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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 16. Populist Anti-Elitism and Religious Anti-Rationalism in A.J. Liebling’s Criticism In some ways, it seems wrong to label Liebling an opponent of populism, since so much of his work stands up for the working class. He often picked on the wealthy publishers who put out the newspapers, and famously coined the phrase, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one” (1960a, p.109) And Liebling’s single most frequent topic was the anti- communist sentiment of the 1940s and 1950s, particularly as embodied by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee. In defending the proletariat, such as it was, Liebling is defending the people, and, it would therefore seem, he is evincing his own populism. But the McCarthy and HUAC hearings were not about populism, in the Hofstadter/Rigney construction. Instead, they were about the appeal to emotion over the appeal to reason: religious anti-rationalism. The Red Scare worked because of the scare, which trumped rational arguments that even communists in the United States had the right to free speech and assembly. Note, too, the constant repetition of the fact that communists are supposedly “godless” in fitting this into Hofstadter and Rigney. It also seems counter-intuitive that journalists should be anti-rational, since as a profession, they openly venerate truth as their highest professional ideal. But, as Liebling pointed out again and again in his columns, reporters and publishers alike pushed for salacious headlines and stories that worked people’s emotions, even more so than they pushed for the revelation of truth. Liebling experienced this firsthand when he was a reporter during the Great Depression: Newspapers were shot full of stories of cheery-ho all through the depression. On the World-Telegram, where, as a reporter, I had an assignment to write a funny story a day during that period, we used to mix cheery-ho with an article known to the trade as stark tragedy, and run them in effective juxtaposition. (1953b, p.204)

Authors: Lerner, Kevin.
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Intellectual Heft: A.J. Liebling as Opponent of Anti-Intellectualism 
16. 
Populist Anti-Elitism and Religious Anti-Rationalism in A.J. Liebling’s Criticism 
In some ways, it seems wrong to label Liebling an opponent of populism, since so much 
of his work stands up for the working class. He often picked on the wealthy publishers who put 
out the newspapers, and famously coined the phrase, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to 
those who own one” (1960a, p.109) And Liebling’s single most frequent topic was the anti-
communist sentiment of the 1940s and 1950s, particularly as embodied by Senator Joseph 
McCarthy and the hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee. In defending the 
proletariat, such as it was, Liebling is defending the people, and, it would therefore seem, he is 
evincing his own populism. But the McCarthy and HUAC hearings were not about populism, in 
the Hofstadter/Rigney construction. Instead, they were about the appeal to emotion over the 
appeal to reason: religious anti-rationalism. The Red Scare worked because of the scare, which 
trumped rational arguments that even communists in the United States had the right to free 
speech and assembly. Note, too, the constant repetition of the fact that communists are 
supposedly “godless” in fitting this into Hofstadter and Rigney. 
It also seems counter-intuitive that journalists should be anti-rational, since as a 
profession, they openly venerate truth as their highest professional ideal. But, as Liebling pointed 
out again and again in his columns, reporters and publishers alike pushed for salacious headlines 
and stories that worked people’s emotions, even more so than they pushed for the revelation of 
truth. Liebling experienced this firsthand when he was a reporter during the Great Depression: 
Newspapers were shot full of stories of cheery-ho all through the depression. On the 
World-Telegram, where, as a reporter, I had an assignment to write a funny story a day 
during that period, we used to mix cheery-ho with an article known to the trade as stark 
tragedy, and run them in effective juxtaposition. (1953b, p.204) 


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