Theodore Roosevelt

Manipulation When he was president from 1901 to 1909, Theodore Roosevelt joked that he had “discovered Mondays.” Recognizing that Sundays were what was called a “slow news day,” with reporters having little to write for Monday morning editions, Roosevelt took to issuing statements to the press on Sundays. He knew his chances for front- page coverage was stronger on Mondays than any other day. Roosevelt understood the dynamics of the news business and used it to his advantage.

Case Study The McCarthy Lessons

In 1950, a previously obscure U.S. senator from Wisconsin warned a Republican gathering in West Virginia about a communist spy ring inside the State Department. To most Americans at the time, communism was the sinister ideology behind aggressive and scary Soviet policies. The United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in political rivalry called the Cold War. Considering the importance of a U.S. senator in national policy-making, reporters could hardly ignore McCarthy’s words. By definition, the West Virginia speech was newsworthy.

Norman Yost, the managing editor of the West Virginia newspaper, the Wheeling Intelligencer, sensed a broad interest in the reporter’s story of a 1950 speech by U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy to the local Republican Women’s Club. Yost phoned the

story to the AP office in Charleston. By the next morning, newspapers across the country had picked up the story. There was a question as to newsworthiness: A U.S. senator had said dozens of Communists were working in the U.S. State Department, presumably agents of the dreaded other global superpower, the Soviet Union, which had recently developed an atomic bomb.

Joseph McCarthy. The U.S. senator’s fabrications about communist and Soviet infiltrations into U.S. government were reported accurately. The only problem was that McCarthy was lying. In retrospect, the issue for journalists was how to distinguish truth from falsity in what sources tell them while maintaining the detached neutral stance that news audiences expected.

Soon McCarthy was hot news. For months McCarthy, a publicity hound, repeated his charges, which were picked up time and again by reporters following the Bennett Model for news—dutifully telling everything McCarthy stated, despite the fact that there was no evidence to back up his assertions.

Months later CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow took McCarthy to task in a television interview. It was a departure from traditional journalism at the time and cemented Murrow’s reputation as a journalist—and demolished McCarthy’s credibility. In 1954 the U.S. Senate took an unusual step of censuring McCarthy by a vote of 67 to 22. Three years later, at the age 48, McCarthy died of complications from chronic

alcoholism that, associates said later, had clouded his judgment for years—a fact that had never been reported.

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