In the midst of our civic crisis, Walter Lippmann’s “Public Opinion” still speaks

Daniel Cole in Current:

Mis- and disinformation, partisanship and polarization, crisis points and public trust—the big problems of 2022 were tackled by Walter Lippmann in his book Public Opinionpublished one century agoCertainly, the book’s central image of an average citizen spending thirty minutes a day with a print newspaper now seems quaint. Political media has exploded since 1922, and thirty minutes per day may sound healthier than the relentless torrent from multiple sources available now. Even so, Public Opinion holds up remarkably well. While Lippmann’s remedies were lacking, his diagnosis was dead-on.

A towering journalist and public intellectual through most of the twentieth century, Walter Lippmann (1889-1974) left a lexicon that is still with us. He coined the phrase “cold-war,” defining an era. In the pages of Public Opinion he repurposed the term “stereotype,” succinctly naming the simplistic preconceptions humans tend to rely on. The book’s similar notion of a “pseudo-environment” anticipates the concept of social constructionism. Although many associate the phrase “manufacture of consent” with Noam Chomsky, it first appeared in Public Opinion.

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