Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Lippmann School of Journalism

I've made it through the entirety of Walter Lippmann's book "Public Opinion", and I initially missed it. Walter Lippmann gives up the entire journalistic game right in the very first paragraph. Though, it is easy to miss given how the book is structured. I'm almost done with the full audiobook, but in doing some reviewing, I re-read this portion and it hit me. Right here at the outset Walter Lippmann sets the tone for his book very, very well.

This is the very first paragraph of the book, on page 1:

There is an island in the ocean where in 1914 a few Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Germans lived. No cable reaches that island, and the British mail steamer comes but once in sixty days. In September it had not yet come, and the islanders were still talking about the latest newspaper which told about the approaching trial of Madame Caillaux for the shooting of Gaston Calmette. It was, therefore, with more than usual eagerness that the whole colony assembled at the quay on a day in mid-September to hear from the captain what the verdict had been. They learned that for over six weeks now those of them who were English and those of them who were French had been fighting in behalf of the sanctity of treaties against those of them who were Germans. For six strange weeks they had acted as if they were friends, when in fact they were enemies.

What is Lippmann saying here? Because the newspaper only arrived in two month increments, the media held the narrative hostage for sixty days.

Whatever the headlines say, the people believe. This is not commentary upon the readers. We as readers are supposed to be able to trust journalists. It's the journalists who have abused their authority and made their positions into political positions. That's really what this book "Public Opinion" is all about, in so many words. A how-to manual for controlling the people through the use of headlines, stereotypes, omission, and more.


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