W. Joseph Campbell

Media myths: More FAQs

In Media myths on November 8, 2009 at 1:35 pm

The author’s promotional questionnaire for my forthcoming book on media-driven myths, Getting It Wrong, includes a section on FAQs, some of which were posted earlier. Here are others:

Q: Which media myths has been around the longest?

A: The anecdote of Hearst’s vowing to “furnish the war” with Spain dates back more than 100 years. It was first recounted in a book of reminiscences by James Creelman, a bluff, cigar-chomping journalist who admired Hearst’s style of aggressive, activist journalism. In his book, Creelman recounted the vow in an admiring way, saying it demonstrated how Hearst’s “yellow journalism” had an eye toward the future and was good at anticipating events. But over the years, the vow took on far more sinister overtones. And that’s how it’s usually told today—as an example of media power run amok. It’s also the statement most often attributed to Hearst. But he denied ever having made such a vow.

Q: So why is it important to take time and energy to debunk media-driven myths?

A: Because they aren’t trivial, and they aren’t innocuous. Media-driven myths can and do have adverse consequences. They tend to distort understanding about the role and function of journalism in American society. They often confer on the news media far more power and influence than they really possess. Media myths tend to minimize the complexity of historical events in favor of simplistic and misleading interpretations. And media myths can deflect blame away from the makers and sponsors of flawed public policy.

Media myths can feed stereotypes, too. The highly exaggerated news reports of nightmarish violence in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in 2005 essentially defamed the battered city and impugned its residents at a time of their deep despair.

Media myths also invite indulgence in the “golden age fallacy”—a flawed but appealing belief that there really was a time when journalist were inspiring and respected heroic figures.

So media-driven myths can be deceiving and illusory. Trivial and innocuous they aren’t.

Q: What fresh insights does this book offer?

A: There are many. The chapter in Getting It Wrong on the War of the Worlds radio dramatization of 1938 calls attention to how second- and third-hand accounts spread rapidly as the broadcast unfolded and became significant and but little-recognized sources of fright that October night. A false-alarm contagion took hold in many places in the country, sowing fear and confusion among many people who had heard not a single word of the program.

The chapter about the media-driven myth of the New York Times’ bowing to White House pressure and suppressing its reporting in the run-up to the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 offers new evidence, too. The chapter demonstrates how President John F. Kennedy had almost no opportunity to call the Times and bring pressure to bear when a crucial news report about the pending invasion was edited and prepared for publication.

Getting It Wrong also demonstrates how the erroneous media reports about the supposed heroism of Private Jessica Lynch during the first days of the Iraq War in 2003 obscured the truly heroic deeds of another U.S. soldier, Sergeant Donald Walters. It’s pretty clear that Lynch initially received credit in the media for the actions of Donald Walters, who was captured and executed by Iraqi irregulars. But Walters’ heroics have received only scant and passing attention from the news media.

Q: In short, what are this book’s most important contributions?

Getting It Wrong challenges media-centric interpretations of history, offers perspective about media power and influence, and endeavors to set the record straight on some of the most cherished stories American journalism tells about itself. It’s also offers a cautionary tale about the capacity of the news media to present misleading or distorted interpretations of important events.

It should be noted, too, that no other book has addressed and examined prominent media-driven myths the way Getting It Wrong does.

WJC

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  1. [...] FAQs about the book are available here and here. [...]

  2. [...] By the way, I quote Salisbury’s Without Fear or Favor in Getting It Wrong, my forthcoming book about media-driven myths. [...]

  3. [...] if roughly translated, that’s a pretty fair summary of the “Cronkite Moment,” a media-driven myth that I address and debunk in my forthcoming book, Getting It [...]

  4. [...] I write in Getting It Wrong, my forthcoming book about media-driven myths, “The Post’s erroneous hero-warrior tale thrust Lynch into an international spotlight that has [...]

  5. [...] since 1901, and it lives on despite repeated and thorough debunking. It’s one of the ten media-driven myths examined in my forthcoming book, Getting It [...]

  6. [...] the entertainment industry–factors akin to those that contribute to the rise and tenacity of media-driven myths, which are stories about and/or by the news media that are widely believed and often retold but [...]

  7. [...] role in solidifying media-driven myths is discussed in Getting It Wrong, my next book, which will be out in the [...]

  8. [...] also note in Getting It Wrong that motion pictures have a way of solidifying media-driven myths in the public’s [...]

  9. [...] the media-driven myth of the crack baby is important, I write in Getting It Wrong, because doing so “allows [...]

  10. [...] three media-driven myths are addressed, and debunked, in my book, Getting It Wrong, to be published in summer by the [...]

  11. [...] 1979 study of the news media, The Powers That Be, encouraged the rise of two prominent media-driven myths and endorsed a [...]

  12. [...] The anecdote’s evolution over the past 110 years is discussed in Chapter One of Getting It Wrong, my forthcoming book on media-driven myths. [...]

  13. [...] an embryonic media-driven myth had begun to [...]

  14. [...] I point out in Getting It Wrong, the story of Lynch’s heroics was a media-driven myth. The U.S. military was loath to promote the case. In fact, one of the Post reporters who worked on [...]

  15. [...] “Outlook” section carried a short writeup about last month about three myths the book [...]

  16. [...] many media-driven myths, the notion that the Pentagon pushed the phony hero-warrior story of Jessica Lynch has proven [...]

  17. [...] I discuss in Getting It Wrong, my forthcoming book about media-driven myths, it is widely believed that President Lyndon Johnson essentially threw up his hands in dismay upon [...]

  18. [...] CJR reviews ‘Getting It Wrong’ In Debunking, Media myths, Reviews on May 12, 2010 at 3:34 pm The May/June number of Columbia Journalism Review contains a fine and insightful review of Getting It Wrong my forthcoming book that addresses, and debunks, 10 prominent media-driven myths. [...]

  19. [...] address, and debunk, 10 prominent media-driven myths in my forthcoming book, Getting It Wrong. Among them is what I call the heroic-journalist myth of [...]

  20. [...] thoughtfully considers the tenacity of media-driven myths, [...]

  21. [...] I discuss the book, which will be published soon by University of California Press, and address reasons that help explain the tenacity and enduring appeal of media-driven myths. [...]

  22. [...] overstated phenomenon, as I discuss in a chapter in Getting It Wrong, my forthcoming book about media-driven myths–well-known and often-told stories about the news media that are dubious, apocryphal, or [...]

  23. [...] in the first chapter of my soon-to-be-published book, Getting It Wrong, which debunks 10 prominent media-driven myths—false, dubious, or improbable stories about the news media that masquerade as [...]

  24. [...] Even so, it is intriguing how wartime can and does give rise to media-driven myths. [...]

  25. [...] Here is a brief description about each of the 10 myths: [...]

  26. [...] John Maynard moderated a brisk “Inside Media” talk, during which I reviewed the myths of William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain, of [...]

  27. [...] I said, helps explain the tenacity of the heroic-journalist interpretation of Watergate: Like many media myths, the heroic-journalist meme minimizes the intricacy of historical events in favor of simplistic, [...]

  28. [...] I discuss in Getting It Wrong, my new book debunking 10 media-driven myths, the reasons for doubting the anecdote are many and include the fact that the purported telegram [...]

  29. [...] One in Getting It Wrong, my new book debunking 10 prominent media-driven myths, takes up and dismantles the Hearstian vow, and that chapter is readily accessible [...]

  30. [...] The pithy “furnish the war” vow is almost certainly apocryphal, as I discuss in Getting It Wrong, my new book debunking 10 media-driven myths. [...]

  31. [...] I note in Getting It Wrong, my new book debunking prominent media-driven myths, by October 1967, a plurality of Americans (47 percent) maintained that sending U.S. forces to [...]

  32. [...] I proceeded to explain why all of them are media-driven myths–dubious and improbable tales about the news media that masquerade as factual. “They can [...]

  33. [...] the commentary noted–and as I discuss in my new book about media-driven myths, Getting It Wrong–the bra-burning trope stems from the women’s liberation protest of [...]

  34. [...] ample good reason to avoid the anecdote of the “Cronkite Moment,” one of 10 prominent media myths addressed, and debunked, in my new book, Getting It [...]

  35. [...] Moment” in my new book, Getting It Wrong, which addresses and debunks 10 prominent media-driven myths–apocryphal or improbable tales about the news media that masquerade as [...]

  36. [...] myth–which is debunked in my new book, Getting It Wrong–lies in the purported reaction to [...]

  37. [...] But the first iteration of that experiment has become steeped in the intervening 50 years in a blithe, appealing yet terribly misleading media myth. [...]

  38. [...] Media myths thus can be self-flattering; they offer heroes like Woodward and Bernstein to a profession that is more used to criticism than applause. [...]

  39. [...] this media myth is just too well-known, too entrenched in the American consciousness, ever to fall into [...]

  40. [...] I discuss in Getting It Wrong, my new book debunking 10 prominent media-driven myths, the Pentagon was not the source for the Post‘s botched hero-warrior report. Vernon Loeb, one [...]

  41. [...] Media-driven myths, I have noted, can and do travel far, and well.  Take, for example, the heroic-journalist myth of Watergate. [...]

  42. [...] One in Getting It Wrong is devoted to the Hearstian tale, which I flatly describe as a media-driven myth, calling it “perhaps the hardiest myth in American [...]

  43. [...] many media myths, Hearst-the-war-monger offers a simplistic explanation for a complex subject. It is far easier to [...]

  44. [...] War of the Worlds program sent untold thousands of people into the streets in fear and panic, is a media-driven myth—one that offers a deceptive message about the influence of radio and about the media’s [...]

  45. [...] believed and often retold but which, under scrutiny, dissolve as apocryphal or wildly exaggerated. Media myths can be thought of as the junk food of journalism–tasty and alluring, perhaps, but not [...]

  46. [...] Among those questions was whether media audiences bear any responsibility for the tenacity of media myths. [...]

  47. [...] many media-driven myths, the “furnish the war” anecdote is succinct, savory, and easily remembered. It is [...]

  48. [...] also offered a few suggestions about identifying and sidestepping media myths, suggestions that included being skeptical about turns of phrase that just sound too neat and [...]

  49. [...] who died 16 months ago. But the reviewer carries on about Cronkite at some length, and indulges in media myth in [...]

  50. [...] such a notion is more often the recipe for a media-driven myth than it is the foundation of historical [...]

  51. [...] to be sure, are quite unlike media-driven myths, the subject of my latest book, Getting It Wrong. Media-driven myths are false, dubious, improbable stories about and/or by the news media that masquerade as factual. I [...]

  52. [...] I write in Getting It Wrong, “media-driven myths are neither trivial nor innocuous. They can and do have adverse consequences. Notably, they tend to [...]

  53. [...] CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow and his half-hour television report on McCarthy in March 1954. The myth has it that Murrow confronted and single-handedly took down McCarthy, the Red-baiting Republican [...]

  54. [...] And it has become a particularly tenacious and defining media-driven myth. [...]

  55. [...] than Walter Cronkite swayed a president’s views about the war in Vietnam. Yet those and other media myths endure, because in part they are reductive: They offer unambiguous, easily remembered explanations [...]

  56. [...] To explain Watergate through the lens of the heroic-journalist, I write in Getting It Wrong, is to short-change and “misunderstand the scandal and to indulge in a particularly beguiling media-driven myth.” [...]

  57. [...] myth is solidly entrenched in popular culture. It is one of the heartiest of media-driven myths, those dubious, media-centric tales that masquerade as [...]

  58. [...] media-driven myth even more tenacious than the Murrow-McCarthy tale is the legendary “Cronkite Moment” of [...]

  59. [...] discussed from time to time at Media Myth Alert how media-driven myths about the U.S. news media have a way of traveling well and finding expression in news outlets [...]

  60. [...] than Walter Cronkite swayed a president’s views about the war in Vietnam. Yet those and other media myths endure, because in part they are reductive: They offer unambiguous, easily remembered explanations [...]

  61. [...] presumptive “Cronkite Moment“–one of 10 media-driven myths I address and debunk in my latest book, Getting It Wrong–took place February 27, 1968, when [...]

  62. [...] I say in narrating the trailer, media-driven myths can be thought of as the “junk food of journalism“–delicious and appealing, [...]

  63. [...] don’t discuss the Welch-McCarthy encounter in Getting It Wrong, but barnacles of media myth seem to cling to that tale, [...]

  64. [...] his way out, in announcing his abrupt departure, Olbermann indulged in media myth. He described as “exaggerated” the rescue of Army private Jessica Lynch in Iraq in [...]

  65. [...] on the conflict with Spain — is just as hardy as “furnish the war.” Like many media myths, it offers a reductive, simplistic, and easy-to-remember version of a complex historical [...]

  66. [...] principal challenge to Getting It Wrong lies in my view that stripping away and debunking prominent media myths “enhances a case for limited news media influence. Media power tends to be modest, nuanced, [...]

  67. [...] protest certainly seems to pose a further challenge to claims that feminist bra-burning is a media myth. While the demonstrators in the photograph hardly look angry, their protest certainly seems [...]

  68. [...] many media myths, the tale of the Hearstian vow is accessible, pithy, and easily recalled. It supposedly illuminates [...]

  69. [...] The bra-burning in Toronto in 1979 further calls for revision of the notion that feminist bra-burning was a media myth. [...]

  70. [...] The notion that Murrow and his television program brought down McCarthy is a delicious story of presumptive media power:  More accurately, it is a tenacious media-driven myth. [...]

  71. [...] I note in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, which debunks 10 prominent media-driven myths, rolling up a scandal of the dimension and complexity of Watergate “required the collective [...]

  72. [...] also quoted me about some of the reasons media-driven myths are so tenacious and appealing — that they place the news media decisively at the center of [...]

  73. [...] talk focused on three of the media myths debunked in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, which is dedicated to Verne E. Edwards Jr., my [...]

  74. [...] was among the media myths I discussed last night in a book talk at Kensington Row Bookshop in Kensington, [...]

  75. [...] a media myth hardly clinches the argument. Turning to the dubious line makes the argument appear a bit frivolous [...]

  76. [...] media myth centers around the hoary notion, rejected by serious historians, that William Randolph [...]

  77. [...] is, as I point out in Getting It Wrong, an important factor accounting for the emergence of media-driven myths, those dubious media-centric tales that masquerade as [...]

  78. [...] It’s often called as the “Cronkite Moment” — and it’s also a media-driven myth, one of 10 I address and debunk in my latest book, Getting It [...]

  79. [...] It didn’t kill, spike, or otherwise emasculate the news report published 50 years ago tomorrow that lies at the heart of this media myth. [...]

  80. [...] variability of such magnitude can be a marker of a media-driven myth, as I point out in Getting It [...]

  81. [...] I discuss in Getting It Wrong, my media-mythbusting book that came out last year, All the President’s Men placed the characters of Woodward and [...]

  82. [...] attributed to Hearst. And as I discuss in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, it’s a durable media-driven myth that has survived “concerted attempts to discredit and dismantle [...]

  83. [...] argue in Getting It Wrong that debunking media-driven myths “enhances a case for limited news media [...]

  84. [...] Getting It Wrong, the tale about Hearst’s vow to “furnish the war” is a hardy media-driven myth that lives on despite concerted attempts to discredit and dismantle [...]

  85. [...] Media myths, she suggested, also are akin to “comfort food of journalism.” [...]

  86. [...] accounts for such lapses by prominent journalists and their outlets? Why do these and other media-driven myths often find their way into news reports and [...]

  87. [...] point out in Getting It Wrong how movies can solidify media-driven myths in the public’s consciousness. “High-quality cinematic treatments,” I write, “are powerful [...]

  88. [...] as saviors: Like most media-driven myths, the notion is simply too good to be true, too simplistic to be [...]

  89. [...] part because it’s simplistic tale that’s often taught in high schools and [...]

  90. [...] the media myth, anyway. Like many media myths, it’s a good yarn but thinly documented. There’s scant evidence that the radio show [...]

  91. [...] “But to explain Watergate through the lens of the heroic-journalist is,” I write, “to abridge and misunderstand the scandal and to indulge in a particularly beguiling media-driven myth.” [...]

  92. [...] of the Worlds radio dramatization 73 years ago set off nationwide panic and mass hysteria — a media myth that lives on for an impressive variety of reasons. Welles and 'War of the [...]

  93. [...] No “debunking of the year” was designated in 2010, the year of publication of my latest book, Getting It Wrong, which punctures 10 prominent media-driven myths. [...]

  94. [...] (Version variability of such magnitude, I write in Getting It Wrong, is a revealing marker of a media-driven myth.) [...]

  95. [...] The display Remington’s sketches received in Hearst’s Journal, and the newspaper’s compliments about the artist, are two of several compelling reasons for doubting the anecdote and treating it as a media myth. [...]

  96. [...] I write in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, more than a few media-driven myths have emerged “from an impulse to offer easy answers to complex issues, to abridge and [...]

  97. [...] And such characteristics — easy to grasp, easy to understand — often are propellants. Propellants of media-driven myths. [...]

  98. [...] as trivial and insignificant. As such, “bra-burning” underscores the potential of media myths to feed and promote [...]

  99. [...] Lyndon Johnson’s purported comment lies at the heart of this tenacious media myth — one of the 10 I address and debunk in my latest book, Getting It [...]

  100. [...] Or something to that effect. Versions vary (and version variability of such magnitude is a signal of a media myth). [...]

  101. [...] also a media-driven myth — the heroic-journalist myth, as I call it in my 2010 book, Getting It [...]

  102. [...] And such characteristics — easy to grasp, easy to remember — often are propellants. Propellants of media-driven myths. [...]

  103. [...] Media myths, I wrote in my 2010 book, Getting It Wrong, often seem “almost too good to be false.” [...]

  104. [...] encounter, between John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard M. Nixon, gave rise to the media myth of viewer-listener disagreement: Those who watched the debate on television supposedly thought [...]

  105. [...] many media myths, the tale of the panic broadcast of 1938 is just too engrained, and too delicious, ever to be [...]

  106. [...] It merits mentioning that there’s no small irony in Limbaugh’s giving voice to these media myths. [...]

  107. […] media myth has it that Murrow’s See It Now program of March 9, 1954, was so powerful that it abruptly […]

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