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Readers' LiberationThe Literary Agenda$
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Jonathan Rose

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198723554

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198723554.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 27 November 2021

On Not Believing What You Read

On Not Believing What You Read

6 (p.129) On Not Believing What You Read
Readers' Liberation

Jonathan Rose

Oxford University Press

Every student should, before graduating, see the 2006 teen-comedy movie Accepted. It’s a broad satire built around some high-school misfits whom no college admissions officer in his right mind would accept, not even in this economy. So they commandeer an abandoned mental asylum and construct their own college based on Marxism (Groucho), and they do to higher education what A Night at the Opera did to Il Trovatore. To a flabbergasted visitor, the teenage president of the college recommends the school newspaper, The Rag. “There’s a great op-ed piece in there about not believing everything you read,” he explains. Like all absurdist comedy, Accepted poses that subversive question, “Who’s absurd here?” It stands upside-down all the pretenses of university life, including its most fundamental pretense, that if we spend years here reading, we will get closer to the truth. Is there, though, any necessary relation between reality and what we find on the printed page? It’s a question that has become particularly acute today, when it seems that every man is his own deconstructionist. When Paul Ricoeur coined the phrase “hermeneutic of suspicion,” he was only recommending this reading strategy to literary theorists, but his students took it quite seriously and in 1968 turned the University of Nanterre into, well, something like the campus in Accepted. And today that skepticism is thoroughly mainstream. According to the Gallup Poll, only 32 percent of Americans in 2016 have confidence in the media, down from a high of 72 percent in 1976, post-Woodward and Bernstein. Among millennials (18-to-29-year-olds), just 11 percent trust the media. In Britain, back in 1975, only about a third of tabloid readers and just 3 percent of readers of “quality” broadsheets felt that their paper “often gets its facts wrong.” But by 2012 no British daily was trusted by a majority of the public “to report fairly and accurately.” In something of a contradiction, the Sun enjoyed both the largest circulation and the lowest level of trust (just 9 percent).

Keywords:   Associated Press, Charles, Google, Louis, scrapbooks

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