Mightier than the Sword

How the News Media Have Shaped American History

Rodger Streitmatter

Fourth Edition • July 28, 2015 • 320 pages

Print ISBN: 9780813349770 • $40.00 USD$51.99 CAN

Ebook ISBN: 9780813349879 • $25.99 USD$25.99 CAN

Courses: , , , , ,

More by these authors:

Order an Exam or Desk Copy

In this engaging examination of the news media’s influence on US history and politics, Rodger Streitmatter visits sixteen landmark episodes, from the American Revolution to the Civil Rights Movement to the present-day Barack Obama administration. In each of these case studies, Streitmatter illustrates the enormous role that journalism has played in not merely recording this nation’s history but also in actively shaping it.

Balancing criticism and celebration of news media and exploring print, broadcast, and digital platforms, Mightier than the Sword provides students with a sense of the power and responsibility inherent in the institution of journalism. Instead of trying to document every detail in the development of the US news media through dry, dull lists of names, dates, and headlines, this book focuses on sixteen discrete episodes that illuminate a point that is much larger than the sum of their parts: journalism has played and continues to play an enormous role in shaping this nation.

The fourth edition features an entirely new chapter on the way the US news media have championed various gay and lesbian rights initiatives, including the Lawrence vs. Texas sodomy case and the Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. Also notable is Streitmatter’s commitment, when writing about recent events, to documenting the role influential online venues such as Slate, Politico, and the Daily Beast play in shaping the nation’s evolution.


Rodger Streitmatter is professor of journalism at American University. A journalist and historian, he is the author of several books and has contributed to numerous popular and scholarly periodicals, including the Washington Post, American Journalism, the Huffington Post, and Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly.


1 Sowing the Seeds of Revolution
2 Turning America Against the Sins of Slavery
3 Slowing the Momentum for Women’s Rights
4 Attacking Municipal Corruption
5 Pushing America Toward an International War
6 Achieving Reform by Muckraking
7 Defying the Ku Klux Klan
8 Spreading Anti-Semitism via the Radio
9 Using “Rosie the Riveter” to Propel Women into the Workforce
10 Standing Tall Against Joseph McCarthy
11 Pushing Civil Rights onto the National Agenda
12 Bringing the Vietnam War into the American Living Room
13 Exposing Criminal Activity in Richard Nixon’s White House
14 Failing the American Public with 9/11 Coverage
15 Electing an African-American President
16 Supporting Gay and Lesbian Rights
17 Focusing on How


“A nice, tight package of meaningful topics… quite readable… balanced… a fine work… short but substantive… innovative in form and content… accessible and insightful… dynamic range of topics. A great supplemental text in a mass media survey or media and history course.”
—Charles Lewis, Minnesota State University

“Accurate, engaging, and succinct. Provides ample starting point for further discussions and exploration…Very readable; the author has a sure hand on his history and makes it accessible to the reader… extensive bibliography is a real plus.”
—Joe Zubrick, University of Maine, Fort Kent

“Streitmatter’s book stands alone as the best thematic approach to history available. Students respond to the storytelling tone; the narratives connect the dates and people for them.”
—Susan English, Gonzaga University

“Impressive. Many texts are chock-full of facts and figures that put students to sleep, not so with Streitmatter’s accessible story-telling approach. The evolution of news, from the American revolution to journalism’s current condition, is outlined in manageable chapters that capture the imagination.”
—Selene Phillips, University of Louisville

“Exciting, easy to read, and something students will find different from that 15-lb. boring historical tome. It gives snippets of history but still leaves the reader with an understanding of the importance of the media in U.S. History. I highly recommend it.”
—Susan J. De Bonis, Georgia Southern University

Praise for the previous editions:
“In this engagingly written collection of case studies, Rodger Streitmatter demonstrates that journalism history is much more than a static gallery of the usual portraits. . . . Overall, the second edition of Mightier than the Sword is well worth acquiring, as it offers substantial new content and updates. As in the first edition, Streitmatter writes gracefully and concisely, in a style sure to command students’ interest. He embeds considerable scholarship in each chapter, so that readers wishing more can easily see where next to go. . . . This book will continue to be useful not only in the standard journalism history course but in myriad others from media and society to media criticism to reporting.”
—Journalism History (Nancy L. Roberts, SUNY-Albany)

“In succinct, engrossing prose, Streitmatter shows how courageous, effective communicators have accepted their own and their media’s limitations to shape the outcome of events from abolitionism to anti-Semitism, women’s rights to civil rights, the Ku Klux Klan to Vietnam.”

“An easy-to-digest . . . overview of the media’s influence on American history and politics. . . . A fine introductory textbook for a journalism class.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“A novel approach to journalism history, presenting key episodes in an engaging style bound to appeal to students and the general public alike. Streitmatter’s lucid prose draws on study of both primary and secondary source material to provide a provocative synthesis and serves as a basis for thoughtful examination of the role of the news media in American society.”
—Maurine H. Beasley, University of Maryland at College Park

“Streitmatter’s book is a welcome addition to the growing canon of journalism history. His case studies of significant issues in American history from the American Revolution of Tom Paine and Sam Adams to the New Right of Rush Limbaugh clearly demonstrate how closely the news media is entwined with the life of the nation. This text is a must-read not only for journalism historians but for anyone interested in the ideas and forces that have shaped the nation.”
—Elizabeth V. Burt, American Journalism Historians Association; University of Hartford

If you are a professor or course instructor, please use the following form to give us feedback on Mightier than the Sword: