Courtney Johnston's Reviews > The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media

The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone
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Mar 04, 12

Read in March, 2012

A wise and challenging little book (and one that makes me feel negligent for not listening to Gladstone's NPR show).

Journalism and Americanism are heavily entwined concepts for me - take the season of The Wire that exposed the workings of a Baltimore newspaper. Gladstone describes 'the American exception', where at the end of the 18th century, the American legal system decided that truth could be used as a defense against libel charges, removing the government's right to suppress criticism of its actions. After the Revolution, America also bucks the British trend of taxing newspapers, in favour of subsidising their delivery. This creates 'a watchful citizenry ... and a central government that knows it's being watched'. This is 'America's greatest contribution to civilisation', Gladstone continues, and it prevailed for '... seven years', when President John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Act.

Gladstone traces the media activities, and the government and the public's changing relationship to the media, in America from its earliest days to current concerns around "information overload" (a concept, like many others, that she masterfully blows away) and the futility of expectations of objectivity. 'The Influencing Machine' is a swift read, but never a glib one - an assured performance delivered with a sense of humour, and this reader in particular is grateful that Gladstone and Neufeld found a medium so well matched to this message.
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