W. Joseph Campbell

Myths going polyglot: An emblem of hardiness

In Debunking, Media myths, Washington Post, Watergate myth on April 16, 2010 at 9:29 am

It’s a sure sign of tenacity and hardiness when media-driven myths cross linguistic barriers to become embedded in other languages.

The heroic-journalist myth of Watergate–which I explore in Getting It Wrong, my forthcoming book about media-driven-myths–represents that phenomenon quite well.

In the past few days, references to the myth–which maintains that the work of two young, intrepid reporters for the Washington Post brought down Richard Nixon’s corrupt presidency–have appeared online in French and Italian.

The French version was posted at the Web site of the weekly lifestyle magazine, Paris Match.  The item was about Sheri Fink, who this week became a winner of a Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting.

Paris Match said of Fink: “She enters the pantheon of the press that includes famous predecessors such as Bob Woodward of the Washington Post who disclosed the Watergate scandal leading to the impeachment of President Nixon.”

For starters, Nixon was never impeached; he resigned the presidency in 1974, to head off certain impeachment and conviction.

Moreover, Woodward and his reporting partner, Carl Bernstein, did not uncover or disclose the Watergate scandal.

As Edward Jay Epstein wrote years ago in a marvelous essay about the news media and Watergate, “the FBI, the federal prosecutors, the [federal] grand jury, and the Congressional committees … unearthed and developed all the actual evidence and disclosures of Watergate.”

Epstein noted that Woodward and Bernstein, in All the President’s Men, their book about their Watergate reporting, “systematically ignored or minimized” the work of those agencies and institutions.

“Instead,” Epstein wrote, “they simply focus on those parts of the prosecutors’ case, the grand-jury investigation, and the FBI reports that were leaked to them.”

The heroic-journalist meme also popped up in an item posted the other day at VignaClaraBlog, an online local news site in Rome. That item told of an upcoming interview with Bernstein, whom it credited with breaking the Watergate scandal, leading to Nixon’s resignation.

The objective here is not to score points at the expense of foreign-language sites invoking the heroic-journalist myth. Rather, it is to underscore how persistent and insidious media-driven myths can be.

Crossing linguistic barriers not only is an emblem of their appeal: It suggests that myths such as that of the heroic-journalist of Watergate are now thoroughly immune to conclusive uprooting.


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