At the beginning of the 1970s, broadcast news and a few newspapers such as The New York Times wielded national influence in shaping public discourse, to a degree never before enjoyed by the news media. At the same time, however, attacks from political conservatives such as Vice President Spiro Agnew began to erode public trust in news institutions, even as a new breed of college-educated reporters were hitting their stride. This new wave of journalists, doing their best to cover the roiling culture wars of the day, grew increasingly frustrated by the limitations of traditional notions of objectivity in news writing and began to push back against convention, turning their eyes on the press itself.
Two of these new journalists, a Pulitzer Prize—winning, Harvard-educated New York Times reporter named J. Anthony Lukas, and a former Newsweek media writer named Richard Pollak, founded a journalism review called (MORE) in 1971, with its pilot issue appearing the same month that the Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers. (MORE) covered the press with a critical attitude that blended seriousness and satire—part New York Review of Books, part underground press. In the eight years that it published, (MORE) brought together nearly every important American journalist of the 1970s, either as a writer, a subject of its critical eye, or as a participant in its series of raucous "A.J. Liebling Counter-Conventions"—meetings named after the outspoken press critic—the first of which convened in 1974. In issue after issue the magazine considered and questioned the mainstream press's coverage of explosive stories of the decade, including the Watergate scandal; the "seven dirty words" obscenity trial; the debate over a reporter's constitutional privilege; the rise of public broadcasting; the struggle for women and minorities to find a voice in mainstream newsrooms; and the U.S. debut of press baron Rupert Murdoch.
In telling the story of (MORE) and its legacy, Kevin Lerner explores the power of criticism to reform and guide the institutions of the press and, in turn, influence public discourse.