Froth and Scum: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and the Ax Murder in America's First Mass Medium

Overview

Two notorious antebellum New York murder cases--a prostitute slashed in an elegant brothel and a tradesman bludgeoned by the brother of inventor Samuel Colt--set off journalistic scrambles over the meanings of truth, objectivity, and the duty of the press that reverberate to this day. In 1833 an entirely new kind of newspaper--cheap, feisty, and politically independent--introduced American readers to the novel concept of what has come to be called objectivity in news coverage. The penny press was the first medium...
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Froth and Scum: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and the Ax Murder in America's First Mass Medium

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Overview

Two notorious antebellum New York murder cases--a prostitute slashed in an elegant brothel and a tradesman bludgeoned by the brother of inventor Samuel Colt--set off journalistic scrambles over the meanings of truth, objectivity, and the duty of the press that reverberate to this day. In 1833 an entirely new kind of newspaper--cheap, feisty, and politically independent--introduced American readers to the novel concept of what has come to be called objectivity in news coverage. The penny press was the first medium that claimed to present the true, unbiased facts to a democratic audience. But in Froth and Scum, Andie Tucher explores--and explodes--the notion that 'objective' reporting will discover a single, definitive truth. As they do now, news stories of the time aroused strong feelings about the possibility of justice, the privileges of power, and the nature of evil. The prostitute's murder in 1836 sparked an impassioned public debate, but one newspaper's 'impartial investigation' pleased the powerful by helping the killer go free. Colt's 1841 murder of the tradesman inspired universal condemnation, but the newspapers' singleminded focus on his conviction allowed another secret criminal to escape. By examining media coverage of these two sensational murders, Tucher reveals how a community's needs and anxieties can shape its public truths. The manuscript of this book won the 1991 Allan Nevins Prize of the Society of American Historians for the best-written dissertation in American history. from the book Journalism is important. It catches events on the cusp between now and then--events that still may be changing, developing, ripening. And while new interpretations of the past can alter our understanding of lives once led, new interpretations of the present can alter the course of our lives as we live them. Understanding the news properly is important. The way a community receives the news is profoundly influenced by who its members are, what they hope and fear and wish, and how they think about their fellow citizens. It is informed by some of the most occult and abstract of human ideas, about truth, beauty, goodness, and justice.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
From the yellowed columns of newsprint, Ms. Tucher . . . skillfully draws a contemporary moral.

New York Times Book Review

[Tucher] presents the colorful story of the early penny press with all the verve, intelligence, and humor it merits.

American Heritage

A deceptively complex book. . . . A readable, racy, and often funny study of an important aspect of antebellum social history.

American Historical Review

This well-written book is a valuable contribution to the literature on journalism in the nineteenth century.

Journal of the Early Republic

This is scholarship as solid as oak and history as timely as today's tabloid titillation.

Bill Moyers

Booknews
Tucher, editorial producer of an ABC News documentary series, chronicles the 1833 birth of the penny press--cheap, politically independent newspapers that were the first medium that claimed to present the true, unbiased facts to a democratic audience. Tucher examines the penny press' coverage of two sensational murders, revealing how a community's needs and anxieties can shape its public truths, and explodes the notion that "objective" reporting will discover a single, definitive truth. Paper edition (unseen), $13.95. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807844724
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 11/18/1994
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 266
  • Product dimensions: 6.15 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Andie Tucher, editorial producer of The Twentieth Century documentary series at ABC News, was a Clinton campaign speechwriter. She lives in New York.
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