The end of the school year is always a bit hectic: meeting with students, reviewing assignments, tallying final grades and attending commencement ceremonies. Then there's all the head scratching that comes with the feckless decisions university administrators tend to make at this time of year. It all makes it difficult to keep up with the news and current events.
Now, with the semester's work behind me and a busy summer ahead, it's as good a time as any to catch up with the headlines and see what is -- and isn't -- making news of late.
From the Middle East to the Gulf to the Internet to the Tea Party.
Editor's Note: On Friday April 30, 2010, veteran journalist Bill Moyers, host of the PBS public affairs series Bill Moyers Journal, retired from broadcasting at the age of 75.
Like a lot of people across the country who are troubled by the crisis of journalism, I have mixed feelings about your retirement from the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).
On one hand, I have grave misgivings about the future of investigative journalism and current affairs programming on public television. Despite assurances from PBS executives to the contrary, I fear that in your absence journalistic standards on U.S. public television will decline precipitously.
On the other hand, I appreciate your desire to take a break from the demands of a weekly public affairs program. You have been a fixture on public television for as long as I can remember, and you deserve some time for yourself.
On April 6, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not have the authority to prevent Internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or controlling Internet traffic.
National media outlets reported the story in a timely and accurate fashion. The court decision was described as a victory for Comcast and other ISPs -- and a blow to advocates of "net neutrality" -- the long-standing principle of Internet regulation that ensures web users equal access to all Web sites.
Unfortunately, there hasn't been much follow-up on this decision. Nor have the consequences of the court's ruling received press coverage or analysis. Instead, Tiger Woods' appearance at the Masters Golf Tournament and the roll out of Apple's i-Pad dominated the week's news cycle.
Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of traveling to Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Ill. to deliver the keynote address at EIU's 35th annual Communication Day event. Throughout the day, I spoke with students and faculty about my research and, more specifically, how I make use of alternative media in my teaching.
Throughout the presentation, I used examples of alternative media, from short clips featuring Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, to the work of self-styled video activist Ava Lowery. I wrapped up my discussion about alternative media in the classroom with a public service announcement (PSA) about the detrimental effects of radio payola on creative expression and public culture. Students from DePauw University produced this PSA a few years back.
During the Q&A session, EIU students asked some thoughtful questions about the current state of journalism and what, if anything, could be done to improve journalistic performance.
Reader response to my previous column on the 911 Truth movement caught me a little off guard. In retrospect, I should have expected it. After all, the Internet has been instrumental in mobilizing so-called "truthers" from all walks of life -- from first responders and structural engineers to architects and academics.
The majority of the comments my column generated were both supportive and positive. Moreover, a number of readers provided links to additional resources that further challenge the official story of the 911 attacks.
I also received feedback that was less enthusiastic -- again, no surprises. The implications of academic analyses and international news reports that challenge the veracity of the official story are deeply disturbing. As well they should be. Nevertheless, I believe it is important to make sharp distinctions between conspiracy theory on one hand and reasonable doubts on the other.
This is the second of two columns that explore the relationship between popular movements and the news media. Read Part 1 -- "Made for each other."
If the Tea Party movement is the spoiled stepchild of the American news media, then the 911 Truth movement is the mad woman in the attic of U.S. journalistic culture.
As I suggested in my previous column, the Tea Party's notoriety and popular appeal is fueled by press coverage that is, by turns, wildly enthusiastic and wholly uncritical. In contrast, American news workers have long ignored, shunned or ridiculed the 911 Truth movement. Likewise, relatively few international news outlets have taken the 911 Truth movement seriously. Until now.
Editor's note: This is the first of two columns that explore the relationship between popular movements and the news media. Read Part 2 -- "The 911 Truth Movement: Debunking the official story."
Last week, two competing narratives surrounding the economic stimulus package dominated the news cycle. Not surprisingly, the Obama administration characterized the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as an unqualified success. On Wednesday, President Obama declared, "One year later, it is largely thanks to the recovery act that a second depression is no longer a possibility."
Taking to the airwaves and the Internet, Republicans challenged Obama's version of the story. For instance, John Boehner (R-Oh.) issued a "report" titled "Where are the Jobs? A Look Back at One Year of So-called 'Stimulus,'" wherein the House Republican leader claims that the recovery act is "chock-full of wasteful government spending."
Toyota makes me think of America.
"How's that?" you ask. "Toyota cars and trucks may be popular with Americans, but they're made by a Japanese automaker." Of course, Toyota is a foreign car company. More precisely, Toyota, like other auto giants, is a transnational corporation with manufacturing plants and dealerships around the globe. Heck, some of the defective parts involved in the Toyota recall were made right here in Indiana.
Nevertheless, all of the problems and bad press swirling around Toyota gets me thinking about the good old USA.
Conventional wisdom has it that this past week marked two milestones in U.S. electoral politics. The first, Republican Scott Brown's upset victory over Democratic "favorite" Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts special election to fill Ted Kennedy's vacant senate seat; the second, the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama's inauguration.
Each of these events gave politicians and TV talking heads plenty to chew on. But when the two stories merged into a singular media narrative on the future of the Obama presidency, it became an infotainment spectacular. One with all the hyperbole and punditry associated with that other midwinter entertainment extravaganza: the Super Bowl. Instead of picking winners and losers in the big game, this week's media circus was all about handicapping Obama.
The recent spate of high-profile intelligence failures -- most notably the attempted Christmas Day bombing on board Northwest Airlines fight 253 -- put me in mind of an old Groucho Marx line: "Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms." In the days following the foiled terrorist plot, the usual suspects in and out of official Washington demonstrated their own faulty intelligence.
On one hand, Obama administration officials struggled to save face in the wake of an embarrassing, and potentially catastrophic, security lapse. On the other, a handful of House Republicans sought to score a few political points -- and raise a little campaign money in the bargain -- by politicizing this latest terrorist episode. Meanwhile, syndicated columnists and cable TV pundits were working overtime, spinning the story this way and that. As usual, the ensuing debate over intelligence failures and security breaches generates more heat than light.