Kevin Howley

January 11, 2009

In a spate of exit interviews with reporters, George W. Bush has been uncharacteristically coy on the subject of how history will judge his time in office. "The Decider" prefers to leave such judgments to future generations.

Of course, this hasn't prevented W. from running his presidency through one last spin cycle before he leaves office on Jan. 20. While the Bush administration spent the better part of the past eight years doing (self-inflicted) damage control, the past few months have been devoted to a historical whitewash.

December 28, 2008

AlterNet, the online news digest, is sponsoring a project that asks readers to write a 100-word essay that answers the following question: "What would you like Obama's first 100 days in office to look like?" In lieu of my regular column, I thought I'd give it a go.

December 14, 2008

"Brazen." "Staggering." "Outrageous."

Last week, the political class was working overtime consulting Roget's Thesaurus to find just the right word to express their indignation over Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plot to sell a U.S. Senate appointment to the highest bidder.

Blagojevich's pay-to-play scheme has all the trappings of old school Chicago-style politics: influence peddling, backroom deal making and a would-be political boss with a vindictive streak.

But there's a twist. Until recently, the senate seat that was up for sale belonged to none other than President-elect Barack Obama. As if Obama didn't have enough to contend with already, even the hint of scandal surrounding this transition could doom his presidency.

As political theater it doesn't get much better than this. Even the transcript of telephone conversations between Blagojevich and his aides reads like something out of a David Mamet play: "I've got this thing and it's fucking golden ... I'm just not giving it up for fucking nothing."

November 16, 2008

I've seen you at rallies cheering for the charismatic junior senator from Illinois. Overheard you in coffee shops discussing Barack Obama's performance at the presidential debates. Spoke with you about the prospects of the Democratic ticket while making our way across campus. And on the morning after this historic election, together we pondered the implications, and the possibilities, of this remarkable achievement.

Truth be told, I'm a little envious. When I cast my first vote in a presidential election, nearly 30 years ago, Ronald Reagan won the presidency, and I was on the wrong side of history. Today, you are on the cusp of what President-elect Obama rightly described as a "defining moment."

October 19, 2008

“Americans are hurting right now, and they're angry. They're hurting, and they're angry. They're innocent victims of greed and excess on Wall Street and as well as Washington, D.C. And they're angry, and they have every reason to be angry.” -- John McCain, Oct. 15, 2008

Writing in this space at the beginning of the presidential campaign -- what feels like a hundred years ago -- I suggested that this year’s election cycle was shaping up to be “a season in hell.” Today, with two weeks to go before Election Day, that assessment seems quaint.

Attacking an opponent’s character is, of course, nothing new to American political campaigns. Character assassination and smear campaigns have a long and storied history in U.S. electoral politics.

But, in recent weeks, as the McCain camp tries to gain some traction after the short-lived, post-convention bounce Sarah Palin’s vice presidential nomination gave to the Republican ticket, the campaign rhetoric has grown increasingly divisive, inflammatory and downright hostile.

October 5, 2008

This semester, I'm teaching a course that examines U.S. press performance during the Iraq War. We've been using books -- such as Michael Massing's eminently readable, if deeply disturbing, Now They Tell Us -- that document the extent to which American journalists uncritically accepted the Bush administration's rationale for war with Iraq.

My students are bright, and they certainly appreciate the importance of critical thinking. Nonetheless, they have had a hard time accepting the awful truth that the U.S. press corps was complicit in the administration's propaganda campaign to secure popular support for the war.

September 7, 2008

Ohio Congressman and former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich delivered one of the more rousing and impassioned speeches at last month's Democratic National Convention.

Unfortunately, convention planners didn't grant Kucinich a prime-time slot, effectively denying millions of television viewers the opportunity to hear his urgent plea to "wake up America."

And despite clear enthusiasm for Kucinich's remarks among the assembled delegates (a C-SPAN recording of the speech is available on YouTube) and the subsequent buzz his wakeup call generated in the blogosphere and the alternative press, mainstream media outlets took little notice of Kucinich's speech.

Of course, there's nothing new in all of this. Neither the corporate media nor so-called public service broadcasters give Kucinich much play. Typically, establishment media either ignore Kucinich altogether or portray him as a left-wing extremist whose views cannot be taken seriously.

August 24, 2008

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. Herman and Chomsky's now classic, if still controversial, study puts forward a "propaganda model" for analyzing and explaining U.S. press performance and behaviors.

Briefly stated, the propaganda model identifies five factors -- ownership, advertising, sourcing, flak and anticommunist ideology -- that act as "filters" through which information is processed by news workers and organizations. In turn, these filters affect how news stories are selected and framed for presentation to the American public.

When it first appeared, some critics dismissed Manufacturing Consent as just so much conspiracy theory. Others hailed the book as a groundbreaking analysis of the structural factors that shape U.S. journalistic institutions and practices.

Notwithstanding two decades of critique and refinement, recent events underscore the continued relevance of the propaganda model for understanding how and why U.S. news media operate as they do.

July 27, 2008

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.

June 15, 2008

Scott McClellan's memoir What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception continues to make headlines nearly two weeks after the former White House press secretary released his tell-all book about the Bush Administration's efforts to manipulate public opinion on the war in Iraq. No small feat when you consider that two weeks is an eternity in the modern news cycle -- not to mention the fact that there have been a few dramatic developments in the Democratic presidential primary race in recent days.

McClellan's revelations are not simply an indictment of the Bush administration's deceptions. He argues that mainstream media were complicit in selling Bush's war to the American people like so much snake oil. According to McClellan, "The national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House." Further, he argues that by "enabling" the administration's propaganda efforts, the press failed to fulfill its critical role as a watchdog of the powerful.

As with most high-profile news stories these days, this one has generated more heat than light. Not surprisingly, the Republican attack machine has been operating at full throttle to discredit McClellan -- and the press dutifully records all of it. Likewise, journalists and pundits have wagged incessantly about McClellan's motivations, how these revelations might affect the general election, and what all of this might mean for the Bush legacy.

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