7/29/2008 11:51:18 AM
Pro-Obama bias and soft-focus hagiographies of the candidate are such common tropes that they’ve been lampooned by Saturday Night Live and the Onion. During the Democratic primaries, it was clear that the press was more enamored of Barack Obama than of Hillary Clinton. But similar assumptions about media coverage of the general election—that its bears traces of Nixon vs. Kennedy, with the press giving the mediagenic Obama a pass and training its guns on the stodgy, less PR-savvy John McCain—may be off the mark.
George Mason University's Center for Media and Public Affairs, which has previously released studies touted by conservative commentators to bolster their accusations of a liberal media bias, has just published new evidence of a mainstream media bias against Barack Obama. (Liberal bloggers gripe that these same conservative commentators might “accidentally not notice” the new report.)
The study’s author is Robert Lichter, a Fox News contributor who authored the aforementioned reports alleging a liberal media bias. But now he finds that when anchors and reporters on the big three networks ventured opinions about Obama, “28 percent of the statements were positive for Obama and 72 percent negative,” with a much narrower margin for McCain. And that’s not even taking into account Fox News’ more brazenly biased Obama coverage.
Meanwhile, the Tyndall Report states that Obama has received more than twice as much network airtime as McCain, but James Rainey of the L.A. Times points out that while such airtime may be ample, it’s not always favorable—just cast your mind back to the Jeremiah Wright “scandal.”
Rainey also echoes an old but probably accurate explanation for Lichter’s findings: News organs are concerned about being accused of liberal bias by the Hannitys and O’Reillys of the world, so they swing too far to the other extreme.
My Hobo Soul
, licensed under
7/28/2008 10:01:06 AM
Why do cable news shows exist? They don’t break news, but once they find a story they like—the Reverend Wright kerfuffle or the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth for example—the talking heads will bang on the controversy like a child with a saucepan and a metal spoon. And the problems with cable news don’t stay quarantined inside of Fox News or CNN. A recent article for the American Journalism Review (AJR) scrutinizes the "cable news effect" on the rest of the mainstream media. Most journalists understandably recoil at the notion of the 24-hour news networks influencing editorial decisions, but cable news’ ability to keep a story on the media agenda is undeniable.
Cable news viewership is eclipsed by that of network news, according to research by the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ), but its influence is not to be underestimated. One reason, according to AJR, is that most mainstream newsrooms have at least one television constantly tuned to a 24 hour news network. Some editors have spoken of an “osmosis” effect, where the cable news ideas tend to seep into the minds of the rest of the media.
It must be difficult for cable news programmers to fill some 18 hours of programming each day. But instead of focusing on important issues, PEJ research shows that, “tabloid-tinged crime and celebrity” stories and bombastic pundits tend to dominate the airwaves. The repetitive, formulaic coverage offered by the 24-hour news networks doesn’t always serve to elevate public discourse, but it gets the point across.
The problem is that the cable news formula has been working. The AJR reports that cable news has been gaining in popularity and prestige over recent years, and so far there’s no reason to think that trend won’t continue. So long as cable news continue to influence the rest of the media, those talking heads won’t go away any time soon.
7/28/2008 9:48:21 AM
Over at Feministe, a post on pro-feminist TV shows for kids kicked up a lively discussion, with commenters writing in to suggest everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to The Cosby Show. A lot of sci-fi shows seem to pop up (I was pleased to see a few Battlestar Galactica mentions, since it’s a smart show with a host of strong female characters), as do a number of British programs, like The Sarah Jane Adventures and The Worst Witch.
Check out the extensive list the folks at Feministe came up with. Can you think of any other kid-friendly shows that espouse pro-feminist values? Chat in the Utne salons.
Image by Tc7, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/25/2008 5:59:07 PM
Writing for the Smart Set, editor Jason Wilson takes his readers on a rollicking tour of lifestyle journalism, that gargantuan realm of popular media that includes all things, well, unabashedly consumer oriented.
"When I was younger, I dreamed of becoming Ernest Hemingway," Wilson writes. "Now, I travel and drink and tell people where to travel and what to drink. Close enough, I guess, though likely closer to the paunchy, boozy, crazy late Hemingway than the younger, dashing one who ran with bulls, drove ambulances in the Great War, and wrote good novels.
"It’s sort of like dreaming of becoming Elvis when you’re young, and then actually becoming Elvis years later — but you’ve become the wrong one, the Elvis who performed sweaty and overweight in rhinestone jumpsuits."
Image by gruntzooki, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/24/2008 12:49:37 PM
It’s been an eventful week for the hip-hop artist Nas. Wednesday afternoon, he joined ColorofChange.org and MoveOn.org outside of Fox News Channel’s New York City headquarters to protest the network's coverage of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign—treatment that he and the groups allege is racist. (SOHH and Racewire have photos of the demonstration.)
The rapper then proceeded to an appearance on the Colbert Report with a 620,127-signature petition demanding that network president Roger Ailes "find a solution to address racial stereotyping and hate-mongering before it hits the airwaves." He also performed the anti-Fox track “Sly Fox” from his new album, which debuted at #1 on Tuesday after months of controversy over its title. Nas originally planned to call the LP Nigger, but abandoned the idea amid qualms from music retailers and his label. Ultimately, he released the album eponymously.
Nas' Fox-slamming and Billboard chart–topping comes at a time of heightened racial tensions in the media: not just criticism of Fox’s Obama coverage, but last week’s New Yorker cover brouhaha and ongoing questions about the role that race plays in Obama’s campaign. This week, the Root explores younger generations’ relationship to race, with a series of essays about Generation Y’s post-racist ambitions, its use of the n-word, and its supposed colorblindness.
Image by kokuziu, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/22/2008 12:59:48 PM
Radovan Karadzic has finally been arrested. There’s a warrant out for Sudan’s Omar Hassan al-Bashir. It’s been a good week for the enemies of war criminals. Now, it’s time to focus on preventing such crimes in the first place.
That doesn’t mean retreating to committees to hatch plans for humanitarian interventions. There are other avenues to pursue, and one of the most fruitful might be improving media coverage. According to journalist Roy Gutman, who spoke with New Voices back in February, if reporters better understood the laws of war—when a war crime was being committed, how, and by whom—they could “ring the alarm bell sooner and better.”
To that end, Gutman and other journalists, lawyers, and scholars created the Crimes of War Project to decode the laws of war for journalists and laypeople. Gutman, who won a Pulitzer for his work from Bosnia, explains that such guidance would have immensely helped his own reporting. He gives the example of coming across a destroyed hospital during the Croatian war:
If I had done my homework, I would have asked the hospital people exactly when it happened, under what circumstances, was anyone inside the hospital firing out from there, using it as a military object, and then I would have gone to the other side and I could have carried it straight up to the Chief of Staff. I discovered afterwards that the same thing had happened to five hospitals within about two months. This was a pattern not just of breaking the law, but of testing the reaction. And I think it may happen in war routinely, but if we are not there really early on and watching for this, we’ll miss all the signs. Croatia was a test case for Bosnia. The Serbs saw they could get away with things like this in Bosnia.
In 1999, the project compiled Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know, which New Voices dubs an “encyclopedia of war crimes.” Last November they released a revised and updated edition (whose text is fully available here).
The major thing about the laws of war is not that they’re out to punish the culprit. The major aim of the laws of war is prevent recurrence of the crime. For my money, the spotlight alone is just as good as any instance of law or any court. If the spotlight works and abuse ends, fine. That’s the object.
7/17/2008 10:26:32 AM
The rise of photo-sharing sites like Flickr has been great for amateur photographers, bloggers, visual learners, and procrastinators—but at what cost to professional photojournalism, an expensive-by-comparison service that many editors can’t or won’t justify paying for?
In the current issue of the Columbia Journalism Review (article not available online), Alissa Quart presents a nuanced, clear-headed view of how photojournalism is changing, outlining the risks (and benefits) of the rise of the amateur. “If they are taking snapshots,” Quart writes, “amateur photographers are likely not developing a story, or developing the kind of intimacy with their subjects that brings revelation.”
There’s still a special recipe to be a “real” photojournalist, and it’s not just the “trained” or “expert” eye but rather the sheer hours put into each assignment and the ability to sustain a thought, image, or impulse through a number of images, not just a single snapshot.
To present an image that tells the story, the photographer needs to know what that story is. (Of course, so do the writers and editors involved.) As with other content that’s increasingly hustled into column space in print and online, if photographs (and photographers) aren’t vetted, readers are more likely to be misled.
“I am optimistic about the future of photojournalism,” Quart writes, “but not of the photojournalism I most admire.”
Image by mikebaird, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/16/2008 12:32:45 PM
Two years after President Bush's executive order calling for federal agencies to improve their processing of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, a new study (pdf) by the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government found that the feds have made "little if any progress" on this front.
The report, "An Opportunity Lost," details the government's abysmal record on FOIA requests between 1998 and 2007, enumerating the mounting backlog, sluggish processing, and dwindling amount of information released. The Coalition found a growth in the backlog of FOIA requests, from 13 percent in 1998 to 33 percent in 2007, while 15 of the 25 agencies reported processing “simple” information requests more slowly. Last year, the Coalition found that, once a request was processed, only 60 percent of requesters received all or most of the information they wanted—an all-time low.
Being able to critique our government in speech and in print is a unique and laudable right, argued attorney Thomas Tinkham at Minneapolis’ recent Human Rights Law and Policy Conference. That right stems from a simple belief of our founders: if you provide information to the public and allow them to discuss it, the best governance will result. Judging by the way the current administration has handled FOIA requests, beliefs about good governance have changed to rely on secrecy and top-down decision-making to protect the people.
Human rights offenders fear public scrutiny, Tinkham said, and our government’s reluctance to provide information simply increases public suspicion that the administration’s actions are worthier of condemnation than congratulation. Without an open and transparent government, the right to free expression is meaningless, crippling the work of human rights advocates and investigative journalists.
(Thanks, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.)
Image by redjar, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/14/2008 6:04:35 PM
The progressive blogosphere is a-ragin’ today about the rumor-mongering, naive, chaos-inspiring New Yorker cover of Michelle and Barack Obama terrorist-fist-jabbing in the Oval Office as a portrait of Osama bin Laden approvingly gazes on, alit by the flames of an American flag sizzling in the fireplace.
Progressives are pissed, and to prove it, they’ve dug out their lit-crit hats to scold illustrator Barry Blitt on the inner workings of satire and why he missed the boat and fell into no-no land. (I think the man who came up with this cover
probably has a thing or two to teach us all about good satire.)
When I mentioned the hubbub to Utne’s art director, Stephanie Glaros, she told me the illustrator blogs were equally enflamed, but in Blitt’s defense. Thank goodness some folks have thick enough skins to rally to his side. Let’s just hope that some of that sensibility migrates from the art world to the political commentariat sometime soon.
First off, progressives need to stop playing thought police to protect those weak-minded ninnies from Hicksville. Here’s a prime example from Rachel Sklar at HuffingtonPost: “Who knows if the people in Dubuque will get this?” Really? Must it be assumed that everyone who doesn’t live in New York, Chicago, or [insert shiny metropolis here] is both devoid of rational thought and a sense of humor?
In a more thoughtful assessment, Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that the image doesn’t go far enough to separate itself from the views it intends to harangue. “My point is that that this cover actually does reflect—not exaggerate, not satirize—the views of a sizeable portion of Americans,” he writes. He points out that some 13 percent of Americans actually think Obama’s a Muslim. It’s a horrifying stat. But consider a few more: Just last summer, 41 percent of Americans still thought Saddam Hussein helped plan 9/11. And while 62 percent of Americans believe in the devil, only 42 percent believe in evolution.
Here’s the thing about good humor: Not everyone’s going to get it. Comedy, satire, humor, whatever you want to call it, is absolutely essential to a vital culture of political criticism. If we muzzle our humorists—going so far as to inveigh against those who have the clear intent of lambasting ignorance—than we’re in for a very boring, very unreflective four to eight years if Obama moves into that toasty, Osama-adorned Oval Office.
UPDATE (7/15/2008): Rachel Sklar writes in to note that I missed the reference in her Dubuque line, which was readily available in the link she provided. Point taken: Looks like the gal in Minneapolis didn’t get it. But the connotation, wink or no, remains. Later in her post, Sklar writes, “Presumably the New Yorker readership is sophisticated enough to get the joke” on the magazine's cover, suggesting that most other folks probably aren’t worldly enough to join in on the chuckle. Sklar isn't the poster girl for perpetrating this meme—she’s certainly not alone in it—but it’s there.
7/9/2008 11:17:12 AM
The reality TV cliché to end all clichés has got to be, “I’m not here to make friends.” The website FourFour created an amazing montage of more than 3 minutes of the phrase from different shows, to hilarious effect. Watch it:
7/8/2008 9:26:12 AM
Last month, the government of Zimbabwe imposed a “luxury tax” on imported newspapers and magazines, tightening the stronghold of state-controlled media. The move, which has been formally opposed by the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum, slaps a 40 percent import duty on all foreign periodicals, which are now classified as “luxury goods.” From WAN's letter to President Robert Mugabe:
The tax appears to be particularly aimed at South African–based news sources, which have been extremely important to Zimbabweans. All domestic independent newspapers and broadcasters in Zimbabwe are banned. The Zimbabwean, a twice-weekly newspaper printed in South Africa for distribution in Zimbabwe, has been forced to pay almost USD 20,000 per week and is reducing its circulation from 200,000 copies to 60,000 as a result.
(Thanks, Editors Weblog.)
7/7/2008 12:40:15 PM
Campaign seasons inevitably produce high-pressure systems of willful ignorance, disingenuous oversimplification, and mountain-out-of-molehill overreactions on the part of the media in response to nuanced statements by candidates or their surrogates. This year has been no different; in fact, this election has seen the mainstream media hype machine working overtime—hysterically wringing every last drop out of items whose newsworthiness was dubious from the start—with an intensity that makes the media mileage gained four years ago from the Swift Boat Veterans or Howard Dean’s scream look paltry by comparison.
The Columbia Journalism Review contrasts two recent pieces by Paul Krugman and Matthew Yglesias that analyze the mainstream media’s willful distortion of certain statements—in this case, Krugman and Yglesias consider (with varying degrees of optimism) the longer-term legacy of the media hysteria that erupted over General Wesley Clark's assessment of John McCain's military service.
Krugman believes the era of “Rovian” attack politics is waning, that a contrite press might begin to tone down its “faux outrage over fake scandals.” But Yglesias responds that old habits die hard, and the days of overblown oversimplification aren't likely to end anytime soon: “If Democrats are really counting on responsible, substantive news coverage to hand them the election then John McCain has things in the bag.”
CJR’s own two-part analysis (here and here) of the media uproar surrounding the “Clark fallout” supports this pessimistic outlook. (Also check out the Carpetbagger's thoughts on how the media’s irresponsible treatment of the episode has spilled over into coverage of John Kerry’s recent Face the Nation appearance.)
7/3/2008 4:42:37 PM
Advertising is often thought to be a manipulative force for consumption that dupes people into buying things they don’t need. The “ad creep” that pushes product placements into unexpected venues, including airport baggage carousels and eggshells, is generally thought to be a bad thing by many in the media. Last week, author Lucas Conley and I spoke about the “arms race” between advertisers and everyone else, where advertisers try to sneak advertisements in, and people try to push them out.
The perception that advertising is hated by most people is flat-out wrong, Winston Fletcher writes for the British magazine the New Humanist. Fletcher cites statistics that 80 percent of Britons believe advertising is a good thing. While intellectuals collectively wring their hands over the glut of advertisements, Fletcher writes that ads are simply a dialogue between companies and prospective consumers, and the more creative the better.
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