Length:5–6 pages (approximately 1500 words)Format:Short essayCriteria:Please apply principles of clarity, style, accuracy, and academic honesty to the assignment. Refer to original document(s) when identifying news stories. Also consider secondary material such as course readings, news articles, and databases. Please consult the guide to writing essays in the Course Information.Topic:In Part 2 of the course, you studied the various challenges of manipulation, the difference between reality and representation, including the difficulties raised by “pseudo-events,” and questions of truth and truthfulness in reporting. Compose a thorough, clear, and relatively short examination of the ways that journalists can be manipulated by external forces. Distinguish between formalized censorship and the five ways that journalists can be manipulated. In your essay, refer to at least four course readings and provide three related examples from news stories (brief summaries are fine, with sources cited). As well, analyze the nature of conflicts of interest (detailing one specific example of conflicted media coverage), consider whether the conflict of interest operates at an organizational and/or individual level, and suggest ways to avoid the warping effect of economic/political interests.Consider: 1.Whether manipulation of journalism is easy or difficult in our society 2.What are the best ways to avoid being manipulated by powerful individuals and organizations 3.Whether the media sometimes pursue multiple (conflicted) agendas 4.How conflicts of interest make it easier for external groups to neutralize journalists 5.Whether limiting access is a common or uncommon strategy used by external groups to manipulate journalists 6.Whether intimidation and disinformation are common or uncommon strategies used by external groups to manipulate journalists
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The New York Post criticizes, while its own house
is hardly in order.
By Christina Hernandez
JANUARY 23, 2007753 WORDS
In the name of an “exclusive” with the man charged with kidnapping a
Missouri boy and suspected of kidnapping another and holding him
hostage for more than four years, the New York Post has brought
journalists, and questionable ethics, into the limelight.
Apparently identifying herself as a friend of the kidnapping suspect to get into
the prison, Post correspondent Susannah Cahalan then told the suspect, Michael
Devlin, she was a college student writing for a university publication, securing
herself not one, but two 15-minute interviews, according to Michael Kielty,
Devlin’s lawyer.
Devlin knew better than to discuss anything that might endanger his case, so
instead of a story that shed light on the mysteries that remain in the perplexing
drama, Cahalan wrote a 1,256 word story filled with mundane details like
Devlin’s favorite video game (“Final Fantasy”) and his favorite family vacation
(Yellowstone National Park). And the Post, forgoing any effort of neutrality, used
one of its favorite adjectives, calling Devlin “Kidnap Creep” in the story’s
Authorities in Franklin County, Missouri, where Devlin is being held in solitary
confinement, plan to investigate how the breach happened, according to a CBS
News story. “But Sheriff Gary Toelke released a statement late Sunday saying
security at the jail was not breached. He said an inmate can accept or decline
media requests, and in this case, Devlin accepted.”
But whether or not security was breached does not mitigate the serious
questions raised by such reporting. Lew Schucart, a blogger for the St. Louis PostDispatch, wrote, “Most journalists would agree that any news organization
should never use deceit to gain access to information. Doing so harms the
reputation not just of that particular reporter or outlet, but all journalists and
Readers of Schucart’s blog had some harsh words for the Post and all journalists.
“Ethics in journalism is like ethics in politics, rare,” said Dilligaf. Another
respondent identified only as B, voiced a common thought, “I’d say most
journalists are crying foul because they didn’t think of it first.” But others fault
Devlin. “Devlin was a party to this interview – he could have rejected the visitor.
Even if he initially didn’t know her and what she was about, he certainly did at
the second interview he granted with her,” said respondent Mary.
But besides the Post’s questionable ethics, the newspaper’s hypocrisy when it
comes to journalistic limits are even worse. On Friday, Post columnist Linda
Stasi blasted the parents of one of the kidnapping victims, along with Oprah
Winfrey, for allowing the boy to be interviewed on national television.
“Yes, Pam and Craig Akers, Shawn’s parents, who say they have not (yes, that’s
‘not’) asked him about his ordeal because it would be too painful right now,
nonetheless had no problem dragging their traumatized child out before God and
everyone to answer questions on national TV,” Stasi wrote. She ended the piece,
“Shame on the Akers. Shame on Oprah.”
Stasi neglected to place any blame on her own newspaper, which has published
more than a dozen stories on the case, each with more lurid details than the next.
Stories detail neighbors’ accounts of screams coming from Devlin’s apartment,
describe the pornography authorities found there and chronicle the discovery
that one of the kidnapped boys had a girlfriend. Each article broadcasts the
victims’ names over and over again, without apparent concern for the boys’
But the Post isn’t the only media outlet playing this case for all (and much, much
more) than it’s worth. The Associated Press, USA Today and FOX News have all
published play-by-play accounts of the Post’s “exclusive” with Devlin. Dozens of
news outlets retold the story quote by quote, including a description of Devlin as
“red-faced and bleary-eyed.”
Just because the victims had the good fortune of being rescued, doesn’t mean
they should be exceptions to the rule on not publishing the names of possible
sexual assault victims. In an Op-ed in the New York Times yesterday, Sean Flynn
reminded the media of its power. “Had either boy been molested by an uncle, had
either been brutalized in an alley, had either claimed, even falsely, to have been
gang-raped at an elite university, he would remain anonymous. We would not
know his name, and we would not recognize his face,” Flynn wrote. Now the
media has made famous a 15-year-old boy, “simply because he’d been kidnapped
and held captive for four years.”
A Guide to
Pseudo Events
in America
From News Gathering to News Making:
A Flood of Pseudo-Events
“My, that’s a beautiful baby you have there!”
“Oh, that’s nothing-you should see his
THE SIMPLEST of our extravagant expectations
concerns the amount of novelty in the world. There
was a time when the reader of an unexciting
newspaper would remark, “How dull is the world
today!” Nowadays he says, “What a dull
newspaper!” When the first American newspaper,
Benjamin Harris’ Publick Occurrences Both
Forreign and Domestick, appeared in Boston on
September 25, 1690, it promised to furnish news
regularly once a month. But, the editor explained, it
might appear oftener “if any Glut of Occurrences
happen.” The responsibility for making news was
entirely God’s-or the Devil’s. The newsman’s task
was only to give “an Account of such considerable
things as have arrived unto our Notice.”
Although the theology behind this way of
looking at events soon dissolved, this view of the
news lasted longer. “The skilled and faithful
journalist,” James Parton observed in 1866,
“recording with exactness and power the thing that
has come to pass, is Providence addressing men.”
The story is told of a Southern Baptist clergyman
before the Civil War who used to say, when a
newspaper was brought in the room, “Be kind
enough to let me have it a few minutes, till I see how
the Supreme Being is governing the world.” Charles
A. Dana, one of the great American editors of the
nineteenth century, once defended his extensive
reporting of crime in the New York Sun by saying,
“I have always felt that whatever the Divine
Providence permitted to occur I was not too proud to
Of course, this is now a very old-fashioned
way of thinking. Our current point of view is better
expressed in the definition by Arthur MacEwen,
whom William Randolph Hearst made his first
editor of the San Francisco Examiner: “News is
anything that makes a reader say, ‘Gee whiz!”‘ Or,
put more soberly, “News is whatever a good editor
chooses to print.”
We need not be theologians to see that we
have shifted responsibility for making the world
interesting from God to the newspaperman. We used
to believe there were only so many “events” in the
world. If there were not many intriguing or startling
occurrences, it was no fault of the reporter. He could
not be expected to report what did not exist.
Within the last hundred years, however, and
especially in the twentieth century, all this has
changed. We expect the papers to be full of news. If
there is no news visible to the naked eye, or to the
average citizen, we still expect it to be there for the
enterprising newsman. The successful reporter is
one who can find a story, even if there is no
earthquake or assassination or civil war. If he cannot
find a story, then he must make one-by the questions
he asks of public figures, by the surprising human
interest be unfolds from some commonplace event,
or by “the news behind the news.” If all this fails,
then he must give us a “think piece embroidering of
well-known facts, or a speculation about startling
things to come.
This change in our attitude toward “news” is
not merely a basic fact about the history of
American newspapers. It is a symptom of a
revolutionary change in our attitude toward what
happens in the world, how much of it is new, and
surprising, and important. Toward how life can be
enlivened, toward our power and the power of those
who inform and educate and guide us, to provide
synthetic happenings to make up for the lack of
spontaneous events. Demanding more than the
world can give us, we require that something be
fabricated to make up for the world’s deficiency.
This is only one example of our demand for
Many historical forces help explain how we
have come to our present immoderate hopes. But
there can be no doubt about what we now expect,
nor that it is immoderate. Every American knows
the anticipation with which he picks up his morning
newspaper at breakfast or opens his evening paper
before dinner, or listens to the newscasts every hour
on the hour as he drives across country, or watches
his favorite commentator on television interpret the
events of the day. Many enterprising Americans are
now at work to help us satisfy these expectations.
Many might be put out of work if we should
suddenly moderate our expectations. But it is we
who keep them in business and demand that they fill
our consciousness with novelties, that they play God
for us.
The new kind of synthetic novelty which has
flooded our experience I will call “pseudo-events.”
The common prefix “pseudo” comes from the Greek
word meaning false, or intended to deceive. Before I
recall the historical forces which have made these
pseudo-events possible, have increased the supply of
them and the demand for them, I will give a
commonplace example.
The owners of a hotel, in an illustration offered
by Edward L. Bernays in his pioneer Crystallizing
Public Opinion (1923), consult a public relations
counsel. They ask how to increase their hotel’s
prestige and so improve their business. In less
sophisticated times, the answer might have been to
hire a new chef, to improve the plumbing, to paint
the rooms, or to install a crystal chandelier in the
lobby. The public relations counsel’s technique is
more indirect. He proposes that the management
stage a celebration of the hotel’s thirtieth
anniversary. A committee is formed, including a
prominent banker, a leading society matron, a
well-known lawyer, an influential preacher, and an
“event” is planned (say a banquet) to call attention to
the distinguished service the hotel has been
rendering the community. The celebration is held,
photographs are taken, the occasion is widely
reported, and the object is accomplished. Now this
occasion is a pseudo-event, and will illustrate all the
essential features of pseudo-events.
This celebration, we can see at the outset, is
somewhat — but not entirely —misleading.
Presumably the public relations counsel would not
have been able to form his committee of prominent
citizens if the hotel had not actually been rendering
service to the community. On the other hand, if the
hotel’s services had been all that important,
instigation by public relations counsel might not
have been necessary. Once the celebration has been
held, the celebration itself becomes evidence that the
hotel really is a distinguished institution. The
occasion actually gives the hotel the prestige to
which it is pretending.
It is obvious, too, that the value of such a
celebration to the owners depends on its being
photographed and reported in newspapers,
magazines, newsreels, on radio, and over television.
It is the report that gives the event its force in the
minds of potential customers. The power to make a
reportable event is thus the power to make
experience. One is reminded of Napoleon’s
apocryphal reply to his general, who objected that
circumstances were unfavorable to a proposed
campaign: “Bah, I make circumstances!” The
modern public relations counsel —-and he is, of
course, only one of many twentieth-century creators
of pseudo-events — has come close to fulfilling
Napoleon’s idle boast. “The counsel on public
relations,” Mr. Bernays explains, “not only knows
what news value is, but knowing it, he is in a
position to make news happen. He is a creator of
The intriguing feature of the modem situation,
however, comes precisely from the fact that the
modem news makers are not God. The news they
make happen, the events they create, are somehow
not quite real. There remains a tantalizing difference
between man-made and God-made events.
A pseudo-event, then, is a happening that
possesses the following characteristics:
It is not spontaneous, but
comes about because
someone has planned,
planted, or incited it.
Typically, it is not a train
wreck or an earthquake,
but an interview.
It is planted primarily (not
always exclusively) for
the immediate purpose of
being reported or
reproduced. Therefore, its
occurrence is arranged for
the convenience of the
reporting or reproducing
media. Its success is
measured by how widely
it is reported. Time
relations in it are
commonly fictitious or
factitious; the
announcement is given
out in advance “for future
release” and written as if
the event had occurred in
the past. The question, “Is
it real?” is less important
than, “Is it newsworthy?”
Its relation to the underlying
reality of the situation is
ambiguous. Its interest
arises largely from this
very ambiguity.
Concerning a
pseudo-event the
question, “What does it
mean?” has a new
dimension. While the
news interest in a train
wreck is in what
happened and in the real
consequences, the interest
in an interview is always,
in a sense, in whether it
really happened and in
what might have been the
motives. Did the
statement really mean
what it said? Without
some of this ambiguity a
pseudo-event cannot be
very interesting.
Usually it is intended to be a
self-fulfilling prophecy.
The hotel’s
celebration, by saying
that the hotel is a
distinguished institution,
actually makes it one.
IN THE last half century a larger and larger
proportion of our experience, of what we read and
see and hear, has come to consist of pseudo-events.
We expect more of them and we are given more of
them. They flood our consciousness. Their
multiplication has gone on in the United States at a
faster rate than elsewhere. Even the rate of increase
is increasing every day. This is true of the world of
education, of consumption, and of personal
relations. It is especially true of the world of public
affairs which I describe in this chapter.
A full explanation of the origin and rise of
pseudo-events would be nothing less than a history
of modem America. For our present purposes it is
enough to recall a few of the more revolutionary
recent developments.
The great modern increase in the supply and
the demand for news began in the early nineteenth
century. Until then newspapers tended to fill out
their columns with lackadaisical secondhand
accounts or stale reprints of items first published
elsewhere at home and abroad. The laws of
plagiarism and of copyright were undeveloped. Most
newspapers were little more than excuses for
espousing a political position, for listing the arrival
and departure of ships, for familiar essays and useful
advice, or for commercial or legal announcements.
Less than a century and a half ago did
newspapers begin to disseminate up-to-date reports
of matters of public interest written by eyewitnesses
or professional reporters near the scene. The
telegraph was perfected and applied to news
reporting in the 1830’s and ’40’s. Two
newspapermen, William M. Swain of the
Philadelphia Public Ledger and Amos Kendall of
Frankfort, Kentucky, were founders of the national
telegraphic network. Polk’s presidential message in
1846 was the first to be transmitted by wire. When
the Associated Press was founded in 1848, news
began to be a salable commodity. Then appeared the
rotary press, which could print on a continuous sheet
and on both sides of the paper at the same time. The
New York Tribune’s high-speed press, installed in
the 1870’s, could turn out 18,000 papers per hour.
The Civil War, and later the Spanish-American War,
offered raw materials and incentive for vivid
up-to-the-minute, on-the-spot reporting. The
competitive daring of giants like James Gordon
Bennett, Joseph Pulitzer, and William Randolph
Hearst intensified the race for news and widened
newspaper circulation.
These events were part of a great, but
little-noticed, revolution — what I would call the
Graphic Revolution. Man’s ability to make, preserve,
transmit, and disseminate precise images-images of
print, of men and landscapes and events, of the
voices of men and mobs-now grew at a fantastic
pace. The increased speed of printing was itself
revolutionary. Still more revolutionary were the new
techniques for making direct images of nature.
Photography was destined soon to give printed
matter itself a secondary role. By a giant leap
Americans crossed the gulf from the daguerreotype
to color television in less than a century. Dry-plate
photography came in 1873; Bell patented the
telephone in 1876; the phonograph was invented in
1877; the roll film appeared in 1884; Eastman’s
Kodak No. 1 was produced in 1888; Edison’s patent
on the radio came in 1891; motion pictures came in
and voice was first transmitted by radio around
1900; the first national political convention widely
broadcast by radio was that of 1928; television
became commercially important in 1941, and color
television even more recently.
Verisimilitude took on a new meaning. Not
only was it now possible to give the actual voice and
gestures of Franklin Delano Roosevelt
unprecedented reality and intimacy for a whole
nation. Vivid image came to overshadow pale
reality. Sound motion pictures in color led a whole
generation of pioneering American movie-goers to
think of Benjamin Disraeli as an earlier imitation of
George Arliss, just as television has led a later
generation of television watchers to see the Western
cowboy as an inferior replica of John Wayne. The
Grand Canyon itself became a disappointing
reproduction of the Kodachrome original.
The new power to report and portray what
had happened was a new temptation leading
newsmen to make probable images or to prepare
reports in advance of what was expected to happen.
As so often, men came to mistake their power for
their necessities. Readers and viewers would soon
prefer the vividness of the account, the “candidness”
of the photograph, to the spontaneity of what was
Then came round-the-clock media. The news
gap soon became so narrow that in order to have
additional “news” for each new edition or each new
broadcast it was necessary to plan in advance the
stages by which any available news would be
unveiled. After the weekly and the daily came the
“extras” and the numerous regular editions. The
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin soon had seven
editions a day. No rest for the newsman. With more
space to fill, he had to fill it ever more quickly. In
order to justify the numerous editions, it was
increasingly necessary that the news constantly
change or at least seem to change. With radio on the
air continuously during waking hours, the reporters’
problems became still more acute. News every hour
on the hour, and sometimes on the half hour.
Programs interrupted any time for special bulletins.
How to avoid deadly repetition, the appearance that
nothing was happening, that news gatherers were
asleep, or that competitors were more alert? As the
costs of printing and then of broadcasting increased,
it became financially necessary to keep the presses
always at work and the TV screen always busy.
Pressures toward the making of pseudo-events
became ever stronger. News gathering turned into
news making.
The “interview” was a novel way of making
news which had come in with the Graphic
Revolution. Later it became elaborated into lengthy
radio and television panels and quizzes of public
figures, and the three-hour-long, rambling
conversation prog …
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