An Inky Wretch

December 1, 2002 Topic: Society

An Inky Wretch

Mini Teaser: The world's first political journalist, Marchamont Nedham, was deeply partisan, but also pragmatic, principled and competent. A rare combination indeed.

by Author(s): Paul A. Rahe

What distinguishes Howell Raines from Marchamont Nedham, therefore, is less a matter of journalistic integrity or partisanship than a question of competence. Had a journal with the reputation of the New York Times existed in his day, and had he been given its command, Nedham would have had the wit to recognize its value. He would have taken care to preserve the franchise and would never have squandered an authority it had taken generations to accumulate. He was sly enough to be able to foresee that, in abandoning the appearance of impartiality and in turning itself into the vehicle of a political sect, such a journal would be jettisoning its effectiveness as a partisan tool. The temptation for an abuse of trust attendant on the possession of a power seemingly unchecked is no doubt great-but, as Nedham would have understood, resisting that temptation is prerequisite for persuasion. Perhaps the inky wretches of our own day will at some point come to recognize this. But, alas, not yet.

Essay Types: Essay