[This article originally appeared in the September 1960 issue of Nieman Reports.]

Cartoon courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Library.
…only the man who has learned historical depth can give what we call the news a scope and air in which it can have meaning. The New York Times published several weeks ago a sentence that proves that true, better than I can state it. At the risk of burning Scotty Reston’s ears, I should like to recall it to your minds.

Scotty was talking in that Sunday column of his about the Catholic issue in the coming election.

Other people had been talking about the same thing in the papers and out of them. But what Scotty had to say went home because it put the whole debate in the proper landscape and so reduced it to its proper terms.

“A religious war between unbelievers,” said Scotty, “would be too much.”

It would be hard to cite a statement with more meaning in it or a truer one. What opposes Catholicism in American politics, is not Protestantism as the old Bay Colony understood that term. It’s a political attitude. And what Protestantism opposes is not Catholicism, the religion. It is the Catholic powerhouse in New York City and the politics of every other American city.

“Newspapermen and Lawyers”
– Anthony Lewis
To call this a religious issue is to misrepresent it. And we all know it, or rather we all know it now that Scotty has put it into words.

It is this power to make meaningful which journalism must now learn if self-government is to survive.

Archibald MacLeish September 1960

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