MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD by Rodger Streitmatter


How the News Media Have Shaped American History
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 An easy-to-digest, somewhat pat overview of the media's influence on American history and politics. Streitmatter wrote this book from materials used in one of his classes on the media at American University in Washington, D.C. He has succeeded in producing a fine introductory textbook for a journalism class, but those wishing for a deep consideration of the press's impact will be disappointed. Fourteen key issues in American history and the media's influence on each are examined. Chapters end by emphasizing the media's important role in shaping events, usually for the good of society. Sometimes the praise is overwrought: Edward R. Murrow's newscasts were a ``valiant savior of the democratic way of life'' when they brought down Senator Joe McCarthy, a ``putrid presence.'' There is, admittedly, a certain satisfaction in stories of the press fighting evil, such as the manner in which Thomas Nast braved numerous threats as his biting cartoons in Harper's Weekly contributed to the downfall of Tammany Hall's infamously corrupt ``Boss'' Tweed. Similarly, there is a vindicating pleasure in reviewing Woodward and Bernstein's toppling of President Richard Nixon. But there are no great surprises here as Streitmatter reviews how Thomas Paine's Common Sense motivated colonists to rebel against England, or how Rush Limbaugh attempts to tip votes toward Republicans and create the ``Limbaugh Congress.'' Two chapters offer case studies of negative media influence. The first is the extremely popular, anti-Semitic radio broadcasts of Father Coughlin, and second is the early resistance to the women's rights movement. Left mostly unexplored is the way the media influence events while feigning objectivity, and what happens to the issues the media choose to ignore. For a deeper, more subtle analysis, readers will need to turn to scholars less enamored of the beneficent power of the press. (27 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8133-3210-9
Page count: 304pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1997


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