The talk was facilitated quite well by Kira McGirr, the bookstore’s tradebook manager, and covered such topics as William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain at the end of the 19th century, the myth of the “Cronkite Moment” of February 1968, and the heroic-journalist myth of Watergate.
We also discussed the media-driven myth of “crack babies” and the famous 1938 radio dramatization of The War of the Worlds, which supposedly was so dramatic that tens of thousands of Americans were seized by panic and mass hysteria.
One of Kira’s questions was how long it may take before the myths discussed and debunked in Getting It Wrong to be excised from history books. It’s a very good question, and difficult to say for sure.
The same probably goes for Hearst’s purported vow: That anecdote has been around since 1901 and likely is too appealing ever to be utterly debunked. What’s more, the “furnish the war” tale is a neat, tidy, reductive way of explaining the causes of the Spanish-American War: Hearst, the war-mongering publisher, is to blame.
It’s far easier to blame Hearst than it is to grapple with the complexities of the diplomatic demarche in 1897-98 that failed to resolve differences among Spain, Cuba, and the United States: Failed diplomacy, not the contents of Hearst’s yellow press, led to the Spanish-American War.
We also discussed how high-quality cinematic treatments can press media myths into the public consciousness.
That certainly was the case with All the President’s Men, the most-viewed movie about Watergate, in which Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman played the starring roles of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
The film depicted the reporters as central, indeed crucial, to cracking the Watergate scandal, I noted. For many Americans, All the President’s Men is an important way of learning about Watergate. As I write in Getting It Wrong: “More than thirty-five years later, what remains most vivid, memorable, and accessible about Watergate is the cinematic version of All the President’s Men.”
The book talk coincided with Oberlin’s fifth annual Chalk Walk event, at which artists and aspiring artists draw often-elaborate pastel images on the sidewalks in the heart of town.
One of Kira’s colleagues, Amanda Turner, drew a fine rendering of the cover of Getting It Wrong at the entrance to the bookstore (see photo).
- ‘Getting It Wrong’ launched at Newseum
- At HuffPo Books
- ‘Getting It Wrong’ goes ‘On Point’
- Media myths: The ‘junk food of journalism’
- ‘Commentary’ reviews ‘Getting It Wrong’
- ‘Good narrative trumps good history
- Embedded myths of journalism history
Photo credit: Ann-Marie C. Regan (Chalk Walk images)