In The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, Daniel J. Boorstin explains how the last century has created a demand from readers that
papers be full of news. If there is no story about war, natural disaster or assassination, reporters were to come up with think pieces – elaborate articles constructed of facts and speculation about an issue or an event that may happen or is scheduled to happen.
This introduced into the public sphere pseudo-events, things that are arranged or brought about merely to attract publicity or for the entertainment value they generate.
Characteristics of the pseudo-event are:
- It is not spontaneous but comes when someone plans, or incites it.
- It is planned primarily (but not always) with the purpose of being reported, or reproduced.
- Its relationship to the underlying reality of the situation is ambiguous. (Does the statement really mean what it says? Without ambiguity a pseudo-event is not interesting.)
- Usually a self-fulfilling prophecy. (For example, drawing attention to a hotel’s 30th anniversary celebration by saying it is a distinguished institution actually makes it one.)
A recent historical example is U.S. President George W. Bush attempting to improve Americans’ approval of his administration and its policies with numerous pseudo-events. It has been charged that everything leading up to the war in Iraq was preplanned to scare the public by convincing people that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, even though, weeks after the war started, none were discovered.
“Nov. 28, 2003, Bush made a surprise Thanksgiving visit to U.S. troops in Iraq, posed with fake turkey to show just how thankful he really was,” Kleo Nikolaidis wrote in the Pseudo Events in Politics blog. “Two hours later, he was on his way to good old America.”
- Do you think that pseudo-events are more common in the news industry than we think?
- Do you think pseudo-events hinder more newsworthy stories from bubbling up to the surface?
– Maria Silva, Levi Gogerla,
Sam Oleschuk, Jazmin Tremblay