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Walter Lippmann
Born September 23, 1889(1889-09-23)
New York, New York
Died December 14, 1974 (aged 85)
New York, New York
Nationality United States
Alma mater Harvard University A.B. (1909)
Occupation Writer, journalist, political commentator
Known for Founding editor, New Republic
Pulitzer Prize, 1958 & 1962
Parents Jacob and Daisy Baum Lippmann

Walter Lippmann (23 September 1889 – 14 December 1974) was an American intellectual who was a writer, reporter, and political commentator,and became highly popular for the introduction of the concept of Cold War for the first time in the world. Lippmann, who twice was awarded, in 1958 and 1962, a Pulitzer Prize for his syndicated newspaper column, “Today and Tomorrow”.


Early life

Walter Lippmann was born on 23 September 1889, in New York City, to Jacob and Daisy Baum Lippmann; his upper-middle class German-Jewish family, took annual holidays in Europe. At age 17, he entered Harvard University where he studied under George Santayana, William James, and Graham Wallas, concentrating upon philosophy and languages (he spoke German and French), and earned his degree in three years, graduating as a member of the Phi Beta Kappa society.[1]


Lippmann was a journalist, a media critic and a philosopher who tried to reconcile the tensions between liberty and democracy in a complex and modern world, as in his 1920 book Liberty and the News.

In 1913, Lippmann, Herbert Croly, and Walter Weyl became the founding editors of The New Republic magazine. During World War I, Lippmann became an adviser to President Woodrow Wilson and assisted in the drafting of Wilson's Fourteen Points.

Lippmann had wide access to the nation's decision makers and had no sympathy for communism. After Lippmann had become famous, the Golos spy ring used Mary Price, his secretary, to garner information on items Lippmann chose not to write about or names of Lippmann's sources, often not carried in stories, but of use to the Soviet Ministry for State Security.

Walter Lippmann examined the coverage of newspapers and saw many inaccuracies and other problems. He and Charles Merz, in a 1920 study entitled A Test of the News, stated that The New York Times' coverage of the Bolshevik revolution was biased and inaccurate. In addition to his Pulitzer Prize-winning column "Today and Tomorrow," he published several books. Lippmann was the first to bring the phrase "cold war" to common currency in his 1947 book by the same name.

It was Lippmann who first identified the tendency of journalists to generalize about other people based on fixed ideas.[citation needed] He argued that people—including journalists—are more apt to believe "the pictures in their heads" than come to judgment by critical thinking. Humans condense ideas into symbols, he wrote, and journalism, a force quickly becoming the mass media, is an ineffective method of educating the public. Even if journalists did better jobs of informing the public about important issues, Lippmann believed "the mass of the reading public is not interested in learning and assimilating the results of accurate investigation." Citizens, he wrote, were too self-centered to care about public policy except as pertaining to pressing local issues.

Lippmann saw the purpose of journalism as "intelligence work". Within this role, journalists are a link between policymakers and the public. A journalist seeks facts from policymakers which he then transmits to citizens who form a public opinion. In this model, the information may be used to hold policymakers accountable to citizens. This theory was spawned by the industrial era and some critics argue the model needs rethinking in post-industrial societies.

Though a journalist himself, he held no assumption of news and truth being synonymous. For him the “function of news is to signalize an event, the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them in relation with each other, and make a picture of reality on which men can act.” A journalist’s version of the truth is subjective and limited to how he constructs his reality. The news, therefore, is “imperfectly recorded” and too fragile to bear the charge as “an organ of direct democracy.”

To his mind, democratic ideals had deteriorated, voters were largely ignorant about issues and policies, they lacked the competence to participate in public life and cared little for participating in the political process. In Public Opinion (1922), Lippmann noted that the stability the government achieved during the patronage era of the 1800s was threatened by modern realities. He wrote that a “governing class” must rise to face the new challenges. He saw the public as Plato did, a great beast or a bewildered herd – floundering in the “chaos of local opinions."

The basic problem of democracy, he wrote, was the accuracy of news and protection of sources. He argued that distorted information was inherent in the human mind. People make up their minds before they define the facts, while the ideal would be to gather and analyze the facts before reaching conclusions. By seeing first, he argued, it is possible to sanitize polluted information. Lippmann argued that seeing through stereotypes (which he coined in this specific meaning) subjected us to partial truths. Lippmann called the notion of a public competent to direct public affairs a "false ideal." He compared the political savvy of an average man to a theater-goer walking into a play in the middle of the third act and leaving before the last curtain.

Early on Lippmann said the herd of citizens must be governed by “a specialized class whose interests reach beyond the locality." This class is composed of experts, specialists and bureaucrats. The experts, who often are referred to as "elites," were to be a machinery of knowledge that circumvents the primary defect of democracy, the impossible ideal of the "omnicompetent citizen". Later, in The Phantom Public (1925), he recognized that the class of experts were also, in most respects, outsiders to any particular problem, and hence, not capable of effective action. Philosopher John Dewey (1859-1952) agreed with Lippmann's assertions that the modern world was becoming too complex for every citizen to grasp all its aspects, but Dewey, unlike Lippmann, believed that the public (a composite of many “publics” within society) could form a “Great Community” that could become educated about issues, come to judgments and arrive at solutions to societal problems.

Following the removal from office of Henry A. Wallace in September 1946, Lippmann became the leading public advocate of the need to respect a Soviet sphere of influence in Europe, as opposed to the containment strategy being advocated at the time by people like George F. Kennan.

Lippmann was an informal adviser to several presidents.[citation needed] He had a rather famous feud with Lyndon Johnson over his handling of the Vietnam War, of which Lippman had become highly critical.[citation needed]

On September 14, 1964, President Johnson presented Lippmann with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

A meeting of intellectuals organized in Paris in August 1938 by French philosopher Louis Rougier, Colloque Walter Lippmann was named after Walter Lippmann. Walter Lippmann House at Harvard University, which houses the Nieman Foundation for Journalism, is named after him too. Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman used one of Lippmann's catch phrases, the "Manufacture of Consent" for the title of their book, Manufacturing Consent, which contains sections critical of Lippmann's views about the media.


Lippman died on December 14, 1974 at age 85 in New York, New York.[2]


With William O. Scroggs

  • The United States in World Affairs 1931 (1932)
  • The United States in World Affairs 1932 (1933)

See also


  1. ^ Who Belongs To Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Beta Kappa website, accessed Oct 4, 2009
  2. ^ Wooley, John T. and Gerhard Peters (December 14, 1974). "Gerald R. Ford: Statement on the Death of Walter Lippmann". The American Presidency Project. Retrieved 2008-11-09. 


  • McAllister, Ted V. (1996). Revolt against modernity: Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin & the search for postliberal order. Lawrence, Kansas, University Press of Kansas. ; pp. 58-68; ISBN 0-7006-0740-4. 
  • Riccio, Barry D. (1994). Walter Lippmann - Odyssey of a liberal. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 1-56000-096-1. 
  • Steel, Ronald (1980). Walter Lippmann and the American century. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-7658-0464-6. 
  • Ferri, Mascia (2006). Come si forma l'Opinione pubblica. Il contributo sociologico di Walter Lippmann. Milan, Franco Angeli. ISBN 88-464-7627-1. 
  • Lozito, Virginia (2008). By Walter Lippmann. Opinione pubblica, politica estera e democrazia. Rome, Aracne. ISBN 978-88-548-2220-7. 
  • The American Presidency Project - Remarks at the Presentation of the 1964 Presidential Medal of Freedom Awards - September 14, 1964

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Walter Lippmann (September 23, 1889 – December 14, 1974) was an influential United States writer, journalist, and political commentator.


  • It does not matter whether the right to govern is hereditary or obtained with the consent of the governed. A State is absolute in the sense which I have in mind when it claims the right to a monopoly of all the force within the community, to make war, to make peace, to conscript life, to tax, to establish and dis-establish property, to define crime, to punish disobedience, to control education, to supervise the family, to regulate personal habits, and to censor opinions. The modern State claims all of these powers, and, in the matter of theory, there is no real difference in the size of the claim between communists, fascists, and democrats.
    • A Preface to Morals (1929).
  • It requires wisdom to understand wisdom: the music is nothing if the audience is deaf.
    • A Preface to Morals (1929).
  • The newspaper is in all its literalness the bible of democracy, the book out of which a people determines its conduct.
    • quoted by Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times, Saturday, October 7, 2006


  • A long life in journalism convinced me many presidents ago that there should be a large air space between a journalist and the head of a state.
  • A free press is not a privilege but an organic necessity in a great society. Without criticism and reliable and intelligent reporting, the government cannot govern. For there is no adequate way in which it can keep itself informed about what the people of the country are thinking and doing and wanting.
  • In the end, advertising rests upon the fact that consumers are a fickle and ….superstitious mob, incapable of any real judgment as to what it wants or how it is to ….get what it thinks it likes.
  • So far as I am concerned I have no doctrinaire belief in free speech. In the interest of the war it is necessary to sacrifice some of it.
  • The facts we see depend on where we are placed and the habits of our eyes.
  • The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on.
  • The news and the truth are not the same thing.
  • The press does not tell us what to think, it tells us what to think about.
  • There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the means to detect lies.
  • When everyone thinks the same, nobody is thinking.
  • Industry is a better horse to ride than genius.

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