BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Jon Katz, why did you call your book "Virtuous Reality"?
Mr. JON KATZ (Author, "Virtuous Reality"): Because it's a little bit of a play off of virtual reality. And I thought it was time to tell the truth about median culture.
LAMB: You've got a subhead up there. I'm going to show the audience the--the cover, and then we can read it as we get closer here. "How America surrendered discussion of moral values to opportunists, nitwits & blockheads like William Bennett." Why such strong language?
Mr. KATZ: Well, the subtitle was not really my idea, and I had--I have to say, I was a little bit queasy about it. It does reflect my sentiments, I have to say that, but I thought it was a little sharp. But the publisher pointed out to me that this is a way that books get attention and that people notice them--that a lot of media books sort of just sink into the ether. They get a lot of media attention, but the people you're writing about don't read them. And I did want the book to get a wider audience than that. So I knew I was going to catch it as a result of it, and I am. But...
LAMB: Why is William Bennett a blockhead?
Mr. KATZ: I think he--I think opportunist would apply in his case for me more than blockhead. I think he's not dumb. I think he is making millions of dollars off of the notion that $30 books about--and hard-working bumblebees are going to help needy kids. And I think he's really reinforced the notion that culture and media are dangerous and are hurting people when they're really not. And as a consequence of that thinking--he's certainly not alone in this, the boomers are in it and journalism is in it--I think we live in a culture in which needy kids get no help and kids who don't need help get too much help.
LAMB: Inside your book in a--in the chapter that talks about him, you have this picture--or this graphic. What is it?
Mr. KATZ: I'm not sure, but I thi--it's the kind of the media phobes is--it was ha--his honorific in the book. I advanced it in the idea that--in the book with the idea that this fear about media and culture has created a climate I call mediaphobia in which people are--are terrified about the impact of information that was pouring in on their lives and on their kids. I think he--he--Bennett is the mo--modern father of this movement. He began, sort of, with the NEA fights in the--in--during the Reagan years, although he is certainly not alone in it anymore. He is probably the--he's a critic of rap, he's a critic of daytime talk shows, he's an advocate of boycotts and, of course, he's--he's sold quite a few books of moral values that are meant as an antidote to those.
I think what really lit up this mediaphobic movement was wh--was when the cultural conservatives who started it were joined by the boomers who were very nervous about their children--they were very concerned about their kids in general, and were particularly concerned that the information revolution was making it almost impossible to control the information
that their kids were seeing. When these groups linked up, I think journalism, Bennett, the cultural conservatives and the boomers--it really became the broadest-based political movement in America. It's the one thing Bob Dole and Bill Clinton talked about all year that they agreed on: culture is dangerous, television was dangerous. There's a whole cult--culture now of--of censorship: technology-blocking software, V-chips, ratings that are supposed to be an antidote and ward off this sort of evil. And they're not going to work. It's--they're picking people's pockets with this stuff.
LAMB: W--let me ask the obvious question: Why is Bill Bennett an opportunist and you're not?
Mr. KATZ: Well, he's made a lot more money than I have, basically. Whe--if I get to the point where I've sold as many books as he has, we'll be equal. I think he's an opportunist--what really bothers me about, I think, Mr. Bennett is I think he's smart enough to know that his books
are not helping kids who are in need because needy kids are not going to be helped by $30 moral fables that he didn't write and has sort of cleaned up. He's now publishing a Children's Book of Virtues calendar for $13, which has 100 virtuous stickers in it. And if the kid is virtuous 101 days, you have to go out and buy more stickers for the calendar.
I think this sort of marketing of morality has the impact of really undermining democracy in the name of morality. It convinces people that if you got rid of rap and altered television and made movies cleaner, that we wouldn't have social problems in America. I also think, ironically, that Bennett has undermined what I believe in. And I think it's a very conservative motion that I make quite a bit of noise about in "Virtuous Reality," which is we need to take more responsibility for our children and, you know, we need--we are responsible for the moral lives of our kids, which is essential--I think, a very conservative notion that I embrace very deeply. And yet, we live in a culture where everybody is saying, `It's not your fault. It's television's fault.' If you have a rating system, get a V-chip, buy Cybernanny--everyone is taking responsibility for kids but parents, and I think the only thing that's really going to work--if you read Robert
Coles or anybody who writes about the moral conscience of children--is if parents really take responsibility for what their kids are doing and that's not happening.
And if you--if you look at any of the statistics about violence in the young, you see this striking correlation between children having children-- you know, between ec--lack of economic opportunity, you know, or the urban underclasses is really engulfed in this sort of stuff.
The suburban middle class, who are the biggest users of new media, are the safest group of kids on the planet. I mean, their crime is not going up. They don't go out and watch "Beavis & Butthead" and hurt people or--or get hurt. And I think the idea that these kids are at risk,
which is a central tenet that Bennett advances politically apart from his books, he is cashing in on. And I think that the--the--the real victims of it are the kids in America who do need help and get none.
LAMB: In talking about Bill Bennett's book, the last little paragraph in one section, it says: `As for my own teen-age daughter, I let her browse through a couple of stories,'--I assume in that book...
Mr. KATZ: Yeah.
LAMB: ...`and asked her if she wanted me to read them to her.' Quote, `"You'll have to kill me first," she said.' How old is your daughter?
Mr. KATZ: She's now 15, she was 14 at the time.
LAMB: What is her name?
Mr. KATZ: Emma.
LAMB: Your only child?
Mr. KATZ: Yes, yes.
LAMB: And when she said--does that sound like her, `You'll have to kill me first'?
Mr. KATZ: That's right. Definitely.
LAMB: Whe--where does that come from?
Mr. KATZ: Well, she's what I call a transcultural kid and she's a kid--she watches television and she likes the "X-Files," she watches "Beavis & Butthead" occasionally, mostly "Friends," maybe. She reads like a fiend. You know, she--I don't want to be bragging, but she is a straight-A student. She I think understands that there are some things in new culture and media that benefit her and she loves books and traditional culture as well. She sings in a chorale, she sang "The
Messiah" in Carnegie Hall just a couple months ago. And I don't claim that I'm representative of all parents or that she's representative of all kids, but it is possible to use a computer, to watch some television, to see some tacky movies and still be a great student and a great kid and
a good person. She's a very moral person. She has a great value system. I'm enormously proud of her.
And I think she is--we have this contract that I write about in the book, the contract between parents and kids that I think is quite rational. That as long as she does as well as she's doing in the world, she does have a lot of freedom to explore culture in the way that she wants. She goes online and I'm not looking over her shoulder, she can watch whatever TV shows she wants, pretty much. And she knows to come to us if there's a problem. If she sees something that disturbs her, she's very sharp about sounding the alarm.
So I think the idea of this transcultural child who we stopped--you know, we--we're not doing our kids any favors by calling them stupid, by trashing their culture, by dumping all over the movies they watch. What we're doing is creating this sort of tension and hostility about their
lives. I think we do need to have more respect for their culture, even though it's patently offensive, in many ways, to what we believe.
LAMB: But--but why would she say, `You'll have to kill me first'?
Mr. KATZ: Because she saw it as preaching right away. I mean, I took this book, by the way, and I went to three schools. I didn't just go to her, I went to (clears throat)--excuse me--a school in Paterson, New Jersey, in Montclair and one in New York City and I--and I said to the teachers, `I'm just reading William Bennett's book.' And they said, `Oh, come on in.' They didn't know who I was. They just thought that was great that William Bennett's stories were going to get read.
LAMB: "Book of Virtues."
Mr. KATZ: "The Book of Virtues." And one was about a frog who really wanted to get back to school, one was about a hard-working bumblebee. These kids --you know, looked at me like I was crazy. They just couldn't imagine why I was reading them this. And when I told them it cost $30, they just fell on the floor laughing. They said, `You paid $30 for that?' And it was interesting to me because I did want to try it out. I did give it a sort of fair shot with a bunch of kids and I have shown it to kids I know in other context. And I thought the idea that this book is really what kids need to become moral--I mean, they may be perfectly good stories to read to small kids. I don't mean to take this so far in--you know, into hyperbole, but this is not an
issue that's--this is nothing that's going to help needy children in America. It doesn't help kids who are in need.
And kids like my daughter certainly don't need it. And the only people who can afford it are people like myself who--the only people who would spend $30. So I spent a couple of afternoons in one in a Barnes & Noble, once--one in a Borders--watching people buy the book. And I
would sort of go up to them and say, `I'm working on a book about this stuff and can you tell me, "Why are you buying this book?"' They were grandparents and they were boomers, I realized. They were not conservatives, which completely shocked me. They were boomers and they were thinking that they were--they saw the book as an antidote, that it was almost like like a flu shot: If you read these moral stories to their kids, they might be insulated against "Beavis & Butthead" and rap and--and all these dread evils that are lurking out there and threatening
to overwhelm them.
LAMB: But also, I mean--and Bill Bennett sat in that chair a couple of years ago--talk about this book...
Mr. KATZ: I'm sure.
LAMB: ...Martin Luther King's letter from the Birmingham jail and Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln and lots of other folks who are quoted at great length in that book.
Mr. KATZ: Well, I'm seizing on Bennett to make a point--and--and the publisher was right, it certainly has gotten a lot of attention--the line. And I think, ironically, a lot of people are paying attention to the book who might not have if it were simply another book about old and new media. But I do feel very strongly there are certainly positive values in that book and I don't think any child can be harmed by reading it.
But several things about it I find very disturbing. I find-- these were not stories that he wrote, they were stories he edited and sanitized--in many cases changed, and they don't help kids
who are in need. They are not an antidote to culture. They may be great books to buy in their own right and quite fun and useful to have, but the idea that they are, in some way, going to protect needy children or insulate other kinds of kids from poisonous messages in culture are
wrong. And I think as long as parents keep buying this they're not facing up to the real issues of the digital age.
LAMB: This is a magazine that you have something to do with here?
Mr. KATZ: I'm the media critic there, yes.
LAMB: Wired magazine. Who owns it?
Mr. KATZ: It's Louis Rossetto, of Wired Ventures.
LAMB: Where is it based?
Mr. KATZ: San Francisco.
LAMB: What's the audience like?
Mr. KATZ: I think it's a younger audience. It's very eclectic. It's--from my e-mail I would say a lot of kids, a lot of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. You know, the cybermovement, in a way, was started by hippies from the '60s, so there are a lot of middle-age people involved in it. Probably the largest block would be, I'd say, in their--professionals in their 20s and 30s, people who are connected to advertising media--younger, pretty affluent group. I call them the digital nation.
LAMB: And how much of your life depends on that magazine?
Mr. KATZ: A small chunk. I have--I write a column for their Web site called Media Rant, on Hot Wired, and I'm a contributing editor to the magazine, but I also write mysteries and novels. And this is my first non-fiction book and I'm doing another, also for Random House.
LAMB: What's the other one going to be about?
Mr. KATZ: It's going to be about morality, ironically. So--it's called "The Magnetic North." It's --picking up a little bit where Thomas Merton left off--not that I'm comparing myself to him.
LAMB: And this cover, what--who is--who's on this cover? Who are these photographs of?
Mr. KATZ: These were the designers from--actually from Hot Wired. You know, my Web site is--my column--I have a column and, in keeping with the spirit of the digital world, these great artists at Hot Wired come up with this art every day making fun of me and lampooning my column. And they--that was a --artwork they came up with to make fun of one of my columns about morality and media. The idea was invoking the '50s and parents' need for a sort of more wholesome image. You see? They're looking at a laptop there.
LAMB: And are these--is this --I can't tell from looking at the photograph, are they all together there in that photograph?
Mr. KATZ: Yeah. No, they are.
LAMB: And then the laptop's right below them but it's not...
Mr. KATZ: Right.
LAMB: Was that superimposed on it?
Mr. KATZ: Yeah.
LAMB: Let's look at your Web site. How do people find this, by the way? You can it this up on the screen.
Mr. KATZ: You go to www.hotwired.com It's on the Hot Wired Web site, which is Wired magazine's Web site.
LAMB: So you go originally to Wired magazine's Web site?
Mr. KATZ: No, you go to Hot Wired. It's called Hot Wired.
LAMB: Hot Wired.
Mr. KATZ: www.hotwired--one word--.com.
LAMB: You write about Netizen in the book. What is that?
Mr. KATZ: Netizen is a pull--pol--political and--and media site on Hot Wired that was set up to deal with the presidential campaign. I did the media criticism--was following the media coverage of the campaign, and it was the--an experiment. It was John Holliman who writes for The New
York--for The New Yorker also, was doing the daily campaign political stuff and I was doing media.
LAMB: Let's look at--this is a column that was on 3 February and you say, `There is no more perverse, unpredictable, or idiosyncratic culture than this one. Last week, I wrote about my response to a column on Slate,'--Slate is...
Mr. KATZ: Slate is Michael Kinsley's Web magazine, the one he left The New Republic to found for Microsoft.
LAMB ...`in which my new book, "Virtuous Reality" was trashed and I was A) compared to the Unabomber, B) accused of consorting with violent film buffs, phone phreaks, and "Web-porn peddlers," and C) labeled St. Jon of Cyberspace, and D) compared to Dave Garroway and Milton Berle.' Let's see...
Mr. KATZ: I think my book has struck a nerve, and my publisher was right.
LAMB: `I was portrayed as brooding alone in the isolation of my basement, which the Slate writer, Jack Shafer, said, "Sounds like a clammy and frightening place to work."' Now how often do you write this column?
Mr. KATZ: Oh, two or three times a week. Sometimes when something's really going on it might be more, it might not.
LAMB: Who does that artwork right there?
Mr. KATZ: The same artist who did the cover...
LAMB: And what's that supposed... that--that's your basement there.
Mr. KATZ: Yes. That's the first time I've seen this, actually. I sent this off last night, so I haven't actually seen it. I think it's my basement. I think it's me this is me emerging from the basement to go on my book tour.
LAMB: How many people read your column a week?
Mr. KATZ: I don't know exactly. I think about 1/4 million people, at least, visit the site and the column is also distributed by something called PointCast, so another million people who can buy it or--or not on a daily basis.
LAMB: Now what were they talking about about the basement in this book?
Mr. KATZ: Well, the--"Virtuous Reality," as you mentioned, struck a nerve, and I think the--the Bennett line certainly helped that, and the fact that I poke the boomers pretty sharply in there.
LAMB: By the way, what's the youngest boomer and what's the age range? I know I'm not one.
Mr. KATZ: I think boomer is just sort of a state of mind. I think it's really this-...
LAMB: Maybe I am one.
Mr. KATZ: Maybe you--I don't think you are...
LAMB: I don't know.
Mr. KATZ: I don't think you are one for having watched you for a year. I think it's a state of mind which is, at the moment, very anxious and fearful about media and culture. I would say, you know, it ranges from high 30s to mid 50s, but it could go up or down. It's a state of mind.
I think it --some of them are the legacies of the '60s, these sort of idealists who were somewhat disenchanted from--with what happened, and some of it really comes from the fearfulness of the boomers who are very anxious parents, I think.
Mr. KATZ: So the--so the--I would say Slate would be a boomer place because Slate--Michael Kinsley came to the Web--he left Washington, he left The New Republic to start this magazine which he said was going to civilize the Web. He was going to bring literacy and sort of
Washington standards of media to the--to the sort of unruly Net culture. And one of his writers sort of--I think this was a review of my book--kind of, you know, had a--burst a blood vessel and
compared me to the Unabomber because he's--had heard, somehow--I mean, the idea that anybody would hear about my basement in Washington is a kick to me-- that I write in my basement, which is certainly the truth. Although I may--I don't brood alone; I have two yellow Labs that I brood with, and they didn't like the book and they were very--I think the real criticism of the book was that I was making victims out of-- the writer felt I was-- making computer users into victims of mediaphobia and that they weren't victims, they were rich kids and Web-porn peddlers and phone phreaks.
LAMB: So they really had at you?
Mr. KATZ: Yeah.
LAMB: I mean, if we got a--we could show you what the Slate looks like, for those that go on the Web.
Mr. KATZ: You sh--yeah, you should.
LAMB: There it is, right there.
Mr. KATZ: Right.
Slate's a very good Web site. It's very smart and...
LAMB: But they really let you have it, though, Jack Shafer did.
Mr. KATZ: Yes, they did. Yes, they did. They did.
LAMB: What about overall? What's been the--the reaction to your book?
Mr. KATZ: It's been mixed. I think the--there wer--there were some really good re--USA Today was a great review. I think the boomers are not happy with the book. The Washington Post was pretty critical of it. The--I guess I haven't seen that many other--the LA Times was pretty critical of it. Booklist gave it a rave, USA Today gave it a rave. It's--people love it or they hate it.
LAMB: Where are you from originally?
Mr. KATZ: Providence, Rhode Island.
LAMB: How long did you live in Providence?
Mr. KATZ: Till I was about 14.
LAMB: What--what--why'd you leave? What was your reason you left?
Mr. KATZ: My family moved. We went to Atlantic City where I--where I--it was just before the age of gambling there, went to Atlantic City.
LAMB: What were your parents doing when they...
Mr. KATZ: My father was the program development director of Big Brothers of America; he was a social worker. My mother was a housewife and she's returned to Providence and he--he's no longer alive.
LAMB: And how many kids in the family?
Mr. KATZ: There were three. I have a brother who was in radio in Providence and has a...
Mr. KATZ: No. No, he's now actually working in--in software development for--for health-care companies. And my sister lives in Boston and she's a computer programmer.
LAMB: And you lived in Atlantic City for how long?
Mr. KATZ: We lived there about two years. I just finished high school there and then I went to George Washington University which I was tossed out of and then went to the new School for Social Researchers, which I was also tossed out of.
LAMB: In New York?
Mr. KATZ: Yeah.
LAMB: But along the way, what were your interests?
Mr. KATZ: Well, I was always interested in writing. I started working as a reporter, you know, during the '60s for the Atlantic City Press; it was a great place to start. And I got to see this astonishing amount of media history. I got to--saw the end of the golden age of newspapers. I
ended up in television, I ended up in magazines. I have the distinction of having failed in all media, really, which makes me uniquely qualified, I think, to be a media critic, because I think I understand failure all too well. I had two newspapers die out from under me and a magazine and
a TV show.
LAMB: Which one?
Mr. KATZ: The Baltimore News American, The Dallas Times-Herald. The TV show was Phyllis George and the "CBS Morning News."
LAMB: And you were working at all those places when they failed?
Mr. KATZ: Yea, no. I was gone from the newspapers, but I saw them sinking.
LAMB: Now go back to the George Washington University story. Why'd you get bounced out of there?
Mr. KATZ: I didn't go to class. I just--I found it pretty uninteresting.
LAMB: How old are you today?
Mr. KATZ: I'm now 49. But I didn't interact well with school. It was never a--not a good medium for me. But I think, in a way, you know, I--I'm a believer in education. I don't mean to diminish it, but it was good for me because I didn't really know what I was supposed to think, so I feel like I'm--life for me is a continuous series of miracles because I get to learn things I didn't learn when I should have learned them. I think I read this great Einstein quote that he thought that people were of two kinds: people who believed everything was a miracle, people who believed nothing was a miracle. And I think all this stuff I'm involved with is miraculous, some of it because I came to it late and because I don't think I really know that I'm sometimes not
supposed to like it.
LAMB: Why did you get bounced out of the new school?
Mr. KATZ: Same reason. I was--well, it was the '60s. I was working for the Liberation News Service and for--stopping the war.
LAMB: Who owned the Liberation News Service?
Mr. KATZ: It was just a group of sort of radical, you know, journalists and hi--and hippies who are, you know, vanished. And I was a copyboy for The New York Times by day and I had a secret life at night where I was a guerrilla reporter for L&S during the Columbia riots and all. But then I took a look at The Times and I had my first intimation that I really wasn't cut out for corporate environments and--a lesson which I think took me a long time to actually really get. And I went to Atlantic City where I had a great time as a reporter. You know, it was a very corrupt place and you could you know, we caught the public safety commissioner selling marijuana out of his parking lot. I was an investigative reporter. And went on to papers like the Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post to be a reporter and editor and had a lot of trouble with it. I never stayed at a place very long. I was very happy when I was writing and reporting and very unhappy when I was promoted and got to be a boss and had real trouble with that and then gave that up. Finally got that was not the path for me.
LAMB: So what year were you here at The Washington Post?
LAMB: It was in--during the Watergate stuff when--my legend there was the city editor came over to me and said there was a break-in at the Watergate, and he had a sense it was a really good story, was I interested. And I said, `Nah. It seems like a burglary.' I wasn't interested.
LAMB: You're serious about this? You said no?
Mr. KATZ: Yeah. Yeah. I said, `No, no. I don't--seems like a--seems like a burglary to me.'
LAMB: Did he go off then to Carl Bernstein?
Mr. KATZ: Yes, he went to Bernstein and Woodward. I did some of the early stories with them, you know, but they both--especially Woodward, the second he heard about it, he just lit up. I remember that night quite vividly because I saw what a magnificent reporter he was innately because he just started drooling over the story the minute he heard about it. And I thought, `Who would want to go pursue some dumb burglary at the Democratic Party?' And he immediately--he just smelled that there was something there. He just knew it. And the two of them went off, you know, very happily and eagerly about it. But that was a fork in the road for me.
LAMB: How long were you at The Post?
Mr. KATZ: I'd say about a year, nine months. I did not like Washington. It was not a comfortable place for me. I have this very romanticized notion of a journalist that they really should be
outsiders, that they were meant to be outsiders. And Washington, of course, they're the ruling party and I think journalists should be outside looking at parties, and here they were always giving them. And it just--and I didn't--also, in Washington, you don't ever get to cover stories. You get to cover people talking about stories. So there's this level of disconnection about everything that--a story in Washington is, you know, what the secretary of state might or might not be saying or doing or thinking; but there were really actually very few stories, so I went to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which Gene Roberts was then sort of revamping and covered Frank Rizzo and the police department, and had a blast; I had a great time. It was probably my
happiest journalistic experience.
LAMB: How long were you there?
Mr. KATZ: About three or four years--four years there.
LAMB: Now along the way you married?
Mr. KATZ: Right.
LAMB: What year?
Mr. KATZ: It was the same year--the year that I declined to be part of the Watergate team.
LAMB: And who did you marry?
Mr. KATZ: Paula Span, who was, in fact, a reporter for The Washington Post and she covers New York for the style section.
LAMB: And Emma you said is now...
Mr. KATZ: Fifteen.
LAMB: ...15 years old. When did you go to work for CBS?
Mr. KATZ: I went to work for CBS when--let's see, I guess The Dallas Times-Herald began falling apart and somebody at CBS had the bright idea of bringing a print person into television and seeing if these values could graft onto TV.
LAMB: How old are you at this point?
Mr. KATZ: At this point I probably--well, it was only seven or eight years ago, really. It was late '80s. And--and I read in the paper where they'd hired Phyllis George to be my co-anchor in the morning on the morning news and that, of course, led to my writing career, as the--the program sort of collapsed. It was hilarious--not at the time--but it was not a place where I should ever have been, really, and it--not a place I adopted to well or really belonged at.
And it was very good for me in a lot of ways. I got to travel all over the world. I was there the last year that CBS News really had money to spend, and so we did things like--we went to London with the whole program for a week. We didn't have a budget, we had no idea what it
cost--which would be unimaginable now. And I saw--actually, I was only there for one year where the old news culture was very evident. CBS News was a remarkable institution. I--it was probably the greatest information-gathering institution ever. You know, there were researchers, everybody cared deeply about facts and about nuance and about accuracy. If you made a mistake, it was a dreadful shame. People were just mortified about it.
There were--if the story broke, researchers and producers would appear from all over the place to brief you on it and tell you about it and talk to you about it. And it was sad to see that culture dismantled so ruthlessly because it--if you weren't there, it's very hard to look at it and see how much is missing. And if you were there and you see that they never send anybody anywhere anymore and that there is none of this sort of depth, it's--it's too bad. It's a loss. It's sort of an
And I am amazed I was amazed then and I'm amazed now that this institution, which was so vital to American politics for so many years was brutally dismantled without a peep from the public, or really from even journalism.
LAMB: Why do you think that happened?
Mr. KATZ: I think in the '80s is when this downsizing/merger/takeover mania came. Corporations scarfed up most of American media and homogenized all of it and downsized everybody. I think reporters were asleep at the switches because many Americans had been getting laid off for years and it--at the phone companies and at GM and other places. It wasn't much of a story then. It--the term downsizing really became a big story when it started happening to reporters, at which point it was too late, really. It didn't become a moral issue.
But I was surprised, and I think it's somewhat of a symptom of this disconnection that we talk about that--that the country sort of blinked and didn't pay much attention when CBS News was really disemboweled. It really was a loss, I think. And I feel this perspective, which has
really shaped a lot of my writing and media--I saw newspapers begin to stumble and I saw CBS News dismantled, and I had these intimations, very strongly, when I was sort of exiled when the show broke off on to a floor with Bill Moyers, who was also in exile. And we did a documentary together, which was great fun, and then he left and I was alone on this floor and the man with the coffee cart resigned--came to me and resigned because he had no one else to quit to. And I thought, `He has a lot more vision that I have,' and I left. And I'm sure they would have fired me, you know, any day.
But I--as I began thinking about what to do with my life, I looked around media, and I saw this culture just in great distress, this declining culture--newspapers were struggling, they weren't creative, they weren't vital, they weren't hiring. The television culture was being dismantled. And so I went off to write a novel, "Sign Off," which reflected some of those experiences, and went on to do a mystery series. And I started doing media criticism because everybody wanted the inside dirt on CBS, which I didn't have, and never really wrote about. But that's what got magazines calling me. They all called me up and said, `You know, you're a little of an insider. What's Dan Rather really like?'
And then I star--and it--my editor at Seven Days then went to Rolling Stone and he hired me as a media critic there. And I took to it. I felt, `This is really, you know, what I was meant to do,' because I'd seen so much transition and because I had such a feeling for it, of all the change that was coming. And one day in 1991, he called me up and said, `You've got to get a modem and you've got to get online.' I said, `Why? Why would I want to do that?'
He said, `Because if you don't, you're not going to have much to write about in three or four years,' and, you know, `This is going to be very exciting. This is going to be really very important and you've got to get a modem.' And I whined and fussed and resisted and didn't want to do it. And he did make me--Eric Etheridge--in fact, the book is dedicated to him.
LAMB: Who is Eric Etheridge?
Mr. KATZ: He is now--he's now running a Microsoft Web site in New York called Sidewalk. But he was the first editor of George and was my editor at Rolling Stone and before that at Seven Days. And the dedication, in fact, as I said, `Every writer should be so lucky,' as I was. He's a
great editor. But he made me by--I--by force of will go out and buy a modem and--and wire up. And this is-- this feeling of being newly educated or perhaps uneducated would be a more honest way to put it. I was just reborn. I was a --I felt after all this decline I had seen and fatigue and cynicism in journalism, it was a gateway. I walked through this new world where people were free and outspoken and forming new kinds of communities and creating new kinds of culture. And it--he was right. It gave me a whole new life as a writer because I've had a blast writing about it ever since.
It is the antithesis of the traditional media world. It is free and it's outspoken, it's vibrant. There's a real passion for liberty there that you don't hear much about in regular newsrooms.
LAMB: You said that when CBS lost its primacy or whatever, no one cared. Where do you find people who care passionately about anything in the media today?
Mr. KATZ: On the Internet. Freedom lives on the Web. I mean, that's the--it sounds corny to say it and I would be embarrassed to say it, I think, in most newsrooms, but there's a passion for freedom, a spirit of freedom that is breathtaking on the Web.
LAMB: Stop for a moment and try to explain this to someone who's never had a computer in their hands, doesn't even know what the Web looks like and do you have numbers, by the way, how many people literally are on the Web on--in this country when they want to be? What's the number?
Mr. KATZ: There are few reliable--on the Web, probably about 12 percent of Americans, probably about 50 percent or 60 percent of Americans.
LAMB: So roughly 30 million people?
Mr. KATZ: Thirty well, it again, if you throw in work plus college, probably I'd say 40 million, 45 million at some point have some access.
LAMB: Is there an age group there--in there that--more often than not?
Mr. KATZ: It's it--well, of course, the Web is a particularly young culture, but the fastest growing part of the Net culture is actually older people, so it's really--which most people don't know. I mean, the Net is described mostly in terms of its pornographic dangers, but the miraculous things that go on there have nothing to do with sex. They have a lot to do with old people connecting for the first time and kids getting online. And new kinds of spiritual communities are probably the biggest thing going there, plus businesses.
But the there are two things--two terms that people use. There's the Internet, which is the whole computer link culture which--by which people connect to one another by modems all over the world, and there's the Web, which is a series of graphically linked sites, of which HotWired is one. And what characterizes the Web site from just simply an Internet place is this linkage. That medium has never been linked like that before, where my Web site--if I mention William Bennett, for example, is--he'll have a line underneath his name. If you click on his name, you'll go to his book. It's it's just intensely interactive in the sense that you cross-reference everything you're talking about, so that this idea of linkage is very important.
These sites are also profoundly interactive. You know, when I did a column for Rolling Stone or for New York Magazine, when I wrote the column, I was done. My work was over; I had told my truth, and I was gone. Writing on the Web, the column is--it's just the beginning of this process where you are--you interact.
LAMB: Here's another column of yours. It's called Channeling Mencken. When was this on? Do you know? I guess it was on in December. So you can go back and you can call this up...
Mr. KATZ: Yeah.
LAMB: ...your old column.
Mr. KATZ: It's archived. You can go back at any time. And you notice that the very--if you can go down to the very end of the column, there's the--you see H.L. Mencken's name is underlined. If you click on that, you go to an H.L. Mencken Web site.
LAMB: There he is.
Mr. KATZ: There he is. And you would do the same thing if it was William Bennett. Even though I might criticize William Bennett, if you click on his name, you can find out more about him. You can even buy his book. And there is Mr. Bennett again.
LAMB: You can buy his book?
Mr. KATZ: Well, you can order it. Sure, sure. I mean, it--the idea that-- the bi--one of the big ideas about this kind of writing--if you go to the very bottom, you'll see a thing called `Threads.' And there's three ways in which the reader can respond to this column. There's `Threads', and below that, there's `E-mail Jon,' and below that, there's `E-mail The Netizen,' and I think below that, there's even one more. I may be wrong; I think it's just three. Those are the three. So you can--you can e-mail me and say I'm a jerk, which is what basically `Threads' is for. You can e-mail me personally and tell me I'm a jerk, or you can e-mail Netizen and tell them that I'm a jerk. And--or you can even agree with me, which a lot of people do.
So I would get, depending on the column, anywhere from 100, 200, sometimes 500 or 600 messages. And a key element of this column is that people can respond to me. They can tell me they disagree with me. They can tell me I'm being too hard on William Bennett or that I'm
not being fair, or they can ask me to reconsider my point of view. So a column becomes a living organism. The column becomes not a static thing that you simply drop as an op-ed page would be dropped; it becomes an idea that goes out into the world and is the beginning of a great dialogue.
LAMB: Are you one of those people that yells at the television set?
Mr. KATZ: No, only once.
LAMB: But, I mean, do you--are you--when you watch--do you watch much television?
Mr. KATZ: Not too much. A little bit.
LAMB: But do you-- find it satisfying at all at any time?
Mr. KATZ: Yes, I do. I do. I like "The X-Files" a lot.
LAMB: What about the news business, though?
Mr. KATZ: I tend to-- I tend to turn to cable much more, I have to say. I will watch C-SPAN. I will watch, you know, "Politically Incorrect" sometimes. I like programs with more attitude. I might wheel in to C-SPAN to see some breaking news. But I have to say, I like programs that are interactive. You know, I like thought--I was very influenced by the-- callers on C-SPAN. It was a--because I get a lot of e-mail like that.
LAMB: Where do you feel--I mean, you have often the reaction that this is what this is about--You know what I'm talking about?--where you say that people feel the most passionate about the Internet. And w--at what moment do you sit there and say, `This is why I'm in this'?
Mr. KATZ: I think--I wrote about Thomas Paine on the Internet, in Wired, and I write about him in the book, of course.
LAMB: And you've got this lovely--it's a picture.
Mr. KATZ: I love that.
LAMB: What--what is this?
Mr. KATZ: It's Thomas Paine at a keyboard as envisaged by...
LAMB: Is that really h--no, he--he was--he died...
Mr. KATZ: It's close not exactly. And it's him in the fore, not in the back.
Mr. KATZ: It looks like Charles Laughton in the back. But I basically said in the book that Thomas Paine, if he were alive today, would be on the Internet. That's where he would be writing, because he couldn't get a job at any newspaper in America, because he did--certainly
did not believe in objectivity and he was far too outspoken and independent-minded to--to work in a newsroom. And he would not have liked corporate media in the least.
So I think his spirit is very much alive there. We are very free on the Internet. We can really say things you can't say in traditional media. We can question the existence of God if we wish. We can go beyond the sort of narrow confines of liberalism and conservatism.
Elderly people are forming these remarkable communities like SeniorNet on America Online, where they--the grief conference on SeniorNet is the single most powerful thing I've ever seen in media, where people go when they've experienced a death or when they feel they're about to die.
You can't go on that topic without crying. There is a great sense of liberty there where people use language they want. Now sometimes this is--I don't mean to be a cheerleader. There's a lot that--about this culture that is unpleasant, that is confusing, that is expensive, that is difficult, that is raucous and hostile. And you know, it's not a paradise. It is-- invokes much of the spirit of early American media in that it is very outspoken and very loud and very opinionated,
sometimes so much so that it's difficult to work in.
LAMB: Does it ever get under your skin?
Mr. KATZ: Yes. Sure. Sure.
LAMB: I mean, when they fire back at you?
Mr. KATZ: It--sometimes. I mean, I really evolved quite a bit, I think, in the last year. You --the reason I love being an interactive columnist as opposed to the other kind is you really never stop being challenged, ever. There's no point at which you are--you're done with any idea. I mean, I wrote a--I was mentioning the Thomas Paine column I mentioned and wrote in Wired. One of the things about Paine is that his bones were stolen; no one knows where his bones are. So I wrote this piece for Wired magazine about Paine and what a great person he was and how much I admired him and that his bones were gone. And so--this was about a year or so ago. So every month or so, I get a--an e-mail from someone in England who has a piece of him.
Mr. KATZ: Well, they s...
LAMB: Because it...
Mr. KATZ: Lady Huffington who sa--I don't know how these people get my column. I can't imagine that they're online. They're usually titled, and they'll e-mail that they like my piece very much and they know where his femur is or his jawbone or his--or his rib cage. And I really think by the end of the year, I'm going to have him all reassembled, the little bits of him in England. Now this is g--I don't--I didn't even know the process by which this idea moves through the world. You know, I think it moves from computer; sometimes people print it out; sometimes people will mail it to someone; sometimes people will e-mail it to someone. But this idea is still very much alive.
I had an experience this year where I wrote a sort of hyperbolic column about Tupac Shakur, the rapper--a very controversial rapper who died. And I've often defended rap in some of my media writings as being, you know, overly demonized by mainstream media. And I wrote a column about Shakur that was probably not as sensitive as it should have been about the violence he was involved in or about some of the massaging of his language. So I was utterly trashed; I mean, I must have had 2,000 messages telling me what a jerk I was and how insensitive I was and giving me the--how offe--and--and it isn't that you have a referendum on all your work, but you can tell by the tenor of the response when you have misfired. And people were very upset by what I had written. I had offended people. I had really been insensitive to this other part of him.
And so I wrote a second column saying, `You know what? I overstated the case. There are things about him that I like, but I really should have been more careful.' Then I got another whole blast from African-American college kids who love him and who are on these Web sites--college Web
sites and kids I not often heard from. And they said, `Wait a minute. You were right the first time. You know, he really was coming around. He's a good writer. He was moderating a lot of his images. You know, you should have defended him. Thank you for defending him. Don't take it back.'
And then I thought, `Well, all right. Here's another reality.' And then--and then another wave came in from academics and people in the music industry and lyricists and songwriters saying, `Well, wait a minute. You know, here's the truth about Tupac Shakur, you know. He was becoming a much better writer and his music was beginning to moderate. And he also did some offensive things. The truth, as it often is, is in the middle.'
So I did a third column finally, which was really the one I should have written the first place. And I said, `You know what? I've had all this information from all of these people, and here's what I now think.' And in the meantime, there were these public areas, which we call threads,
where all of these people were able to jump on and argue and disagree and share information and change perspectives. And it--I don't feel like I have to be right and stick to my guns if I'm convinced that I'm wrong and if people take the trouble to e-mail me. The most frightening
e-mail to me is not from the hostile people who insult me, which I--you can sort of dismiss. It's from people who know what they're talking about. It's terrifying to get e-mail from a dean
of a college who's been studying the subject for 25 years who really lays you out and says, you know, `You didn't read this book and you didn't read that book.' But the net effect of it is it makes me better; it makes me smarter; it makes me learn. It keeps me growing in a way that I don't feel is easy for journalists to do and they need to do.
LAMB: Let me go back to this chapter we showed earlier on Thomas Paine. You say he was born in 1737, died in 1809, moved to the United States when he was 37 years old and wrote how many books?
Mr. KATZ: Well, he wrote--he wrote essays, really. He sort of and he inspired me in the form of this book, which is a polemic. He wrote this sort of thing; I'm not comparing myself to him. He wrote "Common Sense," which was the country's first best-seller.
LAMB: And you gave the figures on how many...
Mr. KATZ: It was half a million--he sold half a million copies of "Common Sense"...
Mr. KATZ: ...in a country with two million people in it. And he wouldn't take royalties for it because he was afraid people wouldn't be able to afford it. It's one of the reasons he died a pauper. And then when he was thrown in jail in France, he wrote "The Rights of Man"; he wrote "The Age of Reason." He wrote three or four, I think, of the classic essays on individual liberty, and he created political journalism with "Common Sense," which was the first--really, the first statement like that for individual liberty in the--North America, for sure. Some of his ideas were drawn from some of the British writers, but he was a best-selling writer. He didn't--he did pamphlets, really. He did long, argumentative essays. And I use him as an example of why I don't like objectivity very much, because if Thomas Paine were subscribing to the conventions of
objectivity, "Common Sense" would have begun with, you know, `A spokesperson for the British says the colonies should remain attached, and a spokesperson for the colonists says it shouldn't,' and we'd still probably be part of the empire.
LAMB: I think we have--well, it--not much to see here, but that's from--is that your piece in Wired?
Mr. KATZ: Yes. Yes, it is. Great work.
LAMB: And it's on the Web.
Mr. KATZ: I didn't know that, but it's t...
LAMB: You did not know that?
Mr. KATZ: I didn't. Maybe that's where they're getting--maybe that's where all these British people are--are seeing it.
LAMB: Go--go back to--to Thomas Paine. New Rochelle, New York, figures in--in his life.
Mr. KATZ: Yes.
LAMB: What's up there now?
Mr. KATZ: Well, his house. There a little Thomas Paine museum, which is sort of a funky little place with some...
LAMB: You've been there?
Mr. KATZ: Yeah, many times. And there's a hole in the ground where his grave was where this pamphleteer who didn't like his work just grabbed his bones and squirreled them off to England on a boat, where they just vanished. No one knows--no one really knows what happened to them.
He ended up sort of a wretched and disliked figure. He was obnoxious. He was extremely opinionated and had a--a gift for alienating his friends and was always whining about money, as writers still do today. But he w--but those three essays, "The Age of Reason," "The Rights of Man" and "Common Sense" are they really gave birth to the modern American media, to the idea of media as a force for change, to the idea of reasoned argument, and for the use of media as a guide to help us sort out some of the moral dilemmas that we have.
I mean, it's the reason why "Virtuous Reality" is cast in such an argumentative way, because it's a polemic. In our time, it's somewhat shocking to people who go, `How can you say these things, you know? How can you be so argumentative? Why aren't you being more reasoned, more
balanced, more researched?' The boomers in particular--some of the reviewers have said that.
LAMB: Your book is 201 pages long.
Mr. KATZ: Right.
LAMB: Short compared to a lot of books that are put out...
Mr. KATZ: I think so, on the shorter side.
LAMB: And it sells for $21.
Mr. KATZ: Right.
LAMB: Whose idea was it to keep it short?
Mr. KATZ: Well, I've never--it was never my idea to write short in any medium. My editor was very, very determined to keep it short because she actually was picked up on the Thomas Paine idea and said, `You know, this book should be a polemic. This is what you're good at. You're good at making arguments about media, so make an argument about media. Don't go out and interview 2,000 researchers and quote 500 studies, and--just make the argument.'
But the-- polemic form of essay, which is the one that American media was invented upon, is so shocking that I notice many of the reviewers don't even know what it is. And they sort--some of the reviews say, `Well, why didn't Katz go out and talk to hundreds of children? Why didn't he quote experts and deans and researchers?' The idea of an argument is-- almost unknown in media, because you can only do it on these op-ed pages, and even then, within a very militantly
moderate context. And the idea that I think drove me, in fact, in many ways to write the book much more than even Mr. Bennett is--is the notion of a media that has lost this moral mooring, lost this connection with this man who--who worked very hard on his essays, researched them very carefully, filled them with facts, as I have certainly tried to do and then made very reasoned arguments.
LAMB: Thomas Paine?
Mr. KATZ: Thomas Paine. The arguments were, you know, he--I--`Here's my opinion. I'm up front about it. Here's how I reach my opinion. Here are statistics to support my opinion. Take it or leave it.' And, of course, that argument gave birth not only to media, but to the American Revolution.
LAMB: Look what Barkley Kern has found on the Web now.
Mr. KATZ: Is--well, that I have seen.
LAMB: And can you also get the other two books...
Mr. KATZ: Yes.
LAMB: ..."The Rights of Man"...
Mr. KATZ: Yeah, there are a dozen Thomas Paine Web sites. There's some in England and there's some here. And Paine followers, of who--not a large number of them--all his works are available there, the biography, story of his life. People come together and talk about freedom in the press on these sites.
LAMB: How long was he in prison?
Mr. KATZ: Well, in France, he wasn't in prison very long, I think, less than about a year. And he was supposed to be executed. He was earmarked for the guillotine, and some friends of his marked the door in such a way that the guards would be fooled, and they passed him by. He went over there to help the revolution--the French Revolution, but he ended up being critical of them for being so brutal. This was a person who had a gift for provocation and for being in trouble wherever he went. But for me, he has always embodied the spirit of American media as it was meant to be. And I think the loss of that spirit is crippling for journalism. Whether you're a liberal or a conservative, I think, you--we're deprived of this sort of informed and passionate reason.
LAMB: We found something called the Thomas Paine Historical--I don't know if they go back to--yeah, here it is--historical society.
Mr. KATZ: The historical society. That's the one in New Rochelle.
LAMB: Do many people belong to this?
Mr. KATZ: Not a lot. I belong to it. It's in New Rochelle. It's...
LAMB: There's the house.
Mr. KATZ: There's the house, Thomas Paine Cottage. And the museum is right up the hill from it. And it has some artifacts like his spectacles and some of his writing instruments.
LAMB: What would you think he would be like to be as a friend?
Mr. KATZ: I think he'd be horrid. He'd be tough. He didn't have a lot of friends.
LAMB: Why not?
Mr. KATZ: He was very grumpy and he's very opinionated. He had a notion, for example, that no one should ever edit him. He was very quarrelsome.
LAMB: Let me read what you wrote in your book about Thomas Paine. You said, `He could easily have had the cast of "McLaughlin and Company" or "Crossfire" in mind when he wrote, "The wretch who will write on any subject for bread or in any service for pay stands equally in rank with the prostitute who lets out her person."' Why do you think that he would have been writing about "McLaughlin and Company" and "Crossfire" with those words?
Mr. KATZ: I think the evolution of the Washington breed of combat journalism is the absolute antithesis of American journalism and its promise and its spirit. The idea that these people go on television every week for money to pretend to be passionate on both sides of every issue is appalling.
LAMB: Are they pretending, in your opinion?
Mr. KATZ: Well, they have the same--they have to be right or they have to be left, so they can't change their mind. However...
LAMB: But how does that --when you said that you love journalists who are opinionated --and you love polemics?
Mr. KATZ: Because I think they're not--you don't have a journalist arguing a point of view. You have journalists who are paid to argue the same point of view every week and pretend to be passionate about it. It's the--it's the opposite of reason. It's-- what it is is sort of like the-- cockfight every week where people get together and-- debate each other for--and score points on each other. And it's one of the reasons Americans are so alienated from media, because these
people aren't coming on sincerely with opinion. They really morally trying to persuade you around to a point of view. They're taking money to appear to be passionate every week. And it's particularly damaging for Washington journalists to be doing that because we probably need them more now to be clear than we've ever needed them. There's so much information coming out. It's from so many different quarters. Instead of helping us--I mean, what Thomas Paine, I think, would have done is said, `You know, here's what we should think about Bill Clinton,
and here's why I think so. Well, here's what we should do about welfare, and here's why I think so.' And we could do it or not; we don't have to take his point of view.
LAMB: You said that Thomas Paine would be reclusive and moody, too obnoxious and combative to have dinner with Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Mr. KATZ: Yes, definitely.
LAMB: And you go on to say that he would refuse book deals from Rupert Murdoch and flee in horror at offers from Washington talk shows. Are you worried that you'll get caught up in this kind of a world because...
Mr. KATZ: I already--I certainly already am.
LAMB: I mean, give you an example: Here is the...
Mr. KATZ: Yes.
LAMB: ...as you would say, the old media that--let me see what the date was on this--January the 19th. This is--you got the--you got the lead. Is this an excerpt from your book?
Mr. KATZ: It's an excerpt.
LAMB: You get the lead in Arts & Leisure.
Mr. KATZ: Yeah, that was great.
Mr. KATZ: Yes. I wa...
LAMB: Jon Katz.
Mr. KATZ: I was quite stunned, by the way. People thought that picture was me, but it wasn't.
LAMB: Why-- do you think The New York Times would--I mean, you--you're not very friendly in here today's newspapers.
Mr. KATZ: Well, I am and I'm not. I mean, I-- one of the points where the book lands is on this notion that the-- idea that one culture must triumph over the other is false. I mean, I don't believe that old media is going to destroy new media or that new media is going to destroy old media. I think we--in 10 years, we're going to be sitting here if we're having this conversation again--we're still going to be looking at newspapers. I'm still going to want to have excerpts in them. We're still going to--you know, Wired magazine itself is most influential in print form. More books were sold last year in America than ever before.
I just don't buy this notion that one culture is going to blow the other away. I think sensible people--which is the point of that excerpt and probably why they liked it--sensible people will make sensible choices. They will pick and choose from each media what works for them.
They don't have to choose--they don't have to--you don't have to ever be on the World Wide Web, and you can lead a very happy life and very fulfilling. But the fact that the World Wide Web exists doesn't threaten your existence or mean that civilization is coming to an end or that
waves of pornography are rolling over our children. I think The Times actually picked the most sensible and restrained part of the book, which is fine.
And I am absolutely dealing with theyou know, I doubt that Paine would be making the compromises I'm making on a book tour. You know, I had this--I went on NPR "Talk of the Nation" yesterday, and there was one of these sort of TV talk show gladiators there to sort of do
battle with me. And I thought to myself, `Well, you know, I didn't think of Thomas Paine, but it's definitely part of a hype.' If you want to write a book in America today, you can't get a book published. You can't get your point of view across if you are as pure as Thomas Paine was, or
maybe I'm just kidding myself. Maybe if I were really true to his spirit, I would.
LAMB: What do you think of the V-chip?
Mr. KATZ: I think it's a fraud. I think, like a lot of this sort of censorship technology, it's not going to do what people think it's going to do. And I think Bill Clinton is being as opportunistic as William Bennett is in advancing it as a safe device for dealing with television. There are about 800,000 hours of TV programming a week on television. And, you know, very few Americans can work a VCR yet. To ask these sort of hard-pressed parents to sort of V-chip the TV every week is crazy. It's ludicrous.
I mean, I--even if it worked, which it won't, you know, it's not even required for the TV it's voluntary for the networks to even rate these programs. It'll be 30 or 40 years before it's in any
substantial number of American homes. It costs $100 or so to get. It's just not going to be a factor in our lives. And I think for the president to advance this as a--as yet another substitute for being responsible for your kids--you know, he has to know, as--as William Bennett has to know, that this stuff isn't going to do the trick. It's going to take money out of people's pockets, but it's not going to make their kids' lives safer or better, which is my whole argument. I could have--easily have put Bill Clinton's name on that cover.
LAMB: You say in another part of your book, `Ditto for network news, which needs to stop blowing millions on anchors' salaries and experiment with format sets and styles.' You saw this whole thing up close when you were at "CBS Morning News."
Mr. KATZ: Yeah.
LAMB: Didn't Phyllis George who--she make a lot of money? I mean, wh--wasn't she important?
Mr. KATZ: She did make a lot of money. I think the...
LAMB: She important to that--making that show work?
Mr. KATZ: Well, it didn't work, which is one of the reasons I'm writing. But that's a great example, when you talk about television, of how commercial broadcasting has--in a new sense, has gone down with the show. In retaining this anchor culture, which is incredibly expensive,
you have these anchors that are making millions and millions of dollars a year essentially to read five minutes of introductions to other people's work five times a week. It's like 40 minutes of w--of work a week, for which they make $4 million, $5 million, $6 million.
And some of them--they're all quite smart, you know. It's not a question of their being f--you know, dumb. But what's the point? What function does an anchor serve? When Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow did it, anchors had a very important function, which was to make news
respectable. It was a new medium and people were nervous about it. And Paley and others were smart enough to get these extremely respectable-looking people to put them up front, to make television safe, which is probably something the Internet should do and probably ease a lot of this phobia.
But-- they don't have a function anymore, really, you know. And they're--and they've been completely bypassed. News has moved to cable and it's moved online, but mostly it's moved to cable, which is where news really lives on television now. I'm very struck in the book and elsewhere at--at the resistance of newspapers and commercial broadcasting to change, that--that if you look at a newscast and you go back 40 years and look at a newscast then, you're going to see almost the same form, the same, you know, middle-aged person sitting there, you know, in a suit, reading introductions to other people's stories, even though the entire spectrum of information--the way people move, when they get home, what they do when they get home, women being at home--all that has changed profoundly, and yet the network news format hasn't changed a bit.
And that's true of newspapers, too, by the way. If you look at the format of a paper--if you went back 50 years ago, you might see a little more color now. There might be a little more white space, but the basic format of a newspaper is still unchanged in half a century, despite the
fact that everything about news--the way it moves, the way people use it--has changed radically. And I think the problem is one of creativity, not technology. I don't think the problem with newspapers or network news is that no one cares about them. The problem is they've just become fossilized. They won't change.
LAMB: Earlier, we talked about Emma, your daughter. Has she read your book?
Mr. KATZ: No. No, she really just keeps a distance from some of this stuff.
Mr. KATZ: She reads a lot of books. But she's heard--as she says, `I've heard it.' She might get around to it. She she reads my fiction. But the serious discussions about old and new media, I think, are probably not up her--up her alley, although she might.
LAMB: What's your best example of old media?
Mr. KATZ: Well, I mean, I think CBS News would be one. I think The New York Times, The Washington Post--passive...
LAMB: And what's your best example of new media?
Mr. KATZ: I think cable. It's probably the very adroit, you know. Cable news channels would be one, I would say, are probably new media that has reached into the mainstream more powerfully than any other. Certainly, the World Wide Web is coming on, but it's nowhere near a mainstream media yet.
LAMB: You, in the beginning, acknowledge a--a bunch of folks including Paula Span and Emma Span in this long list. But at the bottom, I.F. Stone, A.J. Leibling, Thomas Paine, Francis Bacon and John Locke. We talked a little bit about Thomas Paine. Why I.F. Stone?
Mr. KATZ: Well, he personified to me this sort of outsider journalist who--whose-- breed has sort of vanished. Now he's often used--people often invoked his name. But I think the thing about Stone that was very interesting was not so much his politics but the fact that he kept himself very much outside the system and wrote about it with relentless integrity. At the same time, he knew a lot about it. He...
LAMB: Did you know him?
Mr. KATZ: No.
LAMB: Never met him?
Mr. KATZ: Never met him.
LAMB: How about A.J. Leibling?
Mr. KATZ: Never met him, certainly, but wh...
LAMB: And what was--who was he?
Mr. KATZ: He was a media critic who wrote for The New Yorker. And he, I think, is a--to me, is a metaphor for the breed of media criticism that vanished, really, with him, because media criticism is really no longer about criticizing the media. It's about knowing the people in the media well enough to get them on the phone and nibble on their ears. I think this idea of content criticism of media pretty much died with Leibling.
LAMB: What about Francis Bacon?
Mr. KATZ: Well, Bacon, I think, was the source of this essay that I drew from often. He was an inspiration to people like Paine and others in the Enlightenment. He had this idea of a more rational media. He had this idea of controlling technology to make greater sense out of issues. He had these sort of interesting Utopian visions. But he was an influence on the people that I like and read and on me, too.
LAMB: Finally, John Locke?
Mr. KATZ: Well, John Locke, I had to say, had this great idea that I used in The Rights of Children for a healthier relationship between people who govern and those who are governed. And it was his ethic, the consent of the governed, that en--formed this idea I had about finding a
more rational way to deal with kids about culture, that a social contract, which was Locke's idea--that government was a social contract between people and the people who governed them, and if anybody mishandled or misused their power or misbehaved, the contract was broken. And to me, this made enormous sense. I mean, I did a piece for Wired called The Rights of Children, which ended up being a chapter in the book, Change.
But the idea being that instead of trashing children, accusing them of stupidity and censoring them and blocking them and driving them crazy, it's to sit down with responsible kids--these would be older kids who--and--and hammer out a social contract that works for them and for
you. For example, I have one really with Emma in the sense that she does well in school, she has responsibilities around the house, and she's expected to sort of conduct herself in a safe and responsible way. As long as she does that, she has a lot of freedom over her culture. She can watch the TV shows she wants. She can go on the Net and-- mind her own business. Excuse me. I think this idea of beginning a rational negotiation with kids makes a lot of sense to me, and I think it's much better than the current system.
LAMB: By the way, did you ever get that college degree?
Mr. KATZ: No.
LAMB: So how much time you got to go before you can get it?
Mr. KATZ: Just about four years. I think I went to two classes. Actually, though, I did write to George Washington University some years later and said, `You know, I'm'--I was in Washington. I was working at The Post, and I said, `I'd like to come back and finish.' And they wrote back saying, `Well, I don't know. You hardly went to any classes, and what about it? But we'll take you back.' But I couldn't go.
LAMB: Jon Katz is the author of this book, and the subtitle--I've got to read it here--is "How America Surrendered Discussion of Moral Values to Opportunists, Nitwits and Blockheads Like William Bennett." And the name of the book is "Virtuous Reality." Jon Katz, our guest.
Mr. KATZ: Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1997. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.