MEDIAlternative by Kevin Howley


June 14, 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.


March 22, 2008

This past week, as the world marked the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the corporate news media confirmed the latest Washington consensus on the war: mistakes were made, perhaps, but things are looking up.

It's plain to see why -- despite the historical record, let alone the "facts on the ground" -- the corporate press has such a rosy picture of the war: the US press corps' uncritical reliance upon elite news sources.

Action alerts regarding press coverage marking the anniversary of the war in Iraq issued this week by the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) confirm as much.


March 1, 2008

On Feb. 24, consumer advocate Ralph Nader announced he was running for president as a third-party candidate. It didn't take long for the corporate media, and not a few corporate Democrats, to settle on the dominant news frame for Nader's latest bid for the White House.

In the lead to its story on Nader's announcement the next day, The New York Times recalled the 2000 presidential race when Nader "drew 96,837 votes in Florida, [and] was widely derided by Democrats, who saw him as a spoiler who siphoned crucial votes from Al Gore and tipped the election to George W. Bush."

Sen. Hillary Clinton, (D-NY) whose campaign is expected to burn-up on re-entry soon after the March 4 primaries, expressed surprise and wonder over Nader's announcement. "Wow, that's really unfortunate." Clinton told the Times. "I remember when he did this before. It's not good for anybody, especially our country."


February 16, 2008

It’s tough to keep track of how many times Congress has caved in to the Bush administration’s fear mongering over the past eight years. Still, this past week’s craven performance by the Senate represents a new low.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate passed a measure that would broaden the government’s domestic surveillance programs. Significantly, the legislation also gives the nation’s telecommunications industries retroactive immunity from criminal prosecution for their role in President Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping program.


January 19, 2008

This is the first in an occasional series of essays on media and politics for Campaign 2008.

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This year's presidential election campaign is historic all right, but for all the wrong reasons. It's a sure bet that the Democratic presidential candidate will either be 1) a woman or 2) an African-American. But before we get all misty eyed about how progressive our politics have become, we'd best heed Sen. Clinton's advice and take a "reality check."

If the first weeks of 2008 are any indication at all, this year's election cycle will be a season in hell. Even though it's early, it's hard to know who is more contemptible in all of this: a motley crew of "front runners," that mythic creature commonly referred to as "the two-party system" or the scourge of democratic communication, the corporate media.

Thing is, it's hard to make hard-and-fast distinctions between any of these groups. They're all part and parcel of a system so thoroughly awash in money, corruption and influence peddling that any pretense of substantive, political discourse has all but disappeared down the rabbit hole.


December 29, 2007

The Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Dec. 18 decision to "relax" media ownership rules opens the door to a new wave of consolidation that will further erode the quality of U.S. news media.

According to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, the new rules will help the ailing newspaper industry compete with Internet news services for readership and advertising dollars by lifting a 30-year ban on newspaper-broadcast cross ownership. Martin contends that his "modest" proposal is limited to the nation's 20 largest media markets.

But as consumer advocacy and public interest groups, including Free Press and the Benton Foundation, have demonstrated, the ruling contains dozens of waivers and is riddled with loopholes that will have implications for media markets across the country.


December 4, 2007

The screenwriters' strike continues to grab headlines, right alongside big news stories like the military crackdown in Pakistan, the diplomatic letdown in Annapolis and the economic meltdown on Wall Street.

As the strike enters its fourth week, popular television programs like The Daily Show, Desperate Housewives and 24, among others, have closed shop.

Press coverage of the strike invariably frames the labor dispute in rather dire terms: apart from the financial implications a prolonged strike will have for writers and the film and TV studios alike, the American public will suffer the consequences of a television season littered with reruns and "reality" programming should the strike drag on for months.

These news stories reveal a great deal about the blind spots and blackouts that are common in U.S. press coverage of media and culture. Indeed, the sheer amount of coverage the writers' strike receives stands in stark contrast to another media-related news story - a blockbuster, in fact - that barely receives mention, let alone headlines.

March 28, 2007

Last month's announcement of the proposed merger of the nation's two satellite radio services was big news. And with good reason — it's a big deal. After all, there's big money at stake. The planned merger of Sirius and XM is valued at $13 billion. There are big names involved: Howard Stern, Bob Dylan and Oprah Winfrey all have lucrative deals with satellite radio. If the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approves the merger, the new company would realize big savings.

Then again, there's a big downside. A merger of this sort means big job losses at both companies. And with a bigger audience, the new satellite radio service would have enormous leverage over potential advertisers eager to reach an estimated 14 million paid subscribers.

Finally, in the absence of a competing service, the new company would have a big advantage over producers, performers and other on-air talent, not to mention the retailers and automobile manufacturers who sell satellite radio receivers.

January 28, 2007

Earlier this month, more than 3,000 concerned citizens — community organizers, working journalists, educators and policy analysts — met in Memphis for the National Media Reform Conference. The third meeting of its kind in as many years, this year's conference signaled the movement's coming of age.

As veteran journalist Bill Moyers noted during his keynote address, media reform was considered "a fool's errand" not long ago. No more. Frustrated by a media system that is neither responsible nor accountable to the public, a diverse cross-section of Americans has mobilized to create a democratic media system.

Over the course of three days, conference participants addressed a host of issues, from media consolidation and the attendant decline in localism, to rampant commercialization and the deterioration of journalistic standards. More than this, attendees put Big Media on notice. The ranks of the media reform movement are swelling and change is in the air.

If you want to be part of that change, get informed and get involved. Here are five steps you can take toward building a better media system.

September 10, 2006

Summer's end signals the official start of the 2006 campaign season and, as Congress returns from the August recess, the stakes couldn't be higher for the upcoming mid-term elections. The Iraq war is, of course, the leading campaign issue.

Still, a host of domestic issues — energy, immigration, environmental protection, voting rights, health care, national security and the economy — are gaining traction with the electorate. To this laundry list of campaign issues, I suggest we add media reform.

Why media reform? For the basic reason that democracy requires news, information and culture that supports discussion, debate and informed self-governance. And without putting too fine a point on it, the current media system is doing a lousy job of promoting an informed and engaged citizenry.

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