With its broad scope, Benjamin Radford’s Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists and Advertisers Mislead Us explores the ways in which the media misleads the American public. It is a multifaceted study, drawing examples from advertising and activism as well as mainstream media activities. The book’s fascinating information is buried in redundant text and circular organization. Is Radford’s scope too broad? Is a book written in 2003 still relevant? These are just a couple questions that arise from Media Mythmakers, and only the author can truly answer them. The information the book contains may hint at the answers.
The first step in answering these questions is determining what information is well presented. Radford succeeds in detailing the mainstream media’s exploitation of emotion. He explains common logical fallacies committed by martyrmakers. With that, examples of groups profiting from tragic events illustrate some of the most deplorable aspects of the media and ordinary people working together to manipulate public opinion. This book is one of the few instances where anyone pins responsibility for declining media quality on the American populace. Another concept Radford examines with particular care is bias, be it the inherently subjective nature of journalism or his own bias in writing the book. He also discusses the value of critical thinking in a variety of situations from causes du jour to the effect of media-induced hype on the legislative process. At its best, Mythmakers dissects the consequences of emotion-clouded judgment and its effects on people being accurately informed of the most complex issues of the day.
While the book provides useful information, the organization of data and analysis feels frenetic, as information gets lost in ill-formed transitions. Radford’s examples jump around, and he relies heavily on three news stories for examples of substandard journalism practices: Princess Diana’s death, the Columbine shootings, and 9/11. This repetition in the book becomes tiring; perhaps Radford should have treated them as case studies so errors in media could be noted in one or two chapters instead of several. Likewise, the chapters on advertising are incongruent in tone and content when compared to the rest of the book. While reading later chapters, I wondered if advertising would be further addressed. Given its brief appearance in the beginning, the information on advertising may be better examined as part of other media manipulation tactics. The book’s overall format also feels cluttered. While part of it stems from the numerous sources cited, the layout is more akin to a string of extended essays combined into a hardcover book with no thoughtful transitions between them. Dedicating individual chapters to the most prominent cases of media misbehavior would have facilitated more thorough and easy to follow discussion of the exact tactics used to sway public opinion and information.
Media Mythmakers also falters in properly identifying its audience. The language used shifts between formal and colloquial. This bipolarity suggests Radford attempted to write this book to appeal to two very different groups: the intellectually ambitious and mainstream media consumers. Finding a middle ground for these groups is difficult at best, and such fluctuation in diction is not a constructive way to achieve that goal. The intellectually ambitious crowd of this decade, meanwhile, will regard much of the information presented as old news. The statistics for white collar crime are a prime example of such information; this information is now taught in introductory social science courses at various higher education institutions. If this book is intended for the more cerebral audience, expanded discussion on the less obvious topics (e.g. activist manipulation of the media and the humanitarian aid paradox) would be a more sensible approach. Meanwhile, a more mainstream audience may need to be alerted of the white collar crime statistics. No matter the audience, new information needs to be presented to reflect the changes in the media environment since 2003. The audience and its various subsections have changed significantly since that time.
Radford’s book provides some useful information regarding the state of contemporary media. Finding that information is a test of reading skill and perseverance. Valuable information hides in redundancy and outdated statistics. Media Mythmakers covers a subject that deserves more careful examination than what is currently given. Radford should consider rewriting this book for the new decade, which has not only a new crop of stories bungled by the media but also a transformed audience.