Q&A with W. Joseph Campbell
BRIAN LAMB, HOST, C-SPAN: Joseph Campbell in your book ”Getting it Wrong” there’s this quote, ”American journalism loves giving prizes to its own.” Why’d you put that in there?
W. JOSEPH CAMPBELL, AUTHOR: Well I think it’s true, it’s absolutely the case and American journalism is a real prize giving profession and it’s one that some critics have said should be reined in. It’s not a, it’s not a major part of getting it wrong but none the less it’s characteristic of the profession at large.
LAMB: Why do they . . .
CAMPBELL: to reward themselves for good work. And some of the rewards let me say are well deserved, the Pulitzer Prize is every year. They come out in April and reward and recognize good work from the year before, very impressive work almost always.
And, so some of these awards are well deserved, there’s just a lot of them. And I’m not the first to point out how frequently journalists like to reward themselves.
LAMB: How long have you been teaching journalism?
CAMPBELL: I’ve been teaching in America University for 13 years and I taught a little bit as an adjunct before that, University of Hartford in Connecticut.
LAMB: How many years did you work as a journalist and where?
CAMPBELL: I was 20 years in the profession, I broke in at the ”Cleveland Plain Dealer”, covering the police beats. At six at night to three in the morning in downtown Cleveland and worked up to the rewrite bank and then general assignment and then investigative reporting.
I was in Cleveland until 1980 when I joined the ”Associated Press” in Geneva, Switzerland and I was a journalist in Geneva and also had some fill in stints, substitute reporting stints in Warsaw, Poland during the early 80’s during a fascinating time when the solidarity movement was taking hold. And really posing a direct challenge to Soviet rule and it was an electric time it was really a great time.
I also reported from Abidjan and Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa for the ”Associate Press” and also was a national reporter for the ”Hartford Current” in Connecticut before entering journalism education.
LAMB: Before going into detail about any of these different incidents in history that you write about. Would you give us first of all give us an overview of what this book’s about.
CAMPBELL: The book ”Getting it Wrong” discusses and debunks ten media driven myths. And these are stories about and or by the news media that are widely believed and often retold.
These are prominent stories about journalism and journalists. But these stories under close inspection, under scrutiny dissolve as apocryphal or wildly exaggerated. And I characterize them as the a kin to the junk food of journalism; their appetizing, their appealing, their tantalizing but their not terribly nutritious or healthy in the long run.
LAMB: I want to do this quickly and then come back to some of them.
LAMB: Let’s go down the ten, I’ll read of the chapter and you can just give us a little paraphrase on . . .
CAMPBELL: Very good.
LAMB: . . . all this (ph). Number one I’ll furnish the war the making of a media myth.
CAMPBELL: That was William Randolph Hearst’s famous vow to furnish the war with Spain at the end of the 19th century. It’s a widely known, widely believed and widely retold anecdote.
It’s perhaps the best known anecdote in the American journalism, it’s certainly one of the oldest. It’s almost certainly untrue. Hearst himself denied having said that.
LAMB: Two, fright beyond measure the myth of the war of the worlds.
CAMPBELL: War of the world’s radio dramatization of October 1938 by Orson Welles. Great radio entertainment a very inspired show, Orson Welles was 23 when he did this and supposedly set off nationwide panic and mass hysteria.
But on close inspection of the available evidence there’s very little to indicate that that was the case, almost certainly apocryphal.
LAMB: Three, Murrow vs. McCarthy, timing makes the myth.
CAMPBELL: Indeed the Edward R. Murrow, the famous Edward R. Murrow show ”See it now” in March 1954 supposedly stopped Edward, stopped Joe McCarthy, Senator Joe McCarthy in his tracks and his communist in government witch hunt.
But in reality Edward R. Murrow was very late to taking on McCarthy. Other journalists had been addressing McCarthy and his bullying ways for months if not years before Murrow finally took them on.
So Murrow was very late, and he acknowledged it too.
LAMB: Four, the Bay of Pigs, ”New York Times” suppression myth.
CAMPBELL: The notion that the ”New York Times” under pressure from the Kennedy administration, spiked or held back or suppressed it’s reporting about the pending invasion of the Bay of Pigs in April 1961 is the heart of that myth.
And but close inspection, reading what the ”New York Times” printed for one thing quite clearly shows that they reported an awful lot and a lot of detail and there was no evidence at all that Kennedy ever in advance of publication asked the Times to hold back or suppress any of its, any of its pre-invasion stories.
LAMB: Five, debunking the Cronkite moment.
CAMPBELL: The Cronkite moment, that’s probably one of American journalisms best known anecdotes, certainly the 20th century. Walter Cronkite’s famous program at the end of March, end of February 1968, supposedly altered American war policy and swung public opinion against the war and forced or prompted Lyndon Johnson to reconsider running for reelection. All of that is untrue.
LAMB: Six, the nuanced myth bra burning at Atlantic City.
CAMPBELL: Bra burning at Atlantic City, that’s, that was a protest by the it was a feminist protest, one of the first feminist protests of the, of the 1960’s, late 60’s. And they protested the Miss America Pageant in 1968 which was held at Atlantic City.
And during the protest they discarded into a large trash can which the called the freedom trashcan, instruments of what they called torture for women, and that included bras and girdles and high heeled shoes as well as issues of ”Cosmopolitan” and ”Playboy Magazines”.
The notion is that the feminists set fire to their bras and waved them demonstratively over their heads in a really fiery public spectacle. My research shows that that’s almost certainly untrue, that if the bras and other items were set on fire it was very briefly in the freedom trashcan at this demonstration in ’68.
LAMB: Seven, it’s all about the media, Watergate’s heroic journalist myth.
CAMPBELL: Yes the heroic journalist myth of Watergate, the notion that two intrepid and young investigative reporters to the ”Washington Post” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein through their investigative reporting brought down Richard Nixon’s crow (ph) presidency.
It’s a very beguiling notion, it’s a very appealing delicious story but it’s untrue. Even the ”Washington Post” principals Woodward himself among them have said over the years that the ”Post” did not bring down Richard Nixon.
What brought down Nixon was a, was a combination if you will of forces, including Federal Prosecutors, Federal Judges, the U.S. Supreme Court, bi-partisan Congressional panels. All of those were at work to bring down Nixon and expose the depth and dimensions and extent of the Watergate scandal. About 20 people went to jail for their criminality and these were either associated with Nixon or working for his reelection campaign in 1972.
LAMB: Eight, the fantasy panic the news media and the crack baby myth.
CAMPBELL: The crack baby myth is supposedly that women who took crack cocaine during pregnancy would give birth to offspring who would be forever dependant and some commentators both on the political left and political right forecast that there would be this bio-underclass of dependant young people as they grew up they would be wards of the state essentially.
And there was this huge number of people who were forever damaged by the prenatal exposure to crack cocaine. It seems not to have been the case that crack was not the I mean it’s not a good idea to take this stuff during pregnancy or at any time. But none the less it didn’t seem to have that effect. There is no crack baby syndrome as there is a fetal alcohol syndrome.
LAMB: Number nine, quote she was fighting to the death end quote myth making in Iraq.
CAMPBELL: Myth making in Iraq, Jessica Lynch the 19 year old young woman who was caught in an ambush in the early days of the Iraq war. And was taken prisoner and then later rescued by U.S. commando team early in April 19, 2003. And Jessica Lynch’s battlefield heroics were reported by the ”Washington Post”.
These tended to be, these were quite incorrect, quite in error and they, the ”Post” story about Jessica Lynch fighting to the death in Iraq was untrue and turned out to be almost a case of mistaken identify. That it wasn’t Jessica Lynch in that unit who was fighting to the death it was another person a Sergeant Donald Walters.
LAMB: And finally ten, Hurricane Katrina and the myth of superlative reporting.
CAMPBELL: Right Hurricane Katrina was the landfall of Hurricane Katrina was in 2005. And supposedly the news media were aggressive in their reporting and calling attention to the, to the defects in the response the state, local and federal response to the hurricane.
But also in addition the news media coverage of the, of the extent of the, of the damage and extent of the, of the lawlessness that supposedly was unleashed by Hurricane Katrina is quite wrong.
It was hardly a moment of superlative reporting. The news media got that story quite wrong. Estimates of death tolls that exceeded 10,000 were wrong by an order of magnitude. The fact that widespread looting, widespread pillaging, raping, murders were going on in New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane all that was untrue. And it had the effect of really impugning a city and it’s people in an hour of their most urgent need.
LAMB: And the back of your book in a footnote, number 16 on your conclusion, you cite a Pew Research Center study and this is from 17 March of 2008. The ideological composition reported among national journalists surveyed in 2008 was eight percent conservative, 32 percent liberal and 53 percent moderate. Where would you put yourself?
CAMPBELL: Probably in the moderate category.
LAMB: And what is that mean?
CAMPBELL: It’s, it means that you can either take the extreme conservative view or a more extreme liberal view. It, it’s kind of in the middle. That data are interesting because it does point to an imbalance, obviously.
And the imbalance that Pew and other’s have pointed to in American news rooms that it does tend to be center left rather than any other direction. And I think that that does tend to lead to a certain element of group think in American journalism newsrooms. And it’s a cause for some concern and probably more debate and discussion than it’s been given.
LAMB: Has this book been picked up by the eight percent of the conservatives in the, in either the community or the people in the public--there’re more than eight percent conservative--say, ”See, I always learned . . .”
CAMPBELL: Well I hope so I mean I hope they’re reading the book and I hope the other 92 percent are as well.
LAMB: No but what I mean though isn’t this proof right here that the people that are outraged about the media have been right your book?
CAMPBELL: It, well the book is a little bit more nuanced than that. And I think that a message I try to get across in the book that it’s not a media bashing book but one that’s aligned with a fundamental central objective of American journalism, mainstream journalism in this country.
And that is trying to get it right. And the book does try to set the record straight to the extent that we possibly can. So I think it’s aligned with one of the fundamental objectives of American journalism rather than bashing the media. There’s a lot of that going on, probably enough of it going on.
LAMB: Acknowledgements out front, you start the book by saying in late summer 2005, Reed Malcolm, a Senior Acquisitions Editor for the University of California Press asked me by email whether I’d ever considered writing sort of the great myths and journalism book. That’s not what I want to ask you about, later on you say so began a collaboration that has resulted in this book. Well we had our differences Reed and his colleagues at the Press were always courteous, helpful and professional.
That line begs the question, what difference?
CAMPBELL: There were a couple differences about the title for one thing. ”Getting it Wrong” was not necessarily my first choice but you know the publisher has final say on that so that was, that was, that was their call.
LAMB: What would have been your first choice?
CAMPBELL: You know I don’t know it’s a good question. I would like to have seen something with myth in it because the book does address and debunk media driven myths. But I think I tend towards more clunky titles, longer titles. This has the advantage of being pithy and memorable.
And I was hoping too maybe to subtitle would work in a reference to media myths and it instead discusses ten of the most misreported stories in American journalism.
LAMB: And this is only paperback?
CAMPBELL: That’s right, that’s right.
LAMB: Want to go back to some of these, some of the ten and run some video.
LAMB: And get you to (ph) expound a little more on it.
LAMB: First up is a clip of Walter Cronkite from February 27, 1968, this is from what was a special.
CAMPBELL: That’s right, a special half hour report on Vietnam.
LAMB: What was.
CAMPBELL: In the aftermath, in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive, which was a surprise attack across South Vietnam by North Vietnamese and their Vietcong allies in the south and it took the American military and the political establishment in this country by surprise.
And Cronkite went to Vietnam in the aftermath of as the Tet Offensive was winding down and did some on the ground reporting and came back and aired as you said on the 27 of February 1968, this special report about Vietnam.
LAMB: Here’s just a little bit of it, let’s see what he was saying back then.
WALTER CRONKITE: To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion.
On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy’s intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter, that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.
This is Walter Cronkite. Good night.
LAMB: You have a quote supposedly from Lyndon Johnson, he told the country in a few weeks right after that that he wasn’t going to run again.
CAMPBELL: Right, the end of March 1968, that’s right.
LAMB: Quote, if I’ve lost Cronkite I’ve lost middle America, I’ve been reading that for years, true?
CAMPBELL: There’s no evidence that Lyndon Johnson ever said that. And the power of this, of the anecdote that’s discussed in ”Getting it Wrong” called the Cronkite moment.
Supposedly Lyndon Johnson was watching the Cronkite show and at the end of it when Cronkite intoned his mired in stalemate assessment. Johnson supposedly leaned over and snapped off the television set and said something to the effect of if I’ve lost Cronkite I’ve lost middle America or if I’ve lost Cronkite I’ve lost the war or if I’ve lost Cronkite I’ve lost the country.
And there are various versions as to what he said. A lot of versions as to what Johnson supposedly said and that in my view right off the bat is a, is a tip off. It’s a marker often of a media driven myth.
If you can’t get the story straight as to what the President supposedly said in reaction to this, then there’s something probably wrong with it. But more than that it doesn’t take much research to find out that Lyndon Johnson was not at the White House that night.
He was not in front of a television set, Lyndon Johnson was in Austin, Texas. He was attending the 51st birthday party of Governor John Connally. And at the time when Cronkite was editorializing in his conclusion about being mired in stalemate and perhaps negotiations might be thought of as a way to get out of Vietnam.
Lyndon Johnson was making remarks at the, on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin about Connally turning 51, saying something to the effect of well John you’ve reached the age that all politicians or the magic number that all politicians shoot for, simple majority you know 50 plus one.
All right it’s not the greatest joke ever told but none the less Johnson’s not sitting in front of the TV set bemoaning his fate and realizing his policy’s in tatters, he’s making light with an old political ally at a, at a you know black tie dinner, a black tie reception in Austin, Texas.
More over Johnson in the aftermath of the Cronkite show is out on the stump publicly saying we should recommit to end the war in Vietnam successfully. Let’s bring home a victory.
And he’s saying this on more than one occasion in the aftermath of the Cronkite show. So if this was such an epiphany for the president he really didn’t make it very clear that this had changed his mind in his public comments afterwards.
And the power of this anecdote lies in the immediate abrupt and decisive effect that it supposedly had on Johnson and his thinking about Vietnam, that Cronkite suddenly crystallized for him what was going on in Vietnam.
And that’s just not the case because Johnson is clearly out there in the weeks afterwards saying you know let’s redouble our national efforts, let’s recommit to a successful conclusion in the war in Vietnam.
LAMB: So who.
CAMPBELL: He’s not, he’s not saying woe is us the war is over we’re in bad shape. Cronkite told us and now we have to leave.
LAMB: Who’s, who perpetuated this story then?
CAMPBELL: Well the.
LAMB: By the way did Walter Cronkite get an award because he said that?
CAMPBELL: No I don’t think so, I don’t think so.
LAMB: Are you sure?
CAMPBELL: I’m not sure but I don’t’ think he got an award because of that program. It is one of the most memorable bits of Walter Cronkite’s long career, this so called Cronkite moment.
But it’s interesting thing about media driven myths, in many cases the principals involved afterwards say that you know this really didn’t have that kind of effect and for a long time Walter Cronkite made that same kind of comment.
He said this my comments about Vietnam represented he said on one occasion, a straw on the back of a crippled camel. He made that kind of remark in his memoirs which came out in 1995, I believe.
Cronkite only later in his life began to embrace the notion that wow it did have a powerful effect. But for the most part his reaction was no this is really, this is not that dramatic, this really didn’t have that powerful of an effect.
But it’s one of these neat tidy delicious even stories about the news media and their power that’s one of the reasons that it lives on. That it’s so compelling and so interesting and demonstrates so vividly the power of the news media that that’s one of the, certainly one of the reasons why it has endured for quite a long time and lives on to this day.
LAMB: A year ago we had a man here named Frank Mankiewicz, who wrote a column that didn’t get very much attention but in that column he said and I’ll read it, Cronkite had a meeting in the late ’60s with Senator Robert Kennedy, I sat in as Kennedy’s press secretary.
The meeting was understood to be off the record and no one else was present, Cronkite began with an acknowledgement of Kennedy’s desire not to run for president but pleaded with RFK to change his mind and to announce his intention to seek the White House right away then even thought the election was more than a year off.
And then I’ll read one more in the paragraph here, you must announce your intentions to run against Johnson, Cronkite urged to show people there will be a way out of this terrible war.
Kennedy listened intently and asked Cronkite his opinion of the battlefields he had seen, the war can’t be won Cronkite told him what we gain on the battlefields and the body count during the day time he said we lose to the villagers at night.
What do you think the reaction would have been if the public had known that combine all this.
CAMPBELL: It’s interesting this was in 1967, it’s pretty clear that public sentiment about the war had begun to shift. And had begun to shift well before the Cronkite moment, well before Walter Cronkite’s editorial comment that he’d expressed on air.
By October of ’67, a plurality of Americans had said that sending U.S. troops to Vietnam was a mistake and the Gallup Organization had been asking this question since like 1965 and had been doing so on a regular basis.
And by October ’67 this plurality emerged and it, the numbers like 47 percent thought it was a mistake. The numbers were pretty close throughout the fall and early winter of 1968 but sentiment had begun to shift well before Cronkite took to the air.
LAMB: Let’s go to another one of your ten articles, this one is way back. It’s the War of the Worlds, radio only. We’ve got some audio to play but before we do that, set it up.
CAMPBELL: This was on the eve of Halloween, it’s October 30, 1938 and Orson Welles who is 23 years old, a boy wonder is the head of the Mercury Theatre on the air. He’s directing and staring in this weekly hour long radio program.
And they’d been on the air since I guess the summer of 1938 and he and his troop began a, the program that night was adapted from H.G. Wells’ 1898 science fiction thriller, ”The War of the Worlds”.
H.G. Wells set the story in England, Orson Welles set it in the farm land of central New Jersey near a little hamlet called Grovers Mill. And he made use of simulated news casts, simulated radio bulletins to propel a sense of urgency, of danger, of distress and did so in a very imaginative way.
And supposedly, supposedly Americans by the thousands if not tens of thousands thought the program was so realistic, so lifelike that they took to the streets, they headed for the hills in utter panic, mass hysteria gripped the country that night, supposedly, supposedly.
LAMB: Here’s the, some audio from that broadcast and near the end there’s a four second pause, which is a part of the whole thing so don’t think that there’s our audience think there’s a technical problem.
ORSON WELLES: Ladies and gentlemen, am I on? Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen here I am, back of the stone wall that adjoins Mr. Wilmuth’s garden. From here I get a sweep of the whole scene.
I’ll give you every detail as long as I can talk and as long as I can see. More state police have arrived. They’re drawing up a cordon in front of the pit, about thirty of them. No need to push the crowd back now. They’re willing to keep their distance. The captain is conferring with someone can’t quite see who.
Oh yes, I believe it’s Professor Pierson. Yes, it is. Now now they’ve parted and the professor moves around one side, studying the object, while the captain and two policemen advance with something in their hands. I see it now: It’s a white handkerchief tied to a pole flag of truce, if those creatures know what that means, what anything means.
Wait a minute. Something’s happening. A humped shape is rising out of the pit. I can make out a small beam of light against a mirror. What’s there? It’s a jet of flame springing from the mirror and it leaps right at the advancing men.
It strikes them head on! Good Lord, they’re turning into flame! Now the whole fields caught on fire -- the woods, the barns, the the gas tanks of the automobiles it’s spreading everywhere. It’s coming this way now, about twenty yards to my right.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Ladies and gentlemen. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we are unable to continue the broadcast from Grover’s Mill. Evidently there’s some difficulty with our field transmission. However, we will return to that point at the earliest opportunity.
LAMB: That’s the clip.
CAMPBELL: It’s great radio entertainment, it’s marvelous and it’s amazing how 70 plus years later War of the Worlds, the radio dramatization holds up. It’s I play this for one of my classes almost every year around Halloween time and often the students are riveted by this, it’s, it holds up marvelously well.
LAMB: Well and one of the headlines that you have the ”Chicago Herald and Examiner” it says radio fake scares the nation. And in your piece you say Well’s gleefully endorsed the notion that the broadcast caused wide spread panic saying, quote houses were emptying, churches were filling up from Nashville to Minneapolis. There was wailing in the street and the rending of garments, is any of this true?
CAMPBELL: I think that the Welles’ characterization came many years afterwards, this was in one of the biographies or perhaps an autobiography he did with one of his colleagues. But his immediate reaction, Orson Welles’ immediate reaction to the, to the radio show was one of astonishment.
How can people really take this seriously? And there were tips and queues embedded in the program that would give people the notion that this is, this is what it was radio show, a radio show that was well done.
And so he was, he was perplexed as to how people could have confused this. Some of the best research that was done on this in the immediate aftermath, or shortly after the show indicates that maybe seven million people listened to this.
And of that number one million, 1.2 million were frightened or scared or upset by the show. That alone is a small minority and what you know the person who did the research didn’t really operationalize didn’t define what he meant by frightened or scared.
And so it’s far from saying a mass panic seized the country that night, that hysteria reigned across the United States, so most people who heard the show recognized it for what it was, good entertainment.
LAMB: Did anything change after this in the media?
CAMPBELL: Not that I’m aware of. There were some moves afoot, the FCC is a Federal Communications Commission is a, is an early entity, it’s in its first days as a federal agency.
And there was some movement to try to keep radio from doing this again but it proved to be unwieldy, improbable and difficult to navigate that kind of terrain because those edge into censorship.
Newspapers though in the aftermath of the War of the Worlds seized upon this as a real opportunity to bash radio. Radio wasn’t a new medium at the time but it was an upstart medium and it had begun to encroach upon traditional print media in terms of its news delivery capability as well as an advertising medium.
And so for newspapers this represented Orson Welles show, represented a great opportunity to hector, to lecture radio on its responsibilities. That radio was a new medium but it still had a lot to learn and still had a lot to grow up.
It had to learn how not to mix news with entertainment as newspapers had learned many, many years before said some of these commentaries in the aftermath of this. So it was a great opportunity for newspapers to bash radio.
LAMB: We have some, a movie clip we’re going to show in a minute of Orson Welles, how big a deal was he back then. He was both in this War of the Worlds and in the movie that had to do with I’ll furnish the war.
CAMPBELL: Yes that’s right. Orson Welles was a, was a prodigy, he was really on a roll. As I say 23 when he did the War of the Worlds and then a couple of years later in 1941, actually three years later, he comes out with ”Citizen Kane.”
Which is his masterpiece, he’s only what 26? I mean that’s great work, he did terrific work. I think ”Citizen Kane” is perhaps the best motion picture, best American motion picture ever made.
LAMB: Who did he play in that?
CAMPBELL: He played Charles Foster Kane, who’s character was loosely based on the life and times of William Randolph Hearst. And I think it’s pretty clear that Welles meant this to be a jab at Hearst and his, and his people close to him.
And Hearst tried through is subordinates to get the movie killed. To keep it from ever being shown.
LAMB: So what, who was Hearst at the time, his names still around.
CAMPBELL: That’s right.
LAMB: Still have newspapers of him (ph).
CAMPBELL: That’s right, William Randolph Hearst was the, was a, was a newspaper mogul, a media mogul. He owned a lot of newspapers but also was into radio and television and so he had a, had an empire in the 1930’s, the 1940’s.
He had begun with the newspaper in San Francisco, later in the 1890’s, mid 1890’s bought ”The New York Journal” in New York City. And that became his flagship newspaper and for some of the more illustrious days of Hearst’s and he’s, and his aggressive activist journalism were in New York with the ”New York Journal” in the run up to and the aftermath of the Spanish American war.
LAMB: So in this clip, keep your ears on you furnished the pictures, I’ll furnish the war.
CAMPBELL: You paraphrased it a little bit but yes it’s close enough.
LAMB: OK, let’s watch this.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: I don’t know how to run a newspaper Mr. Thatcher I just try everything I can think of.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: You know perfectly well there’s not the slightest proof that this Armada is off the Jersey coast.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Hello Mr. Bernstein.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Excuse me Mr. Kane.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Can you prove it isn’t.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: This just came in.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Mr. Bernstein I’d like you to meet Mr. Fairchild.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: I’ll just borrow (inaudible).
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Mr. Thatcher my ex-guardian we have no secrets from our readers Mr. Bernstein, Mr. Thatcher’s one of our most devoted readers.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: He knows what’s wrong with every copy of ”The Enquirer since I took over. Read (ph) the cable.
BERNSTEIN: Girls delightful in Cuba stop. Could send you prose poems about scenery but don’t feel right spending your money stop. There is no war in Cuba. Signed Wheeler. Any answer?
KANE: YesDear Wheeler, You provide the prose poems, I’ll provide the war.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: That’s fine Mr. Kane.
KANE: Yes I rather like myself.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: I’ll send it right away.
LAMB: Frederic Remington is the name that wasn’t in that movie.
LAMB: But how does he fit into this?
CAMPBELL: Frederic Remington was the artist whom William Randall Hearst sent to Cuba to illustrate and draw sketches of the Cuban rebellion that had swept the island by 1897.
Remington travels there in the company of Richard Harding Davis who at the time was becoming the best known, most imminent foreign correspondent, war correspondent in the United States.
So Hearst this is a real coupe for Hearst to send these too imminent individuals to Cuba and supposedly, supposedly Remington found that everything was quite in Cuba. That there was not going to be a war with the United States and he sent a cable asking Hearst to if it would be OK if he returned.
In reply Hearst supposedly said, please remain you furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war. And the Orson Welles in ”Citizen Kane” clip you just showed is a paraphrase of that famous line. Furnish, you furnish and I’ll furnish the war.
Hearst denied having ever said that. The Spanish authorities in Cuba, was Spanish run at the time controlled the incoming and outgoing telegraphic traffic. So there is no way that they would have allowed a message like that, as inflammatory and meddling as William Randolph Hearst’s, furnish the war message supposedly was.
There’s no way they would allow that in. There’s no way that those messages would have flown freely from New York to Cuba. There was a war going on anyway so Hearst to say, to vow to furnish a war makes no sense on its face. It’s illogical, why would he say that when war was the very reason he sent Remington and Richard Harding Davis to Cuba in the first place.
The rebellion was going on and by early 1897 when Remington was there most Americans knew that there was a very vicious ugly conflict going on. And it was the forerunner; it gave rise to the Spanish American War, 15 months later.
But for those and other reasons it’s almost certainly apocryphal and the sole source for this anecdote was a journalist named James Creelman who wrote about it in his book of memoirs called ”On the Great Highway” in 1901.
And Creelman he had a reputation for exaggeration, for overstatement, for bluster, for putting himself in the stories too. He loved to talk about himself as the journalist. He mentions this not in any great detail but mentions it almost in passing but as an example of the forward looking kind of journalism that William Randolph Hearst was practicing.
He meant this anecdote, ”furnish the war,” as a compliment to Hearst and the compliment to the kind of journalism, the activist oriented journalism that Hearst was practicing at the end of the 19th century. That it was anticipatory, forward looking and it was only years later, particularly in the mid 1930’s and early 1940’s did the interpretation get twisted or changed or altered to the malignant interpretation that we know it is today.
You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war. Well this is an example of Hearst at his worst, a warmonger.
LAMB: And as you know and you write it in your piece a lot of people keep repeating this and repeating it including a 1997 movie and the movie’s as you say seem to perpetuate this.
LAMB: Here’s a James Bond, let’s just look at this 45 second clip.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: And it seems you can’t resist any woman in my position.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: What are you waiting for? Shoot him.
JAMES BOND: I told you, we’re going to finish this together.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: How romantic.
ELIOT CARVER: Do you realize how absurd your position is?
JAMES BOND: No more absurd than starting a war for ratings.
CARVER: Great men have always manipulated the media to save the world.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Your William Randolph Hearst? Who told his photographers you provide the pictures, I’ll provide the war. I’m just taking it one step further.
BOND: Sorry about that I tuned out there for a moment Elliott.
LAMB: How do you stop something like this from I mean and how much do you blame Hollywood for keeping this up?
CAMPBELL: Well Hollywood certainly has been a mechanism to solidify, to propel media driven myths, some of them. And this stories almost too good to resist, it’s almost too good to be disbelieved and it’s nice tidy, pithy. It’s everything that a memorable media myth is and should be and can be.
And so there’s it’s irresistible in many ways. I think the way to combat media driven myths is to, is to direct, to attack them directly and to point out how flawed that they are. And there’s a school of thinking that says that you know when you do that you repeat the essence of the myth, you actually perpetuate the myth in trying to debunk it.
I think that’s a risk worth running in order to try to combat these. I can’t think of any other way to do it. I can’t think of any other way to take them on and to debunk them. I think the weight of the evidence is the best friend that the debunker has.
LAMB: Why did you leave print journalism to go into teaching?
CAMPBELL: It was a, it was a gradual process and I had begun as an adjunct at the University of Hartford in Connecticut and I liked the classes that I was teaching and I had an opportunity through the freedom forum to get my PhD the freedom forum’s a media foundation based in Washington here.
And they had a program for veteran journalists who go through and obtain a PhD and then enter journalism education. So you have the credentials of the academy plus you have substantial professional experience.
It’s a, it’s a great combination and so after completing the PhD program at Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina I entered the, joined the faculty at American University. And have loved it and been there ever since.
LAMB: Any sense that the public is walking away from newspapers because of years and years of what they think is bad reporting?
CAMPBELL: I think, I think media consumers have long condemned the news media in general, newspapers as well as other outlets for erroneous reporting, for not really getting the story quite right.
And some of my earlier research on the yellow press period in the 1890’s points that out very clearly. There was a lot of criticism, a lot of remarks about how the news media were getting it wrong. Exaggerating, sensationalizing and what not, this is, this is a chronic problem, this is, this is one I think consumers will always be able to muster and to criticize the press.
And not saying the press doesn’t deserve to be criticized, I think that they in many respects do need this critique from the public and perhaps need to listen a little more closely to some of the critiques.
LAMB: Did the Woodward and Bernstein reporting on Watergate lead to vast new numbers coming into journalism school in the country?
CAMPBELL: That is addressed in the book as, under what I call a subsidiary myth; a myth that is spun off by another broader media driven myth. The broader myth is the one of the heroic journalist that Woodward and Bernstein brought down Richard Nixon’s corrupt presidency.
The subsidiary myth is that Woodward and Bernstein being young, their book ”All the President’s Men” came out when they were 30 and 31 respectively. Young guys, they made journalism look glamorous, they made journalism look sexy.
And the movie ”All the President’s Men” which came out in April 1976, solidified that notion, journalism is a very sexy and entertaining and appealing profession. So thousands and thousands of young people decided to major in journalism, in journalism programs in colleges, universities across the country.
The best research on this topic clearly shows that this is not true, that the surge in enrollments in journalism and mass communication programs at U.S. universities and colleges had begun well before Watergate was underway, well before Woodward and Bernstein became household words, names.
LAMB: Would those 20 people have gone to jail, gone to prison if there hadn’t been a Woodward and Bernstein?
CAMPBELL: I think so, almost certainly. They probably Richard Nixon I think would have survived his presidency; he would have served out his term, his second term had it not been for the existence of the Watergate tapes.
That’s my view, I mean there’s no way of knowing this and the Supreme Court forced Richard Nixon to surrender the tapes that really clearly showed his culpability, his guilty knowledge, his role in covering up or attempting to cover up the Watergate scandal.
Had it not been for those tapes I think Nixon would have survived as a wounded president but would not have resigned. It was only because of the existence of those taps and the Supreme Court’s forcing them out, under subpoena by a federal special prosecutors that those, that Richard Nixon finally gave up the office.
LAMB: Again The movie ”All the President’s Men” how Holbrook plays the part of Mark Felt.
CAMPBELL: Deep throat, yes.
LAMB: Deep throat and Robert Redford plays the part of Bob Woodward and then Dustin Hoffman, Carl Bernstein. Let’s look at just a little clip of, their in the garage, it’s dark and we’ll come back.
CAMPBELL: The garage by the way is in Rosslyn (ph), Virginia, right over the bridge here from where we’re sitting.
LAMB: Let’s watch this.
”DEEP THROAT”: Cover up that little to do with Watergate, it was mainly to protect the covert operations. It leads everywhere. Get out your notebook there’s more.
Your lives are in danger.
BERNSTEIN: Hi, I finally got on the phone.
LAMB: Any evidence that their lives were threatened?
CAMPBELL: Not really, although the book ”All the President’s Men” eludes to the fact that deep throat, there Woodward’s anonymous source made such a representation I don’t think that they really were, their lives were in danger.
LAMB: So what do you say to your students, you have journalism students sitting in front of you that are getting history off of Hollywood, which you say is often wrong?
CAMPBELL: Or exaggerated or you know made to.
LAMB: And we watch as you point out the media loves to give itself prizes and awards.
LAMB: And I mean they perpetuate this whole business.
CAMPBELL: I think that the students are very shrewd, sharp and they can although many of them have seen ”All the President’s Men”, many more have seen ”All the President’s Men” than have read ”All the President’s Men” the book.
I think that students are inclined to be skeptical, inclined to challenge conventional wisdom, many of them. I don’t believe they necessarily take this as gospel I think they would critically assess this and I think that you know showing trying to take this apart, to unpack the Watergate story, the heroic journalist myth. It becomes pretty clear that journalists alone couldn’t have brought down the presidency, the presidency of Richard Nixon.
I mean it’s too vast, too powerful, too much in control, it had to be a combination of other forces and factors. As I mentioned earlier the special prosecutor, federal investigators, grand juries, federal judges, bi-partisan congressional panels and ultimately the Supreme Court. They needed that to really get at the criminality of the Richard Nixon administration.
LAMB: I’ve never been able to find out many but there are tons of schools across the country that give an Edward R. Murrow Award and the business gives and Edward R. Murrow Award, I’m going to read your last paragraph of the Murrow chapter and ask you to embellish on this.
There is no small irony in journalisms veneration of Murrow who died in 1965, I think he was what 57, 58.
CAMPBELL: That’s right.
LAMB: A year.
LAMB: He was hardly quote a journalist above reproach unquote. On his employment application at CBS Murrow added five years to his age and claim to have majored in college and international relations in political science. In fact he had been a speech major at Washington State, Murrow also passed himself off as holding a Master Degree from Stanford University, a degree he never earned.
During the 1956 Presidential election campaign Murrow privately counseled Stevenson, the Democratic candidate for president on ”the finer points of speaking into the camera.”
These days such lapses would surely disqualify Murrow or any journalist from positions of prominence in America’s mainstream news media.
Keith Olbermann I think signs off his show, ”good night and good luck,” which was the famous movie now and the way that Edward R. Murrow would sign it off.
CAMPBELL: That’s right.
LAMB: Again what are those students say when read a paragraph like this, they want to go out and get the Murrow Award?
CAMPBELL: Well it’s a good, it’s a good reminder about the dangers of resume padding I mean it can come back to haunt you. And I think that’s right that Murrow probably would not today hold those kinds of positions, the prominent position in American journalism, mainstream American journalism.
Had it been known that he was privately counseling a democratic candidate or a republican candidate for president on the finer points of using television. The resume padding, I mean that’s a lot of that information is from biographers of Edward R. Murrow. This is not unknown detail.
Yet you know the man’s aura and his, and his journalism tends to outweigh the, those deficiencies and those flaws.
LAMB: Here’s a clip of Edward R. Murrow around this Joseph McCarthy controversy, it’s not too long.
MURROW: But we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home. The actions of the junior senator from Wisconsin has caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies.
And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it and rather successfully. Cassius was right. ”The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
Good night, and good luck.
LAMB: What’s all that mean?
CAMPBELL: It well first of all it’s great television, it’s great advocacy journalism, Murrow is wrapping up his 30 minute program about McCarthy and advising Americans not to, not to be terribly afraid of this, of this guy the menace that McCarthy was.
But by then, by March 1954, most Americans were not waiting around for a white knight like Murrow to say, hey this McCarthy guy he really poses a toxic threat to the country. By then they knew.
McCarthy’s ratings, his favorability ratings had been slowly declining since the end of the year before since the end of 1953. Other journalists including a guy named Drew Pearson, who wrote the ”Washington Merry-Go-Round” for many, many years. He was a muck raking journalist he injected himself in sort of all phases of Washington life he was really kind of a unique character almost.
He took on Joe McCarthy early, in like 1950, right after McCarthy began his communists in government witch hunt, claiming that the communists have infiltrated high levels of the state department, of the Army, of the democratic party and so forth.
Pearson took him on and revealed McCarthy’s claims as being largely hollow and Pearson paid a bit of a price for this because McCarthy it’s hard to even imagine this today but 60 years ago McCarthy attacked Drew Pearson in the cloak room of the Sulgrave Club in DuPont Circle.
There was a private dinner that they were both at and may have been seated at the same table when they were sort of trading jives and barbs all night long. And at the end of the, at the end of the dinner McCarthy, the Senator cornered Pearson, the columnist and versions vary as to what exactly happened.
Pearson said that McCarthy tried to knee him in the groin a couple of times. McCarthy admitted to slapping him real hard across the face and another version was that McCarthy slugged Drew Pearson so hard that it lifted the columnist three feet into the air.
Richard Nixon was also at the same party, then a senator, broke up, intervened and broke up this confrontation. But it was emblematic of the, of the difficulties and of the threats that McCarthy posed and would follow through on them with journalists.
LAMB: You say in your book that you talked with his step son Tyler Abell.
LAMB: Drew Pearson’s step son.
LAMB: Who by the way is married to Bess Abell who used to be the social secretary to Lyndon Johnson.
LAMB: But what did you learn from Tyler Abell who’s still here, lives in the suburbs?
CAMPBELL: Talked with him about the diary that he edited, Drew Pearson’s diary which was a very important resource for me. And also he gave me clearance to use the photograph of Drew Pearson with hat on that appears in ”Getting it Wrong”. So he was a very helpful source for me.
LAMB: I have some more video but in your piece you talk about the fact that and the source of this may have been Fred Friendly who was CBS news president for a year. Worked with Edward R. Murrow, that Murrow became he was a friend of Bill Paley, who owned CBS and paid him his salary.
But they got, they were at odds over the fact that Bill Paley kept wanting to give equal time to the people that they were attacking and Ed Murrow seemed to not like that. What would that be all about?
CAMPBELL: Well in this case, in the McCarthy case, he did offer right at the outset of the show, Murrow offered right at the outset to give McCarthy as much time as he wanted or ample time to respond to Murrow’s allegations.
And McCarthy took him up on it about three or four weeks later in April 1954, McCarthy goes on the air and does a very bad job, really a terrible job of trying to defend and explain himself.
LAMB: Well let’s watch just a part of this.
MURROW: We supplied the Senator with a kinescope of that program of March 9, and with such scripts and recordings as he requested. We placed no restrictions upon the manner or the method of his reply, and we suggested that we would not take the time to comment on this particular program. The Senator chose to make his reply on film. Here, now, is Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, junior Senator from Wisconsin.
MCCARTHY: Good evening. Mr. Edward R. Murrow, Educational Director of the Columbia Broadcasting System, devoted his program to an attack on the work of the United States Senate Investigating Committee, and on me personally as its chairman, and over the past four years he has made repeated attacks upon me and those fighting Communists.
Now, of course, neither Joe McCarthy nor Edward R. Murrow is of any great importance as individuals. We are only important in our relation to the great struggle to preserve our American liberties.
The Senate Investigating Committee has forced out of government, and out of important defense plants, Communists engaged in the Soviet conspiracy. And, you know, it’s interesting to note that the viciousness of Murrow’s attacks is in direct ratio to our success in digging out Communists.
Now, ordinarily ordinarily I would not take time out from the important work at hand to answer Murrow. However, in this case, I feel justified in doing so because Murrow is a symbol, the leader and the cleverest of the jackal pack which is always found at the throat of anyone who dares to expose individual Communist and traitors.
LAMB: What do you think?
CAMPBELL: Those attacks on Murrow did Joe McCarthy no good, and by that time, by the time he was on the air in April ’54 his favorability ratings were in decline and also his career, his career was in jeopardy.
The senate was about to begin investigative hearings about McCarthy, charges that had been raised by the army that he had sought special treatment for one of his former aides on his, on his committee, his sub-committee.
And those charges were the centerpiece of a, of a succession of hearings in the summer of 1954 and wound up leading to McCarthy’s being censured by the, by the U.S. Senate in his political decline and eclipse (ph).
LAMB: And three years later he’s dead.
CAMPBELL: He’s dead.
LAMB: At age 48.
CAMPBELL: That’s right.
LAMB: So you say that Joe McCarthy was not run out of this whole business by Edward R. Murrow in the end.
CAMPBELL: That’s right, that’s right, Murrow was very late to taking on McCarthy. The toxic threat that McCarthy posed to American, to the United States was well demonstrated long before Edward R. Murrow’s program.
You know interestingly Murrow himself said that you know he really did not want credit for taking down McCarthy. Fred Friendly whom you mentioned earlier, Murrow’s producer also said as much.
It wasn’t the Murrow show he said that took down McCarthy it was the army McCarthy hearings in the summer of 1954.
LAMB: And where does the myth start?
CAMPBELL: Well the myth starts pretty quickly. It’s seeded very early on, a magazine called ”Telecasting Broadcasting” said their going to have to in the aftermath of Murrow’s programs said their going to have to change the definition of journalism now. And extolled Murrow for his taking on McCarthy and being very courageous and so forth about it.
And so it took on this mythical overtone almost immediately. And at the time television is making its clear entry into American households, into American living rooms. In 1954, it passes the threshold of 50 percent penetration, in other words 50 percent of American households now have television.
So television needs a defining figure. It needs a white knight. It needs some one like Edward R. Murrow and it needs a defining moment. And that defining moment became the confrontation that Murrow had in March of 1954 taking down Joe McCarthy.
Also it, it’s very well timed I mean Murrow didn’t plan it this way but the Army’s charges against McCarthy take hold and are announced a couple of days after his program.
So this coincidental great timing helps place Murrow at the center of this unraveling of Joe McCarthy. But he really was a subordinate player.
LAMB: So where do you come down on the spectrum of the argument today that you hear people wanting to go back to the old days? Back to the way journalism was, they don’t like the idea that there’s a Fox News or a MSNBC where they’re at each others throat or like Rush Limbaugh. Better off today or worse off today?
CAMPBELL: Absolutely better off today. I think the more choices and the more variety, the more options that are out there the better; the better for American journalism, the better for America democracy, the better for the American public.
I think what back in the day when there was the Fairness Doctrine and just three major networks, I don’t think American audiences, the American country and American journalism were well served by that. So I think the more, the more choices, the more options the better; even if we have fond recollections of Edward R. Murrow.
The media driven myths often invoke what I call the golden, others have called it too, the golden age fallacy. Sort of look back and say yes there really was a time when American journalism was respected, that journalists did great work, that they told truth to power and their work had an effect.
And the Murrow story, the Murrow McCarthy confrontation just as Watergate, just as the Cronkite moment, all those fall victim to the golden age fallacy, looking back in time to a period when journalists were widely respected and did great work.
LAMB: I saw on a website that in 19, 2006 and maybe there’s been more activity since then you were the Teacher of the Year at American University.
CAMPBELL: That’s the student government, every year at American University gives an award for faculty member of the year and I was the lucky recipient that year.
LAMB: What techniques do you use in the classroom that gets you that kind of following?
CAMPBELL: You know I like to teach classes in a very interactive way. Even if it’s a large class of 30, 40 or more students to try to engage the students in the content and not to strictly lecture to them. Well there’s some lecture and some presentation but to engage the material. To have reading assignments that they are expected to of completed and then also to be ready to discuss.
And that kind of engagement, that kind of discussion based learning I think is very effective.
LAMB: What’s next after this book?
CAMPBELL: You know I like to think that the universe of media driven myths is not confined to ten, to ten in this book. And I’d really like, although I haven’t spoken with the publisher about this in any detail.
But I would like to think that there’s a sequel to ”Getting it Wrong”, Getting it Wrong, Part Two or More Getting it Wrong or maybe a whole other title.
LAMB: Is there an interactive website for people to get to you on this book?
CAMPBELL: There are a couple of websites, one of, one of them is mediadrivenmyths.com and I can be reached also through wjosephcambell.com and I blog frequently about media driven myths.
LAMB: What’s the W stand for?
CAMPBELL: It’s my first name and.
LAMB: What is it?
CAMPBELL: My mother is, used she insisted I use the W and not the Joseph. It’s a family secret.
LAMB: What’s it stand for?
CAMPBELL: It’s a family secret.
LAMB: Why’s it a family secret?
CAMPBELL: Well it’s one that I just never disclose.
LAMB: You never disclose?
CAMPBELL: Well seldom.
LAMB: Your first name.
CAMPBELL: Yes so yes.
LAMB: So this ought to be an opportunity.
CAMPBELL: Yes it could be. I think I’ll pass.
LAMB: W. Joseph Campbell, ”Getting it Wrong” is the name of the book. Thank you for joining us.
CAMPBELL: Thank you very much, Brian Lamb, it’s a pleasure.