Most Americans, writes Boston University journalism professor Rivers, do not follow current events. This is less out of ignorance than because the makers of news and of newspapers do not represent their interests: "Working-class voicesnot to mention those of poor peopleare rarely heard on op-ed pages. The exotic minutiae of foreign policy, the endless inside-the-beltway battles, are the stuff that interests elite journalists." What also interests elite journalists, she argues, are sensational stories that play to cultural myths that are not borne out in reality; in this vein, she examines matters like the so-called bell curve, which excited so much attention a couple of years ago, and which she believes reflects racist attitudes among the power elite and the media that serve it; and much-trumpeted stories like the one that claimed women over the age of 35 have as much chance of being killed by terrorists as they do of getting married. (Not true, Rivers says: The claim is the result of bad math being "hyped into a phony trend.") Rivers's aim is wide, and sometimes scattershot; she notes that few people will soon forget Lorena Bobbitt, but that the "thousands of women who are shot, beaten, maimed, and burned by their male partners each year" will forever remain nameless. She doesn't acknowledge that the Bobbitt case was in fact newsworthy if only for its unusualness. Still, she undertakes thoughtful analyses of a number of cases to show how the media becomes an actor in making the news, and she is usually convincing, especially when she takes on notions of objectivity in news reportingreporting that, she argues, is inherently biased in favor of the status quo.
Students of the media will want to have a good look at this deconstruction of the headlines.