We expect more of them and we are given more of them. They flood our consciousness. Their multiplication has gone on in the United States at a faster rate than elsewhere. Even the rate of increase is increasing every day.
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We expect more of them and we are given more of them. They flood our consciousness. Their multiplication has gone on in the United States at a faster rate than elsewhere. Even the rate of increase is increasing every day. This is true of the world of education, of consumption, and of personal relations.
It is especially true of the world of public affairs which I describe in this chapter. For our present purposes it is enough to recall a few of the more revolutionary recent developments.
The great modern increase in the supply and the demand for news began in the early nineteenth century. Until then newspapers tended to fill out their columns with lackadaisical secondhand accounts or stale reprints of items first published elsewhere at home and abroad.
The laws of plagiarism and of copyright were undeveloped. Most newspapers were little more than excuses for espousing a political position, for listing the arrival and departure of ships, for familiar essays and useful advice, or for commercial or legal announcements. Two newspapermen, William M. When the Associated Press was founded in , news began to be a salable commodity. Then appeared the rotary press, which could print on a continuous sheet and on both sides of the paper at the same time.
The competitive daring of giants like James Gordon Bennett, Joseph Pulitzer, and William Randolph Hearst intensified the race for news and widened newspaper circulation. The increased speed of printing was itself revolutionary. Still more revolutionary were the new techniques for making direct images of nature. Photography was destined soon to give printed matter itself a secondary role.
By a giant leap Americans crossed the gulf from the daguerreotype to color television in less than a century. Verisimilitude took on a new meaning. Not only was it now possible to give the actual voice and gestures of Franklin Delano Roosevelt unprecedented reality and intimacy for a whole nation. Vivid image came to overshadow pale reality. The Grand Canyon itself became a disappointing reproduction of the Kodachrome original. The new power to report and portray what had happened was a new temptation leading newsmen to make probable images or to prepare reports in advance of what was expected to happen.
As so often, men came to mistake their power for their necessities. Readers and viewers would soon prefer the vividness of the account, the "candidness" of the photograph, to the spontaneity of what was recounted. The news gap soon became so narrow that in order to have additional "news" for each new edition or each new broadcast it was necessary to plan in advance the stages by which any available news would be unveiled. After the weekly and the daily came the "extras" and the numerous regular editions.
The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin soon had seven editions a day. No rest for the newsman. With more space to fill, he had to fill it ever more quickly.
In order to justify the numerous editions, it was increasingly necessary that the news constantly change or at least seem to change. News every hour on the hour, and sometimes on the half hour. Programs interrupted any time for special bulletins. How to avoid deadly repetition, the appearance that nothing was happening, that news gatherers were asleep, or that competitors were more alert? As the costs of printing and then of broadcasting increased, it became financially necessary to keep the presses always at work and the TV screen always busy.
News gathering turned into news making. The "interview" was a novel way of making news which had come in with the Graphic Revolution. Ellen Jewett, inmate of a house of prostitution, had been found murdered by an ax. Richard P. Robinson, a young man about town, was accused of the crime. Bennett seized the occasion to pyramid sensational stories and so to build circulation for his Herald; before long he was having difficulty turning out enough copies daily to satisfy the demand.
He exploited the story in every possible way, one of which was to plan and report an actual interview with Rosina Townsend, the madam who kept the house and whom he visited on her own premises.
The common use of the word "interview" in this modern American sense first came in about this time. Very early the institution acquired a reputation for being contrived.
After the American example it was used in England and France, but in both those countries it made much slower headway. It was in that Macaulay called the gallery where reporters sat in Parliament a "fourth estate of the realm.
They have long since made themselves the tribunes of the people. Their supposed detachment and lack of partisanship, their closeness to the sources of information, their articulateness, and their constant and direct access to the whole citizenry have made them also the counselors of the people. A President may find it inconvenient to meet a group of dissident Senators or Congressmen; he seldom dares refuse the press. That refusal itself becomes news.
It is only very recently, and as a result of increasing pressures by newsmen, that the phrase "No comment" has become a way of saying something important. Even before Washington had about 1, correspondents and about 3, government information officials prepared to serve them. Even in the new format it is still the newsmen who put the questions. They are still tribunes of the people.
The monarchy is only the most prominent. The disproportion between what an informed citizen needs to know and what he can know is ever greater. The British and French counterparts, surprisingly enough, give a faithful report of what is said on the floor of their deliberative bodies.
But ever since the establishment of the Congressional Record under its present title in , our only ostensibly complete report of what goes on in Congress has had no more than the faintest resemblance to what is actually said there. Despite occasional feeble protests, our Record has remained a gargantuan miscellany in which actual proceedings are buried beneath undelivered speeches, and mountains of the unread and the unreadable.
And they are only a slightly less inaccurate record of spontaneous happenings. Through this meaning of the word is now in common use in the news gathering professions; it is so recent that it has not yet made its way into our dictionaries. The National Press Club in its Washington clubrooms has a large rack which is filled daily with the latest releases, so the reporter does not even have to visit the offices which give them out.
In there were about twice as many government press agents engaged in preparing news releases as there were newsmen gathering them in. Apparently the most newsworthy fact was that the President had not stuck to his prepared text. The authentic news record of what happens or is said comes increasingly to seem to be what is given out in advance.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whom Heywood Broun called "the best newspaperman who has ever been President of the United States," was the first modern master. While newspaper owners opposed him in editorials which few read, F. Knowing that newspapermen lived on news, he helped them manufacture it. In other words, it is a thing that I cannot put as direct stuff, but it is background. It is understood that this information relates to the possible renewal of demands by certain countries, these demands being pushed, not through normal diplomatic channels but, rather, through the more recent type of relations; in other words, the use of fear of aggression.
Yet, paradoxically, it was under his administrations that statements by the President attained a new subtlety and a new calculatedness. On his production team, in addition to newspapermen, there were poets, playwrights, and a regular corps of speechwriters. Far from detracting from his effectiveness, this collaborative system for producing the impression of personal frankness and spontaneity provided an additional subject of newsworthy interest.
How much had the President revised the draft given him by his speech-writing team? Citizens became nearly as much interested in how a particular speech was put together as in what it said.
Of course President Roosevelt made many great decisions and lived in times which he only helped make stirring. Such was that of the late Joseph R.
McCarthy, Senator from Wisconsin from to His career might have been impossible without the elaborate, perpetually grinding machinery of "information" which I have already described. And he was a natural genius at creating reportable happenings that had an interestingly ambiguous relation to underlying reality.
They were somehow reluctantly grateful to him for turning out their product. They stood astonished that he could make so much news from such meager raw material. Many hated him; all helped him. They were victims of what one of them called their "indiscriminate objectivity. Even while they attacked him on the editorial page inside, they were building him up in front-page headlines.
Newspapermen were his most potent allies, for they were his co-manufacturers of pseudo-events. They were caught in their own web. Honest newsmen and the unscrupulous Senator McCarthy were in separate branches of the same business. Hard news is supposed to be the solid report of significant matters: politics, economics, international relations, social welfare, science. Soft news reports popular interests, curiosities, and diversions: it includes sensational local reporting, scandalmongering, gossip columns, comic strips, the sexual lives of movie starts, and the latest murder.
But the rising tide of pseudo-events washes away the distinction. Here is one example. On June 21, , President Eisenhower was in Honolulu, en route to the Far East for a trip to meet the heads of government in Korea, the Philippines, and elsewhere.
While the President rests at Kaneohe Marine air station on the windward side of the Pali hills, hard by the blue Pacific and an hole golf course, he might be toting up the plusses and minuses of his Asian sojourn. But there is no evidence of it. Members of his official party resent any inquiry into how the White House feels about the whole experience, especially the blowup of the Japanese visit which produced a critical storm.
The likelihood is that it will be sooner than later. By the interview technique he incites a public figure to make statements which will sound like news.
The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America
He argues that Americans mistake certain " pseudo-events " for real news, when in fact they are the contrivances of politicians and news corporations. To a degree, they demand to be entertained. Truly important, naturally occurring news stories, however, do not occur regularly or predictably -- there may be droughts of newsworthy stories. In order to "fill the gap," news corporations report what Boorstin calls "pseudo-events. For example, a mayor may " cut the ribbon " at the grand re-opening of a historic hotel; the President may " pardon a turkey "; or, most commonly, a politician might organize a press release.
The image : a guide to pseudo-events in America