W. Joseph Campbell

‘Getting It Wrong’ goes on ‘PJM Political’

In Cronkite Moment, Debunking, Furnish the war, Hurricane Katrina, Media myths on October 10, 2010 at 10:24 am

I had a fine interview recently with Silicon Valley blogger Ed Driscoll for the Pajamas Media radio show, PJM Political.

The interview aired yesterday on Sirus-XM radio’s POTUS channel.

Topic: My new book, Getting It Wrong, which debunks 10 prominent media-driven myths, those dubious and improbable tales about the news media that masquerade as factual.

Driscoll, who conducts a thoughtful and well-prepared interview, led me through a discussion of several myths addressed in Getting It Wrong, including the Cronkite Moment” of 1968.

That was when, supposedly, the on-air analysis of CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite prompted President Lyndon Johnson to change his thinking about the Vietnam War and led him to decide against seeking reelection.

“That’s simply not true,” I pointed out. “Lyndon Johnson didn’t even see the [Cronkite] program when it aired in February 1968. And his decision not to seek reelection was driven by other forces and factors. Cronkite really was irrelevant to that equation, to that decision.

“But yet it lives on, as an example of media power, the media telling truth to power. And it’s a misleading interpretation, it’s a misreading of history.”

Driscoll said that the chapters of Getting It Wrong “have a sort of curious” set of bookends, in that they begin with a discussion of William Randolph Hearst’s famous vow to “furnish the war” with Spain and end with a look at the exaggerated, over-the-top coverage of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.

“Was this sort of book-ending intentional?” Driscoll asked.

It was an insightful question–and the first time an interviewer had asked about the book’s conceptual component.

I noted that the “original framework of the book had it organized more thematically, by ‘media and war’ and ‘media and government,'” and so on.

That framework was discarded, I said, “for a more chronological approach. So the bookends were driven more by chronology than anything else.”

We discussed how Orson Welles‘ cinematic masterpiece, Citizen Kane, helped cement the “furnish the war” myth in the public’s consciousness. Kane includes a scene that paraphrases Hearst’s purported vow.

The “furnish-the-war” anecdote about Hearst is dubious in many respects, I said, adding:

“Yet it lives on as an example of Hearst as the war-monger, as an example of the media–at its most malignant, in an extreme–can bring about a war that the country otherwise wouldn’t have fought.”

I mentioned how media-driven myths can be thought of as the “junk food of journalism,” which prompted Driscoll to ask:

What’s wrong with the American people being fed a little junk food? What’s wrong with being fed a few media myths?

There are several reasons, I replied.

Notably, “these myths tend to misrepresent the role of the news media in American society. They tend to grant the news media far more power and far more influence than they really do exert in American life.”

I added:

“Most people believe the media are powerful agents and powerful entities and often refer to some of the myths that I address, and debunk, in Getting It Wrong. They refer to them in support of this mistaken notion.”

In wrapping up the interview, Driscoll referred to Media Myth Alert as “a nifty blog.”

It was a generous plug that was much appreciated.


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