The Irony in—and of—Journalism: A Case Study in the Moral Language of Liberal Democracy

James S Ettema*, Theodore L. Glasser

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


In Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Rorty argues that liberal democracy has had “the last conceptual revolution it needs.” He also suggests that journalism, like literature, helps realize the benefits of this revolution by telling stories about suffering and injustice—stories that contribute to a sense of human solidarity. This essay examines a particular rhetorical and narrative strategy‐irony‐used in a particular genre of contemporary journalism—investigative reporting—to tell such stories. It argues that irony in journalism presents several ironies of journalism. One is that irony transfigures the conventions of objectivity so that the very textual devices intended to assure the differentiation of fact and value become the means to express their fundamental unity. Another, darker irony of journalism concerns the possibility that investigative journalism, as an exercise in the moral language of liberal democracy, may yet contribute to its own undoing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5-28
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Communication
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language


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