W. Joseph Campbell

In today’s ‘Outlook’ section

In Cronkite Moment, Debunking, Furnish the war, Media myths, Murrow-McCarthy myth, Newspapers, Washington Post, Watergate myth on April 11, 2010 at 12:13 pm

An abbreviated version of my recent guestpost at the “Political Bookworm” blog appeared today in the “Outlook” section of the Washington Post.

Here’s the text of the “Outlook” piece, with links that I’ve added:

W. Joseph Campbell, a professor of communication at American University, busts some media myths in his book, “Getting It Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism,” coming in July from the University of California Press. Here are three of Campbell’s biggies:

1. William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow, telegraphed to the artist Frederic Remington in Cuba, to “furnish the war” with Spain. Hearst denied making such a statement. The telegram containing his purported pledge has never turned up. The “furnish the war” anecdote can be traced to 1901 and a memoir by another journalist, James Creelman, who did not say when or how he learned the story about Hearst’s vow.

2. Edward R. Murrow brought an end to Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy’s communists-in-government witch hunt. This myth stems from Murrow’s CBS program “See It Now” on March 9, 1954, when the newsman dissected McCarthy’s crude investigative techniques and taste for the half-truth — none of which was unknown to American audiences at the time. The myth took hold even though years before the program aired, several prominent journalists — including Washington-based syndicated columnist Drew Pearson — had become searching critics of McCarthy and his tactics.

Nixon resigns, 1974

3. The Washington Post’s investigative reporting brought down Richard Nixon’s corrupt presidency. Katharine Graham, The Post’s publisher during the Watergate period, said in 1997: “Sometimes people accuse us of bringing down a president, which of course we didn’t do. The processes that caused [Nixon’s] resignation were constitutional.” She was right, but the complexities of Watergate are not readily recalled these days. What does stand out is a media-centric interpretation that the dogged reporting of Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein brought Nixon down.


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