Moral Panic and Political Rhetoric in the Early American Republic

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Virginia Tech


This study analyzes the reporting and editorializing in several major American newspapers during the height of the Citizen Genêt Affair in July and August, 1793. A hybrid form of sociological moral panic theory, focused predominantly on the "iteration" of moral panics and the language used to communicate them, is used to understand the dynamics of the information landscape of 1793. Specific attention is paid to the effects of time and space, personal and political bias, and incendiary historical rhetoric on reporting of and reactions to Genêt's actions. In doing so, this study highlights possible flaws or blind spots in both moral panic theory and historiography, and brings new understanding to the media environment in which America's political traditions gestated. Brief connections are drawn between this historical information landscape and series of events and contemporary concerns with regards to social media and incendiary political rhetoric.



America, Newspapers, Political Rhetoric, Moral Panic, Information Networks