W. Joseph Campbell

KTA marks its centenary

In Anniversaries on March 10, 2010 at 10:46 am

Kappa Tau Alpha, the national honor society recognizing high academic excellence in journalism and mass communication, marks its 100th anniversary today in ceremonies at its birthplace, the University of Missouri.

Hearty congratulations to KTA and to its indefatigable executive director, Keith Sanders.

KTA is the country’s seventh-oldest honor society and has chapters on more than 90 college campuses, including American University. I’m the AU chapter adviser as well as the honor society’s national vice president.

KTA’s principal objectives are to promote scholarship and high academic achievement. Each year, its chapters welcome to membership those journalism and mass communication students who rank in the top 10 percent of their respective classes. (The AU chapter typically inducts a smaller percentage.)

KTA also recognizes each year the top research-based book-length study  in journalism and mass communication, with its Frank Luther Mott/Kappa Tau Alpha Research Award.

The centenary will be marked at the campus in Columbia, Missouri, with a lecture by KTA’s national president, Jane B. Singer. She will discuss “Journalism Ethics and Structural Change.”

It’s a memorable week of anniversaries. Not only does KTA mark its 100th, but yesterday was the 56th anniversary of Edward R. Murrow’s famous See It Now television program on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.

Murrow’s program aired on CBS on March 9, 1954, and a media myth has come to embrace the show: Supposedly, Murrow’s dissection of the red-baiting McCarthy was so courageous and devastating that it abruptly ended the senator’s witch-hunt for communists in the U.S. government.

But as I write in my forthcoming book, Getting It Wrong, the notion that Murrow brought down McCarthy is a durable and powerful media-driven myth.

Murrow “was very late in confronting McCarthy,” I write in Getting It Wrong and “did so only after other journalists had challenged the senator and his tactics for months, even years.” Among them was Drew Pearson, a muckraking columnist who scrutinized McCarthy’s exaggerated claims and allegations as early as 1950–four years before the famous Murrow program.

Indeed, the legendary status associated with Murrow’s program has had the effect of obscuring and diminishing the contributions of journalists, such as Pearson, who were far quicker to discern the toxic threat that McCarthy posed.


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