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Getting It Wrong

Getting It Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism

W. Joseph Campbell
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Getting It Wrong
    Book Description:

    Did theWashington Postbring down Richard Nixon by reporting on the Watergate scandal? Did a cryptic remark by Walter Cronkite effectively end the Vietnam War? Did William Randolph Hearst vow to "furnish the war" in the 1898 conflict with Spain? InGetting It Wrong, W. Joseph Campbell addresses and dismantles these and other prominent media-driven myths-stories about or by the news media that are widely believed but which, on close examination, prove apocryphal. In a fascinating exploration of these and other cases-including the supposedly outstanding coverage of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina-Campbell describes how myths like these can feed stereotypes, deflect blame from policymakers, and overstate the power and influence of the news media.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94560-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    TheNew York Sunwas one of the great names in American journalism. It was a newspaper that first appeared in 1833, in the vanguard of dailies that sold for a penny. For many years it was edited by Charles A.Dana, a prickly force in nineteenth-century journalism who taunted rival editors in print while cultivating theSun’s reputation as a writer’s newspaper.

    TheSun’s most notable and lasting contribution was its famous “Is There a Santa Claus?” editorial, a paean to childhood and the Christmas spirit that featured the often-quoted passage, “Yes, Virginia,there is a Santa Claus.” TheSunpublished...

  6. CHAPTER 1 “I’ll Furnish the War”: The Making of a Media Myth
    (pp. 9-25)

    As America prepared for war with Iraq in the early years of the twenty-first century, commentators at opposite ends of the political spectrum turned to what may be the most famous anecdote in American journalism to describe how poorly U.S. media were reporting the run-up to the conflict. The anecdote is more than one hundred years old and tells of the purported exchange of telegrams between William Randolph Hearst, the activist young publisher of theNew York Journal, and Frederic Remington, the famous painter and sculptor of scenes of the American West. Hearst engaged Remington’s services for a month in...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Fright beyond Measure? The Myth of The War of the Worlds
    (pp. 26-44)

    No single program in American broadcasting inspired more fear, controversy, and unending fascination than the 1938 radio dramatization of the novelThe War of the Worlds. So alarming was the show, so realistic were its accounts of invading Martians wielding deadly heat rays, that listeners by the tens of thousands—or maybe the hundreds of thousands—were convulsed in panic. They fled their homes, jammed highways, overwhelmed telephone circuits, flocked to houses of worship, set about preparing defenses, and even contemplated suicide in the belief that the end of the world was at hand.

    Fright beyond measure seized America that...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Murrow vs. McCarthy: Timing Makes the Myth
    (pp. 45-67)

    Edward R. Murrow is without question the towering icon, the mythic figure, the “patron saint” of American broadcast journalism.¹

    The highest awards of the Radio-Television News Directors Association are named for Murrow. Documentaries have celebrated his exploits in journalism. Hagiographies have been written about his life and career. A corner of the Newseum, the $450 million museum of news in downtown Washington, D.C., extols Murrow’s contributions to broadcast journalism. Elsewhere in Washington, a wedge of federal parkland on Pennsylvania Avenue, not far from the White House, is named for Murrow.² And in the lobby of CBS headquarters in New York,...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The Bay of Pigs–New York Times Suppression Myth
    (pp. 68-84)

    In the vernacular of American journalism,spikedis an especially loathsome term, evoking as it does the shame and humiliation of self-censorship.Spikedtypically means that a perfectly good, usually provocative news story is suppressed for reasons other than accuracy or good taste. Pressures from outside sources—be they politicians, advertisers, or representatives of other powerful interests—usually are to blame when a news story is spiked.

    In early April 1961, theNew York Timesbowed to pressure from the White House of President John F. Kennedy and “spiked” or “killed” its detailed report about the pending Bay of Pigs...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Debunking the “Cronkite Moment”
    (pp. 85-100)

    At the close of a thirty-minute special report televised in late February 1968, the avuncular CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite declared that the U.S. war effort in Vietnam was “mired in stalemate.” Drawing on his visit to Vietnam in the aftermath of the communists’ surprise Tet offensive that winter, Cronkite said military victory seemed out of reach for U.S. forces. “We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds,” Cronkite said, suggesting that the moment was...

  11. CHAPTER 6 The Nuanced Myth: Bra Burning at Atlantic City
    (pp. 101-114)

    Myth-busting can be an uncertain pursuit. On occasion, a myth may carry a bit more truth than debunkers are inclined to believe. So it is with the myth of bra burnings, which took hold in the days following the Miss America pageant at Atlantic City, New Jersey, on September 7, 1968.

    Early that afternoon, about one hundred women from New York City, New Jersey, Boston, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere arrived by bus at the Atlantic City boardwalk. They were, according to theNew York Times, “mostly middle-aged careerists and house wives”¹ and they set up a picket line at Kennedy...

  12. CHAPTER 7 It’s All about the Media: Watergate’s Heroic-Journalist Myth
    (pp. 115-129)

    Watergate was easily America’s greatest political scandal of the twentieth century. Twenty-one men associated with the presidency of Richard M. Nixon or his reelection campaign in 1972 were convicted of Watergate-related crimes, nineteen of whom went to prison.¹ Nixon himself resigned in August 1974, less than halfway through his second term, to avoid certain impeachment and conviction. By then it had become clear that Nixon had conspired with senior aides to cover up the scandal’s signal crime, the burglary in June 1972 at the national headquarters of the rival Democratic Party at the Watergate office-apartment complex in Washington, D.C.


  13. CHAPTER 8 The “Fantasy Panic”: The News Media and the “Crack-Baby” Myth
    (pp. 130-143)

    The drug wars of the 1980s and 1990s produced few images more wrenching or despairing than those of “crack babies,” helpless infants born to women who while pregnant took cocaine or its potent, smokable derivative, crack. Prenatal exposure supposedly left these infants neurologically damaged, addicted at birth, and prone to all kinds of suffering—convulsions, withdrawal, chronic irritability, an unwillingness to be touched or held. They were given to emitting ear-piercing, unearthly shrieks and cries.¹ And worse. Much worse. Prominent journalists declared crack babies the harbingers of a social disaster from which there would be unending consequences.

    “The inner-city crack...

  14. CHAPTER 9 “She Was Fighting to the Death”: Mythmaking in Iraq
    (pp. 144-162)

    Scholars call the phenomenon “intermedia agenda-setting.” It usually occurs when large news organizations with wherewithal to cover news across the globe set an agenda for outlets that are smaller and have fewer resources. Intermedia agenda-setting is not at work all the time. But it certainly was in evidence in propagating the hero-warrior myth of Jessica Lynch, a blonde, waiflike, nineteen-year-old Army private from West Virginia who, through no exceptional effort of her own, became the single best-known American military figure of the war in Iraq.

    Her trajectory from obscurity to celebrity status began on March 23, 2003, the fourth day...

  15. CHAPTER 10 Hurricane Katrina and the Myth of Superlative Reporting
    (pp. 163-184)

    The first decade of the twenty-first century brought harsh and painful times to America’s mainstream news media. Metropolitan newspapers and television networks hemorrhaged audiences and lost advertising to online media. Newspapers shrunk their pages to curb expenses. Staffs were cut deeply, through layoffs and buyouts. Salaries were trimmed and unpaid leaves were imposed. Predictions appeared with increasing frequency that newspapers might not long survive.¹ WarnedAmerican Journalism Review: “Adapt or die.”² Debts mounted and profits fell quarter by quarter. Well-known metropolitan dailies such as theRocky Mountain Newsin Denver and thePost-Intelligencerin Seattle ceased publication. Once-powerful media enterprises...

  16. Conclusion
    (pp. 185-192)

    The tales examined on the preceding pages often ascribe power, significance, and sometimes great courage to the news media and their practitioners. Edward Murrow’s crushing the McCarthy menace, Walter Cronkite’s effectively ending a faraway and unpopular war, and Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s toppling a corrupt president are prominent examples. These purported achievements are compelling and exert an enduring allure; to expose them as exaggerated or untrue is to take aim at the self-importance of American journalism. To identify these tales as media myths is to confront the reality that the news media are not the powerful agents they, and...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 193-248)
  18. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 249-256)
  19. Index
    (pp. 257-269)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 270-270)