MEDIAlternative by Kevin Howley

March 20, 2010

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.

March 6, 2010

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.

U.S. news media and the Tea Party Movement

February 20, 2010

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."

February 6, 2010

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.

December 26, 2009

Of all the irritations that come with making a living as a university professor, and there are quite a few, the inability to do much in the way of "reading for pleasure" during the school year is at the top of my list. I'm talking minor irritants, mind you. Don't get me started on the major league indignities that come with working in academia. In any event, at this time of year I like to kick back and catch up on some reading: fiction, nonfiction, it's all good.

One item I've been meaning to read for some time now is Canadian journalist Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. I've read any number of Ms. Klein's essays for The Nation, Mother Jones and other progressive publications. What's more, I've heard her speak on many occasions -- most recently during Democracy Now!'s exceptional coverage of the climate change meeting in Copenhagen earlier this month. However, this is the first time that I've sat down to read one of her books.

November 14, 2009

Last week the world observed the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Not surprisingly, the bulk of U.S. media coverage of the ceremonies was self-serving and demonstrated, yet again, that the corporate press rarely appreciates the lessons -- let alone the ironies -- of history.

Of course, when the wall dividing East and West Berlin fell in November 1989, it was a world historic event: one that marked the end of a repressive regime in East Germany and, soon thereafter, across the entire Soviet Bloc. Still, the barely concealed jingoism and self-congratulatory tone of U.S. press reports was hard to stomach.

It was particularly startling that so few historians or political scientists were asked to discuss the significance of the anniversary. Instead, American audiences were treated to a choir of star journalists -- Tom Brokaw, Robin McNeil, Dan Schorr, among others -- waxing nostalgic about their role in reporting history.

October 31, 2009

There's an old saw in the news business: Journalism is the first draft of history. Of course, there's an element of truth to this statement. Historians routinely make use of newspapers and magazines, photographs, broadcast transcripts and archival recordings to understand and interpret the past.

But all too often, news workers use this phrase to dodge responsibility for getting the historical record right. It's a convenient way to make claims to journalistic authority without much concern for historical accuracy, or public accountability for that matter.

October 3, 2009

On Sept. 30, National Public Radio (NPR) announced, with considerable fanfare, the results of a new poll -- conducted in collaboration with the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health -- that found that the American people feel "profoundly shut out of the current health overhaul debate." Listening to this story, I was reminded of a line from Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."

The story, which aired on NPR's Morning Edition, was presented in a fashion that suggested the people's disenfranchisement from critical policy debates, like health care reform, was somewhat surprising -- revelatory in fact. For anyone paying even the most remote attention to grassroots and nationwide efforts to repair this country's broken and dysfunctional health care system, none of this was news.

Rather, this item is just one more indication of the crisis of democracy in this country: a crisis exacerbated by inside-the-beltway journalism practiced by corporate media and so-called public broadcasting.

September 19, 2009

Somewhere between faith and reason lies the power of the public imagination to shape society, for good or for ill. There was a time, not that long ago, when artists and writers, orators and visionaries, fueled the public imagination. Today, the public imagination is mass-produced and distributed by a handful of media conglomerates whose principle goal is neither inspiration nor enlightenment, but private profit and control.

This is not to say that commercial media are incapable of producing exceptional news, information and entertainment fare from time to time. Lately, however, its seems that for all of the media that is available to us 24/7 -- the printed word, film, broadcast radio and television, cable, satellite and internet communication -- the public imagination is suffering from a chronic case of arrested development.

This condition has reached epidemic proportions in recent weeks. Consider the media spectacle surrounding U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson's (R-S.C.) outburst during President Obama's address before a joint session of Congress or, for that matter, press coverage of Kanye West's schoolyard antics at the Video Music Awards.

September 5, 2009

I've been AWOL from The Bloomington Alternative during the month of August. I haven't been a total slacker, mind you. Aside from getting ready for the new school year and putting the finishing touches on a book manuscript, I've been keeping tabs on the media and politics by way of my blog.

Here are a few select items gleaned from my blog posts in recent weeks -- with a few additions and revisions for good measure.

First, the good news.

Power to the people

Curious the sort of popular protests that make the news these days. Some months ago it was the Tea Baggers. Lately it's been so-called Birthers and the anti-health care reformers who have captured the limelight.

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