Intertextuality and the 24-Hour News Cycle: A Day in the Rhetorical Life of Colin Powell’s U.N. Address by John Oddo (review)
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Intertextuality and the 24-Hour News Cycle: A Day in the Rhetorical Life of Colin Powell’s U.N. Address. By John Oddo. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2014; pp. xii + 369. $39.95 paper.

In Intertextuality and the 24-Hour News Cycle, John Oddo engages in a micro-analysis of Colin Powell’s 2003 address to the United Nations—a speech in which the Bush administration’s case for war in Iraq was made on a world stage. Oddo’s text, however, is not a rhetorical analysis of the speech’s content, but rather a detailed analysis of how Powell’s speech was reported by media outlets immediately before and after Powell’s case to the United Nations. Oddo’s primary claim is that journalists did not merely report on what Powell said; instead, they transformed the speech in ways that strengthened the administration’s claims of Iraqi U.N. violations while weakening [End Page 183] opposing voices. Because the American public was primarily exposed to mediated accounts of Powell’s speech and not the actual presentation, Oddo argues, consensus to go to war in the wake of Powell’s presentation was based not on Powell’s actual case, but rather on the media’s reporting of Powell’s case. To back these claims, Oddo builds upon the rhetorical concepts of ethos (how Powell’s credibility was constructed across various media outlets) and intertextuality (the ways in which reports transformed multiple voices to legitimize Powell’s claims.) His data set is multimodal, consisting mainly of the video of Powell’s speech, the video reports from NBC Nightly News, print stories from the New York Times, and online coverage by CNN.com that served as each news outlet’s primary coverage both before and immediately after Powell’s U.N. address.

Chapter 2, subtitled “Intertextual Ethos and Transitive Chains of Authority,” builds on existing theories of ethos to suggest that “one’s ethos is constituted within and across texts by a rage of mass-media voices” (48). Oddo shows how previous media narratives focused on similar aspects of Powell’s character: African American success story, military tactician, war hero, and, supposedly, the reluctant warrior of the administration. If a man of Powell’s character could be convinced, reporters implied, then who could possibly stand against his claims? Here, Oddo draws upon Martin and White’s framework for evaluating speakers’ attitudes toward their topics, effectively demonstrating how even slight linguistic shifts in assessing the credibility of particular speakers are compiled into larger rhetorical constructs. Through this positive and negative assessment of speakers by reporters covering Powell’s presentation, viewers were told which voices are to be trusted (Powell) and which voices are to be suspected (Iraqis, opponents in the U.N.). Moving from the intertextual ethos Powell enjoyed before his speech, Oddo then introduces a linguistic process he calls transitive chains of authority to show how media reports actively construct a rhetor’s credibility. Oddo discusses two cases of the process: corroboration, when a journalist aligns his or her own assessment of “the facts” with the claims of the speaker(s), and vouching, when a journalist subtly endorses the speaker(s). In both cases, the journalist makes an initial alignment with the speaker, which lends credibility to the speaker’s claims as they are represented in the news report. The New York Times, for example, called Powell’s presentation a “nearly encyclopedic catalog,” implying that all of Powell’s subsequent claims based on this “catalog” were grounded in exhaustive research, as such a term entails. As was later revealed, this implication was obviously not the case. [End Page 184]

In chapter 3, Oddo introduces what he calls precontextualization. Starting with the concept of recontextualization, the process of bringing previous discourses into new contexts and transforming them, Oddo argues that future rhetorical events can be contextualized in ways that transform an audience’s experience of that event. “Precontextualization,” he writes, “occurs any time a text introduces and predicts elements of a symbolic event that is yet to unfold” (78). Oddo notes how media outlets are frequently given the textual content of political events before they happen...


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