Discourse and Democracy   /   Fall 2004   /    Book Reviews

A Review of Paul Starr’s The Creation of the Media: Political Origins of Modern Communications

Johann N. Neem

Paul Starr, in his ambitious new book, argues that political decisions played a central role in the development of the media between the American Revolution and the end of World War II. Too often, Starr believes, we see the story of the media through the lens of technology. New technologies are certainly important. But, Starr writes, the media’s devel- opment was also shaped by the “constitutive choices” of American leaders at critical moments. These choices, once made, direct how new technologies are implemented and govern the rela- tionships among the media, the state, and the market. Bringing a comparative perspective to his analysis, Starr notes that Europeans and Americans used the same technologies—the press, the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, and the television—in fundamentally different ways. These diverse paths prove that politics has “a direct hand in shaping communications for both instrumental and symbolic purposes”

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