News and the Culture of Lying: How Journalism Really Works

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9780029340219: News and the Culture of Lying: How Journalism Really Works

Reporters claim to seek and tell the truth in their news stories, but Paul Weaver maintains that news organizations regularly foster a haze of untruth that obscures the meaning of events and distorts our perception of reality. This distortion, which Weaver terms "a culture of lying", is the result of hidden structural relations, such as the media's need to serve the interests of advertising sponsors, and the "addict/codependent" relationship of reporters to their sources. Enlivening his account of how stories are assigned, reported, edited and published, Weaver shows how standard procedures that aim at revealing truth produce the opposite.

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Review:

With media companies relentlessly snapping up properties, it's easy to forget that the values of journalism on the one hand, and business (and especially the entertainment business) on the other, are antithetical. The former should be about truth and understanding; the latter is mostly about moving product. Paul Weaver remembers. His argument is that contemporary journalism doesn't so much report on reality as it creates and markets the product called "news," that is, reality strained to the breaking point through a distorting lens of crisis and emergency response. This slant tends to reduce journalism to a handmaiden of such centers of power as activist presidents and public relations-minded corporations. The remedy, concludes Weaver, is for the press to reorient itself toward readers rather than advertisers and to emphasize deliberative stories over crisis-oriented ones.

From Kirkus Reviews:

A provocative mix of history, anecdote, and argument from a journalist and scholar who sees the conventions of the news business as leading to exercises of ``deceit, manipulation and exploitation.'' A former Fortune editor and corporate flack, Weaver (The Suicidal Corporation, 1987) is currently affiliated with the conservative Hoover Institution. But he owes as much to left-wing critiques of advertising-driven media as he does to right-wing arguments that reporters' reliance on ``crisis-and-emergency- response'' undercuts established authority. Joseph Pulitzer's 19th- century New York World, the first newspaper to abandon partisan ideology in order to attract a mass audience, began a trend in the media toward increasing claims of objectivity. Weaver argues that such claims, magnified by the advent of television news, require a symbiotic relationship between major news organizations and government institutions. He ably uncovers the false objectivity of news stories and shows how newspapers rely on ``scripts'' provided by newsmakers and ``pseudoevents.'' Drawing on his own experience, he shows how editors shape news and constrict reporters, and how reporters' disowning of their own politics and judgments turns them from rebels into toadies. Wanting to restore journalists to their ``true role as citizen[s],'' he offers some worthy suggestions for both the fabricators and the consumers of news: Instead of covering crises, journalists should analyze institutional action; reporters shouldn't socialize with sources; newspapers should emulate their European counterparts that have political identities; consumers should draw on a range of media, including opinion magazines and C- SPAN. Weaver's survey is incomplete (he doesn't discuss the alternative press), but he does see the media as crucial to the survival of democracy. This book should trouble the soul of any self-reflective journalist and help reframe the business of press criticism. -- Copyright 1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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