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


Harvard Professor Robert Putnam's insights into "The Strange Disappearance of Civic America"--is televison the culprit? If you're in a hurry, the hot part is the last section "Our Prime Suspect."

Also see Prof. Putnam's earlier essay "Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital" (1995) in which he discusses the "technological transformation of leisure" as one contributing factor in the erosion of civic involvement. "There is reason to believe that deep-seated technological trends are radically 'privatizing' or 'individualizing' our use of leisure time and thus disrupting many opportunities for social-capital formation. The most obvious and probably the most powerful instrument of this revolution is television."

Bad News Sells Good News: excerpts from a talk given by Harper's Magazine editor Lewis Lapham. "The good news is the advertising. That's what it's about. The bad news--the dead guys and the crime--is to get the suckers into the tent."

Political Ads and News by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Dean of the Annenberg School of Communications, Univ. of Pennsylvania. One of the best minds on media in America analyzes the infamous political ad featuring William ("Willie") Horton.

Tabloids, Talk Radio and the Future of News, an essay series by Ellen Hume, Senior Annenberg Fellow. Superb.

A Few Words with Media Critic Ben Bagdikian on the tightening grip of media ownership in the hands of a few corporations. The 1997 fifth edition of his famous work "The Media Monopoly" is required reading for serious visitors to TRNP and 15 steps toward media reform are listed here. Read a review and summary of Bagdikian's book here on American Review, Some Things Considered.

A leading member of the media industry, the Los Angeles Times, got real with a valiant effort to face the cynicism of modern journalism in a 3-part series by David Shaw, April 17, 18, 19, 1996, picking up on James Fallows' best-selling book "Breaking the News." You'll have to search the LA Times website under "David Shaw" for the dates listed above. There's a small charge to print each section but it's well worth it. The titles of the three sections are:

A Negative Spin on the News (4-17-96)
On the Campaign Trail: The Bad News Wins Out (4-18-96)
"Attitude" Television. (4-19-96).

The Center for Propaganda Analysis: From the rhetoric that pushed America into World War I to the loaded code words of Newt Gingrich's GOPAC “Communications Plan,” Aaron Delwiche offers an introduction to critical thinking about media and all public speech.

Noam Chomsky (M.I.T.): "Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media." Amazon says "out of stock." Hard to find in print or online but try. Z Net might have it although we searched unsuccessfully so far. A partial quote from this classic: "...Take a close look at the way the media operate . . . the extensive thinking that's been going on for a long, long period about the necessity for finding ways to marginalize and control the public in democratic societies . . . The way they shape and control the kinds of opinions that appear, the kinds of information that comes through . . ." While we do not agree with Chomsky's politics, his media analysis deserves reading. He generalizes a lot but it's a complex subject. He conceptualizes that the media have in effect a brainwashing effect to corral or "manufacture" the consent of the governed.

The News Study Group (N.Y.U.), formerly directed by the late Edwin Diamond, co-author with Robert Silverman of White House to Your House: Politics and Media in Virtual America. "Presswatch" reports are found on site, including "Conflict vs. Context in Covering Clinton's Healthcare Proposal." A quote: "Like everyone else, we were transfixed by the horse race; we mourned--or cheered--the result. In all the excitement, though, it was easy to lose sight of what the process was about." The website has not been updated since Edwin Diamond died in 1997 but their archive index is still working and worth exploring.

Salon's "Media Circus" is a bit facile in spots but poke around in their archive.

The Trouble with American Journalism by Scott London

Where's the Real News?, an Internet address by Jane Prettyman, Editor of American Review.

Media Reform as a Political Issue: Speech by Jane Prettyman in Washington DC,

televised nationally on C-SPAN, October 1998.

Are We Creating Internet Introverts? by Michael Shulman.

Journalists as Corporate Shills: ABC News correspondent John Stossel, who in 1997 did a series of pro-corporate and anti-environmental ABC specials, got hoisted by his own petard. Great quote from Salon's article by Mark Shapiro: "[In addition to reporters taking speaking fees] the real compromises lie deeper--in corporate sponsorship that defines the very parameters of what is considered acceptable discourse. Take the pundit talk shows, where a parade of center-to-right-wing talking heads appear each week to engage in what passes as political debate. From "This Week" [with David Brinkley] to "The McLaughlin Group," two corporate sponsors predominate: General Electric and Archer Daniels Midland, two of the biggest corporate recipients of subsidies, tax breaks and government contracts in the country."

Strategies for Media Literacy: Multiple resources and links.


A Timeless Classic: ALL NEWS IS LOCAL

National Religious Right Invades Local New Hampshire Town: Stealthy Christian Coalition takes over Merrimack, N.H. school board, installs agenda, neglects education. California's Rev. Lou Sheldon shuttles back and forth to N.H., coaching his acolytes and polishing their media presence. Even Sun Myung Moon and the Washington Times Foundation show up to honor them personally. The future looks bleak ....(April 26, 1996)

But wait! New Hampshire Town Fights Back--and Wins! (May 15, 1996)

A Quote to Reflect On:

"A free press is vital to a democratic form of government because the policies of such a government are formed ultimately by the people. An uninformed or a misinformed electorate can result in dangerous policies and ill-advised actions. A press that cannot or will not perform its informational role under the highest standards of public trust does not deserve public support. That, I believe, is what Jefferson was telling us over two centuries ago and I believe it applies today."

These words were spoken by James H. Quello, member of the FCC which--under Reagan ten years before--dropped restrictions on commercials during newscasts. Since then the FCC has done nothing but worsen the problem by hardly blinking an eye at massive corporate media mergers. To appeal to the broadest possible demographics (market) to which to sell products, ever-enlarging commercial news media megalopolies offer the public more focus on personality and more cerealization of public information, moving us farther away from being informed, thoughtful citizens in an active democracy and closer to being consumers in a passive demography.

When we put this in the context of Robert Putnam's theory that the rise of television has coincided with a decline in social and democratic participation, and when we view the problem from Jeffrey's Scheuer's perspective of "The Sound Bite Society" which promotes simple conservative ideas and squeezes out complex liberal ideas, we come full circle and see a picture of a very serious problem.


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