Weber VI: Lawyers and Journalists

Weber has an interesting reading of both. Lawyers, he says, are the only ones who can make a good argument for a good case. Anybody can make a good argument for a bad case:
The craft of the trained lawyer is to plead effectively the cause of interested clients. In this, the lawyer is superior to any 'official,' as the superiority of enemy propaganda [Allied propaganda 1914­-18] could teach us. Certainly he can advocate and win a cause supported by logically weak arguments and one which, in this sense, is a 'weak' cause.  Yet he wins it because technically he makes a 'strong case' for it. But only the lawyer successfully pleads a cause that can be supported by logically strong arguments, thus handling a 'good' cause 'well.' All too often the civil servant as a politician turns a cause that is good in every sense into a 'weak' cause, through technically 'weak' pleading. This is what we have had to experience. To an outstanding degree, politics today is in fact conducted in public by means of the spoken or written word. To weigh the effect of the word properly falls within the range of the lawyer's tasks; but not at all into that of the civil servant.
In this the criticism Socrates' contemporaries pointed at the Sophists is reversed. Sophistry was said to be able 'to make the weak argument seem the stronger,' or 'the worse argument seem the better.' The lawyer can make the best argument he (or she) can for the weak cause, and may do so reasonably well given legal training. But the politician will make sophistry his (or her) argument for any case; it is only when pled by a lawyer that we can tell that the strong argument really is stronger, because everything the politician says sounds equally like bull. (And as far as the politician bothers to understand the case, it may as well be.)

Journalists get a pretty generous treatment from Weber. He points out that only the far left treats them with much respect, enough that is to raise them out of journalism and into power. Everyone treats them with a pretense of respect that is really a sort of fear; but nobody else really respects them, though Weber thinks they often deserve it more than others. 
The journalist belongs to a sort of pariah caste, which is always estimated by 'society' in terms of its ethically lowest representative. Hence, the strangest notions about journalists and their work are abroad. Not everybody realizes that a really good journalistic accomplishment requires at least as much 'genius' as any scholarly accomplishment.... This is because, in the very nature of the case, irresponsible journalistic accomplishments and their often terrible effects are remembered.  Nobody believes that the discretion of any able journalist ranks above the average of other people... Thus far, the journalist has had favorable chances only in the Social Democratic party. Within the party, editorial positions have been predominantly in the nature of official positions, but editorial positions have not been the basis for positions of leadership.... In any case, for the time being, the journalist career is not among us, a normal avenue for the ascent of political leaders, whatever attraction journalism may otherwise have and whatever measure of influence, range of activity, and especially political responsibility it may yield.

There follows an interesting set of remarks about anonymity as a guarantor of good journalism. In the First Age of Blogs, to which this one belongs, anonymity or at least pseudonymity was normal, and the argument was that the protections it afforded would allow for people to speak more honestly about what they really believed. Later it was said to be the case that online anonymity enabled scoundrels to hide behind it, and thus to say terrible things without consequences. There was a consequent movement to make people abandon their pen names or anonymity, and instead to publish under real names to which consequences could be applied (by lawyers and cancel culture alike).

Weber thinks that the shift away from anonymity in journalism enabled the rise of known journalists who sought fortune through fame and fame through scandal, sort of Geraldos of their day.

Whether the renunciation of the principle of anonymity would mean a change in this is difficult to say. Some journalists - ­­not all­­ - believe in dropping principled anonymity. What we have experienced during the war in the German press, and in the 'management' of newspapers by especially hired personages and talented writers who always expressly figured under their names, has unfortunately shown, in some of the better known cases, that an increased awareness of responsibility is not so certain to be bred as might be believed. Some of the papers were, without regard to party, precisely the notoriously worst boulevard sheets; by dropping anonymity they strove for and attained greater sales. The publishers as well as the journalists of sensationalism have gained fortunes but certainly not honor. 

Overall, though, Weber is a friend of the free press, and views them with a sympathy that our own press -- no longer so obviously free, though bound to corporate wealth and ideology by its own preference -- has not always merited.

It is not a road for everybody, least of all for weak characters, especially for people who can maintain their inner balance only with a secure status position. If the life of a young scholar is a gamble, still he is walled in by firm status conventions, which prevent him from slipping. But the journalist's life is an absolute gamble in every respect and under conditions that test one's inner security in a way that scarcely occurs in any other situation. The often bitter experiences in occupational life are perhaps not even the worst. The inner demands that are directed precisely at the successful journalist are especially difficult. It is, indeed, no small matter to frequent the salons of the powerful on this earth on a seemingly equal footing and often to be flattered by all because one is feared, yet knowing all the time that having hardly closed the door the host has perhaps to justify before his guests his association with the 'scavengers from the press.' Moreover, it is no small matter that one must express oneself promptly and convincingly about this and that, on all conceivable problems of life­­ - whatever the 'market' happens to demand­­ - and this without becoming absolutely shallow and above all without losing one's dignity by baring oneself, a thing which has merciless results. It is not astonishing that there are many journalists who have become human failures and worth less men. Rather, it is astonishing that, despite all this, this very stratum includes such a great number of valuable and quite genuine men, a fact that outsiders would not so easily guess. 
Indeed not! 

1 comment:

David Foster said...

re The First Age of Blogs, and blogs in general....I know several people on social media who are open-minded thinkers, generally conservative/libertarian, not at all afraid to express their opinions under their own name. They are mostly friends-of-friends, typically in their early 40s...unfortunately, not a large % of my total connections.

What's interesting is that I've tried to recruit several of these people into participating in the blog world, without much luck. The appeal of sticking to a single walled-garden platform seems strong, even among those who know that the garden is plentifully stocked with serpents.