Media Perspectives on the Thomas Hearings

There are many questions to consider as you read the sources both on the main page for this unit and in the related links section below. As you investigate the media's role in the Thomas hearings and how the hearings took on a life of their as a "media event", keep in mind the following ideas from John Fiskes' Media Matters. He notes that:

The term media event is an indication that in a postmodern world we can no longer rely on a stable relationship or clear distinction between a "real" event and its mediated representation. Consequently, we can no longer work with the idea that the "real" is more important, significant, or even "true" than the representation. A media event, then, is not a mere representation of what happened, but it has its own reality, which gathers up into itself the reality of the event that may or may not have preceded it.

He argues that media events are important even though at times they seem unreal because they are public struggles over meaning and power. In the Thomas hearings questions were raised as a result of who got to speak, when they were allowed to speak, who was listening to the speakers, and how each of these situations were presented through the media. Fiske argues that:

A media event, then, as a point of maximum discursive visibility, is also a point of maximum turbulence. . . It also invites intervention and motivates people to struggle to redirect at least some of the currents flowing through it to serve their interests; it is therefore a site of popular engagement and involvement.

Thus media events are points of struggle. In the Thomas hearings they came to represent struggles between conservatives and liberals, Blacks and whites, Blacks and Blacks, and men versus women.

Keep Fiske's ideas about media event in mind as you investigate the following questions concerning the role of the media in the Thomas hearings.

1) How did the media influence the nomination process? Was Thomas justified in his claim that he was a victim of a "high-tech lynching"?

2) Should the media show more restraint in exploring the private lives of government officials? Must public figures and government officials give up their rights to privacy once they choose a public career?

Related Links

Events and a Metaphor: The introduction from John Fiske's book, Media Matters: Race and Gender in U. S. Politics in which he discusses the importance of "media events" and the struggle over meaning and power.

Speaking Truth to Soundbites: Review of Anita Hill's book Speaking Truth to Power by The Nation columnist Patricia Williams.

History 122
HIST 122 Syllabus

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