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Political History of Journalism



Political History of Journalism

Geraldine Muhlmann

ISBN: 978-0-745-63574-3 March 2008 Polity 296 Pages

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In this new important book, Geraldine Muhlmann provides a comparative history of the rise of modern journalism, from the revolution of the late nineteenth century, with its new concern for facts, through to the present day. Her account is structured around the tension between what she calls the unifying and decentring tendencies in modern journalism - that is, the concern to give readers a truth that is acceptable to all, on the one hand, and the concern to resist dominant representations and give voice to alternative views, on the other.

She illustrates her account with a wide range of case studies, from Sverine, who covered the trial of Dreyfus in late nineteenth-century France, to the great Vietnam War reporters, Seymour M. Hersh and Michael Herr. In between are fascinating new readings of famous figures like George Orwell and Norman Mailer as well as some less well-known writers, such as the great American muckraker, Lincoln Steffens, and the French crusading journalist, Albert Londres.

This historical and comparative account of the rise of modern journalism will be an ideal text for courses in journalism, political communication and media history. Written by an author who believes that journalism is crucial to our modern democracies and that it deserves to be studied with knowledge and care, the book raises serious questions about the role of the reporter and about the sorts of journalism that are possible in the twenty-first century.



CHAPTER 1 / Unifying and decentring in modern journalism.

1. Unifying journalisms: the triumph of the witness-ambassador.

‘Facts’ acceptable to all, The truth is visible, The figure of the witness-ambassador,.

2. Journalisms that decentre: acts of daring, difficulties and pitfalls.

The dilemma of the decentring journalist, Making us see otherness and connecting it to us,.

CHAPTER 2 / An archetype of the witness-ambassador: Séverine, reporter at the trial of Captain Dreyfus (La Fronde, 6 August-15 September 1899).

1. The truth of the senses.

The ‘witness’ against the ‘rhetoricians’, A radical sensualism,.

2. The body of the reporter.

Woman-as-the-people, The heritage of Jules Vallés,.

3. Unifying by orchestrating a conflict.

CHAPTER 3 / Unifying through a test: Nelly Bly, Albert Londres and Edward R. Murrow.

1. Nelly Bly or the test of the hidden.

Stunt journalism, Making us see what is hidden and making us see ourselves, ‘We’ and ‘the others’,.

2. Albert Londres or the test of strangeness.

The gaze as emergence of the strange, From ‘I don’t understand’ to ‘”it” makes an appeal to us’, Au Bagne (1923),.

3. Edward R Morrow or the test of the usurpation of the centre.

‘See it now’ versus McCarthyism: ‘Americanness’ at stake, ‘Un-American’: the situation reversed, Exposure to the public,.

CHAPTER 4 / The limitations of the position of witness-ambassador: the case of Lincoln Steffens.

1. The ease of the recourse to ‘I saw’.

2. The itinerary of a Muckraker in crisis.

The Muckrakers, Lincoln Steffens: from ‘the facts’ to ‘the system’, The public, a prison,.

3. Saying good-bye to the witness-ambassador?.

CHAPTER 5 / The difficulties of decentrement: the New Journalism and the early years of Libération.

1. The New Journalism and the temptation of ubiquity.

A journalism in the first person, The ‘chameleon’ journalism of Tom Wolfe and its ambivalence, Misunderstandings, the incommunicable and the questioning of reality in the New Journalism: a reading of Norman Mailer’s The Armies of the.

Night (1968),.

2. Libé 1 and the temptation to unify the dominated.

Multiplicity of voices or common voice of the dominated? The double discourse of the early years of ‘Libération’, The search for the ‘wandering crowd’: Marc Kravetz reporter in Iran,.

CHAPTER 6 / An archetype of decentring: George Orwell.

1. The question of the other gaze.

The desire for metamorphosis: ‘Down and out in Paris and London (1933)’, ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’ (1937) or self-criticism, Shooting an elephant’ (1936).

2. The solitude of the decentrer in the reportages of 1936-1937.

The double exteriority in ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’, ‘Homage to Catalonia’ or the reporter as exile,.

3. The gaze as decentring. A reading of 1984.

Winston or the birth of a gaze, The stages in the annihilation of the gaze,.

CHAPTER 7 / Seeing violence. Seymour M. Hersh, Michael Herr: two decentring reporters in the Vietnam War.

1. The ‘other Americans’: Seymour M. Hersh and the My Lai massacre.

From the facts to the intimacy of violence, The witnesses speak: those others we once were,.

2. Michael Herr in Vietnam: Violence as an impossible spectacle.

The alternatives: the protected gaze or the death of the gaze, The blindness of journalists, Making the ‘I am unable to see’ visible,.




"At last! A truly intelligent and well-written book on this most elusive subject ? what, indeed, is at the heart of that matter we call journalism?"
Norman Mailer

"An immensely thoughtful book (that) brilliantly achieves the author's ambition to 'have meaning for those who practise journalism or wish to do so'."
Tim Luckhurst, Times Higher Education

"Its engagement with journalism as a developing set of practices is very refreshing."
Australian Journalism Review

"This is a stimulating and deeply intelligent book, full of striking insights into landmarks in the journalistic history of Britain, France, and the US. A Political History of Journalism is the most sophisticated inquiry I know into the complexity of a serious journalist's two enduring problems: how to find a relation to events in which they are not flattened into false familiarity, and a relation to readers in which they are not seduced into false consensus."
Todd Gitlin, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University

"Géraldine Muhlmann's A Political History of Journalism is a fascinating and carefully argued account of how journalism can create and challenge democratic community. It is a highly original contribution to the history of journalism and to the study of the processes that constitute the public sphere."
Daniel C. Hallin, University of California, San Diego

  • An outstanding critical history of journalism, from the birth of modern journalism in the nineteenth century to the present
  • Adopts a comparative approach, examining the development of journalism in the United States, Britain, France and elsewhere
  • The text is richly illustrated with case studies of well-known journalists, such as the great Vietnam reporters Seymour Hersh and Michael Herr
  • The author is highly regarded as one of the outstanding young scholars of journalism and political communication
  • An ideal text for students taking courses in journalism, news and political communication, this book will also be of interest to a wider general readership