MEDIAlternative by Kevin Howley

July 25, 2009

As healthcare deliberations intensify on Capitol Hill, the American people are confronted with a bewildering array of information, opinion and analysis regarding the Obama administration’s plan to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system. In the spirit of public service, The Bloomington Alternative offers the following glossary of terms used by politicians, public relations professionals and pundits to “debate” healthcare reform.

Following a brief definition, the word or phrase is illustrated in common usage. Examples are taken from recent public statements regarding the President’s reform effort and the crisis of U.S. healthcare.

Blue Dog Democrats

See also Corporate Democrats

A coalition of moderate and conservative Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

July 11, 2009

A front-page story in the July 8, 2009, edition of the New York Times reported that the Obama administration is cutting deals with health industry groups in an effort to gain support for the president's healthcare reform initiative. "Rather than running advertisements against the White House," the Times notes, "the most influential players in the industry are inside the room negotiating with administration officials and leading lawmakers."

Of course, deal making is at the heart of all political processes, but lately it seems that corporate interests -- the banking industry, automakers, coal companies and the lobbyists who love them -- are the only ones with seats at the table.

June 27, 2009

If there is an upside to news of Michael Jackson's sudden and unexpected death it is this: wall-to-wall press coverage of the pop star's passing has put the brakes on Western media's propaganda campaign over street protests in Iran -- at least for the time being.

For the better part of two weeks, U.S. and UK news outlets have been spinning the disputed outcome of recent Iranian elections in a manner that supports the strategic aims of Washington, London and Tel Aviv: to discredit the Iranian leadership and legitimate calls for "regime change" in Tehran.

While images of the Iranian people demanding greater transparency and accountability from their government are undeniably moving, if not downright inspiring, press coverage of these spontaneous expressions of democracy reveal the double standards of both the political and media establishment.

June 13, 2009

During the general election last year, then-Sen. Barack Obama and his rival, Sen. John McCain, met in Nashville, Tenn., for a "town hall" format presidential debate. Midway through the proceedings, a woman named Lindsey Trellow asked Obama one of the most cogent questions of the campaign: "Senator, selling healthcare coverage in America as a marketable commodity has become a very profitable industry. Do you believe healthcare should be treated as a commodity?"

Both candidates danced around the issue for a few minutes before debate moderator, Tom Brokaw, muddied the waters with a follow up question of his own. Today, as Congress considers a major overhaul of the healthcare system, this fundamental question is still off limits in political circles and the establishment media.

May 30, 2009

I was in Chicago over the Memorial Day weekend attending a meeting and taking advantage of all the Windy City had to offer. Among other things, I happened upon an exhibition of "inspired art for Obama." Titled Officially Unofficial, the show featured posters, prints, photography and video that supported Barack Obama's historic bid for the presidency.

In addition to "official art" produced by the Obama campaign, the exhibition at the Chicago Tourism Center also featured independently produced work that was, in turns, stark and celebratory, whimsical and incisive. Alongside Shepard Fairey's ubiquitous Obama Hope poster and Ron English's Abraham Obama were less-well-known, but equally affective pieces by less-established artists. For instance, one rather disturbing but revealing graphic featured a gun aimed at two bloodied feet, labeled 2000 and 2004 respectively.

May 16, 2009

There's been a lot of news coming out of Afghanistan and Iraq in recent weeks, and none of it has been good. Last weekend, a U.S. air strike in Afghanistan's Farah province killed scores of civilians. Predictably, Pentagon officials greeted this latest in a series of reports of civilian casualties with a flurry of denials and obfuscations.

Lapdogs that they are, the corporate media ran with the Pentagon spin. Taking their lead from military spokesmen, pundits and TV talking heads lamented the detrimental impact this latest atrocity might have on public opinion at home and abroad. As for civilian casualties, the chattering classes were uncharacteristically reticent. For the "inside the Beltway" crowd, the less said about the human costs of the air war in Afghanistan, the better.

May 2, 2009

This past week offered abject lessons in media responsibility. Addressing the outbreak of swine flu at his primetime press conference on Wednesday night, President Obama told reporters that the situation was "cause for deep concern, not panic." Sound advice, to be sure. Too bad the U.S. press corps didn't take heed. The media frenzy over this story is hard to ignore -- but you might live longer if you did just that.

It should go without saying that the press has the responsibility to relay critical health issues to the public in a timely and accurate fashion. But there's a fine line between responsible reporting and fear mongering -- and based on the wall-to-wall coverage this episode is receiving, a great many news outlets have crossed that line repeatedly.

And why not? After all, fear is a great motivator; like sex, fear sells. If you ignite fear in the body politic you are certain to keep audiences coming back for more, and that's good for business. The rolling cable news channels discovered this long ago. In recent years, they've turned fear mongering into an art form.

April 4, 2009

In my media criticism course this semester we’ve been looking at the rise of “infotainment” or the blurring of news and entertainment. As you might imagine, the work of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert figures prominently in our conversations. Drawing on work in communication, cultural studies and political science, we’ve been debating the merits and shortcomings of political humor.

On the whole, humor is good for democracy. But it all depends upon what kind of humor we’re talking about, and who or what is the target of such humor. For instance, the humor of the legendary Bob Hope certainly poked fun at political figures and institutions. But for the most part, Hope’s humor was “all in good fun” and rarely challenged political authority or legitimacy. On that score, Hope’s humor was a useful “release valve” for a polity buffeted by economic crisis, protracted war and a morally bankrupt political culture. Politicians appreciate humor in this vein -- It’s non-threatening.

On the other hand, people like Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and Chris Rock are far more incisive in their social commentary and cultural critique. That is, these comics challenge institutions and deeply held assumptions about the American legal system, institutionalized racism and such. In doing so, these humorists observe the contradictions of American democracy in ways that not only provoke laughter but thought and reflection as well.

March 21, 2009

"Outrageous." That's the word on everyone's lips these days.

At a White House press conference last Wednesday, President Barack Obama told reporters "Obviously, the whole issue of AIG and these bonuses that have been paid out have been consuming a lot of attention ... But what I think is also important and just as outrageous is the fact that we find ourselves in a situation where we're having to clean up after AIG's mess."

Making the rounds on the television yak shows last week, Lawrence Summers, the director of the National Economic Council said, "There are a lot of terrible things that have happened in the last 18 months, but what's happened at AIG is the most outrageous."

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