With so much going on in media and politics these days, it's difficult to settle on any single topic to write about. So I haven't. Instead, here are a few thoughts on what is, and isn't, making headlines these days.
I want to believe
Ever since he clinched his party's nomination, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has been battered by charges of flip-flopping on a range of issues: from gun control and late-term abortion to public campaign financing and troop withdrawal from Iraq.
The extent to which Obama's position has changed on any of these issues is debatable. After all, one of his great strengths is his willingness and ability to discuss public policy in a thoughtful and nuanced fashion. In an age of sound-bite politics, this is an admirable quality in any candidate for elected office.
But Sen. Obama's about-face on the Bush administration's electronic surveillance program -- with its controversial provision of retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies -- was a textbook example of politics as usual.
After vowing to filibuster against changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that would further erode American civil liberties, Obama reversed field and voted in favor of the FISA bill in a calculated move to defend himself against charges that he is soft on terrorism.
Obama's reversal was a stunning rebuke of liberals, progressives and especially the so-called "Netroots" who supported him during the contentious Democratic primary season. It remains to be seen if this decision will come back to haunt him.
Nevertheless, according to the conventional wisdom, Obama has made all the right moves. For Democrats to succeed in the general election they need to do the old Democratic two-step: run to the left in the primaries and to the right come November. So say the pollsters and pundits, at any rate.
But the idea that Obama has ever been anything but a centrist Democrat -- very much in the Bill Clinton mold -- is, at best, wishful thinking. And as the campaign kicks into high gear, it's becoming increasingly difficult to believe that Obama represents substantive change in either domestic or foreign policy.
Indeed, there's nothing "left of center," let alone progressive, about Obama's views on two of the nation's most pressing issues: military spending and health care.
In a move to appeal to fiscal conservatives, Obama has adopted Clinton-era language of "moving people from welfare to work."
And insofar as his energy policy is concerned, Obama is being far too coy about nuclear power at a moment when we need to adopt safe, affordable and sustainable alternatives.
|"We ignore at our peril the lessons of recent history if we simply adopt the default position that the Democratic candidate is the lesser of two evils."|
None of this is to suggest that Obama hasn't run an exceptional campaign. His rhetorical skills and personal charisma are undeniable. He's certainly energized people -- especially younger voters -- to get involved in electoral politics.
And in terms of its innovative approach to grassroots organizing and fundraising, the Obama campaign has demonstrated that it is a smart, disciplined and tech-savvy team.
It's also plain to see that the race baiting in conservative circles, especially on talk radio and FOX News, isn't making Obama's task any easier. But such vile scare tactics should not keep progressives from pressuring Obama to take up a principled, forthright and substantive agenda for change.
Progressives and the party faithful can castigate the New Yorker magazine for aiding and abetting the right-wing propaganda machine all they like. But we ignore at our peril the lessons of recent history if we simply adopt the default position that the Democratic candidate is the lesser of two evils.
If it is change we want, then it is change we must work for. Letting Obama, or any other Democratic candidate, for that matter, off the hook for the sake of political expediency is to squander a unique opportunity to bring about the change this country so desperately needs.
Last week a federal appeals court in Philadelphia threw out the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC) $550,000 indecency fine against CBS for the infamous "wardrobe malfunction" during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.
The 3rd U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC "acted arbitrarily and capriciously" in issuing the fine for what amounted to a glimpse of Janet Jackson's breast.
The court's decision represents a setback for proponents of the FCC's efforts to curb broadcast indecency. But as with most indecency cases, the fight between broadcasters and federal regulators is little more than a distraction from far more important structural issues, like media ownership and consolidation.
Indecency hearings provide the illusion that elected officials and government regulators hold broadcasters accountable for their practices and behaviors. Recall that in the wake of the Super Bowl incident, Congress hastily organized public hearings -- ostensibly to call the broadcast industry on the carpet for offensive, indecent and otherwise objectionable programming.
Highly publicized hearings of this sort are win-win situations for broadcasters and politicians. Broadcasters appear before Congress chastened, sometimes repentant, and always promising to do a better job of self-regulation in the future. Then it's back to business as usual.
Meanwhile, politicians pose as staunch defenders of moral values and public decency who, nonetheless, respect broadcasters' First Amendment rights. Then they wait to catch the next wave of moral panic before starting the whole charade all over again.
All the while, the policy decisions that enable media giants to acquire more outlets, generate enormous profits, and otherwise make a mockery of the public interest provision of U.S. communication law, go virtually unchecked and unchallenged.
On those rare occasions when media ownership issues do come to the fore, there is precious little press coverage. After all, policy debates over media ownership and control are dull and uninteresting compared to heated discussions of salacious content.
Besides, the last thing Big Media wants the American people to understand is the connection between media content and the way media systems are regulated, organized and structured.
|"Obama's reversal was a stunning rebuke of liberals, progressives and especially the so-called "Netroots" who supported him during the contentious Democratic primary season. It remains to be seen if this decision will come back to haunt him."|
Unfit to print
Last week, the Green Party nominated former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney as its candidate for president. McKinney's running mate is Rosa Clemente, a journalist and long-time community organizer.
In a year of historic firsts in presidential politics, the corporate media greeted news that the Greens had nominated two women of color to the top of the ticket with a gapping yawn.
Of course, press coverage of the Green's historic nomination was predictable. After all, corporate media are loath to provide substantive coverage of independent and third-party candidates. This latest sin of omission demonstrates just how cozy the relationship is between corporate media and the Republican and Democratic parties' political duopoly.
Another story that got very little traction in the corporate press was the latest effort by Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) to hold the Bush administration responsible for its illegal war of aggression against Iraq. In an attempt to coax the Democratic leadership into performing its constitutional duty, Kucinich recently introduced a single article of impeachment against George W. Bush.
This in not the first time Kucinich has introduced such measures. Nor is he the only one to do so. Congressman Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) is also calling for impeachment hearings. A few weeks ago, Wexler made the rounds on some of the cable news channels, but for the most part, the U.S. press corps is decidedly uninterested in talk of impeachment.
This situation would be laughable were it not so tragic. Ten years ago, the press couldn't get enough of the Clinton impeachment. Today, Bush and company are about to leave office having lied repeatedly to Congress and the American people, killed thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan, and wrecked the U.S. economy in the process, and the press treats impeachment as if it were a four-letter word.
Kevin Howley is Associate Professor of Media Studies at DePauw University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.