"LIGHTS, CAMERA, WAR: Is Media Technology Driving International Politics?" by Johanna Neuman

"LIGHTS, CAMERA, WAR: Is Media Technology Driving International Politics?"

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Neuman, foreign editor of USA Today, claims to debunk myths about the power of technology to shape world events. The author wants it both ways. She documents the influence that radical new developments in communications technology have had in shaping world affairs, and then insists that nothing has really changed, because leadership always survives preeminent. ""There are great truths in the history of media technology,"" Neuman proclaims portentously, ""not the least of them that for all the upheaval produced by each invention . . . individual skills of leadership in the selling of public policy matter more."" But there is a troubling circularity to her arguments that the more things change the more they remain the same. Each chapter documents the revolution wrought by some new media technology, from Gutenberg's printing press to photography to the telegraph, the telephone, and CNN. In each case, Neuman argues, those leaders have won out who have learned to harness the new technology and turn it to their own ends. Martin Luther's skillful use of the printing press helped trigger the Reformation, for example, and Hitler and Lenin used cinema as propaganda to help consolidate their power. But even as Neuman claims to downplay the power of the media, she builds it up. It would seem to follow from her arguments that the leaders we get--those who use media so skillfully--are not necessarily the leaders we would have without technology. In other words, we get the leaders, for better and for worse, whom technology sticks us with. Some political analysts, Plato among them, have considered other skills essential to leadership besides an ability to manipulate the latest media technology. Neuman's book is interesting as a historical review but superficial as political analysis because of its failure to consider fundamental questions of the relationship of the media to society.

Pub Date: Jan. 17th, 1996
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: St. Martin's