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Intellectual Heft: A.J. Liebling as an Opponent of Anti-Intellectualism in American Journalism
Unformatted Document Text:  Intellectual Heft: A.J. Liebling as Opponent of Anti-Intellectualism 11. ideas. Liebling, as a press critic, rails commonly against this form of anti-intellectualism, and in fact, even his first Wayward Press column focuses on an example of exactly this type. A.J. Liebling as Press Critic Liebling’s first offering under the Wayward Press brand opened with a bold statement of press criticism, in which he named a “law” after himself: The great row over Edward Kennedy’s Associated Press story of the signing of the German surrender at Reims served to point up the truth that if you are smart enough you can kick yourself in the seat of the pants, grab yourself by the back of the collar, and throw yourself out on the sidewalk. This is an axiom that I hope will be taught to future students of journalism as Liebling’s Law. (1945a, p.57) Kennedy was an Associated Press reporter who had broken a sort of embargo that he and the other newspaper reporters covering the surrender had self-imposed. The implication is that Kennedy had broken a professional code. What is interesting here is less the circumstances of the case (though it does establish the anti-intellectual category of unquestioning professionalism in Liebling’s work) than the bold display of axiom creation that Liebling embarks on in the lead of his first work of press criticism. He came to it honestly, however. Liebling grew up an avid newspaper reader and began his journalistic career by dropping out of Dartmouth College (in his own mythmaking, the reason was for missing mandatory chapel (Liebling, 1947e; Sokolov, 1980, pp. 46-47)) and enrolling instead in the Pulitzer School of Journalism at Columbia. Here, he already began to sense the intellectual limitations of journalism, even within the walls of an Ivy League university. The school, Liebling later wrote, “had all the intellectual status of a training school for future employees of the A&P” supermarket chain (Liebling 1947e, p. 28). Liebling

Authors: Lerner, Kevin.
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Intellectual Heft: A.J. Liebling as Opponent of Anti-Intellectualism 
11. 
ideas. Liebling, as a press critic, rails commonly against this form of anti-intellectualism, and in 
fact, even his first Wayward Press column focuses on an example of exactly this type. 
 
A.J. Liebling as Press Critic 
 
Liebling’s first offering under the Wayward Press brand opened with a bold statement of 
press criticism, in which he named a “law” after himself: 
The great row over Edward Kennedy’s Associated Press story of the signing of the 
German surrender at Reims served to point up the truth that if you are smart enough you 
can kick yourself in the seat of the pants, grab yourself by the back of the collar, and 
throw yourself out on the sidewalk. This is an axiom that I hope will be taught to future 
students of journalism as Liebling’s Law. (1945a, p.57) 
Kennedy was an Associated Press reporter who had broken a sort of embargo that he and the 
other newspaper reporters covering the surrender had self-imposed. The implication is that 
Kennedy had broken a professional code. What is interesting here is less the circumstances of the 
case (though it does establish the anti-intellectual category of unquestioning professionalism in 
Liebling’s work) than the bold display of axiom creation that Liebling embarks on in the lead of 
his first work of press criticism. He came to it honestly, however. Liebling grew up an avid 
newspaper reader and began his journalistic career by dropping out of Dartmouth College (in his 
own mythmaking, the reason was for missing mandatory chapel (Liebling, 1947e; Sokolov, 1980, 
pp. 46-47)) and enrolling instead in the Pulitzer School of Journalism at Columbia. Here, he 
already began to sense the intellectual limitations of journalism, even within the walls of an Ivy 
League university. The school, Liebling later wrote, “had all the intellectual status of a training 
school for future employees of the A&P” supermarket chain (Liebling 1947e, p. 28). Liebling 


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