Getting It Wrong: How Journalists Create Enduring Myths

Hello, city desk, get me rewrite. Here’s the lead: Many of the landmark moments in American journalism are carefully nurtured myths—or, worse, outright fabrications.

William Randolph Hearst never said, “You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.” Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast didn’t panic America. Ed Murrow’s “See It Now” TV show didn’t destroy Sen. Joseph McCarthy. JFK didn’t talk the New York Times into spiking its scoop on the Bay of Pigs invasion. Far from being the first hero of the Iraq War, captured Army Pvt. Jessica Lynch was caught sobbing “Oh, God help us” and never fired a shot.

These fables and more are lovingly undressed in W. Joseph Campbell’s persuasive and entertaining “Getting It Wrong.” With old-school academic detachment, Mr. Campbell, a communications professor at American University, shows how the fog of war, the warp of ideology and muffled skepticism can transmute base journalism into golden legend.

Mr. Campbell’s examples run from the Spanish- American War to Hurricane Katrina, with oddities like the feminist bra-burning at the Democratic Convention in 1964 sandwiched in between. In each case, the author teases out the grain of sand around which the pearl of the myth was spun.

There’s also been some discussion on this here: I’ve posted a comment there as have others.

In any event, I’m adding this to my increasingly long list of books I’d like to read.


  1. Anonymous July 18, 2010

    Have you read “Columbine” by @davecullen ?Another example of how early media reports become cemented as fact, even if later reports completely contradict the first narrative.

  2. Anna Tarkov July 19, 2010

    Nope, haven’t read it. Sounds like another one to add to my increasingly looong to-read list.

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