Where Ideas Go to Die: The Fate of Intellect in American Journalism

ISBN : 9780190869953

Michael McDevitt
272 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Jul 2020
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Ideas die at the hands of journalists. This is the controversial thesis offered by Michael McDevitt in a sweeping examination of anti-intellectualism in American journalism. A murky presence, anti-intellectualism is not acknowledged by reporters and editors. It is not easily measured by scholars, as it entails opportunities not taken, context not provided, ideas not examined. Where Ideas Go to Die will be the first book to document how journalism polices intellect at a time when thoughtful examination of our society's news media is arguably more important than ever. Through analysis of media encounters with dissent since 9/11, McDevitt argues that journalism engages in a form of social control, routinely suppressing ideas that might offend audiences. McDevitt is not arguing that journalists are consciously or purposely controlling ideas, but rather that resentment of intellectuals and suspicion of intellect are latent in journalism and that such sentiment manifests in the stories journalists choose to tell, or not to tell. In their commodification of knowledge, journalists will, for example, "clarify" ideas to distill deviance; dismiss nuance as untranslatable; and funnel productive ideas into static, partisan binaries. Anti-intellectualism is not unique to American media. Yet, McDevitt argues that it is intertwined with the nation's cultural history, and consequently baked into the professional training that occurs in classrooms and newsrooms. He offers both a critique of our nation's media system and a way forward, to a media landscape in which journalists recognize the prevalence of anti-intellectualism and take steps to avoid it, and in which journalism is considered an intellectual profession.


1 Journalism and Intellect: A Vexed Relationship
Part I: News Media and Democratic Decline
2 Peopling of the Journalistic Imagination: Four Kinds of Anti-intellectualism
3 Eclipse of Reflexivity in the Rise of Trump
Part II: Social Control of Intellect
4 The Academic-Media Nexus
5 Policing of Intellectual Transgressions: News as a Recursive Regime
6 Social Drama at Macro and Micro Levels: The Fractal Control of Dissent
7 Deviant in Residence: Idea Rendering and Repair in the Parochial Press
Part III: Education and Reform
8 Closing of the Journalism Mind: Anti-intellectualism among College Students
9 In My Buggy: How Dangerous Professors Seed Intellect in a Hybrid Field
10 What Intellectual Journalism Would Look Like

About the author: 

Michael McDevitt is Professor of Journalism and Media Studies in the College of Media, Communication and Information at the University of Colorado. He previously worked as a reporter and editorial writer for newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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