Walter Lippmann Public Opinion Bibliography Definition

AuthorWalter Lippmann
CountryUnited States

Publication date


Public Opinion is a book by Walter Lippmann, published in 1922. It is a critical assessment of functional democratic government, especially of the irrational and often self-serving social perceptions that influence individual behavior and prevent optimal societal cohesion.[1] The detailed descriptions of the cognitive limitations people face in comprehending their sociopolitical and cultural environments leading them to apply an evolving catalogue of general stereotypes to a complex reality, rendered Public Opinion a seminal text in the fields of media studies, political science, and social psychology.


The introduction describes man's inability to interpret the world: "The real environment is altogether too big, too complex, and too fleeting for direct acquaintance" between people and their environment. People construct a pseudo-environment that is a subjective, biased, and necessarily abridged mental image of the world, and to a degree, everyone's pseudo-environment is a fiction. People "live in the same world, but they think and feel in different ones."

Human behavior is stimulated by the person's pseudo-environment and then is acted upon in the real world. Some of the general implications of the interactions among one's psychology, environment, and the mass communications media are highlighted.

News and truth[edit]

The pertinent facts are never provided completely and accurately as a fraction of the whole, they are often arranged to portray a certain, subjective interpretation of an event. Often, those who know the "real" (true) environment construct a favourable, fictitious pseudo-environment in the public mind to suit private needs. Propaganda is inherently impossible without a barrier of censorship between the event and the public. As a consequence, the mass communication media, by their very nature as vehicles for informational transmission, are essentially vulnerable to manipulation.

The blame for that perceptual parallax falls not upon the mass media technology (print, radio, cinema, or, inferentially, television) or logistical concerns but upon certain members of society who attend to life with little intellectual engagement. That causes the following:

  1. The buying public: the "bewildered herd" (a term here borrowed from The Phantom Public) must pay for understanding the unseen environment by the mass communications media. The irony is that although the public's opinion is important, it must pay for its acceptance. People will be selective and will buy the most factual media at the lowest price: "For a dollar, you may not even get an armful of candy, but for a dollar or less people expect reality/representations of truth to fall into their laps." The media have the social function of transmitting public affairs information and their business profit role of surviving in the market.
  2. Nature of news: people publish already-confirmed news that are thus less disputable. Officially-available public matters will constitute "the news" and unofficial (private) matters are unavailable, are less available, or are used as "issues" for propaganda.
  3. News truth and conclusion: the function of news is to signal an event, and that signalling, eventually, is a consequence of editorial selection and judgement; journalism creates and sows the seeds (news) that establish public opinion.

Manufacture of consent[edit]

When properly deployed in the public interest, the manufacture of consent is useful and necessary for a cohesive society, because, in many cases, "the common interests" of the public are not obvious except upon careful analysis of the collected data, a critical intellectual exercise in which most people are uninterested or are incapable of doing. Therefore, most people must have the world summarized for them by the well-informed, and will then act accordingly.

That the manufacture of consent is capable of great refinements no one, I think, denies. The process by which public opinions arise is certainly no less intricate than it has appeared in these pages, and the opportunities for manipulation open to anyone who understands the process are plain enough. . . . [a]s a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner. A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power.... Under the impact of propaganda, not necessarily in the sinister meaning of the word alone, the old constants of our thinking have become variables. It is no longer possible, for example, to believe in the original dogma of democracy; that the knowledge needed for the management of human affairs comes up spontaneously from the human heart. Where we act on that theory we expose ourselves to self-deception, and to forms of persuasion that we cannot verify. It has been demonstrated that we cannot rely upon intuition, conscience, or the accidents of casual opinion if we are to deal with the world beyond our reach.

— Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion, Chapter XV

The political élite are members of the class of people who are incapable of accurately understanding, by themselves, the complex "unseen environment" wherein the public affairs of the modern state occur; thus, Lippmann proposes that a professional, "specialized class" collect and analyze data, and present their conclusions to the society's decision makers, who, in their turn, use the "art of persuasion" to inform the public about the decisions and circumstances affecting them.[2]

Public Opinion proposes that the increased power of propaganda and the specialized knowledge required for effective political decisions have rendered the traditional notion of democracy impossible. The phrase "manufacture of consent" was introduced, which the public intellectualsNoam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman used as the title of their book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988).


  1. ^Lippmann, Walter (1922). Public Opinion. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company. Retrieved 3 May 2016 – via Internet Archive. 
  2. ^Chapter XV, “Leaders and the Rank and File”, section 4.

External links[edit]

Walter Lippmann

Walter Lippmann in 1914

Born(1889-09-23)September 23, 1889
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedDecember 14, 1974(1974-12-14) (aged 85)
New York City, New York, U.S.
OccupationWriter, journalist, political commentator
EducationTimothy Dwight School
Alma materHarvard University A.B. (1910)
Notable worksFounding editor, New Republic, Public Opinion
Notable awards

Pulitzer Prize, 1958, 1962

Presidential Medal of Freedom
SpouseFaye Albertson (divorced); Helen Byrne[1]
RelativesJacob and Daisy Baum Lippmann

Walter Lippmann (September 23, 1889 – December 14, 1974)[3] was an American writer, reporter, and political commentator famous for being among the first to introduce the concept of Cold War, coining the term "stereotype" in the modern psychological meaning, and critiquing media and democracy in his newspaper column and several books, most notably his 1922 book Public Opinion.[4] Lippmann was also a notable author for the Council on Foreign Relations, until he had an affair with the editor Hamilton Fish Armstrong's wife, which led to a falling out between the two men. Lippmann also played a notable role in Woodrow Wilson's post-World War Iboard of inquiry, as its research director. His views regarding the role of journalism in a democracy were contrasted with the contemporaneous writings of John Dewey in what has been retrospectively named the Lippmann-Dewey debate. Lippmann won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for his syndicated newspaper column "Today and Tomorrow" and one for his 1961 interview of Nikita Khrushchev.[5][6]

He has also been highly praised with titles ranging anywhere from "most influential" journalist[7][8][9] of the 20th century, to "Father of Modern Journalism".[10][11]

Michael Schudson writes[12] that James W. Carey considered Walter Lippmann's book Public Opinion as "the founding book of modern journalism" and also "the founding book in American media studies".[13]

Early life[edit]

Walter Lippmann was born in New York City, 1889, to Jacob and Daisy Baum Lippmann; his upper-middle class German-Jewish family took annual holidays in Europe.

At 17, following his graduation from New York's Dwight School, he entered Harvard University where he studied under George Santayana, William James, and Graham Wallas, concentrating upon philosophy and languages (he spoke German and French), and he earned his degree in three years, graduating as a member of the Phi Beta Kappa society.[14]

At some time, Lippmann became a member, alongside Sinclair Lewis, of the New York Socialist Party.[15] In 1911, Lippmann served as secretary to George R. Lunn, the first Socialist mayor of Schenectady, New York, during Lunn's first term. Lippmann resigned his post after four months, finding Lunn's programs to be worthwhile in and of themselves, but inadequate as Socialism.[16]


Lippmann was a journalist, a media critic and an amateur philosopher who tried to reconcile the tensions between liberty and democracy in a complex and modern world, as in his 1920 book Liberty and the News.[17] In 1913, Lippmann, Herbert Croly, and Walter Weyl became the founding editors of The New Republic magazine.

During the war, Lippmann was commissioned a captain in the Army on June 28, 1918, and was assigned to the intelligence section of the AEF headquarters in France. He was assigned to the staff of Edward House in October and attached to the American Commission to negotiate peace in December. He returned to the United States in February 1919 and was immediately discharged.[18]

Through his connection to House, he became an adviser to Wilson and assisted in the drafting of Wilson's Fourteen Points speech. He sharply criticized George Creel, whom the President appointed to head wartime propaganda efforts at the Committee on Public Information. While he was prepared to curb his liberal instincts because of the war saying he had "no doctrinaire belief in free speech," he nonetheless advised Wilson that censorship should "never be entrusted to anyone who is not himself tolerant, nor to anyone who is unacquainted with the long record of folly which is the history of suppression."[19]

Lippmann examined the coverage of newspapers and saw many inaccuracies and other problems. He and Charles Merz, in a 1920 study entitled A Test of the News, stated that The New York Times' coverage of the Bolshevik revolution was biased and inaccurate. In addition to his newspaper column "Today and Tomorrow", he wrote several books. Lippmann was the first to bring the phrase "cold war" to common currency, in his 1947 book by the same name.

It was Lippmann who first identified the tendency of journalists to generalize about other people based on fixed ideas.[citation needed] He argued that people, including journalists, are more apt to believe "the pictures in their heads" than to come to judgment by critical thinking. Humans condense ideas into symbols, he wrote, and journalism, a force quickly becoming the mass media, is an ineffective method of educating the public. Even if journalists did better jobs of informing the public about important issues, Lippmann believed "the mass of the reading public is not interested in learning and assimilating the results of accurate investigation." Citizens, he wrote, were too self-centered to care about public policy except as pertaining to pressing local issues.

Later life[edit]

Following the removal from office of Secretary of Commerce (and former Vice President of the United States) Henry A. Wallace in September 1946, Lippmann became the leading public advocate of the need to respect a Sovietsphere of influence in Europe, as opposed to the containment strategy being advocated at the time by George F. Kennan.

Lippmann was an informal adviser to several presidents.[20] On September 14, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson presented Lippmann with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.[21] He later had a rather famous feud with Johnson over his handling of the Vietnam War of which Lippmann had become highly critical.[22]

He won a special Pulitzer Prize for journalism in 1958, as nationally syndicated columnist, citing "the wisdom, perception and high sense of responsibility with which he has commented for many years on national and international affairs."[5] Four years later he won the annual Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting citing "his 1961 interview with Soviet Premier Khrushchev, as illustrative of Lippmann's long and distinguished contribution to American journalism."[6]

Lippmann retired from his syndicated column in 1967.[23]

Lippmann died in New York City due to cardiac arrest in New York City, 1974.[24][3]

He has been honored by the United States Postal Service with a 6¢ Great Americans series postage stamp.

He was mentioned in the monologue before Phil Ochs' recording of "The Marines Have Landed on the Shores of Santo Domingo" on the 1966 album Phil Ochs in Concert.


See also: post-factual

Though a journalist himself, Lippmann did not assume that news and truth are synonymous. For Lippmann, the "function of news is to signalize an event, the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them in relation with each other, and make a picture of reality on which men can act." A journalist's version of the truth is subjective and limited to how they construct their reality. The news, therefore, is "imperfectly recorded" and too fragile to bear the charge as "an organ of direct democracy."

To Lippmann, democratic ideals had deteriorated: voters were largely ignorant about issues and policies and lacked the competence to participate in public life and cared little for participating in the political process. In Public Opinion (1922), Lippmann noted that modern realities threatened the stability that the government had achieved during the patronage era of the 19th century. He wrote that a "governing class" must rise to face the new challenges.

The basic problem of democracy, he wrote, was the accuracy of news and protection of sources. He argued that distorted information was inherent in the human mind. People make up their minds before they define the facts, while the ideal would be to gather and analyze the facts before reaching conclusions. By seeing first, he argued, it is possible to sanitize polluted information. Lippmann argued that interpretation as stereotypes (a word which he coined in that specific meaning) subjected us to partial truths. Lippmann called the notion of a public competent to direct public affairs a "false ideal." He compared the political savvy of an average man to a theater-goer walking into a play in the middle of the third act and leaving before the last curtain.

Mass culture[edit]

Lippmann was an early and influential commentator on mass culture, notable not for criticizing or rejecting mass culture entirely but discussing how it could be worked with by a government licensed "propaganda machine" to keep democracy functioning. In his first book on the subject, Public Opinion (1922), Lippmann said that mass man functioned as a "bewildered herd" who must be governed by "a specialized class whose interests reach beyond the locality." The élite class of intellectuals and experts were to be a machinery of knowledge to circumvent the primary defect of democracy, the impossible ideal of the "omnicompetent citizen". This attitude was in line with contemporary capitalism, which was made stronger by greater consumption.

Later, in The Phantom Public (1925), Lippmann recognized that the class of experts were also, in most respects, outsiders to any particular problem, and hence not capable of effective action. Philosopher John Dewey (1859–1952) agreed with Lippmann's assertions that the modern world was becoming too complex for every citizen to grasp all its aspects, but Dewey, unlike Lippmann, believed that the public (a composite of many "publics" within society) could form a "Great Community" that could become educated about issues, come to judgments and arrive at solutions to societal problems.

In 1943, George Seldes described Lippmann as one of the two most influential columnists in the United States.[25][26]

From the 1930s to the 1950s, Lippmann became even more skeptical of the "guiding" class. In The Public Philosophy (1955), which took almost twenty years to complete, he presented a sophisticated argument that intellectual élites were undermining the framework of democracy. The book was very poorly received in liberal circles.[27][need quotation to verify]


Almond–Lippmann consensus[edit]

Similarities between the views of Lippmann and Gabriel Almond produced what became known as the Almond–Lippmann consensus, which is based on three assumptions:[28]

  1. Public opinion is volatile, shifting erratically in response to the most recent developments. Mass beliefs early in the 20th century were "too pacifist in peace and too bellicose in war, too neutralist or appeasing in negotiations or too intransigent"[29]
  2. Public opinion is incoherent, lacking an organized or a consistent structure to such an extent that the views of US citizens could best be described as "nonattitudes"[30]
  3. Public opinion is irrelevant to the policymaking process. Political leaders ignore public opinion because most Americans can neither "understand nor influence the very events upon which their lives and happiness are known to depend."[31][32]

Liberal/neoliberal debate[edit]

Further information: neoliberal

A meeting of liberal intellectuals mainly from France and Germany organized in Paris in August 1938 by French philosopher Louis Rougier to discuss the ideas put forward by Lippmann in his work The Good Society (1937), Colloque Walter Lippmann was named after him. This meeting is often referred to as the precursor of the first meeting of the Mont Pèlerin Society, convened by Friedrich von Hayek, in 1947. At both meetings the discussions centered on what a new liberalism, or neoliberalism, should look like.


The Walter Lippmann House at Harvard University, which houses the Nieman Foundation for Journalism, is named after him too. Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman used one of Lippmann's catch phrases, the "Manufacture of Consent," for the title of their book, Manufacturing Consent, which contains sections critical of Lippmann's views about the media.


See also[edit]


  1. ^"Walter Lippmann's Wife Dead; Learned Russian to Assist Him". The New York Times. February 18, 1974. Retrieved February 2, 2018. 
  2. ^Keller, Katherine (November 2, 2007). "Writer, Creator, Journalist, and Uppity Woman: Ann Nocenti". Sequential Tart.
  3. ^ abWooley, John T. and Gerhard Peters (December 14, 1974). "Gerald R. Ford: Statement on the Death of Walter Lippmann". The American Presidency Project. Retrieved 2008-11-09. 
  4. ^Lippmann, Walter (1922). Public Opinion. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company. Retrieved 3 May 2016 – via Internet Archive. 
  5. ^ ab"Special Awards and Citations". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-11-01.
  6. ^ ab"International Reporting". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-11-01.
  7. ^Blumenthal, Sydney (31 October 2007). "Walter Lippmann and American journalism today". 
  8. ^"Drucker Gives Lippmann Run As Most Influential Journalist". Chicago Tribune. 1998. 
  9. ^"Walter Lippmann and the American Century". 1980. 
  10. ^Pariser, Eli (2011). The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think. New York: Penguin. ISBN 0143121235. 
  11. ^Snow, Nancy (2003). Information War: American Propaganda, Free Speech and Opinion Control Since 9/11. Canada: Seven Stories. pp. 30–31. ISBN 1583225579. 
  12. ^Schudson, Michael (2008). "The "Lippmann-Dewey Debate" and the Invention of Walter Lippmann as an Anti-Democrat 1985–1996". International Journal of Communication. 2. 
  13. ^Carey, James W. (March 1987). "The Press and the Public Discourse". The Center Magazine. 20. 
  14. ^Who Belongs To Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Beta Kappa website, accessed October 4, 2009
  15. ^Lingeman, Richard R. Sinclair Lewis: Rebel from Main Street pp. 40
  16. ^George R. Lunn and the Socialist Era In Schenectady, New York, 1909-1916. by Kenneth E. Hendrickson Jr. New York History, Vol. 47, No. 1 (January 1966), pp. 22-40,
  17. ^Lipmann, Walter (1920). Liberty and the News. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe. Retrieved February 2, 2018 – via Internet Archive. 
  18. ^Harvard's Military Record in the World War. pg. 584.
  19. ^Steel, 125–26.
  20. ^McPherson, Harry C. Jr. Review of "Walter Lippmann and the American century" by Ronald Steel Foreign Affairs, originally published Fall 1980
  21. ^The American Presidency Project – Remarks at the Presentation of the 1964 Presidential Medal of Freedom Awards – September 14, 1964
  22. ^McPherson, Review of "Walter Lippmann and the American century"
  23. ^"Writings of Walter Lippmann". C-SPAN. Retrieved 2011-06-30. 
  24. ^Whitman, Alden (December 15, 1974). "Walter Lippmann, Political Analyst, Dead at 85". The New York Times. Retrieved February 2, 2018. 
  25. ^Culver, John; Hyde, John (2001). American Dreamer: A Life of Henry A. Wallace. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 482. ISBN 978-0393292046. 
  26. ^Seldes, George (1943). Facts and fascism. p. 260. 
  27. ^Marsden, George (2014). The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief. New York: Basic Books. pp. 44–50. ISBN 0465030106. 
  28. ^Holsti,Ole, R., and James M. Rosenau. 1979. "Vietnam, Consensus, and the Belief Systems of American Leaders." World Politics 32. (October):1–56.
  29. ^Lippmann, Walter. 1955. Essays in the Public Philosophy. Boston: Little, Brown.
  30. ^Converse, Philip. 1964. "The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics." In Ideology and Discontent, ed. David Apter, 206–61. New York: Free Press.
  31. ^Almond, Gabriel. 1950. The American People and Foreign Policy. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
  32. ^Kris, Ernst, and Nathan Leites. 1947. "Trends in Twentieth Century Propaganda." In Psychoanalysis and the Social Sciences, ed. Geza Rheim, pp. 393–409. New York: International University Press.

Further reading[edit]

  • Clavé, Francis (2015). "Comparative Study of Lippmann's and Hayek's Liberalisms (or neo-liberalisms)". The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought. 22: 978–999. 
  • Forcey, Charles. The Crossroads of Liberalism: Croly, Weyl, Lippmann, and the Progressive Era, 1900-1925 (1961).
  • Goodwin, Craufurd D. (2014). Walter Lippmann: Public Economist. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-36813-2. 
  • Jackson, Ben (2012). "Freedom, the Common Good, and the Rule of Law : Lippmann and Hayek on Economic Planning". Journal of History of Ideas. 72: 47–68. 
  • Porter, Patrick. "Beyond the American Century: Walter Lippmann and American Grand Strategy, 1943–1950." Diplomacy & Statecraft 22.4 (2011): 557-577.
  • Riccio, Barry D. (1994). Walter Lippmann – Odyssey of a liberal. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 1-56000-096-1. 
  • Seyb, Ronald P. "What Walter Saw: Walter Lippmann, the New York World, and Scientific Advocacy as an Alternative to the News-Opinion Dichotomy" Journalism History 41.2 (2015): 58+ online
  • Steel, Ronald (1980). Walter Lippmann and the American century. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-7658-0464-6. , a standard scholarly biography' online free; online review
  • Wasniewski, Matthew A. "Walter Lippmann, Strategic Internationalism, the Cold War, and Vietnam, 1943-1967" (PhD. Diss. U of Maryland 2004) online; bibliography pp 640-54.
  • Wellborn, Charles. Twentieth Century Pilgrimage: Walter Lippmann and the Public Philosophy (LSU Press, 1969).
  • Whitfield, Stephen J. “Walter Lippmann: A Career in Media’s Rays.” Journal of Popular Culture 15#1 (1981): 68-77.
  • Wright, Benjamin F. Five public philosophies of Walter Lippmann (U of Texas Press, 2015).

Primary sources[edit]

  • Lippmann, Walter. Public philosopher: selected letters of Walter Lippmann (1985) online free
  • Rossiter, Clinton, and James Lare, eds. The Essential Lippmann: A Political Philosophy for Liberal Democracy (1963). online free

External links[edit]

  • USC Center on Public Diplomacy Profile[permanent dead link]
  • Works by Walter Lippmann at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Walter Lippmann at Internet Archive
  • Works by Walter Lippmann at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
  • Public Opinion (1922) from American Studies at the University of Virginia.
  • Walter Lippmann Men of Destiny (1927)
  • Biography with excerpt from works
  • Guide to the Walter Lippmann Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library
  • Walter Lippman, "The Mental Age of Americans", New Republic 32, no. 412 (October 25, 1922): 213–15; no. 413 (November 1, 1922): 246–48; no. 414 (November 8, 1922): 275–77; no. 415 (November 15, 1922): 297–98; no. 416 (November 22, 1922): 328–30; no. 417 (November 29, 1922): 9–11.
  • "Writings of Walter Lippmann" from C-SPAN's American Writers: A Journey Through History
  • The American Presidency Project – Remarks at the Presentation of the 1964 Presidential Medal of Freedom Awards – September 14, 1964
  • Walter Lippmann, Patriotism and state sovereignty (1929)
  • Walter Lippmann at Library of Congress Authorities, with 122 catalog records


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