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Right. Moot law he'll achieve life in the wrong. A new college cheer. Hardly. Those are key words in headlines out of an ordinary newspaper is such reading matter aimed at people or puppets. This series people are puppets is produced by the Union Theological Seminary in New York City in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center. On today's program. Are you getting just the facts ma'am. You will hear the views and voices of critic Martin Dworken novelist Geoffrey Wagner and theologian John Bennett. These are the man who analyzed some of the concepts created by our modern mass media and comparing them with our traditional moral religious values. Here is the commentator for people or puppets. The president of the Union Theological
Seminary in New York Dr. Henry Pitney Van Dusen. What is the daily tabloid type diet doing to American. Washington killer up to dies in fiery auto crash. Greek millionaire will buy fashion house. White. 15 year old rates 13 year old in the school basement where the null points made was democratic system three day old baby Amanda. Another busy week for Depp's Ingrid admits it's over. These are actual headlines taken out of the daily newspaper read by millions the American daily paper has something for everyone. There are common denominators However the news stories the features the pictures are all short and snappy. And if at all possible sexy and sensational does such daily reading have any effect upon millions of Americans. Does the newspaper reflect how life is being lived. If not what does it reflect. These are the
questions our producer Philip Kalb asked of our guest authorities. Mark and the work of lectures on the philosophies of education at the Teachers College of Columbia University. Mr. Quirke and there's the film critic for progressive magazine and a freelance writer for many publications. To begin with I find the word sensationalism not clear in this case. Historically of course it the meaning of the word depends upon a notion of appeal to the senses rather than to the reason. Recalling Aristotle for example in his rhetoric arguing bitterly and vigorously against those forms of rhetoric of pursuit of attempted persuasion which warp the judgment.
Which prevent the exercise of the reason. What we must speak of in talking about the method of sensationalism in the popular press television radio. The film In other words in speaking of a kind of presentation of issues in a certain form which we call sensationalism. I think the most fruitful way would be to define it in terms of entertainment. Jeffrey Wagner is a graduate of Oxford. Lectures and literature at City College of New York and Columbia University. He is the author of six novels and the study is parade of pleasure. And Wyndham Lewis the artist as the enemy. Jeffrey Wagner was also a press relations director for a large corporation. Since I've been over here I've heard a great deal of criticism of
tabloids in America but in actual fact in circulation figures. My feeling is that tabloids have more effect in England in England the Daily Mirror and Daily Sketch which would be tabloids to cover the whole country of course and have huge circulations. I suppose the Daily Mirror has about four million and certainly the news of the world on Sundays has one of the largest circulations of any newspaper in the world about seven and a half million now. I think that one feature of the tabloid that anyone can observe is what has been called by critics and news cubism that is to say in a cubist picture you have what is really grammatically speaking a zeugma bringing together of two or more disparate elements in an equal value. And if you look at tabloids of course they do this in the sense that they have seen a great political consequence or a story of great political
consequence linked juxtaposed behind beside a society scandal or something of absolute negligible importance. And if you've watched it recently of course it's been a very good example of that. In this the race of rockets into outer space has been treated very largely by the tabloids as a couple of sort of rather happy basketball teams you know I'm one up on them and they're two up on ass and so forth. Well I think that that in a sense must have the effect of making people puppets in the sense that you were just regarding all new really as of equal value as long as it's news and not evaluating great quality and not making people really conscious of the real implications when they appear. Dr John Bennett professor of Christian theology at the Union Theological Seminary. Dr. Bennett is chairman of the Executive Board
of Christian action. You know whenever people talk about the tabloid newspapers I always remember that for many years most people read these papers but didn't take their advice about voting. And I think we can exaggerate the influence that they have. One of the things that I regard as most objectionable is the way they exploit private grief. This is by the way coming to be a common thing even in the better papers the pictures of people who are grieving over some great tragedy or loss made so much of. Critiquing Martin Dworkin is also an experienced journalist. There are several other problems too. That suggest themselves at any rate in discussing the implications or the penalties if you like of this kind of what we call
sensationalism and which were the finding at the moment as the expression of issues according to the forms of entertainment the opposite of this kind of sensationalism necessarily becomes secrecy. Constant secrecy that is the pre-selection on the part of authorities. What is told what is if you like sensationalized. You mean a story might be significant and even important but it wouldn't be used if it wasn't sensational enough and that way even important stories can be made secret by being under played or on news or what does this do to freedom and democracy Mr Dworkin. On one level we must say this publicist is essential to democracy. His point was never made more clearly than by Jefferson. It's the whole basis of the notion of public education in the United States. It's the entire basis of the ideals of the public price of the freedom of the means of expression
publicity is essential to democracy because democracy is based upon the free exercise of the will of the people who have had the opportunity to consider the issues upon which they must make choices. And the theory is you say that they will have had opportunity to consider the problems which have been stated to them in the completest form the completest form including the statements of opposing points of view. I think the American newspaper ought to be defended here Mr Dworkin. I mean can't the papers be presenting the news in the completest form with opposing points of view and still be entertaining. I mean news in fact I'd go so far as to say that news that's presented entertainingly or sensationally if you wish might actually get some people to know about things and important things that they might otherwise overlook. And I don't imagine you're in the academic camp that doesn't see anything worthwhile or effective in the
dramatic and often personalized approach that most American newspapers use at least in their selection of material. We must not evade the point. Whereas it was possible for many many people to be terribly shocked at the quantitative figures of the extermination policies of the Nazis. Nothing ever brought these policies more dramatically. To the boil. Than that one case of that little girl and Frank. The one case is comprehensible. The one case is the case with which the individual reading the newspaper is sitting at a television set or the radio sat. The one case with which he or she can associate the
terrible struggles and problems the poignancy the desperation of this little girl and Frank becomes comprehensible. A pile of bones two stories high and spreading over acres which I saw myself. Doesn't become believable. It isn't belief. The ability to take what is really shocking is something deeply limited in the human. I remember. Writing out of the order of concentration camp. In a truck with a bunch of my buddies. We had just gone through the camp. Among the first troops what we had seen was simply horrible.
Was later even. Tremendously over. Balanced by what was seen at both involved but at that point what we saw drift was shocking and horrible enough. The stench is still in my in my nostrils. And yet as we were riding out. One of two of the men sitting in the truck. Looking down at the floor. Began to say. It's all propaganda it's all propaganda. People can act that way. People don't do things like that to each other. It isn't true. What were they saying. Not that they weren't believing what they had read or what they had heard. But they couldn't believe what they had seen with their own eyes. It was simply too much. But there's one thing people are able to believe in that is the dramatic personified instance. What I am saying you say. Is that the forms of entertainment.
Not simply have a certain value in the presentation of public affairs but that literally. It is sometimes almost the only way to make things meaningful to people meaningful in the sense that they can associate empathic Alee they can project themselves vicariously into the situation and experience it as something that is vitally important to them. I think I'd better interject a point here Mr Dorgan. This series people are puppets is attempting to analyze not just to criticize the mass media right now of course I believe Mr Dworkin you're pointing out an advantage in sensationalism. Or at least you're pointing out a positive side to the personalized and more dramatic approach to the news. For it seems that people really do get the news more effectively if it can be presented entertainingly or at
least in the way that you've illustrated with your example of comprehending the Nazi extermination policy through the Anne Frank story. Now Actually Mr Dworkin this is a case for the tabloid approach isn't it. This is a case for skill for OTT in the presentation of public affairs. But remember there was one crucial thing here. The end for instance is meaningful fundamentally because it is so true. The dramatic instance that is chosen is not simply one. That is chosen because of entertainment because of its value to see Duce its value I see Doc it is chosen because it is true. When I was speaking obvious a characteristic of of all of us of humans in needing that kind of contact with some other living feeling being. If you want to make the situation of the
unemployed meaningful. Don't how figures are people. After a few years they will sink in but nothing will sink into their mind so fast as the sight of one apple seller on a corner. The issue there however is that that apple seller must strike the mind of the viewer. As someone having to do with the situation of the national economy and not simply being a local fellow who simply sells apples. Your free Wagner's answer to the question what are the serious problems presented by the sensationalist press. I really had the feeling that the tabloids are in a sense whilst being very patriotic and so forth are simply contributing to a climate of absolute hatred and so forth which is going to very difficult get out of later on. One final influence is obviously true of any kind of popular
representation in the press and that is that the audience is surely made callous by by constant violence. It's ridiculous to pretend that it is and it obviously is. It started you know in the last century with them. Nunes the English. Newspaper man who built up a huge empire which is still going strong George Newnes. And he more or less invented the phrase what the people want if the people want it it must be OK. What's the matter with giving people what they want. Well you might say that giving the people what they want. Why not give them buckets of whiskey and whips and naked women and everything the neuro provided. I agree we have we have too. We have to accept certain regulations of the natural man in order to live in society and if we simply say that natural man is fairly good to give him whatever he wants. I suggest that you say you revert to a sort of neurotic
attitude critic Martin left rather than sort of the same question. What other serious problems presented by the press. If it is not deliberately committed to the sensational as many newspapers are not of course the newspaper the Daily Newspaper is by nature topical and the prophecies of reason and of democracy can only be. Fully expressed when there is time. Time to judge. Time to think and time necessarily in which thinking takes place. We need in other words organs of public expression and responsible people managing them who are using these organs to provide people with time to think. Time means all the considerations that are necessary to understand a certain issue. The demagogue
needs action now. He demands action now. There is no time to think. There is no time to do anything. Things are desperate. We must act now. The revolutionaries the subversives are under our beds at the moment. We must tear them out now. The demand for time for consideration which ultimately obliterates the demagogue you say is something which must be implicit in our media. The tabloid emphasis is so-called sensationalist emphasis is essentially demagogic in this way. Sensationalism you see as a principle levels everything to one level of importance because it is attempting to appeal to the very largest group of people who are not considered to be concerned. They are not considered to be a public but a mass and anonymous faceless mass which has to be simply given what it will pay for
the logon Jon-Benet see the positive side. I even went off wired to ask Dr. Bennett if he thought the higher religious view within the commandments of God is having any place in the present newspaper picture. If there are papers which perform a very great social function. And before we leave this subject I should say I think that when I think of the press I think of a very great deal of competent reporting particular reporting on foreign affairs and on political issues in our in our better papers and I have tremendous respect for the actual writing members of the press as I have known about them. And therefore when when in thinking of the press should should think of them and not merely the. Very poor policies of the management which simply caters to the public interest of this rather low variety.
They are concentrating so much on the kind of obvious and sensational which is being perpetuated in our society and our culture and we may tend to overlook some very positive constructive traditions. And I'm wondering if you might explain what some of these might be well to take for example the press conference of the president or the secretary of state. This seems to me to be almost a part of our government now that since the since there's no other way in which they can be brought into direct contact with those who can and really put them on the spot at times. This this is a very very constructive thing. And also the television and radio programs where. Correspondence interview public figures. This seems to me to come to be a rather important
part of our democratic process and the press seem to me at their best that it is best any way the press represents or both integrity and tremendous concern to get at the truth about public affairs. What I'm concerned about is the kind of moral sense tippity to the effects of policies upon people the broader understanding of the needs of other countries. It seems to me that many of those who represent the press have these concerns. Take for example the concern of many. The editorial columns and and commentators about the problems of civil liberties the press did at least much of the press did very well it seems to me on
the problems of civil liberties during the period of Senator McCarthy's great influence. Now this I think is to implement the commandments of God. Even the people doing it don't consciously put what they do into a religious context. And now for a commentary on today's program. Here is the Roosevelt professor of systematic theology and president of Union Theological Seminary Dr. Henry Pitney even yours and this discussion brings us very close to the heart of our overall theme whether the modern mass media are treating us as people or puppets where we may select the plays and movies we see. We may turn off our radio or TV when it is objectionable. But all of us are dependent upon the press for our basic knowledge of what is going on in the world today. If we cannot rely upon the press for truth we become not merely
misinformed but also distorted minds unequipped for the life of democracy. The trouble with the press is its partiality for the sensational. Mr Dworkin started the discussion on the use of the line by reminding us of the original meaning of sensationalism appeal to the senses to sensual satisfaction rather than rational knowledge. The press gives people what it thinks they want and it thinks what people want is sensual excitement vicarious titillation of the senses. We think it went to the tabloids but sad to say we must recognise that the problem exists at both ends of the scale. What troubles me most is the extent to which even our finest newspapers and newsmagazines bowed to the popular liking for the sensational. Let me give a single illustration. We would suppose that religious
news news would be immune from the distortion of sensationalism. But it isn't. At the first assembly of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam I mean one thousand forty eight I happen to have charge of the press conferences. A finer crowd of men and women than the more than 200 representatives of the world press who attended those press conferences daily I have seldom met. I had especially close relations with two press men representatives of America's foremost daily and America's leading news weekly The New York Times and Time magazine grand chaps both of whom I had known well for many years I thought well this news is certainly safe in their hands. Not a bit of it. When I returned to the United States and read the dispatches which actually appeared in The Times and Time I could scarcely believe my eyes what had been cabled from Amsterdam. Even
more what had been selected from the dispatches by the city and makeup editors was not what was important but what was sensational not what was the real news but what was thought to be newsworthy. If this was true of our finest journals how much more of the popular press the people were being given a wholly distorted picture of what was rightly hailed as the most important religious event since the Protestant Reformation. Might it not have been better to have had no newspaper coverage at all than that. Well what can the ordinary citizen do about press sensationalism. How can he protect himself against news distortion. Toward the end of the discussion something was said about publicity and freedom Mr Dworkin suggested. One can read and still not be free.
I would urge that true freedom demands the deliberate cultivation by each of us of two attitude based suspicion of the sensational the habit of recognizing that if a thing is said in the press even the most respectable papers buy it it may be true. It is likely not to be either the whole truth or the most important truth. Chesterton once said the only important thing about knowing the truth is to know the really important truth. The second suggested eternal vigilance to hold the press up to the highest standards by painstakingly correcting through letters and protests. The most serious omissions and distortions by UN wearying Lee reminding the press of their public responsibility to tell the truth the whole
truth and nothing but the truth. The battle for a free press has been largely won the struggle for a responsible press has hardly begun. That was Dr. Henry Pitney been dews and the president of the Union Theological Seminary and a commentator for this series people or puppets. Next week at the same time people are puppets We'll bring you an authoritative analysis and dramatic presentation on more reality and money matters. Can you get away with it. The guest authorities discussing this topic will be author Edwin fuller anthropologist Solon Kimbo theologians John Bennett Oh sharer and Dr people or puppets is written moderated and directed by Philip Gallo of the Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
Executive producer for the seminary professor John W. Bachman music by Albert Brooks. Announcer. This series is made possible by a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center for distribution by the National Association of educational broadcasters. Join us again next week for an exciting analysis of morality and money matters. Can you get away with it. People or. This is the end of the Radio Network.
People or puppets?
Are you just getting the facts Ma'am?
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Union Theological Seminary (New York, N.Y.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
Are you just getting the facts, Ma'am? Sensationalism in the press.
Series Description
Discussions of values and ethics, modern versus traditional. Faculty from Union Theological Seminary, authors Kenneth Burke and Geoffrey Wagner, critics Edmund Fuller and Martin Dworkin, Dr. Solon Kimball and broadcaster Edward Stanley are featured.
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Composer: Brooks, Alfred
Guest: Dworkin, Martin S., 1921-1996
Guest: Fuller, Edmund, 1914-2001
Guest: Wagner, Geoffrey
Host: Van Dusen, Henry P. (Henry Pitney), 1897-1975
Moderator: Geesy, Ray
Producing Organization: Union Theological Seminary (New York, N.Y.)
Writer: Gelb, Philip
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 59-7-6 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:46
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Chicago: “People or puppets?; Are you just getting the facts Ma'am?,” 1959-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 8, 2023,
MLA: “People or puppets?; Are you just getting the facts Ma'am?.” 1959-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 8, 2023. <>.
APA: People or puppets?; Are you just getting the facts Ma'am?. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from