A riveting, blow-by-blow account of how the network broadcasts of the 1968 Democratic convention shattered faith in American media.
“The whole world is watching!” cried protestors at the 1968 Democratic convention as Chicago police beat them in the streets. When some of that violence was then aired on network television, another kind of hell broke loose. Some viewers were stunned and outraged; others thought the protestors deserved what they got. No one—least of all Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley—was happy with how the networks handled it.
In When the News Broke, Heather Hendershot revisits TV coverage of those four chaotic days in 1968—not only the violence in the streets but also the tumultuous convention itself, where Black citizens and others forcefully challenged southern delegations that had excluded them, anti-Vietnam delegates sought to change the party’s policy on the war, and journalists and delegates alike were bullied by both Daley’s security forces and party leaders. Ultimately, Hendershot reveals the convention as a pivotal moment in American political history, when a distorted notion of “liberal media bias” became mainstreamed and nationalized.
At the same time, she celebrates the values of the network news professionals who strived for fairness and accuracy. Despite their efforts, however, Chicago proved to be a turning point in the public’s trust in national news sources. Since those critical days, the political Right in the United States has amplified distrust of TV news, to the point where even the truest and most clearly documented stories can be deemed “fake.” As Hendershot demonstrates, it doesn’t matter whether the “whole world is watching” if people don’t believe what they see.