Last week a a panel of four journalists from the Christian Science Monitor toured the West Coast from Seattle to Los Angeles presenting political predictions for 1973. Their primary purpose, as their well-organized, well-modulated appearance in San Diego's Community Concourse's Golden Hall January 11th made clear, is to publicize the paper and sell subscriptions. As we entered he Hall, countless ushers landed out a well-put together package of material containing subscription blanks, a statement of editorial stance ("the paper's aim is to be objective") and he results of a 1970 Seminar survey which judged the Monitor to be the "fairest" newspaper in the US and indicated that almost as many people thought the paper was liberal as conservative (in the same survey, which gave the Monitor a -85, the San Diego Union received a -15). As we left we received the latest edition of the paper.
The evening began at exactly three minutes after eight and in an unexpectedly ceremonious manner. To the crowd of 2,500, about 75% of which was between the ages of 45 and 65, someone unctuously introduced Pete Wilson, San Diego's "Man of Action." Wilson in turn introduced John Hughes, the "bane, cool and clipped Pulitzer Prize-winning Britisher who has been editor of the Monitor since October, 1970 was one of the 23 newsmen who traveled to China with Nixon. Hughes then proceeded to introduce rest of the panel which was obviously carefully selected to represent a "healthy diversity of opinion" as Hughes later put it.
Courtney Sheldon: A youthful middle-aged man with a Dick Cavett build, but without Cavett's wit. A man of good heart, commitment, morality, and vague idealism Who admires Ralph Nader. He alone criticized the President's policy in Vietnam and his avoidance of press conferences. Chief of the Washington Bureau.
Geoffrey Godsell, Sheldon's opposite. A portly English Hawk who thinks incisively in terms of military strategy (we must develop the nuclear-powered ballistic and antiballistic missle submarines). Godsell surely would have bet that Phineas Fogg would never have made it around the world in 80 days. The fastest-talking, quickest and most trenchant mind of the four Who has, at the same time, the deepest blind spots. When asked, for example, when we could expect a woman president, he gave his male chauvinist version of the myth that a poor boy from the ghetto can make it to the White House: when a woman candidate appears who is better than the male candidate, he said glibly, she will be elected. Overseas News Editor.
Curtis Sitnor. The only undistinguished person on the panel. looked more like a local TV weatherman or high school coach than a critical-thinking journalist. As Western Bureau Chief, he sounded bored and said nothing that was even mildly interesting. Indulged in slick pop sociology of the West (Westerner's like to "make it on their own") and made the unstartling observation that the environment would become a major issue.
The major topic was China, and the Monitor's major prediction for 1973 was that the most significant political developments would result from the adjustment of the rest of the world to the new relationships among the USSR, China, and the US. Their optimism was extraordinarily high. 1972 was an "astonishing year" and 1973 is going to be a "promising" and fascinating" year. lust as China is "seeking a period calm and order," so is the entire globe experiencing a "thaw" and looking forward to the "business of relaxation", The word "relaxation," in fact. came up more than once or Nice. We're all going to be so busy relaxing, they seemed to imply, that we'll be too occupied for a crisis that would involve the three powers in a major war.
What the panel didn't talk about was just as interesting — perhaps even more so - than what they did emphasize. Vietnam was scarcely mentioned in the opening statements, and when it was, it was just to say that the "outlook was brighter than in many a recent year". Why this avoidance of the War? Was it really because they believed that the issue is no longer an important or controversial one and is routinely drawing to a close? I would have been more tempted to believe this if Hughes had not carefully postponed Vietnam until Question Eight (the future of the Navy and Common Cause came well before). And when he finally did raise the question of Vietnam, he admonished both audience and panel to "Fasten your safety belts. We're now going to get into Vietnam." (I wondered if he realized just what he was saying. I'd rather get out.) Perhaps the Monitor was trying not to alienate or inflme their obviously hawkish audience. Or it might simply have been another example of their general tendency toward defensiveness about their positions — whether hawk or dove — which I noticed throughout the evening. In many cases they seemed to apologize for their opinions rather than present themselves as experts or even just informed observers.
But the pervasive tone as set by Hughes "as genial and good-humoured. All four joshed one another and laughed and seemed to have a good time. Hughes started off In a light vein by saying that they dido', have a crystal ball and so couldn't tell us if Howard Hughes was coming out of anonymity, or, for that matter, whether Kissinger was going into it. And the audience reinforced this feeling of jolly fellowship by being very attentive and well-mannered and by applauding at the end of every statement. This showed a euphoric fuzziness in thinking,for the same people who supported one side of a question would also applaud the opposite side. Everyone seemed anxious to be polite, civilized in an English, genteel fashion, and eager to please one another.
The Monitor is a highly respectable, highly respected paper, and the audience was equally reasonable and respectable. As Antony said of Brutus, "So are they all, all honorable men."