October 19, 2008

“Americans are hurting right now, and they're angry. They're hurting, and they're angry. They're innocent victims of greed and excess on Wall Street and as well as Washington, D.C. And they're angry, and they have every reason to be angry.” -- John McCain, Oct. 15, 2008

Writing in this space at the beginning of the presidential campaign -- what feels like a hundred years ago -- I suggested that this year’s election cycle was shaping up to be “a season in hell.” Today, with two weeks to go before Election Day, that assessment seems quaint.

Attacking an opponent’s character is, of course, nothing new to American political campaigns. Character assassination and smear campaigns have a long and storied history in U.S. electoral politics.

But, in recent weeks, as the McCain camp tries to gain some traction after the short-lived, post-convention bounce Sarah Palin’s vice presidential nomination gave to the Republican ticket, the campaign rhetoric has grown increasingly divisive, inflammatory and downright hostile.

October 5, 2008

This semester, I'm teaching a course that examines U.S. press performance during the Iraq War. We've been using books -- such as Michael Massing's eminently readable, if deeply disturbing, Now They Tell Us -- that document the extent to which American journalists uncritically accepted the Bush administration's rationale for war with Iraq.

My students are bright, and they certainly appreciate the importance of critical thinking. Nonetheless, they have had a hard time accepting the awful truth that the U.S. press corps was complicit in the administration's propaganda campaign to secure popular support for the war.

September 7, 2008

Ohio Congressman and former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich delivered one of the more rousing and impassioned speeches at last month's Democratic National Convention.

Unfortunately, convention planners didn't grant Kucinich a prime-time slot, effectively denying millions of television viewers the opportunity to hear his urgent plea to "wake up America."

And despite clear enthusiasm for Kucinich's remarks among the assembled delegates (a C-SPAN recording of the speech is available on YouTube) and the subsequent buzz his wakeup call generated in the blogosphere and the alternative press, mainstream media outlets took little notice of Kucinich's speech.

Of course, there's nothing new in all of this. Neither the corporate media nor so-called public service broadcasters give Kucinich much play. Typically, establishment media either ignore Kucinich altogether or portray him as a left-wing extremist whose views cannot be taken seriously.

August 24, 2008

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. Herman and Chomsky's now classic, if still controversial, study puts forward a "propaganda model" for analyzing and explaining U.S. press performance and behaviors.

Briefly stated, the propaganda model identifies five factors -- ownership, advertising, sourcing, flak and anticommunist ideology -- that act as "filters" through which information is processed by news workers and organizations. In turn, these filters affect how news stories are selected and framed for presentation to the American public.

When it first appeared, some critics dismissed Manufacturing Consent as just so much conspiracy theory. Others hailed the book as a groundbreaking analysis of the structural factors that shape U.S. journalistic institutions and practices.

Notwithstanding two decades of critique and refinement, recent events underscore the continued relevance of the propaganda model for understanding how and why U.S. news media operate as they do.

July 27, 2008

With so much going on in media and politics these days, it's difficult to settle on any single topic to write about. So I haven't. Instead, here are a few thoughts on what is, and isn't, making headlines these days.

I want to believe

Ever since he clinched his party's nomination, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has been battered by charges of flip-flopping on a range of issues: from gun control and late-term abortion to public campaign financing and troop withdrawal from Iraq.

The extent to which Obama's position has changed on any of these issues is debatable. After all, one of his great strengths is his willingness and ability to discuss public policy in a thoughtful and nuanced fashion. In an age of sound-bite politics, this is an admirable quality in any candidate for elected office.

But Sen. Obama's about-face on the Bush administration's electronic surveillance program -- with its controversial provision of retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies -- was a textbook example of politics as usual.

June 15, 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 23, 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 23, 2008

We assume that if you are regular readers of this paper and our column then you are probably advocates of free speech and free expression as tacit to a democratic society. But do you ever ask yourself just how to be heard?

The right of free speech and finding a forum in which to speak are two separate issues, but there is a solution: community radio. It's as simple as that. And Bloomington is fortunate to have its very own community radio station in WFHB.

Maybe you are already a listener, or maybe you've never heard of the station, but it has been around for nearly 30 years in one manifestation or another. WFHB was the first community radio station in Indiana, and over the past 15 years has evolved into a seriously representative and credible voice for the community.

February 17, 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 13, 2008

It feels odd to be welcoming readers to the first edition of The Bloomington Alternative in the new year, given that it’s mid-January and all. But we’ve been on a much-deserved break and haven’t been around much since the calendar flipped. So, welcome.

I’ve been doing this too long to call what I’m about to share a “preview” of what’s to come in 2008. Far too much can happen in 12 months to be so presumptuous, and the year is already 1/24th gone. But I will give you some insights into our general bearing, anyway.

In terms of Web presence, I’m pleased to report the Alternative is growing rapidly. In December, we averaged one page being opened somewhere on our site every 20 seconds of every day. And now that folks have settled back into their daily routines, traffic thus far in January is up 35 percent over December.

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