Academic journal article Journalism History

Last Rights: Revisiting Four Theories of the Press

Academic journal article Journalism History

Last Rights: Revisiting Four Theories of the Press

Article excerpt

John C. Nerone, ed. Last Rights: Revisiting Four Theories of the Press. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995. 184 pp. $12.95.

Last Rights: Revisiting Four Theories of the Press provides an excellent critical analysis of the historical moment within which Four Theories was constructed and a detailed and convincing argument as to why it is no longer relevant or accurate.

John Nerone's assertion that Four Theories "is a bit slippery in its sense of `theory" is unquestionable. For example, the Last Rights chapter about authoritarianism and liberalism clearly makes the case that Fred Siebert's libertarianism and authoritarianism were oversimplifications, that one was a mirror image of the other.

Furthermore, social responsibility is just a "nice name for authoritarianism," and totalitarianism is basically a version of authoritarianism adapted to Soviet Russia. Moreover, the four concepts are judged in the context of seventeenth-century English libertarian thought, with which the Four Theories authors were most familiar.

Although Nerone's collection of critical essays offers the student of mass communication history a sketchy summary of numerous theories (antinomianism, liberalism vs. Libertarianism, neoliberalism, and communitarianism), the book is similarly slippery. Last Rights offers a sort of situation theory-that individuals choose a theory based on their own normative paradigm, and that media reflect the society in which they operate. In fact, Nerone's conclusion suggests that a theoretical construct is not appropriate for contemporary media systems because we should "do history, not theory. …

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