagonizing John Hampton Pleasants, founder of the Richmond Whig, a widely read Virginia journal.

Finally, one day, Ritchie went too far by writing that "facts within our knowledge" proved Pleasants to be a coward. His honor assaulted, Pleasants demanded satisfaction. And in those days, you got satisfaction the old-fashioned way: you shot somebody for it.

So Ritchie and Pleasants met on the south bank of the James River near old Manchester one cold, damp February morning. There they stood 50 yards apart, and they brought more than their pens. Ritchie was armed with four pistols, which were held in a belt around his waist, a cutlass in one hand and a revolving pistol in the other. Pleasants held a revolver in his pocket, a Bowie knife was tucked in the bosom of his waistcoat, a sword cane under his right arm, and a dueling pistol in both hands. Now, this is what I call real journalism. . . .

Pleasants absorbed five gunshot wounds and expired two days later. Ritchie's hat was severely wounded by a blow from Pleasants' sword cane. . . . Today, things are considerably calmer.