The Press Effect: Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories That Shape the Political World

By Kathleen Hall Jamieson; Paul Waldman | Go to book overview

Introduction

In early December 2001, journalists were told by Bush administration officials that an about-to-be-released videotape of Osama Bin Laden not only provided evidence that Bin Laden planned the September 11 attacks, but included a detail worthy of a James Bond villain: Even some of those about to die in service to his cause were unaware that the plan called for their deaths. As CNN's John King reported, administration officials said the video showed Bin Laden “talking about how, and one official says laughing when he does so, that many of those hijackers did not know, when they were planning those attacks, that they indeed would die in what ultimately became suicide hijackings.”

From the tape itself, however, reporters learned that what they had been told was incorrect. On the tape, Bin Laden actually said that the hijackers hadn't known the details of the operation until just before it occurred but did know that they were participating in a “martyrdom operation,” a subtle but important nuance. Yet the news reports did not charge that administration officials had misled them about the details of the tape.

Why did reporters not call the officials to account? Because the “main story” of the tape—that Bin Laden admitted planning the attacks—was so significant, the press may have decided that the incidental falsehood was not noteworthy. We suspect that it was dismissed as well because the larger story of the time, a story embraced by Republicans, Democrats, citizens of small towns and large cities, and reporters alike, focused on the terrible crime that Bin Laden had engineered and his identity, in the

-xi-

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The Press Effect: Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories That Shape the Political World
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction xi
  • The Press Effect *
  • Chapter 1 - The Press as Storyteller 1
  • Chapter 2 - The Press as Amateur Psychologist, Part I 24
  • Chapter 3 - The Press as Amateur Psychologist, Part II 41
  • Chapter 4 - The Press as Soothsayer 74
  • Chapter 5 - The Press as Shaper of Events 95
  • Chapter 6 - The Press as Patriot 130
  • Chapter 7 - The Press as Custodian of Fact 165
  • Conclusion 194
  • Notes 199
  • Index 209
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