The Fuzzy Line Between Journalism and Propaganda

Barry Dredze
6 min readOct 15, 2022
“The Yellow Press” by L.M. Glackens (1910), depicting William Randolph Hearst as a jester tossing his newspapers. (Library of Congress)

“Congress shall make no law,” declares the first amendment to the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution, “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

As such, the News business remains the only private industry with a Constitutional mandate. But in reality, ever since public airwaves ceded dominance of TV news to corporate cable, there is little regulatory oversight that compels any news corporation to take seriously its responsibility for sustaining an informed electorate. No law, that is, except the economic law of supply and demand.

Journalism is a discipline that is taught and learned, while remaining largely self-policed by various official state, national and international press associations. While it is not entirely mechanical, the craft still demands a mastery of its basic mechanics — probing the who what when where why & how of a given newsworthy event from as many primary sources as possible. But if a certain amount of creativity separates the ordinary from the extraordinary reporters, it is still not creative writing. We can’t make stuff up and we can’t be selective about the facts. One of those state press associations, the Illinois Press Association has recently become newsworthy within this midterm electoral landscape of the state’s race for governor.

Periodically, mostly during the runup to elections, political mailers in the form of eight-page tabloid newsprint publications show up in mailboxes of registered Illinois voters. With banners like “West Cook News,” “Kane County Reporter,” “DuPage Policy Journal,” “Will County Gazette,” “The DeKalb Times” and “Chicago City Wire,” the mailers are owned by parent company Local Government Information Services and are filled with disinformation in newspaper-style columns.

Lately, many of the stories are mongering fears over criminal justice reforms signed into law by incumbent Democratic Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker and “reporting” that the law taking effect on January 1, 2023, will unleash dangerous criminal suspects straight from jails into the suburbs. There are also more localized stories consistent with a mailer’s banner heading. For example, the “West Cook News” exploited a presentation at an Oak Park and River Forest High School board meeting to make up a story reporting that the school was…

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Barry Dredze

Just another mortal, tweaking my cognitive map on the fly.