The current issue features Vanessa Murphree’s reexamination of Edward Bernays’s “Torches of Freedom March,” considered a textbook example of the effectiveness of a pseudo-event and media manipulation to advance a cause. Linda Lumsden explores how Socialist muckraker John Kenneth Turner not only went undercover to expose oppression of Mexican peasants during the 1920s, but also ran guns for the rebels. Jean Folkerts examines the controversy surrounding William Lindsey White’s 1945 account of Russia, published in Report on the Russians. John F. Kirch explores if the New York Times caved into pressure from the White House in 1982 to remove Raymond Bonner from his post in El Salvador.
Teaching Our Journal
With each issue of American Journalism, we feature teaching materials for a particular article and provide free online access to the article (through Taylor & Francis, the publisher of American Journalism).
The teaching materials provide topical overviews and various exercises for teaching the article in either undergraduate or graduate classes. The author of the article creates the teaching exercises and provides links to relevant primary and secondary sources.
We hope these teaching materials and the historical studies they reference will enrich your media history courses and, most importantly, your students’ learning. And we hope you will let us know how you use American Journalism in your classrooms.
Volume 32, Number 3, 2015
By Vanessa Murphree, University of Southern Mississippi
During the 1929 “Easter Parade” in New York City, a small group of carefully selected cigarette-smoking women marched with the purported goal of “smashing the discriminatory taboo for cigarettes and women.” The women were actually recruited as part of Edward Bernays’s work for the American Tobacco Company. Bernays was inspired by a suggestion from psychoanalyst A. A. Brill, who asserted that if smoking could be equated with power, then women would be more likely to rebel against the social taboo of their smoking on the street.
Bernays, often referred to as “the father of public relations,” claimed that the event attracted a massive amount of celebratory media coverage, resulting in an instant cultural shift. Though Bernays (as well as others who would write about the event much later) provided little in the way of evidence to support such claims, the Torches of Freedom march is still viewed as iconic—a textbook example of the effectiveness of pseudo events and media manipulation to advance a cause.
In her article, Vanessa Murphree argues that while descriptions of the event as being carefully staged are accurate, the idea that the media fell for the pseudo-event in a large way is a Bernays-driven myth. A close reading of primary sources indicates that newspapers across the country covered the story differently than what Bernays told his audiences. Bernays did hire women to walk in the parade and to openly smoke, but few have challenged the plausibility that such an event had the power to change behaviors overnight. The oft-repeated myth is that readers were impressed by images of glamorous women smoking cigarettes, and therefore decided to take up the habit. But the contrast between article content and subsequent historical and biographical accounts indicates that Bernays overstated his success to the point of myth-making. Several writers in addition to Bernays have argued that there was widespread and persuasive coverage of the parade event, but they provide few citations, give few examples, and mostly rely on Bernays as their primary source. Read more.