Tag Archives: journalism

Barriers to Government and Citizen Communication

The first part of this post is a homework assignment for Strategic Communications Applications class in which I summarize the barriers to government and citizen communication as stated in our textbook, “Cutlip & Center’s Effective Public Relations”. The second section is my own commentary which includes a lot of my opinion, speculation, and things I’d like the opportunity to delve into further to either prove or disprove. What do you think? Is your government a help to your life, a deadweight on your progress, or a mixture of both?

In our textbook are listed many challenges to successful two-way communication between citizens and government (Broom and Sha 356-366).

1. The government is large and complex with many bureaucratic layers that are difficult and time consuming to navigate.

2. Citizens expectations of what services government should provide keep expanding.

3. There is suspicion about the ethics of the entire profession of public relations and the governments that employ them.

4. Actual incidents of government misinformation have occurred, intentional or just not thorough enough, interpreted as lies or spin, such as in the Iraq war buildup.

5. There is a lot of citizen apathy.

6. There is often hostility of legislators to the public relations profession for budget and other reasons, sometimes causing practitioners to choose other areas of expertise.

7. A lack of journalists to cover government activity thoroughly.

8. When it comes to distributing information, government and media often have different agendas.

9. The job of informing the public is too large for anyone to do well.

10. Unlike a business with a more limited scope, a government has to attempt to please everyone rather than cater to one public in particular.

Works Cited

Broom, Glen M. and Bey-Ling Sha. Effective Public Relations. Pearson, 2013.

My Further Commentary

Here are some factors I’ve considered that the book did not mention, based partly on my own opinion, perceptions and experiences. I’ll put in any links and citations I can find as I go, exploring ideas that I can bolster with other sources.

A. Some members of government agencies represent their departments poorly and abuse their power over citizens, building mistrust. This apparently is what happened to my husband and I when we started putting in a rain garden to help cope with excess storm water. I documented all that in these two blog posts of mine and my final project for this course, Strategic Communications Applications, will partly be an attempt to analyze and find motivation for these actions against us.

B. News media is no longer the watchdog over government that it once was, due to more activist news coverage (Broom and Sha 365), or was perceived to have been. There is more than one reason for this in my opinion.

    • 1. Because traditional “old media” institutions are losing revenue to other channels, they are concentrating more on their social media channels. News on social media tends to be less informative, more opinion based, less accurate, and posted by journalists who are less constrained by ethics or standards than in the past (“The Impact of…”). Much content is only created to get views and clicks in order to sell ads and does not need to have much substance or even be true in order to meet the goals of the media organizations who publish it (Johnstone).
    • 2. Investigative journalism about government takes a lot of time and money to produce, and available money and staff are more limited (Grieco). Journalists can get stories with less time and effort by just repeating statements from sources without confirming or investigating (Johnstone).
        “Journalists wanted information to be easily available, yet resented the men and women who made it available. By the mid twentieth century, journalists were dependent on PR practitioners for a large percentage of the stories appearing in newspapers. But admitting their dependence would shatter cherished ideals. Journalists were proud of their ability to uncover stories, verify details, and expose sham. Thus, they were unlikely to admit their dependence, lack of skepticism, failure to verify, and failure to expose every sham.” – Delorme and Fedler, 2003. (Broom and Sha, 226)
    • 3. The attention span of the average person in our country is going down and there is less demand for in-depth stories with enough information to truly be informed (Lords).
    • 4. Issues related to the size and function of government are politicized. The personal philosophy of journalists and companies that employ them is more likely to follow their political interests rather than the well-being of citizens than in the past (“The Impact of…”).
    • 5. The media has less and less credibility with citizens because of selective reporting, staging and manipulating events in order to have a story that they want to be able to report, un-named sources that may or may not even exist and outright fabrication (“The Impact of…”, Johnstone). There are bi-partisan examples of this to be found. I’ll post one example each from two different political sides here for examination.

      The Pew Research Center measures the public’s attitudes toward both media and government and finds that news coverage about government is evaluated and consumed very differently according to political affiliation (Jurkowitz, et al).

    • 6. Many media institutions and personalities engage in “gaslighting”, similar to what is often done to the victim in abusive domestic relationships. Media, both entertainment and what is presented as “news” is permeated with attempts to make a lot of people who have done nothing wrong and have accurate and reasonable perceptions of reality to feel ridiculed and ostracized (Battaglio). If this is continued, the “Spiral of Silence” theory posits that certain ideas disappear from public discourse over time (Baran and Davis 268). Our form of government is based on the premise that people should be free to discuss issues in order to make the most rational choice, but there are many forces trying to restrict certain information from being discussed in public (Bufkin, Farrah, Gordon, OyperG, Poulakidakos, Sherr).

      For example in 2013 I was literally holding in my hand a letter from my insurance company saying that my insurance was cancelled when an “entertainment” podcast I was listening to was ridiculing people who claimed that their insurance was cancelled, claiming we were liars trying to fool people. This was a podcast that I had a paid subscription to. I sent a scan of my rejection letter to the podcast host along with a cancellation of my subscription to the podcast. The host’s response was to call me stupid and say I was making it up. That’s an example of gaslighting and DARVO, Deny Attack Reverse Victim Offender, a tactic that abusive domestic partners and other abusers use to keep their victims under coercive control (Harsey, Zurbriggen and Freyd, 644). While the majority of media outlets were trying to deny that there were cancellations happening, a web site with Twitter account was set up for people to send pictures of their cancellation letters for publication (Fennell). Twitter shut that account down, then reinstated it later after public outrage (Fennell). Since I did see my letter on that web site and Twitter account and it was unaltered from what I sent them, I judged the things they were posting to be credible unless I was presented with information indicating otherwise. So even in a society where there is supposed to be freedom of speech and the government has limited ability to censor if the constitution is followed, corporations can take political stances and if they don’t want certain things known they can do a lot to censor information that isn’t in their interests (OyperG, Fennell, Bufkin). If we rely for information on a corporation that is in the business of news or providing a communication platform, we can’t assume without investigating that we are getting true or complete information about any issue. While media corporations sometimes have an agenda that is in opposition to a government (Broom and Sha 365), at other times they can be complicit (Woodruff). Citizens must investigate for themselves to try to determine the truth to the best of their ability, and many do not have the time or interest and so remain poorly informed (Broom and Sha 356-366, Poulakidakos 373).


Works Cited

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

Battaglio, Stephen, “Hallmark Channel isn’t winning Emmys, but red states love it.” Los Angeles Times, 2017, https://www.latimes.com/business/hollywood/la-fi-ct-hallmark-red-state-20170914-story.html. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Broom, Glen M. and Bey-Ling Sha. Effective Public Relations. Pearson, 2013.

Bufkin, Ellie, “Twitter Users Appalled by Bias and Censorship Plan Boycott.” Townhall.com/Salem Media, 2020, https://townhall.com/tipsheet/elliebufkin/2020/06/24/conservatives-appalled-by-bias-and-censorship-plan-twitter-boycott-n2571231. Accessed 12 October 2020.

Farrah, Kristen. “Republicans fear prejudice on campus.” Webster Journal, 2019, websterjournal.com/…/republicans-fear-prejudice-on…/. Accessed 4 October 2019.

Fennell, “Twitter Suspends (Then Reinstates) Account Critical of Obamacare.” IndustryDive, 2013, www.socialmediatoday.com/content/twitter-suspends-then-reinstates-account-critical-obamacare. Accessed 12 October 2020.

Gearhart, Sherice, and Weiwu Zhang. “Same Spiral, Different Day? Testing the Spiral of Silence across Issue Types.” Communication Research, vol. 45, no. 1, Feb. 2018, pp. 34-54. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1177/0093650215616456. Accessed 2 October 2019.

Gordon, Sherri. “How to Handle Political Bullying on Facebook.” Dotdash, 2019, www.verywellmind.com/how-to-handle-political-bullying…. Accessed 4 October 2019.

Grieco, Elizabeth. “U.S. newspapers have shed half of their newsroom employees since 2008.” Pew Research Center, 2020, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/04/20/u-s-newsroom-employment-has-dropped-by-a-quarter-since-2008/. Accessed 11 October 2020.

Hasenfratz, Carolyn. “MSD’s Project Clear and Our Local Water Issues.” Schnarr’s Hardware Company, 2017, schnarrsblog.com/msds-project-clear-and-our-local-water-issues/. Accessed 15 October 2019.

Johnstone, Caitlin. “‘Confirmed’ Is a Meaningless Word In MSM News Reporting.” Consortiumnews, 2020, consortiumnews.com/2020/09/27/confirmed-is-a-meaningless-word-in-msm-news-reporting/. Accessed 11 October 2020.

Jurkowitz, Mark et al. “U.S. Media Polarization and the 2020 Election: A Nation Divided.” Pew Research Center, 2020, www.journalism.org/2020/01/24/u-s-media-polarization-and-the-2020-election-a-nation-divided/. Accessed 11 October 2020.

Kim, Mihee. “Facebook’s Spiral of Silence and Participation: The Role of Political Expression on Facebook and Partisan Strength in Political Participation.” CyberPsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, vol. 19, no. 12, Dec. 2016, pp. 696-702. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1089/cyber.2016.0137. Accessed 2 October 2019.

Lords, Shannon, “As Attention Spans Get Shorter, Content Gets Even Shorter – What Would Ken Burns Do?” Advertising Week, 2020, https://www.advertisingweek360.com/attention-spans-get-shorter-content-gets-shorter-ken-burns/. Accessed 10 October 2020.

Madrigal, Alexis C. “What Facebook Did to American Democracy And why it was so hard to see it coming.” The Atlantic, 2017, www.theatlantic.com/…/2017/10/what-facebook-did/542502/. Accessed 4 October 2019.

OyperG, “NBC Goes Mask Off – Reveals Twitter Censorship Methods After Devastating Hack.” Bitcoin Warrior, 2020, bitcoinwarrior.net/2020/07/nbc-goes-mask-off-reveals-twitter-censorship-methods-after-devastating-hack/. Accessed 9 October 2020.

Poulakidakos, Stamatis, et al. “Post-Truth, Propaganda and the Transformation of the Spiral of Silence.” International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics, vol. 14, no. 3, Sept. 2018, pp. 367-382. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1386/macp.14.3.367_1. Accessed 2 October 2019.

Sarah J. Harsey, Eileen L. Zurbriggen & Jennifer J. Freyd (2017) Perpetrator Responses to Victim Confrontation: DARVO and Victim Self-Blame, Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 26:6, 644-663, DOI: 10.1080/10926771.2017.1320777. Accessed 12 October 2020.

Sherr, Ian. “How Facebook censors your posts (FAQ).” CNET, 2016, www.cnet.com/news/how-zuckerberg-facebook-censors-korryn-gaines-philando-castile-dallas-police-your-posts-faq/. Accessed 9 October 2020.

Silverblatt, Art et al. Media Literacy: Keys to Interpreting Media Messages. Fourth Edition. Praeger, 2014.

Swift, Art. “Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low.” Gallup, Inc. 2016, https://news.gallup.com/poll/195542/americans-trust-mass-media-sinks-new-low.aspx. Accessed 24 September 2019.

“Taliban Denies CBS Claim of Endorsing Trump Reelection.” Tasnim News Agency, 2020, www.tasnimnews.com/en/news/2020/10/11/2367327/taliban-denies-cbs-claim-of-endorsing-trump-reelection. Accessed 11 October 2020.

“The Impact Of Social Media On News and Journalism.” New York Film Academy, 2014, www.nyfa.edu/student-resources/social-media-in-journalism/. Accessed 10 October 2020.

Winkelmann, Carolyn Hasenfratz. “Drainage Problems Are Bringing Tom and Me To Court.” Carolyn Hasenfratz Design, 2019, www.chasenfratz.com/wp/drainage-problems-are-bringing-tom-and-i-to-court/. Accessed 15 October 2019.

Woodruff, Betsy. “Democrat Rep: Insurance Cancellation Letters Should Have Just Said Things Are Getting Better.” National Review, 2013, www.nationalreview.com/corner/democrat-rep-insurance-cancellation-letters-should-have-just-said-things-are-getting/. Accessed 9 October 2020.

I also put some resources I’ve collected as I work on my degree on this Pinterest board:


How do we decide which media sources we can trust?

For our first test in Mass Communications class, we were asked to pick two questions from four offered and write at least a page on each. I’m going to take a risk and put these out there before they are graded because it might be a week before I get the graded test back and I don’t want to sit on this for that long. I’m spoiled and too used to the instant gratification that comes with self-publishing I suppose! If I decide to make any changes after grading I’ll indicate what I changed so you can see the corrections.

3. Explain Propaganda Theories. Contrast Lasswell’s Propaganda Theory and the Institute for Propaganda Analysis’ perspective. How do you see propaganda currently?

Mass society theorists have been fearful about the influence of mass media on average people since mass media first became prevalent (Baran and Davis 56). World Wars I and II along with the rise of totalitarian governments around the world caused researchers and critics to study how oppressive regimes used propaganda and to explore whether propaganda could be used to preserve and promote democracy instead (Baran and Davis 56). Behaviorism was an early theory that proposed that most human behavior could be explained by external conditioning rather than conscious choice (Baran and Davis 46-47). Freudianism was another theory that was also skeptical about the abilities of humans to use reason to control their actions. To Freudian thinkers, the rational mind was called the Ego. They believed media could be used to cause either the Id or the Superego to become dominant and undermine the Ego, resulting in people losing reasoning ability or giving up control to others (Baran and Davis 47-48).

Harold Lasswell was a political scientist who believed that the mental state of the subjects of propaganda was more important than the actual media content. In his view economic problems, war and conflict induced a form of psychosis that made people more susceptible to being manipulated (Baran and Davis 48). Democracies are designed so that it’s necessary to debate ideas in order for voters to decide which is the most rational. In his time as well as today, political discussions could become verbally rancorous and sometimes even escalate to physical violence. Lasswell believed it was too risky for people to engage in or witness such contention because it would induce psychosis that could lead to the adoption of subversive ideas (Baran and Davis 48). It would in his view be safer to expose people to benign propaganda crafted by a scientific technocracy rather than allow open debate (Baran and Davis 48-49). He advocated for long-term campaigns, possibly lasting months or years, that utilized every possible form of media to associate meanings with symbols that could be used to plant ideas into consumers that were more compatible with democracy (Baran and Davis 49).

The Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA) was an interdisciplinary association that existed from 1937-1942. It’s purpose was to explore how the public could be educated to consume communication more rationally and become resistant to propaganda (Sproule 486). Today we would call this type of education media literacy (Baran and Davis 293). The IPA identified the “seven common propaganda devices”, which they termed “name calling, glittering generalities, transfer, testimonial, plain folks, card stacking and band wagon” (Sproule 488-489).

In the postwar period, other theories and research methods were developed that made the Institute for Propaganda Analysis’ research and list seem out of date among many researchers (Sproule 495-496). Nevertheless the ideas and terms that the the IPA introduced are still in use. A 1995 publication by the Institute of General Semantics advocates the use of the IPA’s concepts because they are non-technical and understandable by a wide variety of people (The Iconography of… 14). They created a set of symbols to illustrate and provided rhetorical examples with the symbols inserted to indicate which propaganda devices were used. A 2017 article in Psychology Today makes the case for continuing to use the Institute for Propaganda Analysis’ list along with an introduction that explains some of the history of propaganda and the IPA (Shpancer). A web site called Propaganda Critic was created during the early years of the World Wide Web. The project team for Propaganda Critic views itself as a successor to the Institute for Propaganda Analysis (Delwiche and Herring). They retain many of the IPA’s terms and ideas on their Propaganda page while renaming and adding a few of their own (Delwiche).

It’s not new for the elite classes to be concerned every time a new communication technology is introduced (Baran and Davis 33). An example of a media literacy effort developed to combat the new challenges that come with new technology is DROG. DROG is a European interdisciplinary organization that produced an online game called Bad News in collaboration with Cambridge University. Players are cast in the role of an online propagandist and earn badges for Impersonation, Emotion, Polarization, Conspiracy, Discredit and Trolling. The goal of the game is to make media consumers more aware of the new propaganda techniques made possible by modern technology. Although the goals of DROG are very similar to organizations like the older IPA, they have created a new list with new terms that does more than just put a new label on old ideas (DROG).


4. As an example of Normative Theories, what are the major aspects of Social Responsibility Theory? What are the pros and cons? How do you see Social Responsibility in the future?

A normative theory explains “how a media system should be structured and operate in order to conform to or realize a set of ideal values” (Baran and Davis 16). Social responsibility theory has been the dominant normative theory in the United States from the reform era of the early 20th century up to the present time (Baran and Davis 60-61). Since our Bill of Rights contains Freedom of the Press, the government is limited in what it can do to regulate communication (Baran and Davis 64-65). The Hutchins Commission on Freedom of the Press, consisting of leaders in different fields, was convened and financed from 1942-1947 by the CEO of Time, Inc. to explore how the press could better serve the public and avoid excessive government regulation (Baran and Davis 72). The commissions findings were summarized in Social Responsibility Theory of the Press in 1956 (Baran and Davis 73).

According to the ideas in the report, journalists were encouraged to be professional by being competent, accurate and balanced in their coverage. Beyond just their own financial interests and that of their employers, they had a duty to also serve society. Serving society was thought to consist of abiding by the law and not inciting crime, violence or disorder. All members of society including minority groups would ideally be respected and have their interests and views represented (Baran and Davis 74).

Doubts abound about whether social responsibility theory is actually followed by media professionals. Even if attempts are made to follow the guidelines, the results are not always what were intended (Baran and Davis 74-75). There are many barriers to living up to the ideas in social responsibility theory. Often members of the media are reluctant to engage in policing each other because they fear undermining faith in the whole organization or profession (Baran and Davis 75). Standards are vague enough that members of the media can go pretty far in protecting their own interests (Baran and Davis 76). There are no professional licenses that allow journalists to practice and it’s difficult to define who is a journalist and who is not (Baran and Davis 76-77). The output that journalists produce is often the product of many hands and it’s difficult to know who is responsible and what the actual damages are from misdeeds (Baran and Davis 77).

Technology has democratized the ability to be a publisher and consumers can choose from a wider variety of information sources (Baran and Davis 82-83). The American public’s trust in the media had dropped to a historic low point by September 2016 according to a Gallup Poll (Americans’ Trust in…). If the media wants to regain more of the public’s trust it might benefit from some self-examination and self-regulation in the tradition of the Hutchins Commission on Freedom of the press.


Works Cited

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

Delwiche, Aaron. “What Is Propaganda Analysis?” Propaganda Critic, 2018, https://propagandacritic.com/index.php/how-to-decode-propaganda/what-is-propaganda-analysis/. Accessed 24 September 2019.

Delwiche, Aaron and Mary Margaret Herring. “About This Site.” Propaganda Critic, 2018, propagandacritic.com/index.php/about-this-site/. Accessed 24 September 2019.

DROG. Bad News. 2018, http://getbadnews.com/. Accessed 24 September 2019.

Shpancer, Noam. “The Con of Propaganda.” Sussex Publishers, LLC, 2019, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/insight-therapy/201702/the-con-propaganda. Accessed 24 September 2019.

Sproule, J. Michael. “The Institute for Propaganda Analysis: Public Education in Argumentation, 1937-1942.” Conference Proceedings — National Communication Association/American Forensic Association (Alta Conference on Argumentation), Jan. 1983, pp. 486–499. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ufh&AN=20908496&site=ehost-live. Accessed 23 September 2019.

Swift, Art. “Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low.” Gallup, Inc. 2016, https://news.gallup.com/poll/195542/americans-trust-mass-media-sinks-new-low.aspx. Accessed 24 September 2019.

“The Iconography of Propaganda Analysis.” ETC: A Review of General Semantics, vol. 52, no. 1, Spring 1995, p. 13. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=9503150320&site=ehost-live. Accessed 23 September 2019.

Interesting links I found but didn’t use:

No, I haven’t read all these (yet). But I want to save them where I can find them again and if you are interested in the topics I wrote about above you will probably find some good reading in there!

Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics

Answers to Reader Questions on Our Brett Kavanaugh Essay

Information & Media Literacy: Skills Needed in Today’s World

Majority of U.S. adults think news media should not add interpretation to the facts

Public Attitudes Toward Computer Algorithms

What are the best examples of modern-day propaganda in the US? – a discussion that shows that some people have a good grasp of what propaganda is and some just define it as whatever they don’t agree with.

Partisans are divided on whether they associate the news media or Trump with ‘made-up’ news

Public Attitudes Toward Technology Companies

Public Insight Network

Handbook for Citizen Journalists

Digital Hydra: Security Implications of False Information Online

Information Disorder: Toward an interdisciplinary framework for research and policymaking

Emotional content to earn more attention

Time to call out the anti-GMO conspiracy theory

Bots, #StrongerIn, and #Brexit: Computational Propaganda during the UK-EU Referendum

Computational Propaganda Worldwide: Executive Summary

Causes and Consequences of Polarization*

Political Polarization & Media Habits

The Role of Conspiracist Ideation and Worldviews in Predicting Rejection of Science

Discrediting moves in political debates


Propaganda in the Digital Age

“Everything I Disagree With is #FakeNews”: Correlating Political Polarization and Spread of Misinformation

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


Flash Cards: Baran and Davis, Chapter 1


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