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Library of Congress

     Librarian of Congress James Billington, a WAIS Fellow, had the good fortune to preside over this week's celebrations marking the bicentennial of the Library of Congress. Outside there were folksy festivities for people who would never use it. Then there was a ceremony at which dignitaries were honored with commemorative medals, or perhaps we should say the Library was honoring them.
     The highlight was a speech by author and historian James McCullough, who eloquently and indeed passionately traced the history of the Library. Those who founded it had inherited from Europe their encyclopedic curiosity and their highly literate writing style. It was the period also which saw the birth of modern journalism.
     The ceremonies coincided with a soul-searching exercise by modern newspaper editors and others to find out why the public distrusts newspapers. The answer commonly given is that journalists are elitists who do not represent the mass of the population. This is silly. The founders of the Library of Congress were elitists. Things did not go downhill until Jackson democracy. Actually, the present age has many excellent journalists to whom we should be grateful.
     It is the TV producers in the US and elsewhere who should be examining their conscience. Apart from a few elitist programs like C-Span, TV is not a wilderness, as is often charged, but a madhouse. Take a sampling of TV programs and you conclude that humanity is insane. Every people gets the TV programs it deserves, as well as its government. TV producers give the public what it wants. Humanity should look at its conscience, an exercise made rare by the decline of religion. James Billington must agree with this as I know from his writings.

Ronald Hilton - 4/26/00