The interview aired yesterday on Sirus-XM radio’s POTUS channel.
That was when, supposedly, the on-air analysis of CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite prompted President Lyndon Johnson to change his thinking about the Vietnam War and led him to decide against seeking reelection.
“That’s simply not true,” I pointed out. “Lyndon Johnson didn’t even see the [Cronkite] program when it aired in February 1968. And his decision not to seek reelection was driven by other forces and factors. Cronkite really was irrelevant to that equation, to that decision.
“But yet it lives on, as an example of media power, the media telling truth to power. And it’s a misleading interpretation, it’s a misreading of history.”
Driscoll said that the chapters of Getting It Wrong “have a sort of curious” set of bookends, in that they begin with a discussion of William Randolph Hearst’s famous vow to “furnish the war” with Spain and end with a look at the exaggerated, over-the-top coverage of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.
“Was this sort of book-ending intentional?” Driscoll asked.
It was an insightful question–and the first time an interviewer had asked about the book’s conceptual component.
I noted that the “original framework of the book had it organized more thematically, by ‘media and war’ and ‘media and government,’” and so on.
That framework was discarded, I said, “for a more chronological approach. So the bookends were driven more by chronology than anything else.”
We discussed how Orson Welles‘ cinematic masterpiece, Citizen Kane, helped cement the “furnish the war” myth in the public’s consciousness. Kane includes a scene that paraphrases Hearst’s purported vow.
The “furnish-the-war” anecdote about Hearst is dubious in many respects, I said, adding:
“Yet it lives on as an example of Hearst as the war-monger, as an example of the media–at its most malignant, in an extreme–can bring about a war that the country otherwise wouldn’t have fought.”
What’s wrong with the American people being fed a little junk food? What’s wrong with being fed a few media myths?
There are several reasons, I replied.
Notably, “these myths tend to misrepresent the role of the news media in American society. They tend to grant the news media far more power and far more influence than they really do exert in American life.”
“Most people believe the media are powerful agents and powerful entities and often refer to some of the myths that I address, and debunk, in Getting It Wrong. They refer to them in support of this mistaken notion.”
In wrapping up the interview, Driscoll referred to Media Myth Alert as “a nifty blog.”
It was a generous plug that was much appreciated.
Recent and related:
- ‘Exquisitely researched and lively’
- Myth appeal runs deep abroad; Watergate a case in point
- Katrina and the myth of superlative reporting
- Journalists changing history: A double dose of media myth
- On media myths and the ‘golden age’ fallacy
- ‘Getting It Wrong’ goes on Q-and-A
- ‘Getting It Wrong’ goes Majic