April 18, 2010

On April 6, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not have the authority to prevent Internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or controlling Internet traffic.

National media outlets reported the story in a timely and accurate fashion. The court decision was described as a victory for Comcast and other ISPs -- and a blow to advocates of "net neutrality" -- the long-standing principle of Internet regulation that ensures web users equal access to all Web sites.

Unfortunately, there hasn't been much follow-up on this decision. Nor have the consequences of the court's ruling received press coverage or analysis. Instead, Tiger Woods' appearance at the Masters Golf Tournament and the roll out of Apple's i-Pad dominated the week's news cycle.

April 4, 2010

Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of traveling to Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Ill. to deliver the keynote address at EIU's 35th annual Communication Day event. Throughout the day, I spoke with students and faculty about my research and, more specifically, how I make use of alternative media in my teaching.

Throughout the presentation, I used examples of alternative media, from short clips featuring Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, to the work of self-styled video activist Ava Lowery. I wrapped up my discussion about alternative media in the classroom with a public service announcement (PSA) about the detrimental effects of radio payola on creative expression and public culture. Students from DePauw University produced this PSA a few years back.

During the Q&A session, EIU students asked some thoughtful questions about the current state of journalism and what, if anything, could be done to improve journalistic performance.

April 4, 2010

On March 24, Gov. Mitch Daniels's Liaison at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management responded to a letter sent by rural Indiana citizens questioning his policies on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

The e-mail was sent from an account that did not allow the citizens to respond directly, and it contained a confidentiality statement that warned: "This e-mail and any attachments are confidential and may be protected by legal privilege. If you are not the intended recipient, be aware that any disclosure, copying, distribution, or use of this e-mail or any attachment is prohibited."

The Bloomington Alternative was not the intended recipient. Below is the full text of the letter.

March 21, 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 7, 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 21, 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."

January 24, 2010

Conventional wisdom has it that this past week marked two milestones in U.S. electoral politics. The first, Republican Scott Brown's upset victory over Democratic "favorite" Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts special election to fill Ted Kennedy's vacant senate seat; the second, the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama's inauguration.

Each of these events gave politicians and TV talking heads plenty to chew on. But when the two stories merged into a singular media narrative on the future of the Obama presidency, it became an infotainment spectacular. One with all the hyperbole and punditry associated with that other midwinter entertainment extravaganza: the Super Bowl. Instead of picking winners and losers in the big game, this week's media circus was all about handicapping Obama.

January 10, 2010

The recent spate of high-profile intelligence failures -- most notably the attempted Christmas Day bombing on board Northwest Airlines fight 253 -- put me in mind of an old Groucho Marx line: "Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms." In the days following the foiled terrorist plot, the usual suspects in and out of official Washington demonstrated their own faulty intelligence.

On one hand, Obama administration officials struggled to save face in the wake of an embarrassing, and potentially catastrophic, security lapse. On the other, a handful of House Republicans sought to score a few political points -- and raise a little campaign money in the bargain -- by politicizing this latest terrorist episode. Meanwhile, syndicated columnists and cable TV pundits were working overtime, spinning the story this way and that. As usual, the ensuing debate over intelligence failures and security breaches generates more heat than light.

December 27, 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 15, 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.

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