‘Guy Montag’ lives


The thought occurs that the reason criticism of journalism has so little effect is that it is directed at individuals who aren’t actually journalists. The profession has changed into something else entirely, something beyond recognition or accountability and without value.

Indeed, the big-time journalist today serves a purpose only in fiction. No, not as he might imagine himself as Robert Redford in “All the President’s Men.” Rather, as the protagonist in Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451.”

He is fireman Guy Montag, a flawed and conflicted hero belonging to a profession that once fought fires and saved lives but now burns down any house in which he finds thoughts/books (along with the people inside the house). His supervisor, Captain Beatty, explains how that came about:

“There you have it, Montag. It didn’t come from the government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade journals.”

The Captain, with prescience, rationalizes his destructive profession as a boon to society:

“Colored people don’t like “Little Black Sambo.” Burn it. White people don’t feel good about “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book. . . . If you don’t want a house built, hide the nails and wood. If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.”

Does living out the details of a gloomy 1950s novel seem a waste of time to you? If so, how can we do better in 2021? C.S. Lewis had some ideas about that — two of them in particular.

He recommended writing letters to the hometown papers, most of which still honor the canons of the profession. And there is a good chance your letters will be well received if you follow Thomas Sowell’s advice to run your arguments through a three-part filter: 1) compared with what; 2) at what cost; and 3) on what evidence. It also helps if you remember the admonitions of your fifth-grade teacher to keep your words kind, necessary and perfectly accurate.

Lewis also recommended strengthening relationships with our neighbors and immediate community. We don’t need mass media to build person-to-person bridges that will carry honest exchanges of opinion and perhaps an evangelical opportunity or two for sharing what we believe to be true in this world.

Interestingly, Lewis said he never read the major newspapers of his day.

“Why would anyone?” he asked.


Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarterly Indiana Policy Review. Send comments to awoods@ aimmediaindiana.com.

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