Departmental Papers (ASC)

Document Type

Book Chapter

Date of this Version

January 1992

Publication Source

Covering the Body : The Kennedy Assassination, the Media, and the Shaping of Collective Memory

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This book began with somewhat amorphous and tentative thoughts on the workings of journalistic authority, by which the media assume the right to present authoritative versions of events. Journalistic authority was approached as a construct implicitly but identifiably located within the practices of American journalists.

These pages have shown that journalistic authority is neither amorphous nor tentative. It exists in narrative, where journalists maintain it through the stories they tell. By varying who tells these stories, how they tell them, and what they do or do not tell, journalists enact their authority as a narrative craft, embodied in narrative forms.

These narratives are then transported into collective memory, where they are used as models for understanding the authoritative role of the journalist and journalistic community. Specific narratives signal different boundaries of appropriate journalistic practice and help clarify the boundaries of cultural authority across time and space. This is what Jiirgen Habermas, Max Weber, and others called rhetorical legitimation, the ability of retellers to legitimate themselves through the stories they tell in public discourse.


NOTE: At the time of publication, author Barbie Zelizer was affiliated with Temple University. Currently(March 2008), she is a faculty member at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.



Date Posted: 04 March 2008