Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy

Overview

Why do Americans mistrust the news media? It may be because show like "The McLaughlin Group" reduce participating journalists to so many shouting heads. Or because, increasingly, the profession treats issues as complex as health-care reform and foreign policy as exercises in political gamesmanship. These are just a few of the arguments that have made Breaking the News so controversial and so widely acclaimed. Drawing on his own experience as a National Book Award-winning journalist--and on the gaffes of ...
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Overview

Why do Americans mistrust the news media? It may be because show like "The McLaughlin Group" reduce participating journalists to so many shouting heads. Or because, increasingly, the profession treats issues as complex as health-care reform and foreign policy as exercises in political gamesmanship. These are just a few of the arguments that have made Breaking the News so controversial and so widely acclaimed. Drawing on his own experience as a National Book Award-winning journalist--and on the gaffes of colleagues from George Will to Cokie Roberts--Fallows shows why the media have not only lost our respect but alienated us from our public life.

"Important and lucid...It moves smartly beyond the usual attacks on sensationalism and bias to the more profound problems in modern American journalism...dead-on."--Newsweek

At last a persuasive explanation of what's gone wrong with the American media--and what can be done about it. Fallows details the ways in which the current style of news coverage engenders a sense of futility in the American public about our ability to influence our society. He reveals how the reigning practices evolved and whose interests are served. National ads/media.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Featuring a new afterword, "Fallows's rousing jeremiad is an important beacon for everyone concerned about the news media's poor performance in helping the public make sane choices about the way we live, work and govern," said PW. (Jan.)
Library Journal
How the media give us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truthas they want us to see it.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679758563
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/1997
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 303,966
  • Product dimensions: 5.14 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.72 (d)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2000

    Penetrating & Scathing Indictment Of Electronic Journalism!

    Few authors are as capable of approaching the unenviable task of explaining the otherwise baffling devolution in both the content and context of the mass media¿s coverage of the news as brilliantly as is noted journalist James Fallows in this literate, scathing, and thought-provoking broadside against his fellow journalists and the organizations they work for. By illuminating the specific circumstances attending the startling transformation in terms of the way news is viewed and covered by the media, he consistently gives readers reason for concern, and often for alarm. For example, Fallows contends that the viewing public increasingly distrusts the media because the public recognizes they can no longer depend on the media to provide the essential information citizens need to make sense out of current events and the world at large. In a carefully constructed look at how this has happened, Fallows masterfully describes how several aspects of media¿s coverage of the news has had the net effect of its become more of an effort to entertain and less an exercise in edifying and informing the public in an objective and disinterested fashion. As a result, the media increasingly presents public life in terms of a ¿depressing spectacle¿ rather than in its proper context as one of several vital aspects of a vibrant democratic experiment in progress. By concentrating almost exclusively on those more entertaining elements of the news involving conflict or controversy, the media offers us a glossy, superficial and profoundly inaccurate perspective of the often intricately complicated world outside our doors, and in the process makes the world even less comprehensible to those of us attempting to make sense of it all. Fallows argues that at least part of this process is propelled by the phenomenon of corporate acquisition of news agencies by large conglomerates whose concern for ¿the bottom line¿ has corrupted the news organization¿s fabled ability to maintain objectivity and disinterest. This results in concerns for competitive ratings, and a desperate attempt to compete with more traditional entertainment programs for audience share. As a result, news programs go for what is shocking, flashy, and provocative, so that ¿what bleeds, leads¿ the evening¿s news coverage. In a similar financial concern for confining costs, a plethora of quasi-news programs featuring ¿talking heads¿ featuring well known journalists like Robert Novak who ostensibly discuss the news but are actually offering their contrived punditry for our entertainment. In such a world dominated by a script requiring conflict and controversy, politicians are covered like sports stars, and all political actions, from attempts to pass healthcare legislation to decisions to bomb Iraq, are viewed strictly in terms of their consequence for the politicians involved and seldom discussed or debated in terms of their specifics or substantive elements. Yet clever parlor talk by pontificating pundits does little to help us comprehend or interpret current events or important social, economic, or political issues; in this way our overflowing servings of political entertainment disguised as public service are actually obstacles to public awareness. It is this unintended consequence of the change in the news that Fallows is most concerned with, for to the extent the media becomes an element in managing the news rather than a disinterested purveyor of it, it becomes a potentially anti-democratic vehicle for anyone clever enough and cynical enough to manipulate it. In this sense this book is a call to arms, and a compassionate plea to his colleagues to correct the serious dysfunctions now visiting professional journalism. This is an important book, and one I heartily recommend to all citizens concerned with how the media is increasingly abrogating their civic responsibilities in favor of serving their own parochial secular interests.

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