W. Joseph Campbell

Advance pub for ‘Getting It Wrong’

In 1897, Cronkite Moment, Debunking, Media myths, War of the Worlds, Washington Post on April 28, 2010 at 3:47 pm

The online site of the School of Communication here at American University posts today a Q-and-A with me about Getting It Wrong, my forthcoming book that debunks 10 prominent media-driven myths.

Topics addressed include the Remington-Hearst/furnish the war anecdote; the War of the Worlds/mass hysteria myth, and the “Cronkite moment“/”I’ve lost Middle America” meme.

And while the topic is not considered in Getting It Wrong, I also mention the “pharm parties” myth, in which young people are said to take pills of any kind from their parents’ medicine cabinets. They supposedly show up at a party and dump the purloined pills into a large, common bowl. Then they are purported to take turns scooping out and swallowing handfuls of the medications, not knowing what they’re taking, in the supposed pursuit of a drug-induced high.

Jack Shafer, media critic for slate.com, has done fine work in knocking down the “pharm party” meme.

Here are excerpts from the Q-and-A:

Q: “Myth busting” can upset people who have accepted, or even benefited from, the myth. Have you gotten any negative feedback?

A:  Not really. Not so far. I do know that some people wonder “who cares?” about some of the myths debunked in Getting It Wrong. The Hearst—”furnish the war” myth, after all, is more than 100 years old. But I emphasize in the book that media-driven myths are neither innocuous nor trivial. They can, and do, promote stereotypes. They can deflect attention or blame away from the makers of flawed policies. They can, and often do, offer an exaggerated sense of the power and influence of the news media. Plus, debunking myths is a pursuit that’s aligned with a fundamental objective of mainstream American journalism—that of getting it right.

Q: What’s next?

A: I’d like to think there’s a sequel to Getting It Wrong. The universe of media-driven myths isn’t confined to 10, after all. There are more to confront. Also, in fall 2010, I’ll be teaching a “wild card” course in the University’s General Education program titled “Media Myth and Power.” The course will consider several of the myths debunked in Getting It Wrong.

A tip of the chapeau to Michael Wargo of the School of Communication for putting together the Q-and-A, which follows the writeup about the book that appeared April 11 in the “Outlook” section of the Washington Post.


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