A few weeks ago, the Republican-led House of Representatives voted to defund NPR. The good news is that the Democrat-led Senate is not expected to pass the measure. For the time being, it seems, NPR has survived this latest ideological assault.
Nevertheless, this episode raises important questions about the future of US public media. For instance, could public radio survive without federal funding? The short answer to that question is yes: NPR could survive without public financial support. However, it would be a greatly diminished service -- one that caters to relatively affluent audiences and without the national reach, let alone the relevance, that it can and should have.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s plain to see just how anemic and irrelevant much of what passes for “news” is these days. In times of crisis, the public needs a robust, independent press willing and able to “speak truth to power.” Problem is, the art and craft of journalism is in crisis.
Neither you nor I have time for a lengthy treatise on the sorry state of the Fourth Estate. After all, it’s spring break. Here, then, are five unmistakable signs of shoddy journalism.
News about the news media has been chilling for longer than any self-respecting journalist would care to admit. Last fall, public trust reached a historic low, when Gallup pollsters found 57 percent of respondents did not trust the news media to report stories “fully, accurately or fairly.”
In an era when Brian Williams, Katie Couric and Bill O’Reilly are considered “journalists,” the public’s cynicism is unarguably well-deserved. But commercialized news is only part of the story. The best traditions of American journalism are alive, if not necessarily well, at nonprofit outfits like the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (WCIJ), whose chief reporter and Web producer visited Bloomington from March 1 to 4.
As humans seek the middle of what Ralph Waldo Emerson described as the polar states of "insanity or fat dullness," citizens search for the most effective news. Just as no student could pass a test without access to the materials that will be covered on the test, citizens need to be exposed to adequate information to formulate ideas and opinions in their democracy.
On the al-Jazeera English show Empire, in an episode entitled "Information Wars," host and moderator Marwan Bishara stated, "Today, the free flow of information is overturning autocrats across the Arab World. Who knows where the next domino will fall?"
Call it tough love. This column frequently critiques the practice and performance of U.S. public broadcasting. And with good reason. Neither NPR nor PBS comes close to realizing its potential to broadcast in the public interest. All too often, U.S. public media act as “stenographers to power” rather than adhere to the principles of good journalism: independence, inquiry and verification.
Public broadcasting’s recent coverage of democratic uprisings in North Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere is a case in point. On the one hand, public media repeats and amplifies the pronouncements of administration and state department officials with little if any interrogation of their specious claims to support pro-democracy activists. What’s more, both NPR and PBS did their share of stoking anti-Islamic attitudes and ignoring the history of American imperialism in the Arab world.
Last week's Grammy Awards certainly generated plenty of chatter, what with all of the surprising winners (Esperanza Spalding, Lady Antebellum), veteran performances (Bob Dylan, Sir Mick Jagger) and more than a few upsets (Justin Bieber, Eminem).
Then there was Lady Gaga's egg-regious entrance.
Meanwhile, across the pond the British Academy Film Awards (a.k.a. the BAFTAS) made it clear that The King’s Speech was the favorite going into the upcoming Academy Awards.
I found myself on the other side of the journalistic equation this past week, when the Indiana Daily Student published a front-page story about my work on autism and the environment, including links between vaccines and the pervasive developmental disorder.
The story drew the expected shrill and vitriolic reaction from vaccine industry defenders, none of whom identify themselves by name. The comments section attracted more than three dozen responses from some of the highest profile actors in the national debate. What follows is my response to the fallout.
Feb. 6, 2011, marks the 100th birthday of Ronald Reagan. The following is an excerpt taken from an essay titled Always Famous: Or, the Electoral Half-life of Ronald Reagan that considered Reagan’s legacy following his state funeral in June 2004. -- kh
What are we to make of Ronald Reagan’s fame and its implications for America? To begin with, we must acknowledge Reagan’s enduring influence on modern electoral politics. Clearly, Reagan’s “citizen politician” was a media construct -- the masterful orchestration of ideological content across the institutional structures of news, public relations and marketing.
While some may suggest that Reagan’s success was an anomaly, a historical aberration, a host of politicians and not a few celebrities -- Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Barack Obama among them -- emulate Reagan’s style and employ the media management strategies he pioneered.
Perhaps she didn’t get the memo. Then again she’s not much of a reader. And as recent public pronouncements demonstrate, nuance, subtly and empathy are not her strong suit. Of course, I’m speaking of 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
Despite calls from across the political spectrum to “tone down” the vitriol in the wake of the Tucson shootings, Palin keeps right on doing what she does best: manufacturing controversy in an effort to dominate the news cycle. Whether she’s releasing statements via Facebook or making the rounds on Fox News Channel, Palin is tone deaf to pleas -- even from within her own ranks -- to take a break from the partisan rancor and political gainsaying.
During the New Year's Day broadcast of NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday, guest host Jennifer Ludden introduced a special segment this way: "As we look ahead, we're putting a twist on that time-honored tradition of making resolutions, with something we call New Year's resolutions for other people." Cute, huh?
Ludden continued, "Throughout the program we'll hear recommendations for 2011 from business, sports and entertainment experts."
For instance, Ludden asked Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank about his resolutions for President Barack Obama, the 112th Congress and even the American electorate. Later on, actress Aisha Tyler offered a few recommendations for A-List celebrities, including Lady Gaga, Angelina Jolie and Charlie Sheen.