Media Criticism: A Tradition

Mitchell Stephens

Spring 2000


I. The Limitations of Media

Jan. 18. Plato, Phaedrus (selection).

Jan. 25. Plato, Gorgias; Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.

Feb. 1. Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, "Plato's Pharmacy, I: 1-4, II: 8________________________.

Feb. 8. Cervantes, Don Quixote (selection) ________________________; George Colman, "Polly Honeycombe" (selection) ________________________; Joseph Addison, The Spectator, No. 582________________________; "Newspaperism," Lippincott's Monthly Magazine________________________; Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Self-Reliance"________________________; Henry David Thoreau, Walden (selection) ________________________; Charles Baudelaire, "The Modern Public and Photography"________________________; Jerzy Kosinski, Being There________________________. (with Willis class)

II. Press Freedom

Feb. 15. Plato, The Republic (selection) ________________________; John Milton, "The Areopagetica"________________________; John Locke, "Essay Concerning Human Understanding" (selection) ________________________; John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (selection)________________________.

Feb. 22. Andrew Hamilton, closing argument in the trial of John Peter Zenger________________________; Alexander Hamilton, "The Federalist," No. 84________________________; The Bill of Rights; The Alien and Sedition Laws ________________________; essay on World War I press control in The Masses________________________; Supreme Court decisions in Near v. Minnesota ________________________and Times v. Sullivan________________________.

Feb. 29. Herbert Marcuse, "Repressive Tolerance"________________________; Howard Ziff, "Practicing Responsible Journalism" ________________________.

III. The Excesses of Journalism

March 7. Cicero, letters (selections) ________________________; H.H. Brackenridge, Modern Chivalry (selection) ________________________; James Fenimore Cooper, The American Democrat (selection) ________________________; Charles Dickens, American Notes (selection) ________________________; Mark Twain, "Journalism in Tennessee"________________________.

March 21. Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis, "The Right to Privacy"________________________; E.L. Godkin, essay in the N.Y. Post on coverage of sinking of the Maine, 2/19/1898________________________; Film: "His Girl Friday" (based on Ben Hecht's "The Front Page"________________________.

IV. The Failings of Journalism

March 28. Samuel Cornish and John Russwurn, "To Our Patrons," Freedom�s Journal________________________; Edward Alsworth Ross, "The Suppression of Important News"________________________;

Walter Lippmann and Charles Metz, "A Test for the News"________________________; Malcolm Muggeridge, Winter in Moscow(selection) ________________________.

April 4. Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion (selection) ________________________; A. J. Liebling, The Press (selection)________________________.

V. The Consequences of Media

April 11. Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy (selection)_______________________; The Iliad (selection) ________________________; Aristotle, Rhetoric selection)________________________.

April 18. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (selection) ________________________; Flaubert, Madame Bovary________________________.

April 25. David Forster Wallace, "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction"________________________; Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting________________________.


Biographical reports: Each student will be responsible for in-class presentations on two or three of the writers whose work we will be reading in the class. These reports should include basic information on those writers� lives as well as background on the specific pieces we will be reading. A bibliography should be distributed to the class.

Pick a medium: Each student will be required to follow one contemporary form of communication throughout the semester: Internet news sites, for example, women�s magazines, New York tabloids or all-news television networks. This form of communication should be large and significant enough to support substantial and varied analyses.

Short critiques: Each student will write four short critiques of the performance of the form of communication they have been following. These critiques should adopt the perspective of one of the works read in the class (taken from three, separate sections of the course) and will be due at the beginning of class the week we discuss that reading. They should be written in a journalistic style. (Fiction experiments are possible but will require permission.) The critiques should be about 500 words long.

Final paper: An extended consideration, making use of concepts discussed in the course, of the specific form of communication the student has selected. Style: journalistic. Length: 2,000 words.

No late assignments will be accepted!

Grading: Will be based on final paper, class participation and short critiques �- in that order.

Office: 10 Washington Place, room 609

Hours: Tuesday 11:30-2, 3:30-4:30; Thursday 11:30-12; and by appointment.

Phone: 212-998-3792, hm: 201-768-1353.