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April 04, 1970 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1970-04-04

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Saturday, April 4, 1970


Page Five

Saturday, April 4, 1970 THE MICHIGAN DAILY Page Five


producing news


of Charles Olson

Dale Minor, THE INFORMA-
4 TION WAR, Hawthorne Books,
Inc., 1970, $6,95.
In our times of national trou-
bles, simple solutions will be of-
fered us. Vice President Agnew,
the current hero of the simple-
minded, leads the fight with his
broadsides against the "liberal"
press, drawing on long-standing
grievances of those not favored
by the press, but also adding
new themes, dangerous in
their misconceived conspiratorial
view, as misconceived as the
views of the paranoid left, but
the' more dangerous for being
more powerful.
The simple solutions sought
for the difficulties facing the
press today, such as government
licensing, will hopefully come to
nought. Yet, the problems of the
press remain, and it is no virtue
to shun all suggestions because
most are foolish, if not down-
right dangerous..
Dale Minor, a former corres-
pondent and broadcast journal-
ist, has spared his readers the

Their list of crimes is long, the
most serious being their stronger
commitment to making profits
rather than reporting the news.
Minor repeats a comment by
former Federal Communications
Commission Chairman William
Henry, who told a National As-
sociation of Broadcasters con-
you display more interest in
defending your freedom to
suffocate the public with com-
mercials than in upholding
your freedom to provide pro-
vocative variety . . . you cry
"censorship" and call for faith
in the founding fathers' wis-
dom only to protect your bal-
ance sheet . . . you remain
silent in the face of a threat
which could shake the First
Amendment's proud oak to its
very roots .. .
H e n r y was castigating the
broadcasters specifically f o r
their failure to come to the de-
fense of a small network that
was being harrassed for political
reasons by Sen. Thomas Dodd'
of Connecticut-inaction typical
of broadcast executives.,
Here, Minor is, again, enter-
taining without being profound.
The Information War only be-
comes important when Minor
searches beyond the specific
problems toward the ethical
questions of journalism as. a
profession. And it is here that
he does not espouse facile tru-.
isms, but rather confronts the
difficult truths of a free press
and democracy. For instance,
regarding the WBAI affair in
New York that blew up after a
front page story in the New
York Times (WBAI, the pre-
dominately Jewish, subscriber-
owned station, was accused of
anti-Semitism because of certain
broadcasts during the New York
teachers strike of 1968), Minor
wisely does not blame the
Should not "Times," then, not
have run the story? Not even
WBAI's management would
have suggested that ... It was
not the "New York Times"
that was the first cause of the
uproar but a polarized and in-
creasinly hysterical political
and racial atmosphere.
Minor unfortunately goes on
to make the rather dubious point
that New' York may be a better
city for having been tlrough
the experience, ' a healthy ef-
fect in the long run" he calls
it, but that certainly is not the
issue. What is at issue is the
obligation of the press to itself
and to the public. The Times
should not have withheld that
story just because of the effect
it would have if printed-to do
so would have been to suppress
news. (Minor took the Times to
task earlier for its suppression of
a Bay of Pigs story in "the na-
tional interest.") The suppres-
sion of news, be it by the press

simplistic in The Information
War, despite the naivete to
which he occasionaly succumbs.
He catalogues the problems
journalists face as well as the
difficulties government and so-
ciety share in having a free
press. From the understanding
gained, he outlines not unrealis-
tic solutions, but rather distant
goals to be worked for, non-
utopian ideals for the conduct
of the profession of journalism.
It is within the context of the
trial of democracy, itself not a
solution but only a mechanism
with certain ideals for insuring
the happiness and prosperity of
the people, that the meaning of
Minor's free press must be un-
Curiously, Minor is not at his
best in this book when he acts as
, a reporter trying to make a case.
He spends the first few chapters
trying to show how the govern-
ment manipulates the press,
citing the histories of the Viet-
nam War, the Dominican Re-
public intervention, and the
Democratic National Conven-
tion in Chicago. Despite good
material, a fluid prose style, and
quick, dry wit, Minor fails to
make his case convincing every
time save one, that being Chi-
cago, and then he succeeds only
with the aid of the Walker Re-
port. He hides a bad critique of
government behind an interest-
ing case against foreign policy
-entertaining reading but in-
significant for his purposes.
Minor does manage to docu-
ment well the techniques the
government uses to mislead the
press and the public, techniques
which he aptly summarizes as
the "Snow Machine." As a small
example of what Minor is criti-
cizing, I will cite only the seem-
ingly innocuous practice of the
military 1i s t I n g casualties as
"light," moderate," or~ "heavy."
"Light" casualties are generally
taken to mean 10 per cent of the
force used, but the military
often hides the real extent of
casualties by submerging the
number killed in larger units
than actually took part. Thus,
if an entire company is deci-
mated in an attack, the military
can and does call the casualties
"light" by including the entire
division, which' would count
numerous troops that never saw
This technique is not as in-
nocent as it might appear. News-
men must work with the con-
stant remembrance of the now
infamous statement of then As-
sistant Secretary of Defense for
Public Affairs, Arthur Sylvester,
who once warned a group of Sai-
gon newsmen, "Look, if, you
think any American official is
gong to tell the truth, then
you're stupid."
Sylvester's c o m p 1 a i n t was
against reporters who were not,
"on the team." He and most of
his colleagues, along with many
reporters of World War II vin-
tage, really believe that journal-
s.ism rniaht to be the hand-maid-

trends at home and abroad
relevant to that business .. .
From there, Minor urges that
journalism develop as a profes-
sion, based on the goal of serv-
ing this function, that it de-
velop a sense of mission, such
as expressed in the Hippocratic
Oath. That special mission, a
role not reserved to every man.
"is the moral foundation of any
profession; it defines the pro-
fesional role, dictates its ethical
canons, and protects the func-
tion against the encroachments
of conflicting demands .
Minor concludes:
Journalism today is still a
trade in the service of the
wrong clients, turning out a
product that many find of
questionable utility.
The feeling of mission which
Minor advocates for ,newsmen is
not susceptible to a formula, and
it is to his credit that he does
not advocate one. (The way
leads not through academia. It
is one of journalism's outstand-
ing virtues that the only degree
needed to practice is proof of
competence in the city room.)
Minor has periormed a serv-
ice in spelling out the problems
journalists face today. It is un-
fortunately true, however, that
while nothing can stop an idea
whose time has come, little can
help an idea whose time is be-
yond the view of mortal man.
Had Minor offered concrete
solutions, they no doubt would
have fallen on deaf ears.
Boo in'
Ron M cK u e n, IN SOME-
Books (distributed by Random
House), $4.95
Rod McKuen, TWELVE
Cheval Books, $3.50
After randomly kicking
around, doing such things as
singing on the bowling al le y
circuit with a five-piece band
and acting in bikini-beachball
movies, the Flying Finger zap-
ped Rod McKuen. An angel
named Record Co. telephoned.
"Say man, we're using this song
'Stanyan S t r e e t' on a Glenn
Yarbrough album. What's it
from so we can put it on the
record liner?" A vision: "It's
from my book of poetry called
Stanyan Street and Other Sor-
There is no book, so McKuen
writes it in fourteen nights.
(Hard to believe it really took
that long.) He publishes it him-
self and sells 60,000 copies out
of his basement. Random House
then gives him a contract for a
second book, which he does not
have. Six weeks later, Listen to
the Warm e m e r g e s; oddly
enough it is not three times
better than the two-week pro-
A few books later we land
on the garbage laden shores of
In Someone's Shadow:
I arrived again
to turn your coffee on
and feed your cat
and take your last night's
garbage out
and other menial tasks,
like making love to you
before you've had your morn-
ing bath.
In this common man culture
where more people visit Shea
Stadium in a day than Carnegie
Hall in a month, a Ouija board
is not needed to understand why
poetry (I use the word loosely)
like this sells: it is simple-
minded, easy to write, under-
stand, and identify with.

McKuen's Mob harbors only a
shadow of any knowledge or
appreciation of poetry. They
are probably the type that reads
Ann Landers and sends her let-
ters-if anyone really does.'
Their hero's prose-poetry is
flush with the commonest lan-
guage and images on the paleo-
lithic themes of love, time, and
loneliness. All the poems sound,
and in some cases are, identical
as McKuen tries so hard to be a
loner-loser figure in a world of
strange, imperfect toys.
Foremost, the thirty-four year
old writer suffers from a severe
poverty of creativity and ability.
He lacks excitement, miscom-


Charles Olson, LETTERS FOR
ORIGIN, 1950-1955, edited by
Albert Glover, Grossman/Cape
Galliard, 1970, $3.95.
Charles Olson is a difficult
writer, one who numbers him-
self among other writers-Mel-
ville, Whitman, Pound, and Wil-
liams-in the school of Difficult
Americans. His epistolary style
in this collection differs little
from the broken lines and
scherzo rhythms of his poetry.
This is hardly surprising, since
Olson prefers to call his poems
"letters," constructing the Maxi-
mus Poems as a vast corespond-
ence in the manner of Whit-
man's vaster oration. The col-
lected Letters for Origin serve,
moreover, to reveal the depth of
Olson's commitment to an
aesthetic principle, his avowal
to "go by spontaenous, irregular,
guerrilla forms."
The letters have an important
place in both Olson's intellec-
tual history and the cultural
history of post-Adolescent Amer-
ica. Cid Corman, editor of Orig-
in, used Olson's "I, Maximus of
Gloucester, to You" in the first
issue of his Little Magazine, and
the letters to Corman are full
of self-criticism, technical and
theoretical. (Olson is, I discov-
ered, an expert analyst of even
his own typography; at one tiipe,
he did graphics with Ben
Shahn.) His discussion of a per-
sonal poetic shows him to be
that better kind of poet who has
a real lucidity about his craft.
To wit:
I know I have a damn irri-
tating style of punctuation &
placements (I do it gravely,
as a part of, my method, be-
lieving that, resistance must
be a part of style if, it is a
part of feeling)
There are larger statements as
well, the kind which have
escaped, periodically, from poets
ever since Aristophanes. Olson's
commentary is consistent and
-insofar as it describes artistic
process - perhaps unarguable.
His particular enemy is "TS
(GD Eliot," whose "Tradition
and the Individual Talent" be-
comes Olson's emblem for the'
"dispersing of authority," for
taste that is automatic rather
than "earned," for art that is
made "deductively." His bitter-
ness is double-edged, since he
believes Eliot's continuum not

only stifles the present, but also
distorts the shape of the past.
"Now it is Melville, yes: but
what a Melville-the same biz-
ness, turn him into that same
g.d. human humus, because, 'We,
poor things, have to have soil
to grow skillfull in.' "Olson,
himself, is a Bergsonian in mat-
ters of history, a phenomenolo-
gist in matters of form. "Life,

in this sense, is a stop to con-
solidate gains already being
pushed beyond by the reality in-
stant to you or to any man who
is pushing."
Thus, Olson shapes his own
line to meet the exigencies of
the "on-going," the "un-finish-
ed," and thus he would have
Cid Corman shape his magzine.
A part of the fascination of
Letters lies in the one-sided
argument which unfolds between
Charles Olson and the Academy

the peoples For they know that
that masonism of their profes-
sion is what keeps them at posts,
& insures them that security of
job & reputatiop which, always,
in the end kills them off!"
But it is more than Brandeis,
more than the Ford Foundation,
which Olson is up against-it is
the quality of life in these Unit-'
ed States, 1950; and for those
who have calculated and know
probability theorums (how it-
can't-happen-here, how light-

(with its grants-in-aid), bat-
tling over the soul of Cid Cor-
man. "I am long experienced
in those places where ONE IS
NOT LED OUT," says Olson of
one (perhaps many) institutions
of higher education. "You know
how scholars are, about 'ART'
-they are not timid, but they
are -careful, that what is .their
baby isn't allowed to get over to

71 uen
bines words excessively, and re-
lies heavily on sentimental, ri-
diculous images loaded with the
connotations he feels his .read-
ers desire. His language is as
dynamic as a broken water pis-
tol. One easily gets the feeling
that everything here is written
with two ears and hands in the
A prime example of the su-
perficiality t h a t is McKuen's
trademark may be found in
these feeble attempts at con-
crete poetry:.
Down the cliffs we go to
Marshall Beach,
I've had to be led back
to God and women too,
Preoccupied w i t h the flabber-
gasting phenomena of the sun
rising and the sky being blue,
McKuen plays such amazements
to t h e i r inglorious, pre-pack-
aged end.
Would you like a dose of
Eternal Truth? In his hybrid,
Confucious-Kahlil Gabran role,
McKuen provides it. "There is
no wrong side or right side./ No
misery in not being loved,/ only
in not loving." And, "If I be-
lieved there were no God/ I'd
have to face the-possibility of
no me."
According to the author,
Twelve Years of Christmas was
never meant to be a book. Each
poem was a holiday card writ-
ten for friends 'year by year.
Taken together, they do indicate
one thing. Time, with all its in-
finite wisdom and power, cannot
heal everything: "I know that
love/like radios and ripe bana-
nas/ is auctioned in the market
Occasionally a spark of wit
burns through the refuse. "Nam-
ing the Baby," a kind of "Boy
Named Sue" with a Biblical
twist, is not without some merit.
Yet,'when you have the rare op-
portunity of reading such ,fan-
tastic, plastic lines as, "So thank
you for the flowers and snow/
this morning/and for the jam
from the delicatessen/and for
loving me," you have to believe
that anything good is chance
Rod McKuen is a freak. Be-
fore him, and almost surely af-
ter him, no poet could impress
an audience large enough to
realize sales in the millions. It
is almost a cruel joke that his
sentimental so-called "poetry"
has given Joe Public a new per-
spective on the art.

It's the stuff they add to the
world's most expensive perfumes.
For the world's most expensive
It's also the name of a new group
and a new music. Nine of the
weightiest musicians ever
together. Blowing as one.
It's Larry Harlow, Jerry Weiss,
Charlie Camilleri, Harry Max,
Timmy Maeulen, Billy Shay, Lewis
Kahn, Glenn John Miller and
Gil Fields.

ning - never - strikes - twice -
in-the-same-place), Olson's de-
scriptions have an ominous per-
manence. Complaining of both
communism and capitalism. Ol-
son feels that technology, 1952,
"ends up expanding only those
productions which enable it to
oppose another system 'in war."
The result, for artists and for
Little Magazines such as Origin,
is the loss of the public to "spec-
tatorism." "For to be a specta-
tor is to assert an ownership in
it which is absentee - a movie,
or a painting, or a poem--and
the corrolary is, of course, the
actual ownership, by the vested
interests, of those more per-
manent acts of expression which
we call 'the arts.'" Ironically, in
late 1954, Olson himself (as ad-
ministrator of free-form Black
Mountain College) is caught by
the very "ownership uber Alles"
which he abhors: "we will have
to r.aise the money (actually not
money but students or, the
equivalent of them, at $550 a
head ... "
Origin continues to be pub-
lished, much in accord with 01-
son's original plan, devoted to
the work-in-progress of one
author or "one concept." It is
now a quarterly, issued in a
limited edition of 300. Olson's
The Maximus Poems is in its
third printing; it is twenty years
since Charles Olson was a
"dangerous poet." an unprofit-
able enterprise. The Letters for
Origin were edited by Mr.
Glover in fulfillment of his doc-
toral dissertation.
a dU +Wsion o E

U. U-


* rime, nas come
take a realistic I


or the government, is simply
unacceptable, besides being pro-
foundly dangerous.
A major problem facing re-
porters is their dependency in a
very intimate way, on those
they write about; the latter thus
exercise a great deal of control.
Public officials, as everyone else
with interests to protect, give
out information to accommodate
'their interests, not to increase
public knowledge. As a result,
reporters are free to write what
they know only at the expense
of future stories, and that cost,
especially under constant com-
petition, can indeed be great.
This, and other problems of
the trade, such as problems of
commercial demands on news
media--both print and broad-
cast media must sell, both them-
selves and products-go observed
and unsolved. Minor offers a
prognosis rather than a cure.
The prognosis is based on his
definition of the function of a
free press:
to provide the people with the
information necessary to the
conduct of government and
the general public business, to
apprise them of events and

If you're about to get your degree, it's time to
ask yourself some penetrating questions-the
kind of questions many people never really
face up to.
Are you more interested in people, in things or
in abstract ideas? Are you willing to make mean-
ingful commitments to other people as well as to
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To help you plan your future, we invite you to>
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