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“Our TV show”: Legitimacy, Public Relations and J. Edgar Hoover’s “The F.B.I.” on ABC-TV
Unformatted Document Text:  Cecil  —  “Our  TV  show”    —     4   development of an FBI public relations and branding template, consideration of the origins of “The F.B.I.” television series itself, and an examination of how the messages of responsibility and utility were strictly enforced by FBI participation in the production of the series. The FBI, Public Relations and Legitimation According to mass communication scholars, organizations whose output is compatible with society’s value patterns, specifically demonstrating responsibility and utility, are generally considered legitimate. 5 Organizations that demonstrate responsibility and utility to their stakeholders may, over time, lessen the likelihood of criticisms based on perceptions of power imbalance between the institution and individuals in society. 6 Legitimation strategies employ public relations messages to lessen concerns about the potential for the irresponsible exercise of arbitrary power. 7 Questions about the legitimacy of centralized power in American society predate Hoover’s FBI. Public concerns about the concentration of extreme power in the hands of a few have been a central theme of American history. The American Revolution was a battle for freedom from tyranny abroad. The anemic, Articles of Confederation set up a decentralized, weak system of government. The battle over the inclusion of a Bill of Rights in the Constitution was a battle over the power of a central government. The state’s rights assertion that led to the Civil War was a response to federal control. Themes of resistance against social control or an advocacy of social justice are fundamental elements of the American story. The establishment of the FBI in the early 1900s raised concerns over the concentration of federal police power. Attorney General Charles J. Bonaparte created a Bureau of Investigation within the Justice Department in 1908. In creating the FBI’s precursor agency, Bonaparte was acting against the wishes of Congress, which had rejected an earlier effort to create an

Authors: Cecil, Matthew.
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Cecil  —  “Our  TV  show”    —     4  
development of an FBI public relations and branding template, consideration of the origins of 
“The F.B.I.” television series itself, and an examination of how the messages of responsibility and 
utility were strictly enforced by FBI participation in the production of the series. 
 
The FBI, Public Relations and Legitimation 
According to mass communication scholars, organizations whose output is compatible 
with society’s value patterns, specifically demonstrating responsibility and utility, are generally 
considered legitimate.
5
 Organizations that demonstrate responsibility and utility to their 
stakeholders may, over time, lessen the likelihood of criticisms based on perceptions of power 
imbalance between the institution and individuals in society.
6
 Legitimation strategies employ 
public relations messages to lessen concerns about the potential for the irresponsible exercise of 
arbitrary power.
7
 
Questions about the legitimacy of centralized power in American society predate 
Hoover’s FBI. Public concerns about the concentration of extreme power in the hands of a few 
have been a central theme of American history. The American Revolution was a battle for 
freedom from tyranny abroad. The anemic, Articles of Confederation set up a decentralized, 
weak system of government. The battle over the inclusion of a Bill of Rights in the Constitution 
was a battle over the power of a central government. The state’s rights assertion that led to the 
Civil War was a response to federal control. Themes of resistance against social control or an 
advocacy of social justice are fundamental elements of the American story. 
The establishment of the FBI in the early 1900s raised concerns over the concentration of 
federal police power. Attorney General Charles J. Bonaparte created a Bureau of Investigation 
within the Justice Department in 1908. In creating the FBI’s precursor agency, Bonaparte was 
acting against the wishes of Congress, which had rejected an earlier effort to create an 


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