W. Joseph Campbell

‘Commentary’ reviews ‘Getting It Wrong’

In Cronkite Moment, Debunking, Murrow-McCarthy myth, Reviews, Washington Post, Watergate myth on June 4, 2010 at 11:27 am

The June 2010 number of Commentary magazine includes a fine, favorable, and thoughtful review of Getting It Wrong, my new book about media-driven myths.

The reviewer, Andrew Ferguson, who writes the “Press Man” column for Commentary, says of Getting It Wrong:

“It may be the best book about journalism in recent memory; it is certainly the most subversive.”

A wonderful, telling line, that.

He also writes:

“Campbell does what journalists, and most journalism professors, seldom think to do when they exchange the oft-repeated tales: he checks them out. And through a pitiless accretion of detail, he dissolves them one by one.

“As he reveals, Edward R. Murrow did not ‘bring down Joe McCarthy’ with his famous 1954 episode of See It Now; Campbell looked up the poll numbers and found that McCarthy’s favorability ratings were in free fall well before Murrow took to the air.

“No, Cronkite did not turn the public against the Vietnam War with an on-air editorial in February 1968: five months earlier, Gallup had registered that a plurality of Americans, 47 percent, agreed that the war was a mistake.

“And no, Woodward and Bernstein were not responsible for uncovering the entirety of the Watergate scandal; as reporters, they had pretty much run out of scoops by October 1972, when congressional investigators, criminal prosecutors, and other newspapers took over the story and drove it till President Nixon’s resignation in August 1974.

“And no, the bestselling author David Halberstam, who promoted each of these stories with unfailing pomposity, was not a reliable chronicler of even the most recent past.”

Ferguson wraps up his review by writing:

“Journalism’s myths about journalism, you’ll notice, are self-aggrandizing. They cast the journalist as hero. No wonder they’re so popular… among journalists. We warm ourselves by such tales, draw compensation and comfort from them, which is why they’re taught in our trade schools as elements of basic training.”

WJC

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