W. Joseph Campbell

Posts Tagged ‘Awards’

Accepting the 2010 SPJ award for Research about Journalism

In Debunking, Media myths on September 25, 2011 at 7:22 am

I was in New Orleans last night to accept the Society of Professional Journalists’  Sigma Delta Chi award for Research about Journalism, for my media-mythbusting book, Getting It Wrong.

The occasion was a fine, smoothly run ceremony at a hotel near the city’s French Quarter.

Getting It Wrong, which was published last year by the University of California Press, addresses and debunks 10 prominent media-driven myths — those dubious tales about the news media that masquerade as factual.

Here’s a rundown about the respective myths dismantled in Getting It Wrong:

  1. Remington-Hearst: William Randolph Hearst’s famous vow “to furnish the war” with Spain is almost certainly apocryphal.
  2. War of Worlds: The notion that the War of Worlds radio dramatization in 1938 caused nationwide panic and mass hysteria is highly exaggerated.
  3. Murrow-McCarthy: Edward R. Murrow’s famous See It Now program in March 1954 did not end Senator Joseph McCarthy’s communists-in-government witch-hunt; Murrow in fact was very late to take on McCarthy.
  4. Bay of Pigs: The New York Times did not suppress its reporting in the run-up to the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961.
  5. Cronkite-Johnson: The Walter Cronkite special report on Vietnam in February 1968 did not prompt an immediate reassessment or revision of U.S. war policy. Nor did it prompt President Lyndon Johnson to declare, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”
  6. Bra-burning: Humor columnist Art Buchwald helped spread the mistaken notion that feminist demonstrators dramatically burned their bras at a Miss America protest in September 1968.
  7. Watergate: The Washington Post’s intrepid reporters, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, did not bring down Richard Nixon’s corrupt presidency. That they did is a trope that knows few bounds.
  8. Crack babies: The much-feared “bio-underclass” of children born to women who smoked crack cocaine during their pregnancies never materialized.
  9. Jessica Lynch: The Washington Post’s erroneous reporting about Jessica Lynch early in the Iraq War gave rise to several myths about her capture and rescue.
  10. Hurricane Katrina: News coverage of Katrina’s aftermath in New Orleans in early September 2005 was marred by wild exaggerations about extreme, Mad Max-like violence.

The “Research about Journalism” award recognizes “an investigative study about some aspect of journalism,” according to SPJ, and has to be “based on original research; either published or unpublished and … completed during the 2010 calendar year. … Judges will consider value to the profession, significance of the subject matter, thoroughness of the research, and soundness of the conclusion.”


Recent and related:

Lynch heroics ‘ginned up by Bush-era Pentagon’?

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on August 17, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Private Lynch

The Huffington Post today reviews the new movie about Pat Tillman, the pro football player turned Army Ranger who was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. The review also takes a swipe at the Pentagon for supposedly concocting a hero-warrior story around 19-year-old Army private Jessica Lynch in the early days of the Iraq War.

The review says that Lynch’s “combat actions, as ginned up by the Bush-era Pentagon, did not square with reality.”

Well, frankly, that observation doesn’t quite “square with reality.”

I discuss the myths that have been spun off from the Lynch case in my new book Getting It Wrong, noting that the Pentagon wasn’t the source for the erroneous account of Lynch’s battlefield heroics.

The Washington Post thrust that account into the public domain in a sensational, front-page report on April 3, 2003.

The Post‘s story described how Lynch, despite being shot and stabbed, fiercely fought Iraqi attackers in an ambush at Nasiriyah. The electrifying report appeared beneath the headline:

“‘She was fighting to the death.’”

And the story was picked up around the world. But it was wrong, badly wrong.

Lynch never fired a shot in the fighting at Nasiriyah. She suffered neither gunshot nor stab wounds; her injuries were severe, and came in the crash of a Humvee fleeing the ambush.

The Post‘s article was based on sources identified only as “U.S. officials.” The article said that “Pentagon officials … had heard ‘rumors’ of Lynch’s heroics but had no confirmation” to offer.

As I note in Getting It Wrong, one of the Post reporters on the story said on at least two occasions that the Pentagon was not the source for the Lynch story.

The reporter, Vernon Loeb, who has since moved on to the Philadelphia Inquirer, told the NPR Fresh Air program in December 2003 that he “could never get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about those reports [of Lynch’s supposed heroics] at all.”

He added that the Pentagon “was completely unwilling to comment on those reports at all.

“They wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch.”

As denials and knock-downs go, that one is pretty solid. And unequivocal.

A few months earlier, Loeb was quoted in an op-ed article in the New York Times as saying: “Far from promoting stories about Lynch, the military didn’t like the story.”

As I also note in Getting It Wrong, the Pentagon’s then-spokeswoman, Victoria Clarke, told the Associated Press in June 2003: “We were downplaying [the Lynch story]. We weren’t hyping it.”

Even in the face of such denials, the notion the Pentagon concocted a phony hero-warrior story about Lynch has become the dominant narrative–one repeated blithely and often.

Interestingly, those pushing the Pentagon-made-it-up meme never seem to explain just how the veteran Post reporters on the Lynch story were so easily and thoroughly duped.

Loeb shared the byline on the story with Susan Schmidt, who later won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. Among those contributing to the story was Dana Priest, who also has won a Pulitzer.

And if the Pentagon had “ginned up” the hero-warrior story about Lynch, “it failed miserably in keeping the ruse from unraveling, ” I write in Getting It Wrong.

The day after the Post‘s “‘fighting to the death'” article appeared, the head of the Army hospital at Landstuhl, Germany, told reporters that Lynch had been neither shot nor stabbed–undercutting crucial elements of the hero-warrior tale.



<!–[if !mso]> the article that their information about Lynch and her heroics was from “U.S. officials” with access to what the reporters called “battlefield intelligence” compiled from “monitored communications and from Iraqi sources in Nasiriyah whose reliability has yet to be assessed.” The article said that “Pentagon officials … had heard ‘rumors’ of Lynch’s heroics but had no confirmation” to offer.[i]

[i] Schmidt and Loeb, “‘She Was Fighting to the Death,’” Washington Post.

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