Claudia Schwarz: American Media and the Quest for ‘Truth’

The dissertation discusses the ethics of storytelling in American media with a special focus on the representation and processing of truth in the news media. Based on the premises that storytelling plays a key role in human lives, the thesis explores the relationship between fact and fiction and argues that the media offer an approach to rather than a reflection of reality and that the truth in mediated stories is not to be taken as truth in any single, strict philosophical sense but as the interpretation of a culture and its ethical principles.

The thesis starts with the discussion of media ethics as a joint venture of philosophy, media studies, and media practice and elaborates on philosophical theories of truth and their impact on ethical media conduct. It continues to argue that stories both non-fictional and fictional exercise great influence on humans and that the media take an active part as the prime storytellers of society. In a historical outline from Puritanism to the Cyberage, the prevailing conceptions of truth are shown to influence the narratives of the time, which are in turn influenced by technological advancement. In a discussion of the power of news, ethical intentions of information and misinformation are subsequently analyzed in regard to the responsibility of the news media as the public sphere. In the last chapter, two news parody shows are examined in regard to their impact as critics of media conduct and cultural conventions.

From an American cultural viewpoint, the dissertation navigates between the spheres of media studies, philosophy, literary studies, history, and politics and aims at establishing an understanding of both the possibilities and risks of mediated stories that, in connection with an implied ethical message, probably convey more “truthiness” than truth.

(University of Innsbruck)