Media Liars

Friday, December 20th, 2013

Ryan Holiday (Trust Me, I’m Lying) recommends 14 books that show you how the media really works:

The Brass Check: A Study of American Journalism by Upton Sinclair
Nearly 100 years ago, Upton Sinclair self-published this muckraking exposé of the corrupt and broken press system in America. It will change your understanding of journalism much in the same way that The Jungle changed your perceptions of industrial agriculture in that era and in today’s times. The title is a reference to prostitutes, which in Mr. Sinclair’s estimation, most journalists were. It’s a fitting indictment even now, when journalists are paid by the number of pageviews their articles get, or worse, churn them out in the digital equivalent of a sweatshop. There is not a page in this book that does not apply as much today as it did back then and every person whose life or career is affected by the media in any way needs to read this book.

The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America by Daniel J. Boorstin
Our former Librarian of Congress wrote this book, but don’t let that scare you away. Because in 1960, before talk radio, Fox News or blogs, he was able to successfully predict the false reality and echo chamber that our media culture was going to become. According to Mr. Boorstin, a “pseudo-event” is any event or announcement created solely for the purpose of getting the attention of the media. This creates a kind of unreality, where everyone is performing not for the people but for publicity. Well today, when 99% of the news is a press conference, press release, premiere party, “leak,” “exclusive,” or celebrity tweet, you have to say he was right.

Getting It Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism by W. Joseph Campbell
Let’s be clear: there was no golden age of journalism. The media has always been bad. And instead of improving, it spent a lot of time and energy making up its own myth. The reality is that William Randolph Hearst and the yellow press did not cause a war with Spain. Walter Cronkite did not end the Vietnam War by turning against it. People did not riot in the streets when passages from The War of the Worlds were read over the radio. And it wasn’t the Washington Post that brought down Nixon. All of that was media myth making. The news is notoriously inaccurate and our memory of it is even worse.

This thinking sounds familiar:

I get that a lot of these books are old. Some are really old. But that’s a good thing. It means they stood the test of time and survived many media — from print to radio to TV to cable to the internet. I’m convinced they will still be relevant fifty years from now, which is why I am hoping you’ll read them and benefit from them.

What you’ll understand from each of them is that the real threat of media manipulation doesn’t come from the outside. It comes from the media itself. They are the real manipulators — not publicists, not politicians or the CIA.


  1. Slovenian Guest says:

    And speaking of real journalism, I bet you didn’t know about this or that.

    Real archive crawling research, actual blogosphere exclusives, for anyone who wants them.

  2. Wobbly says:

    There’s a gentle intro to Bernays in Adam Curtis’s documentary The Century of the Self.

    And Curtis’s blog leads also to some interesting tangents.

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