Volume 48, No. 2, Summer 2022
The Summer issue contains articles by Jason Guthrie & Amber Roessner, Ulf Jonas Bjork, Steve Harrison, and Ronald Seyb. Interested in reading these articles? Get information on subscribing here.
“Covering Copyright: Phil Walden and Jimmy Carter in the Press during the 1976 Presidential Campaign,” Jason Lee Guthrie & Lori Amber Roessner
Press coverage of the relationship between music executive Phil Walden and President Jimmy Carter focused on issues of popular music law like piracy, payola, and copyright, often insinuating the likelihood of quid pro quos and scandal. This article explores Walden’s meteoric rise, his lobbying for copyright reform, and news coverage of his relationship with Carter. The role of journalism in shaping public perception of the American presidency post-Watergate is considered central to this research. Although there is no evidence of a nefarious motive in Walden and Carter’s relationship, investigating why contemporary news stories were framed in that way can provide an illuminating case study of the ways that politics and popular culture intersect. This specific case demonstrates how legal issues like copyright can take on cultural meaning apart from their statutory power, and how press coverage can affect the negotiation and interpretation of that meaning.
“Newspaper Medicine: Medical Journals Attack the Press, 1898-1909,” Ulf Jonas Bjork
This research examines the fierce criticism of newspapers voiced in American medical journals from the mid-1890s until 1910. Primarily published to inform readers about new discoveries, successful treatments, technological innovations, and accomplishments of colleagues, the journals did, during the era discussed here, find it necessary to bring up what they saw as problems within the press. One of their primary concerns was the multitude of advertisements for patent medicines and other medical matters, and medical editors frequently claimed that the dependence of newspaper publishers on this kind of advertising corrupted their entire publishing enterprise and went against the greater public good. However, advertising was not the only problem area when it came to the press. News coverage of medical matters was ill-informed and intrusive, and it was conveyed to the public by reporters who lacked knowledge of medicine and were not above inventing facts and by editors who sought sensational angles to boost readership. To some extent, medical journals sought to make the case for their press criticism by referring to similar concerns voiced elsewhere in society at the time, for instance in muckraking magazines, but the criticism in the journals was also rooted in peculiar issues facing the medical profession. Chief among these was the relatively low social standing of physicians in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. Doctors worried that the public held them in low esteem, and newspapers, the “powerful enemy,” were one of the reasons for that. The outcome of the criticism of newspapers by the profession was a policy that urged doctors to shun publicity and avoid contact with reporters. Toward the end of the 1900–1910 decade, some physicians began to question that policy. They pointed out that, as public health and preventive medicine rose in prominence among the tasks of the typical doctor, a way needed to be found to reach the public. Newspapers were “the greatest educational medium for the masses,” and doctors should come to terms with that.
“Henry Care: Journalism and Numeracy before the Field,” Steve Harrison
The concept of the journalistic field as developed by Pierre Bourdieu and his collaborators has proved fruitful for media theorists. The present article arose out of considerations linking field theory—and its associated concepts of habitus and symbolic capital—to the low regard in which journalists often appear to hold numeracy. Its focus is Henry Care, a writer and polemicist active in the United Kingdom in the 1670s and 1680s whose works included a popular self-help guide to numeracy and basic arithmetic. Because he was writing prior to the establishment of the journalistic field, Care gives historians an insight into how journalism could have developed along a different path, one in which the profession valued numeracy as highly as it does literary ability. Care’s background as a news writer and pamphleteer was no bar to the popularity of his guide, and it is argued that the low value that journalism places on numeracy today is historically contingent rather than inevitable. Previously overlooked internal evidence provides fresh insight into the composition of Care’s self-help guide.
“The Shimmer in the Twilight: Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion and the Journalist’s Way of Knowledge,” Ronald P. Seyb
In the final section of Public Opinion, Walter Lippmann urges journalists to enlist help from scientists and social scientists to provide the public with “a picture of reality on which [they] can act.” Lippmann, however, acknowledges that there are matters of public concern that are not susceptible to the measuring, quantifying, and recording integral to scientific and social scientific inquiry, matters that oblige journalists “to occupy the position of an umpire in the unscored baseball game.” Lippmann did not tell journalists how to illuminate this “twilight zone” of news. This article argues that the political scientist James Scott’s discussion in his classic work Seeing Like a State of the value of “metis” for understanding one’s environment complements Lippmann’s work by highlighting practical knowledge’s value for navigating a world in which science’s “explanatory virtues” can obscure phenomena that cannot be measured but, nonetheless, journalists must describe and interpret in a republic.