Oscar-winner Dreyfuss campaigns against “shaped news”

April 27, 2006

Richard DreyfussBy Astrid ZweynertLONDON, April 27 (Reuters) – Richard Dreyfuss has challenged the establishment for decades and now the maverick actor and activist is taking on the mainstream media.The Oscar-winning star says an obsession with delivering instantaneous news and images provides too little context for audiences to reflect and understand what is happening in the world.”There is no room to pause, no room to think,” Dreyfuss, who starred in films ranging from “Jaws” to “Mr Holland’s Opus” told Reuters in a recent telephone interview.”We don’t build into our system of thoughts the need to explain, the media doesn’t build that into its transmission of knowledge and information.”That creates what Dreyfuss calls “shaped news” — a version of events according to how the mainstream media want audiences to see what happened, and a violation of journalism’s core value of objectivity.Citizen journalism is playing a vital part in broadening news coverage, as well as scrutinising professional journalism, Dreyfuss said.”Information from more than one source is good. I’m totally in favour of it, even if people send propaganda. In the aggregate you can find more truth than in one opinion.”But despite an explosion in blogs, people’s views of the news is still shaped by what powerful media corporations print, broadcast and put on their Web sites, Dreyfuss, 58, said.”Do the mainstream media ever tell their readers ‘Don’t believe everything we tell you?’ No, they don’t.”Dreyfuss said media coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York was a pertinent example of how a non-stop supply of images and spot news shaped people’s views.”The falling Twin Towers — pictures that produced anger, a lot of anger that were sent instantly around the world, they created a need to react.””People in Kansas could see the Twin Towers fall at exactly the same instant as in Nigeria and Cairo. Such an instantaneous knowledge of a situation leads to an instantaneous reaction which creates demand for an instantaneous, reflexive response.”The question is how do you get people to find out more, how do you get people to read not just what they are told to read.”The power of language is also an important factor in shaping the news.”The ‘war on terror’ — objection to using this term is dead. It’s become part of our vocabulary, but what does it really mean? You should know more specifically what you are fighting.”Dreyfuss is eager to point out that he is not anti-technology: “I’m not in love with technology and speed but I don’t want to sound like a luddite.”We’ve got to be aware of the power of technology and the speed at which it allows us to transmit information.”You have to encourage prose, analysis and detail — otherwise people will go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan without really knowing why.”Dreyfuss, who won an Oscar for his performance in “The Goodbye Girl”, has pursued his passion for political and social activism since his college days.An active opponent of the Vietnam War, he has also worked to promote solutions to the Mideast conflict, campaigned for education and, most recently, has lent his support to a campaign for the impeachment of U.S. President George W. Bush.He is studying civics and democracy as a senior associate member at St Antony’s College at the University of Oxford. “Civics is no longer taught in the U.S, a sign of a neurosis that is inexplicable,” he said. “Not to teach civics is suicide.”Reason, logic, civility, dissent and debate — five ancient words that should be taught again and better, at elementary level, so that people know the difference between news and shaped news,” Dreyfuss said.


I agree with Mr. Dreyfess on the single point of trusting the Media-We, The People, will never receive the full “scoop” from any news service considering 80% of what we read is a corporate press release. Then again, since apathy reigns in both press & politics, who cares?

Posted by William Walton | Report as abusive

I am always amazed as I scan Goggle news at the almost word for word repetition of any major news topic delivered with fervor and altruism by the nonpartisan media. The information facts and the responsibility to learn what is behind the news is the responsibility of the public. However, few people know what is going on outside of their favorite form of rhetoric and refuse to learn why. Choosing to stand and deliver what they are told to believe, is easy and doesnt require that people think. The substance is not there, since the media doesnt give the public substance, the media gives headlines, and the people follow.

Posted by David Warren | Report as abusive


Posted by DIANE GORDON | Report as abusive

Bravo, Mr Dreyfus! I wish more people in the public eye would speak out on this subject.

I’ve long been of the opinion that most main-stream and commercial media have been ‘packaging’ news to suit their Paymasters’ agendas.
I tend to trust the BBC, above all other sources – because they are funded by the public and are answerable to us.
Their bulletins are clear, to the point and without bias and for those who want it, discussion and analysis are provided on other programmes.

As for not teaching civics in the US, we in the UK teach a course called Citizenship – which to me has worrying shades of 1984…

Posted by BabbitCymru | Report as abusive

Dreyfus, is nothing more than a member of the Hollywood / Entertainment Industry Cesspool Pimps and Prostitutes Club. They stand for nothing that requires courage or character. Comparing the BBC of today with that of 40 yrs ago, when I was growing up in the UK, well, to put it mildly…it stinks the place up. We want a reporting of the facts but all we get from smarter than thou journalists…is spin and opinion…never unbiased news. Love the bloggers for exposing these turnip-heads.

Posted by david kean | Report as abusive

Mr Dreyfuss, though I am of a different political persuasion than you profess, I believe you stand upon very good points.

However, I would want to pose a question to all those concered with the state of humanity, especially in the context of the spread of “American Consumerism” when it becomes manifest in how we gather information. We, as citizens of the world, should move ourselves away from the consumerist mindset, and toward a news media that simply presents us with unbiased, all-sides-accounted-for news. “Just the facts”, as it were.

So then, what should we say to those people content with broad, now colloquial, phrases such as, “War on Terror”?

And moreover, ceteris paribus, should political diatribe for the sake of diatribe be removed from our information consumption?

Posted by Mr Means | Report as abusive

The news provides no context because it’s largly amnesic, and seems to thrive on sensationalism. The first day a bomb goes off, somewhere and kills 100 people. It’s news. But if 100 people keep getting killed everyday in the same place for the same reasons – the news stops paying attention after a week or so – simply because it needs a new headline. Rather than going deeper, the news wants to go further.

My suggestion, and I am quite serious – is this: The coverage of any news ‘issue’ should be and REMAIN directly proportional to the mass of people affected by that news. So if 100 people are still getting killed / day in say, Baghdad, then UNTIL that number goes down, it should not be eclipsed by a lesser, if NEWER disaster.

Also – I am here completely avoiding the topic of vested interests, of which we all know there are many. But that’s another issue.


The FAILURE of the media is to explore the good AND bad of both the real policy AND the alternative.

Dreyfuss is exactly the kind of intellectual coward that has helped weaken an imperfect freedom loving West — which is virtually always better than the alternative.

“An active opponent of the Vietnam War, he has also worked to promote solutions to the Mideast conflict,” — this is basically a lie. Dreyfuss was opposed to the USA fighting for freedom in S. Vietnam. Killing, dying, and even killing innocents, to stop the N. Vietnamese commies from winning.

What was the alternative that Dreyfuss supported? What happened when his “peace now” US policy was followed? What happened is what he favored: USSR supported N. Viet commie violation of peace agreements*; commie victory over a corrupt anti-commie weak democracy whose US funding support ended; commie genocidal death camps for some 600 000 unarmed, non-fighting, already surrendered Vietnamese; plus (Chi-) commie Killing Fields in the Cambodian domino next door of some 1.5 mil. murders.

Dreyfuss should be really proud of what he supports.

Like “peace now” in Rwanda in 1994, and Clinton’s “no genocide” policy; with oscar-quality apologies after. (Didn’t Dreyfuss support Clinton in 96?)

When the choice is war or genocide, like in Darfur, Dreyfuss is opposed to war…so what does he favor? War or Saddam as continued ruler; Dreyfuss thinks Iraq and the world would be better off with Saddam remaining as dictator (I guess Dreyfuss was against sanctions, not sure.)

[*only the US needs follow agreements; like Kyoto — France fails, Germany fails, all signatory countries fail…].


I agree with Diane Gordon and David Keen. The
-self-proclaimed- -cognoscenti of culture and superior values- in hollywood have had a disproportionate influence in destroying our culture and its traditional values. Most of today’s “stars” have no real ethical or moral core, beyond self-aggrandizement and making money.

Posted by Stephen L. Paige | Report as abusive

Pace Mr Deyfruss, it is quite obvious that his concerns are with “shaped news” that is not shaped in accordance with his political beliefs, and with a media is not providing enough “prose, analysis and detail” of those beliefs.

It is sad, but not unexpected, that he fails to see any irony in his decrying the live media coverage of the Sept 11 terrorist attacksevents so apodictic that no shaping of the news was needed or requiredand his ill-informed disparagement of the war on terror.

It’s also sad that Reuters would give coverage to yet another Hollywood personality who thinks that an entertainment industry award grants him the licence to violate Wittgenstein’s dictum. Are you a reputable news organisation, or a Hello magazine clone?

Posted by Tiamdae | Report as abusive

Hollywood’s glitterati like Dreyfuss and ilk spend their lives memorizing, rehearsing and regurgitating the philosophies, fantasies and ideals of others. Why would any serious person care one way or another what *they* have to say about mainstream media policy?

As Tom Grey clearly demonstrates, one need only lightly scratch the thin veneer of “populism”, rehearsed and regurgitated by people like Dreyfuss, to find a history of support for the extreme nihilist philosophies responsible for some of the greatest tragedies in recent human history.

The notion of Dreyfuss as a “maverick actor” is laughable in the extreme.


The comment:

“violation of journalisms core value of objectivity.”

struck me as odd. I don’t think there exists any readers who think that the media even tries at being objective. I certainly don’t know anybody (left or right leaning politically.) I thought the idea of an unobjective media went the way of the dodo.

Posted by Dave | Report as abusive

“…an obsession with delivering instantaneous news and images provides too little context for audiences to reflect and understand what is happening in the world.”

Ummm… Mr Dreyfuss?
This is called “real life”.
You see, in YOUR world of make-believe, you can have, “Take One… Take Two…” You can break for coffee in your trailer, rehearse your lines… “find what motivates your character”…
In “Real Life”, sometimes events unfold quickly,like on September 11th, leaving you without time to “reflect and understand what is happening…” You are forced to face these horrible realities and survive them as best you can, as they happen with no breaks, no “Take Two or Take Three”… no coffee… no scripted solutions to the problems…

So, Mr. Dreyfuss… while I admire your ability to follow a script and pretend you are someone else on the screen and stage… I think it best if you (and the rest of your dysfunctional Hollywood family) spare us “little people” your enlightened opinions of how to face reality.

Posted by Patricia | Report as abusive

Great article by Mr. Dreyfus…I’m glad that someone influential spoke out against the current mass media and how the flow of information via the news really shapes our worldview.

I recommend the book Amuzing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. I read it in highschool for my mass media class.

“I’m not going to teach you to hate TV, but to become intelligent viewers.”
Dr. Schafer, my highschool professor in Mass Media

Posted by John | Report as abusive

Patricia, i like your style.
Mr Dreyfuss, i’ll join forces with you in your bid to get back to ‘slow news’without it being shaped by the grubby hands of tv producers.
‘tonight on the news at 10. disturbing news from across the globe, last week a ferry sank, last month an earthquake hit, last year a man was jailed, two years ago there was a famine and now everyone of the village are dead.
now over to richard with the sport…

Posted by Anthony | Report as abusive

You know what? Most of these responses are completely thrashing Mr. Dreyfuss with a bunch of high-brow sounding pseudo-intellectual crap. I hold a Ph.D. in mass media and I can barely understand what you’re saying. You’re just blowing hot air, I suppose to feed your own egos.

I think Mr. Dreyfuss makes a very good point, I can understand what he’s saying, and he has contributed nicely to an important debate.

I think the kid who read the book in high school gave the most cogent response.

Posted by Paul in Alabama | Report as abusive

As a former high school civics teacher, I have to say “Amen” to his comments. Civics is a key, but not the only answer, to creating a rounded mind which thinks critically about all things societal that we injest.

The news can be corporate, it can be right wing, it can even be left wing. A critical thinker will be able to filter through it to come to a better conclusion.

Tabloid journalisms rise is related very closely to the way we injest and digest information. Education is key here.

The problem with human beings is that we used to be far more social creatures. Now we lose ourselves in TV and Internet, forgetting the necessity of society.

This has killed grassroots politics, particularly in the US. Whether popular movements to the left, right or center exist, it just does not happen. Everything is a staged corporate event, created to inspire an emotional reaction.

Sound bites have replaced people taking to the streets. And people taking to the streets stopped being news, unless it turns into a riot. It almost seems that our lives are managed by what information is deamed fit for us to view.

Posted by Rick Smith | Report as abusive

To Paul in Alabama

“Most of these responses are completely thrashing Mr. Dreyfuss with a bunch of high-brow sounding pseudo-intellectual crap.”

Actually, Paul, it is just a bunch of average people sharing their opinions. It is your, “I hold a Ph.D. in mass media” comment, which conveys your own arrogance, and that you “can barely understand” what we are saying simply proves that your prestigious degree doesnt necessarily mean you are smart.
Just as an Oscar does not make Mr. Dreyfuss and expert in the determination of whether or not the general public is capable of understanding what is happening around the world, a degree in mass media certainly does not elevate you to a position of superiority over those who disagree with him and you and the rest of those in mass media, who are known to use forged documents in order to create their own news.
Then again youre just blowing hot air, I suppose, to feed your own ego.

Posted by Patricia | Report as abusive

I think the salient point that Mr. Dreyfuss is making is that citizens need to understand what citizenship truly entails – thus “civics”.

To dismiss him soley or largely because he is just an “actor” is simplistic. For a person to spend 2 years lecturing at an Oxford University should lend some credence to at least his knowledge of the subject.

However, regardless of how one might feel about the source, the point that as citizens of this country we should be far more informed about our rights and responsibilities and should actively pursue them, is a timely and important issue.


Dreyfus- though a little hard to grasp- is right in all that he says. Media has changed into one big slick advert with some truth hidden. The information literate accept the mass media message because to them it is the complete truth. They do not have the means or knowledge or spark of energy to research alternative viewpoints. We are a corporate state. Money is the basis to most of our thoughts, actions and desires. Media fuels these superficial cravings. Compared to Orwell’s “1984” or Gilliam’s “Brazil”- I think the controller is corporate execs with money to influence.

Posted by L Powers | Report as abusive

I was raised by a couple of media gurus. Journalists who believed they had a responsibility to report and depict life that was of interest to others. It is a shame that we have resorted to reporting only what will benefit the bottom line. OJ Simpson on FOX NEWS?!!! COME ON! This kind of journalism is morally repugnant and irresponisble, from a network that practically preaches from the fundamentalist point of view.

I would really like to compliment Mr Dryfus’ efforts to encourage the teaching of civics. Perhaps if our children have the opportunity to learn their civic responsibilities we can counter the attempts of media taint their thinking.

Civics is a good idea and I commend the efforts to come up with some real life solutions to the “quagmire” that has become the US of A.

Posted by Emily | Report as abusive

I think what dreyfuss said in closing comments on Bill Mahers November 17th , 2006 show is the most thoughtful, important statement about the state of the union that I have ever heard in all the voices publicised in the media today.
We need Dreyfuss to continue to speak out in many more forums. He needs to be heard by every single person that calls themselves a member of the free society in which we live.

Posted by grace koenig | Report as abusive

Information from more than one source is good. Im totally in favour of it, even if people send propaganda. In the aggregate you can find more truth than in one opinion.

This is what speaks loudest to me.

I saw Dreyfus on “Real Time” last night and this brought me to the internet to find out more. I think that it’s okay to have instantaneous news as long as we do take the time to listen to multiple sources, sources with different spin.

Nothing beats seeing something with your own eyes or hearing it with your own ears. It makes good sense to analyze every source of information to be sure you can try and correct for bias inherent in that information.

I think that human beings can strive for objectivity, but will always be subjective to some degree.

Posted by Tricia | Report as abusive

I have endorsed two possible candidates for the democratic nominee for president in 2008, one of which is Barack Obama. My third endorsement regardless of party is to agree with Norman Lear.. and that would be a hearty endorsement of Richard Dreyfus regardless of party affiliation. I am a social studies graduate many years ago and I did NOT disagree with anything Mr. Dreyfus had to say on air tonight and was usually uttering a hearty. “Hear, Hear” or actually uttering his next sentence ahead of hearing it! The man is a man of the times! Truly intelligent and having a real handle on a current perspective on our current role in future history! In other words, we live in very critical times and we damned well better speak up and take control as we took a minor step in this recent election or soon it will be too late!

Posted by Robert Flesher | Report as abusive

I think that the concept of teaching civics to our people is an important thing, and that Mr. Dreyfuss should be commended for standing behind such a pursuit. In truth, I feel that those who are so critical of Mr. Dreyfuss in this forum would do well to consider the idea involved, and not the man, as their personal statements appear to carry the tinge of prejudice.

It is easy to be subjective, to presume that an actor would not have an objective, or even realistic viewpoint of the problem as a whole, but I feel that Richard put things down quite eloquently, rehearsed or not, as to what the real problems in our society are. Too many people do not know about the system that they function within, and of their role within that system. Too many are kept in the dark, and it would behoove those people who choose to criticize the man in this situation to take a look at the idea he is representing and to forget about who is representing it. I’m sure, in the end, you would all see that the best thing for us all is to be educated in the roles that we play in our political system, and that ANY man who supports that agenda is a friend to the people, and to the freedoms that are slowly being advertised away from us “in the name of liberty”. It would do well for us to take Mr. Dreyfuss’s example and to each promote the teaching of civics in the schools of our own respective communities.

Posted by John | Report as abusive

Furthermore, I feel that, while you may associate actors with terms such as glitterati and cast aspersions on their intelligence levels, I think that we can safely exclude Mr. Dreyfuss from the stereotype that you presume to set. After all, he is at least supporting a noble ideal. I don’t see him adopting third world orphans while American orphans go homeless and I don’t see him promoting a tell-all on how he killed his ex-wife on Fox. Oh wait…that’s how he “might” have killed…sad to see someone get away with murder and then go on to sell the book rights…

Posted by John | Report as abusive

I found the discourse from the panel to be stimulating and thought provoking. I had this discussion several weeks before this last election among friends and co-workers. I turned away from the newscasts at that time because they had turned into cacophony. Several of the preceding comments include mention of Viet Nam. Has anyone “googled” Viet Nam Oil Reserves?


Richard Dryfuss comments where a relief to hear, I was thankfull by all means read news, listen to news, and at as many sources possible. Best postion is neutral when trying to learn the truth. So much bias, if you been ignoring the news, time to catch up, quote from article above that impressed me,Reason, logic, civility, dissent and debate five ancient words that should be taught again and better, at elementary level, so that people know the difference between news and shaped news, Dreyfuss said.
Sometymes my cartoons are bias but I try study as many sources as I can before doing them. Thier truth best I understand from what I learned. Sometymes I do with shock value just trying wake
AMERICA up get people involved. I am no journalist, just one of many trying to step out of darkness. Thank you,Mr.Dreyfuss.


The inclusion of democratic values in the discussion of character education will provide character education the moral foundation that it desperately needs.

Posted by Joseph P. Hester | Report as abusive

To; Mr.Joesph Hesters comment above if by that you mean we need impeachment to prove America will not tolerate deceit and imorale acts by it’s leaders I whole heartedly agree.


Dreyfuss’s forceful and cogent comments on Bill Maher’s show (latter part of November) made a huge impact on me. I have inadvertently erased this video from my recorder – I wish to display it to others and possibly include his comments on an educational website. Anybody know if this video is available? – I will certainly request HBO’s permission to use excerpts once I’ve extracted (edited) the content.


Dreyfuss’s is a powerful voice. If he runs for any political office, I would be honored to campaign for him.

Posted by al wromke | Report as abusive

An important issue not mentioned much in this conversation, if at all, is the upcoming hate bills the ADL has been trying to pass. Canada, all over Europe and Australia they’ve passed these and basically wiped out their citizen’s freedom of speech. I totally agree with Richards on having serious, open, unbiased discussion, but can this be taken seriously. Richard is supporting the movement to impeach Bush, which would do nothing. Bush is puppet with three-hundred people under him that could do just the same. We first need to DEMAND an outside investigation for the attacks on Sept.11, being that there are so many people in doubt of the real story (which you can find through numorous polls, blogs, videos, web sites, etc.). This would begin a serious movement against our leaders and their motives, past and present.

Posted by D. Josiah | Report as abusive

I’ve read most of your comments and I have to say, simply, the problem with the media is that it is now a “BIG BUSINESS” venture.

Before now in our society the media lost money every quarter because it didn’t bow to corperations which at the time were far less rich than they are now.

Untill there is a way to get the main streem media to work for no profit then information will be sold to the highest bidders, ie; the whitehouse who buys soundbites, and gives talking points.

Posted by Mr Farmer | Report as abusive

It is amusing and, at the same time, pathetic to hear conservatives rail against “Hollywood gliterati”, such as Richard Dreyfuss, as irrelevant, having nothing “real” to contribute to political discourse. Professional thespians, in the conservative way of thinking, are incapable of holding and/or expressing valid viewpoints because they were, after all, only actors. They apparently continuously and conveniently forget that some of their greatest heros, such as Ronald Reagan, Charlton Heston, et. al. were also “pretenders”, It would follow, therefore, that Reagan’s entire political career was nothing more than a sham, an elaborate screenplay, devoid of any substance. I’m comfortable with that.

Posted by nir | Report as abusive