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Recommended Readings

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Really Socko Reading List from an
advanced university course on political communications



AR's choice for Book of the Year 2000: The Sound Bite Society: Television and the American Mind by Jeffrey Scheuer.

"The argument of The Sound Bite Society has two hinged parts . . . The first is that television, in nearly all its forms and functions, and for both economic and structural reasons, acts as a simplifying lens, filtering out complex ideas in favor of blunt emotional messages that appeal to the self and to narrower moral-political impulses. The second is that, for reasons that are inherent in the nature of ideology and do not impugne the politics of the left or right, simplification promotes, and epitomizes, political conservatism . . . Simplicity and complexity are the basic polar organizing principles of the political spectrum. They explain not only our ideological differences (and why they are ultimately irreconcilable) but also why television is a potent vehicle of conservative messages and values and a brake on liberalism; why television's increasing dominance in our political culture has been a central factor in the resurgence of American conservatism."

The Televison Thing by Jeffrey Scheuer, a brief essay written a few months earlier than his book (above): "The values and messages of the right -- small government, laissez-faire, rugged individualism, its views on defense, crime, the family -- are essentially simple and visceral; those of the left are implicitly more intricate, cerebral and complex. And television, in all its forms and aspects, is an essentially simplifying and sensationalizing medium, perfectly suited to visceral, uncomplicated messages. So here is a contrarian claim: television is the ideal vehicle not just for divisive, polemical sound bites and attack ads, but for conservatism. Far from being the left's handmaiden, TV is actually a bonanza for the right, and a powerful brake on liberalism."

Mr. Scheuer is the author of the book, "The Sound Bite Society," published in late December 1999 (see above).

The Media Monopoly by Ben Bagdikian, Pulitzer Prize-winner and dean emeritus of the Graduate School of Journalism at Berkeley. When this classic first appeared in 1983, 50 corporations owned most of American media. Now, at the time of its 1997 fifth edition, fewer than 10 corporations control most of what we see, hear and read, creating centralized control of the news which limits public access to important facts. A must-read classic.

See Jane Prettyman's book review of "Media Monopoly" on this site.

Lost History by Robert Parry. How did the Watergate press corps of the 70's become the Monica Lewinsky press corps of the 90's?

Networks of Power: Coroprate TV's Threat to Democracy by Dennis W. Mazzocco (forward by Herbert I Schiller).

Conglomerates and the Media edited by Erik Barnouw, with Intro by Todd Gitlin. "Our democracy has been placed in the way of danger by news that under-informs, sold to a population that doesn't know enough about itself to exercise its choices . . . . In a free society, news is fuel. News is blood. We are citizens with a voting franchise. We need to know our world."

"By Invitation Only: How the Media Limit Public Debate" by David Croteau and William Hoynes (Common Courage Press, 1994). The authors examine Nightline (ABC) and Lehrer NewsHour (PBS) to demonstrate that a "liberal agenda" has hardly overtaken network or public television. Indeed, the bias appears to be toward supporting US foreign policy and being careful not to step on major corporate toes. Interesting how books like this are so often out of print (So is Chomsky's "Manufacturing Consent"). Try

Wizards of Media Oz: Behind the Curtain of Mainstream News by Norman Solomon and Jeff Cohen. Norman Solomon's other books include "False Hope: The Politics of Illusion in the Clinton Era," "Unreliable Sources: A Guide to Detecting Bias in the News Media" and "The Power of Babble." He writes a nationally syndicated column called "Media Beat." Jeff Cohen is the founder and executive director of FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting), the media watch organization.


Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War by John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper's Magazine, and Ben Bagdikian, author of "Media Monopoly." Cracks open the truth about US military control of press coverage of the Gulf War and propaganda substituted for news.

Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy by Robert W. McChesney. Issues of media ownership should be treated as matters of public policy rather than strictly business.

"Manufacturing Consent" by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman. An important work, out of print and available only as a used book on

Media Control by Noam Chomsky.

Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater by Gene Lyons (Franklin Square, 1996) The best rundown on media coverage of the trumped-up Whitewater "scandal," especially the role played in the inflation by the NY Times. Lyons, a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, examines the motives and the thin facts that kept Whitewater in congressional hearings and on the front pages of national newspapers for years.

The RAND Study on Gays in the Military said gays can be successfully integrated into the armed forces. Yep, you read that right. Trouble is, most average Americans never read it. The 1993 study has remained unpublicized since "don't ask, don't tell" was rammed through. Now (as of Dec 1999) both Hillary and the Prez are coming out and criticizing "don't ask" as a failure. Here's an abstract of the report and how to order it ($16) so you have REAL information in the policy debate. A major missing story.


Breaking the News: How the News Media Undermine American Democracy (1996) by James Fallows. One of the best pieces of media analysis, by former editor of US News & World Report.

Spiraling Cynicism (1997) by Jeff Cohen.

Eloquence in An Electronic Age by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Dean of the Annenberg School of Communications, Univ. of Pennsylvania.

Packaging the Presidency, Dirty Politics by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Dean of the Annenberg School of Communications, Univ. of Pennsylvania.

"Fooling America: How Washington Insiders Twist the Truth and Manufacture the Conventional Wisdom" by Robert Parry (Morrow, 1992). Investigative reporter Parry, editor and lead reporter of Consortium for Indepenent Journalism exposes the elite media culture that swamps news reporting and the herd mentality of the Washington press corps. Out of print. Try asking Bob at Consortium website or see if you can find a used copy on

Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman, Penguin, 1989.

"Mediaspeak: How Television Makes Up Your Mind" by Donna Woolfolk Cross (Mentor, 1983). Television's manipulative techniques. Out of print.

White House to Your House: Media and Politics in Virtual America by Edwin Diamond and Robert Silverman.

How to Watch TV News by Neil Postman and Steve Powers.

EXTRA!, Newsletter of FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting).

Strange Bedfellows: How Television and Presidential Candidates Changed American Politics, 1992 by Tom Rosenstiel, Los Angeles Times media correspondent.

Media Circus and Hot Air by Howard Kurtz, Washington Post media correspondent.

Understanding Media: The Extension of Man by Marshall McLuhan. New edition: Introduction by Harper's editor Lewis Lapham. MIT Press, 1994.

Parenti, Michael. Inventing Reality: The Politics of News Media, 1993. Analysis of the ideological monopoly of the news media, swayed toward the right, not left. Ignore Parenti's strident leftist rhetoric, let him swim the channel of media analysis and you'll have read a good book.

Parenti, Michael. Make-Believe Media: The Politics of Entertainment, 1991. Parenti argues that "make-believe media" is not at all the innocuous vacuous phenomenon in our culture so many of us think. In fact, he says, these media condition us how to think in certain ways that tend to support the corporate status quo in an unquestioning fashion.

Culture, Inc: The Corporate Takeover of Public Expression by Herbert I. Schiller (Oxford University Press, 1989). This famed professor of communications at UC San Diego died in January 2000 at the age of 80 after a distinguished career as one of America's formost gadfly critics of mass media (see News Letter). In "Culture, Inc" Schiller examines how the corporate structure of mass communications strangles free expression. Schiller's other works include "Mass Communications and American Empire" (1969); "The Mind Managers" (1973); "Communication and Cultural Domination" (1976); "Superstate: Readings in the Military-Industrial Complex" (1978); "Who Knows: Information in the Age of the Fortune 500" (1981); Information and the Crisis Economy" (1984).


Patterson, Thomas E. Out of Order, 1994. Patterson, a professor of political science at Syracuse University, argues that the process of electing presidents is "out of order" and the newsmedia are largely to blame. The media biz forces reporters to become cynical due to listening to canned stump speeches over and over. They keep themselves entertained by thinking of the election process in terms of "game schema" as opposed to "policy schema." He critiques the media's role in a threatened end to the democratic electoral process and offer ideas for reform.

"Public Television for Sale: Media, the Market and the Public Sphere" by William Hoynes (Westview, 1994). A comprehensive analysis of how public airwaves are being taken over by private commercial interests. Out of print (it figures). doesn't have it either. Maybe your local library is truly enlightened and has a copy on a shelf.

EXTRA! A Really Socko Media Reading List from an advanced course in political communications.


This is a new section of TRNP still under construction, to be alphabetized, hyperlinked, with more book titles to come.

A double-take on media & democracy

What's New? ||| Media Criticism ||| Media Reform ||| Activism ||| Write Media/Congress
Discussion Center ||| News Examiner ||| Special Editions ||| Books ||| Links ||| Contents ||| Intro