Mightier than the Swordby Rodger Streitmatter
In this pathbreaking book, Rodger Streitmatter takes the reader on a sightseeing tour of American history as influenced by the public press, visiting fourteen landmark events in U.S. history, from the abolitionist movement and the struggle for women’s rights to the civil rights movement and Watergate. These are events that stir the political imagination; but,
In this pathbreaking book, Rodger Streitmatter takes the reader on a sightseeing tour of American history as influenced by the public press, visiting fourteen landmark events in U.S. history, from the abolitionist movement and the struggle for women’s rights to the civil rights movement and Watergate. These are events that stir the political imagination; but, as Streitmatter shows, they also demonstrate how American journalism, since the 1760s, has not merely recorded this nation’s history but has played a role in shaping it.This book is the first of its kind. Streitmatter avoids the mind-numbing lists of names, dates, and newspaper headlines that bog down the standard journalism history textbook. Instead, Mightier than the Sword focuses on a limited number of episodes, identifying common characteristics within the news media. In his final essay, Streitmatter looks at how the news media have shaped our understanding of events; by drawing examples from various episodes, this synthesis chapter identifies some of the common characteristics that the news media involved in shaping this nation have displayed.
Streitmatter wrote this book from materials used in one of his classes on the media at American University in Washington, D.C. He has succeeded in producing a fine introductory textbook for a journalism class, but those wishing for a deep consideration of the press's impact will be disappointed. Fourteen key issues in American history and the media's influence on each are examined. Chapters end by emphasizing the media's important role in shaping events, usually for the good of society. Sometimes the praise is overwrought: Edward R. Murrow's newscasts were a "valiant savior of the democratic way of life" when they brought down Senator Joe McCarthy, a "putrid presence." There is, admittedly, a certain satisfaction in stories of the press fighting evil, such as the manner in which Thomas Nast braved numerous threats as his biting cartoons in Harper's Weekly contributed to the downfall of Tammany Hall's infamously corrupt "Boss" Tweed. Similarly, there is a vindicating pleasure in reviewing Woodward and Bernstein's toppling of President Richard Nixon. But there are no great surprises here as Streitmatter reviews how Thomas Paine's Common Sense motivated colonists to rebel against England, or how Rush Limbaugh attempts to tip votes toward Republicans and create the "Limbaugh Congress." Two chapters offer case studies of negative media influence. The first is the extremely popular, anti-Semitic radio broadcasts of Father Coughlin, and second is the early resistance to the women's rights movement. Left mostly unexplored is the way the media influence events while feigning objectivity, and what happens to the issues the media choose to ignore.
For a deeper, more subtle analysis, readers will need to turn to scholars less enamored of the beneficent power of the press.
Meet the Author
Rodger Streitmatter teaches at the School of Communication at the American University in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Raising Her Voice: African-American Women Journalists Who Changed History and Unspeakable: The Rise of the Gay and Lesbian Press in America.
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