Posted by Jayme Blaschke
University News Service
September 7, 2012
A manuscript by Tom Grimes, a professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Texas State University-San Marcos, has been named one of 50 “classic” pieces of scholarship appearing in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly’s 84-year publishing history.
J&MCQ is one of the most prestigious academic journals in field of mass communication.
Grimes and his co-author, Robert E. Drechsel, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, published the scholarly article in 1996 entitled, “Word-Picture Juxtaposition, Schemata, and Defamation in Television News.”
In “Word-Picture Juxtaposition,” the authors demonstrate, through a series of experiments, the existence of a previously unacknowledged type of defamation. In this type of defamation, television producers do not actually commit libel. All the facts in these types of TV stories are correctly and accurately represented. However, some viewers who hold stereotypes “rearrange” in their long-term memories the identities of the people who have been correctly represented in these news stories. The upshot is that these viewers mistakenly “remember” certain people in these news stories as having committed crimes that the TV producers did not report they committed.
For instance, consider a court case that exhibits this form of libel. A female physician is correctly reported by a Chicago TV station to have committed medical malpractice. A male nurse was interviewed about the case by the reporter for the story. The problem was that almost all viewers of that story incorrectly remembered the male nurse as the malpracticing physician and the female physician as the nurse. This is because there’s a stereotype that says females are nurses and males are physicians. That stereotype was so strong that it rearranged the facts of that story in viewers’ minds. The male nurse sued the TV station for libel claiming that he had been incorrectly identified by the TV news report as the malpractitioner. The problem these cases present to judges and juries is that the defendants did not commit defamation (the Chicago TV station), but the plaintiffs do sustain real injury (the male nurse). So what are judges and juries to do?
Since the publication of the article, Grimes and Drechsel have published scholarship that explains to both state and federal courts how they can fairly adjudicate these odd cases of libel.
Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly determined which of the many thousands of studies that have appeared were among the top 50 by noting how many other scholars have cited those articles in their work. The 50 most cited articles were designated “classic” by J&MCQ and included on the list.