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

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

CHAPTER 4
The Press as Soothsayer

On the evening of November 7, 2000, the television networks presented their viewers with an evolving story built on a series of assumptions about events taking place in real time. Just as they had in elections past, they presented descriptions of these events as facts. Just as it had in years past, the viewing public accepted these descriptions as facts. But as we soon learned, these descriptions were actually guesses about what had occurred—careful, educated guesses, but guesses nonetheless.

The role of soothsayer is one that reporters have inhabited with increasing frequency in recent years. As cable news shows have proliferated, reporters have been called upon to predict political events in the near and distant future. Citizens have become used to seeing journalists tell them not only what has happened or is happening, but what will happen. The word soothsayer—one who predicts the future—is derived from the Old English word sooth, meaning truth. So perhaps journalists could be forgiven for forgetting that when they describe what has yet to occur they set aside the custodianship of fact and move into a less certain domain.

If news is a rough draft of history, the draft written on the night of November 7, 2000, was rougher than most. “Bush Wins” declared the Boston Herald and the New York Post. “Bush!” said the Austin American Statesman. The printed New York Times was among those adding a qualification: “Bush Appears to Defeat Gore.”

Journalism's reputation for getting it right was preserved by the oldest of the national news outlets, the Associated Press. Although it followed

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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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