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Taylor & Francis


In the past decade, corporate targets of American investigative reporting have deployed new legal and public relations counter‐attacks on journalists. Although corporations have largely directed their efforts at managing subsequent news coverage of these controversies, there has been no systematic study of how the rest of the media cover them. We examine elite print reaction to two investigative reports that were publicly challenged by their targets: ABC's 1992 Primetime Live report on Food Lion supermarkets and NBC's 1992 Dateline NBC story on General Motors' trucks. The case studies and content analyses of print coverage of these controversies suggest that greater attention should be paid to how media response to investigative reporting can influence its ability to act as a watchdog on corporate power. In both cases, corporate targets of investigative reporting used litigation and public relations to divert media attention from reporters' charges to questions of newsgathering ethics. Ironically, we find that the more that news organizations under attack defend their right to muckrake, the more they risk the rest of the news media burying the disputed story under discussion of First Amendment rights and media ethics. The study draws conclusions for theories of investigative reporting's contribution to public discourse and policy making.


This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Journalism Studies in May 2004, available online:



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