Tag Archives: journalism

The Film “Good Night and Good Luck” and Theories of Propaganda

DISCLAIMER: The following is graduate student work. I’m uploading it after grading from the Professor but no corrections were made. I made a couple of minor formatting changes for online viewing, the printed version attempts to conform to MLA style. Comments on any of my blog posts are encouraged at any time and if you have critiques that would help me write better I especially would welcome those.


The Film “Good Night and Good Luck” and Theories of Propaganda

Propaganda is a communication strategy that aims to influence the ideas and behavior of people without the subjects being consciously aware they are being manipulated (Baran and Davis 43). 20th century theorists in the United States differentiated between different types of propaganda. White propaganda was defined as the suppression of some ideas in favor of other ideas favorable to the goals of the propagandist. Black propaganda was the deliberate spread of misinformation (Baran and Davis 43). Gray propaganda was defined as information that made no claims to being either true or false (Baran and Davis 44). White and Black in this context are old-fashioned terms that are not accepted today because they can give offense but at the time these theories were first promoted they were shortcuts for Good, Bad and ambiguous (Baran and Davis 44).

The effectiveness of propaganda had been demonstrated to the satisfaction of many elites and social theorists by the events of WWI and the rise of totalitarian governments in Europe by the 1930s. In the United States there was concern about whether democracy could survive when the world was full of enemies willing to use propaganda as a weapon (Baran and Davis 45-46).

New York Times columnist Walter Lippmann was one of those who advocated for the formation of an intelligence bureau that would disseminate information selected by scientific methods to be distributed to government decision makers and media (Baran and Davis 51). An example of opposition to Lippmann’s view was philosopher John Dewey who believed that education was the best defense against propaganda (Baran and Davis 51). The educational prophylactic approach as a guard against propaganda came to be known as media literacy (Baran and Davis 51).

World War II and the Cold War further encouraged mass society theorists who nurtured ambitions to control information for the public good, although a formal government intelligence agency for that purpose was not formed at that time (Baran and Davis 51). Limited-effects theory advocates conducted studies that gave them confidence that leaders and the public could mitigate the effects of Communist propaganda on average people. Senator Joseph McCarthy did not share that confidence. As an apparent mass society theory believer, in the 1950s he and his allies began a campaign to purge communists from the United States government and media which came to be known as the Red Scare (Baran and Davis 22).

The 2006 film “Good Night and Good Luck” is based on historic events and chronicles the public clash between journalist Edward R. Murrow and Senator McCarthy (Clooney). George Clooney is the director of the film, the co-writer of the script and also stars as Murrow’s producer Fred Friendly. As depicted in the film, Murrow is host of a television news segment on CBS. He and and his team decide to produce a story about an Air Force officer who becomes collateral damage as a result of the Senator McCarthy’s anti-Communist actions. They fear McCarthy and his power to bring ruin to people by accusing them of being a Communist or associating with Communists. Because of their concerns about civil liberties they decide airing the story is worth the risk to themselves (IMDb.com, Inc.). Murrow is depicted as someone who is conscientious about avoiding factual errors, reporting both sides of the story, preserving his reputation as a serious newsman and taking the role of the media in a democracy very seriously (Clooney). Both antagonists try to use their best weapons to take down the other after the fight gets personal toward Murrow and some of his associates (Clooney).

George Clooney stated in an interview that his father was a news anchorman who greatly admired Edward R. Murrow (George Clooney Talks…). In another interview, Clooney told of sitting in on his news director father’s meetings and learning how to do his own news reading (Lear). Clooney looked up to his father for writing his own copy and insisting on sufficient sources for stories (Lear), qualities in common with his film’s depiction of Murrow (Clooney). Clooney admits to being concerned about being labeled a traitor and suffering a career backlash for speaking out against the US invasion of Iraq and the Patriot Act. He made “Good Night and Good Luck” when he did in response to things he was observing in post 9/11 America that reminded him of the McCarthy era and the Red Scare (Lear). Later in the interview Clooney states that he thinks the American people as a whole can understand subtleties in programming and don’t have to have their content simplified as much as the establishment thinks is necessary (Lear).

What attitudes about programming and propaganda does “Good Night and Good Luck” try to promote? The film ends with an excerpt from a famous speech that Edward R. Murrow delivered on Oct. 25, 1958 at the Radio Television News Directors Association convention (On October 15…).

A comparison of the onscreen version of the speech with a transcript of Edward R. Murrow’s speech in real life shows that while the onscreen speech has been severely truncated and rearranged, the main message behind the speech is intact (On October 15…, Clooney). The onscreen Edward R. Murrow (Clooney), the real life Edward R. Murrow (On October 15…) and George Clooney (Lear) himself all appear to support the premise that democracy is best preserved if the people are given a chance to consume news and information without having it selected or filtered by decision makers that know better than they what is good for them to hear. The film becomes a powerful argument for a media theory similar to that of John Dewey who believed that media should not be used to manipulate but to facilitate the free exchange of ideas (Baran and Davis 52).

Did director and writer Clooney make his film in a way that shows that he really believes in Murrow’s preferred approach? Some critics did examine whether the film attempted to manipulate the depiction of historic events in “Good Night and Good Luck”. Phillip Lopate includes in his review some mild criticism for film-making flourishes that increase Murrow’s heroic stature (Lopate 32). Reviewer Terry Teachout criticized the film for leaving out information showing that while many accusations of Communism were in reality false, some were not (Teachout 71). Thomas Doherty points out that several historic incidents were shown out of order and attacks on McCarthy that did not originate with Murrow were omitted from the film to give Murrow more credit for his victory over McCarthy than was actually due (Doherty 55). Clooney is also credited for giving nuance to some of the characters (Doherty 55) and including amounts of information and detail in the film that elevates it in quality from many other comparable products of his industry (Doherty 55, Klawans 48).

Clooney may have intentionally blended a benignly intended message about the role of the mass media as a source of information in a free society while simultaneously attempting to protect the interests of himself and his industry associates from the ill fates suffered by some of their on-screen counterparts (Clooney). If that was his goal, “Good Night and Good Luck” is an example of a skillful use of “White” propaganda (Baran and Davis 43, 56).

Works Cited

Baran, Stanley J. and Dennis K. Davis. Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future. Seventh Edition. CENGAGE Learning, 2015.

Clooney, George, director. Good Night, and Good Luck. TVA Films, 2006.

Doherty, Thomas. “Good Night, and Good Luck.” Cineaste, vol. 31, no. 1, Winter 2005, pp. 53–56. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=fah&AN=19418527&site=ehost-live. Accessed 7 September 2019.

“George Clooney Talks About Edward R. Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck.” Watchr Media, 2005, movieweb.com/george-clooney-talks-about-edward-r-murrow-in-good-night-and-good-luck/. Accessed 6 September 2019.

IMDb.com, Inc., 2019, www.imdb.com/title/tt0433383/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ql_stry_2. Accessed 6 September 2019.

Klawans, Stuart. “Lessons of Darkness.” Nation, vol. 281, no. 13, Oct. 2005, pp. 48–52. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=18506171&site=ehost-live. Accessed 7 September 2019.

Lear, Norman. “George Clooney.” Interview Magazine, 2012, www.interviewmagazine.com/film/george-clooney. Accessed 6 September 2019.

Lopate, Phillip. “The Medium and Its Conscience.” Film Comment, vol. 41, no. 3, Sept. 2005, pp. 30–37. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aft&AN=504082227&site=ehost-live. Accessed 7 September 2019.

“On October 15, 1958, veteran broadcaster Edward R. Murrow delivered his famous “wires and lights in a box” speech before attendees of the RTDNA (then RTNDA) convention.” Radio Television Digital News Association, 2019, www.rtdna.org/content/edward_r_murrow_s_1958_wires_lights_in_a_box_speech. Accessed 6 September 2019.

Teachout, Terry. “Journalism, Hollywood-Style.” Commentary, vol. 120, no. 5, Dec. 2005, pp. 69–72. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=afh&AN=18962558&site=ehost-live. Accessed 7 September 2019.


Unused interesting links: These are links that I found while researching the above that I did not use in my paper. They might be interesting reading for anyone who read my above paper and is interested in the topic(s).

“A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy” – Transcript of the March 9, 1954 See it Now broadcast

Joseph R. McCarthy – Prosecution of E.R. Murrow on CBS’ “See It Now” – transcript and video of McCarthy’s response

Edward R. Murrow – Response to Senator Joe McCarthy on CBS’ See It Now – Transcript and video of Murrow responding to McCarthy on April 13, 1954.

Poll: 73 Percent of Republican Students Have Hidden Their Politics over Fears about Grades

Edward R. Movie. Good Night, and Good Luck and bad history.

George Clooney Biography

George Clooney (and his dad) vs. George W. Bush

George Clooney: Neocon

Hollywood and the Iraq War

“Good Night, And Good Luck”: PE Interviews George Clooney And Grant Heslov

Washington’s Hollow Men

‘Agent of influence’

Popular And Elite Culture

Elite Culture

Pity the Postmodern Cultural Elite

Mass Society Theory Still Influences Media Use in the Contemporary United States

Here is my first paper for my Media Communication class, MEDC: 5000-01, with Professor Robert Dixon at Webster University.

The reason I chose this topic for my first paper is the authors of our textbook, Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future by Stanley J. Baran and
Dennis K. Davis said that Mass Society Theory does not hold up to scientific studies but it does resurface again and again during turbulent times. I will define Mass Society
Theory toward the beginning of the paper. This information is very interesting to me because I can think of many times in my life that I have behaved as though I believe in it even though I was not familiar with the name of the theory. My parents also behaved as though they fully accepted it. I did an informal un-scientific poll while I was working this paper by asking people in my life if they think the media has a major influence on our society. Some said they believed the effects varied depending on how you react to it but all I talked to agreed it had some influence and some thought it was a major influence. In the class I’m taking now we are not going to be doing our own data collecting, we are going to be using data already collected, but if data collecting and polls were part of this class I know some I’d like to do! I certainly know how to do online polls technically but I don’t have any training in how to do them scientifically (yet).

This paper was difficult to wrap up because I kept finding more and more fascinating pieces of information and I couldn’t fit them all in because it would take me off topic and make the paper too long for the assignment. After the paper, I’m including links to some of the interesting tidbits I found but did not use at this time in case you want to do some more reading. Some of these sources or ideas might be things I come back to in the future but either way they are interesting and I think anyone who enjoys the topic enough to keep reading after my paper might find them useful.

DISCLAIMER: The following is graduate student work. I’m uploading it after grading and corrections from the Professor. He had three formatting/citation changes he wanted me to do but the content was not changed before uploading. One of the main objectives of this class is to learn how to write at the graduate level in an academic style. I made a couple of minor formatting changes for online viewing, the printed version attempts to conform to MLA style. Comments on any of my blog posts are encouraged at any time and if you have any critiques that would help me write better I especially would welcome those.


Mass Society Theory Still Influences Media Use in the Contemporary United States

When mass communication products and ready audiences were first brought together by industrialization in the Western world, the changes that occurred were examined by social theorists of the day. Some were optimistic about the potential for information to improve the human condition while others warned of resulting unrest and moral degeneracy. Many believed that people at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum were particularly vulnerable to manipulation by the popular media of the day, which included advertising and sensational journalism (Baran and Davis 20-21).

As the halfway point of the 20th Century approached, some researchers attempted to test mass society theory using scientific methods. Many of these researchers concluded that the data did not support mass society theory media after all. Their interpretation came to be known as limited-effects theory (Baran and Davis 22).

Postpositivist researchers, that is researchers who use scientific methods to gather data, left mass society theory behind as the century progressed in favor of newer media theories or other research fields entirely (Baran and Davis 14, 23). In addition, mass society theories lost favor in academic circles because they were associated with the Red Scare of the 1950s headed by Senator Joseph McCarthy in his attempt to prevent Americans from being influenced by Communist ideas (Baran and Davis 22).

Baran and Davis believe that mass society theory is not valid but acknowledge that it keeps popping up again and again as technology and society go through unsettling changes (Baran and Davis 20). Are there examples we can see in the recent history of the United States that show that many mass media consumers and creators still accept mass society theory as credible?

Baran and Davis compared the early 21st century to the late 19th century as times when new technologies spurred the creation of new media institutions (Baran and Davis 27). The technological revolution brought about by rapid adoption of the World Wide Web in the 1990s and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred close together in history. Either of these injections of instability would by themselves be presumed by Baran and Davis to bring about the re-examination of media theories (Baran and Davis xvi).

A 2002 article by Robin R. Means Coleman, “Prospects for Locating Racial Democracy in Media: The NAACP Network Television Boycott” illustrates at that time some media users still accepted mass society theory enough to take some kind of action against the “old media” while others were examining how the “new media” might be more effective. Included in the article is an account of the early 2000s NAACP boycott of major television networks motivated partially on the grounds that under-representative or negative portrayals of African Americans in entertainment have a detrimental effect on the real-life conditions of African Americans (Coleman 25). The author includes quotes from members of the public obtained from a 2001 poll on the NAACP web site about whether such a boycott is worthwhile. Three individuals quoted are skeptical about whether it makes any difference while another is supportive but wants to explore ways to make the effort more effective (Coleman 26-27). It’s not stated whether skepticism is the dominant opinion in the totality of the public’s responses that were not highlighted. As the author points out in the footnotes, the comments were not obtained under controlled conditions (Coleman 30).

Does the NAACP still consider portrayals of African Americans in mass entertainment as significant? The NAACP current web site contains eight categories of issues of current interest. Media Diversity is one of the categories. On the Media Diversity page, the NAACP reminds readers that the organization has been fighting racial stereotypes since the notorious 1915 film “Birth of a Nation” (Media Diversity). In 1915 the mass society theory would have been the dominant theory as the limited-effects trend in mass communication theory did not start to take hold until the late 1930s (Baran and Davis 20-21). The mass society theory still seems to have some traction with the NAACP in 2019 as they maintain a Hollywood Bureau which promotes economic opportunities for African Americans as well as encouraging and showcasing positive images (Media Diversity).

The NAACP is not alone. There are many other instances of behavior that indicate activist media users are working hard to combat what they see as the detrimental effects of mass communication. Elites who incline toward mass society theory but have diverse political views have the following in common – they believe they know better than the average person what ideas are ok for public consumption (Baran and Davis 21). According to the article “The Business of Boycotting: Having Your Chicken and Eating It Too”, boycotts can be used to coerce behavior by inflicting economic damage (Tomhave and Vopat 126). That is not the only motivation for boycotting. The aim behind some boycotts is to silence certain views (Tomhave and Vopat 125).

Searches for “right wing boycott list” and “left wing boycott list” on the search engine Bing performed on August 31, 2019 produced examples of lists of organizations that consumers are urged to boycott for political reasons.

Regardless of whether the proposed boycotts bring about the desired outcome, the advocacy of such boycotts in recent history demonstrates that mass society theory still has traction among a non-scientific sampling of activists.

The consumer side of information also appears to still give some credence to mass society theory. Most Americans report that they have encountered fake or made up news and have modified their own information consumption habits to compensate (Pew Research Center 3, 21). 50% believe false news and information is a bigger problem for the United States than violent crime, racism, illegal immigration, terrorism and sexism (Pew Research Center 11). Americans consistently rate themselves as better than most other Americans at detecting misinformation in several categories (Pew Research Center 25).

It appears as though mass society theories are still considered useful to some consumers and those attempting to influence the masses. According to Baran and Davis this condition is to be expected when society and technology are changing at a rapid pace (20).

Works Cited

Baran, Stanley J. and Dennis K. Davis. Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future. Seventh Edition. CENGAGE Learning, 2015.

Coleman, Robin R. Means. “Prospects for Locating Racial Democracy in Media: The NAACP Network Television Boycott.” Qualitative Research Reports in Communication, vol. 3, no. 2, Spring 2002, pp. 25-31. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=10512976&site=ehost-live. Accessed 31 August 2019.

“Media Diversity.” NAACP, 2019, www.naacp.org/issues/media-diversity/. Accessed 31 August 2019.

Official Boycott List For Conservatives, 2018, www.boycottleftwingers.com/. Accessed 31 August 2019.

Pew Research Center. “Many Americans Say Made-Up News Is a Critical Problem That Needs To Be Fixed”, 2019, www.journalism.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2019/06/PJ_2019.06.05_Misinformation_FINAL-1.pdf. Accessed 31 August 2019.

Tomhave, Alan, and Mark Vopat. “The Business of Boycotting: Having Your Chicken and Eating It Too.” Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 152, no. 1, Sept. 2018, pp. 123-132. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s10551-016-3336-y. Accessed 31 August 2019.

Warde, Samuel. “List of Companies Supporting Right-Wing Causes To Boycott.” Liberals Unite, 2016, samuel-warde.com/2016/05/list-companies-supporting-right-wing-causes/. Accessed 31 August 2019.


Unused interesting links: – food for thought, no promises made about objectivity or veracity.

Bad News – a game that lets you play media manipulator. Challenge your friends! Can’t wait to try this!!!!

Republicans fear prejudice on campus – an experiment was done to test the political climate at the University where I am studying. This article was published on the campus newspaper web site.

You Think You Want Media Literacy… Do You?

Why do people believe the mass media, instead of their own knowledge and experience?

Teaching Media Literacy: Its Importance and 10 Engaging Activities [+ Downloadable List]

The “Nasty Effect:” Online Incivility and Risk Perceptions of Emerging Technologies

Law & Liberty

Medium

Flash Cards: Baran and Davis, Chapter 1

stlmedia.net

Why It’s Prime to Boycott Amazon – they want to boycott Amazon and Whole Foods, and a box at the top says they want to stop Google from boycotting them – interesting!

Facebook flags users who try to ‘game’ fact-checking effort

Facebook to tighten political ad rules for 2019 elections

Wordplay persuades for customer reviews of truffles, but not laundry detergent

Online reviews: When do negative opinions boost sales?

Why You Should Stop Watching T.V. and What to Replace it With

Big Sponsors Drop Support of Tasteless Trump Assassination Play

SocialBook Blog