DEMOCRACY IN PERIL: WHY WE NEED PUBLIC MEDIA AND CRITICAL MEDIA LITERACY

HENRY  GIROUX

In a recent interview with Mickey Huff of Project Censored, prominent Canadian public intellectual Henry Giroux remarks how difficult it has been over the years for him to discuss his ideas via American broadcast media, including PBS and NPR. Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader, two prominent American commentators with critical political perspectives, how have made similar comments for decades.

All of them articulate the pernicious effect of corporate domination of the media and the undermining of public education which has left American citizens vulnerable to feelings of isolation, fear and authoritarian control. What Henry Giroux, in particular, has long argued is that civic education is essential to democracy, and requires a robust public sphere not dominated by commercial interests, a major theme of the Media Stewards Project.

In a program addressing The Truth About Post-Truth, Paul Kennedy of CBC Radio interviews Giroux, who is a professor of English and cultural studies at McMaster University; Jason Stanely, a professor of philosophy at Yale University; and Kathleen Higgins, a professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. Together they make a solid intellectual case for the critical role educated citizens must play if democracy is to avoid slipping into authoritarianism.

The need for a robust public service media system and universal critical media education, neither of which we have, has never been more apparent. Giroux’s latest books, “America at War with Itself” and the forthcoming “The Public in Peril: Trump and the Menace of American Authoritarianism,” further strengthen the case for both.

 

CITIZENS ACTING TO PROTECT PUBLIC SERVICE MEDIA

COMPARED WITH

Little noticed in the steady barrage of “breaking news” stories regarding the growing investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election are Trump administration plans to completely defund public broadcasting.

Supporters of public broadcasting have mounted a little noticed campaign online, Protect My Public Media, to help explain what public media is and encourage citizens to contact their Congressional members to resist these draconian cuts.

Unfortunately the vast majority of Americans have little idea how little public funding support there is for public broadcasting is in the U.S. compared to other advanced democracies:

By comparison, the online website Our Beeb hosts an extended, robust debate about the cultural importance of the BBC and what the proper level of funding support should be. The contrast is worth considering among those who value public service media facing major funding cuts here and abroad.

NEWS EMERGENCY REQUIRES CRITICAL MEDIA LITERACY

Doomsday-ClockThe media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.

Even if the [the press] successfully investigates the Trump government and publishes Watergate-style revelations, those truths will emerge into an atmosphere that is organized to defeat them and ignore them and belittle them.

  • NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen

. . . we need to rebuild media literacy in the United States because . . . trust has been so eroded.

  • Huffington Post Editor Lydia Polgreen

On January 26, 2017, the “doomsday clock” established in 1947 by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to inform the public that the earth faces imminent disaster was moved to two and half minutes until midnight, indicating the greatest peril facing humanity since 1953.

Explaining their decision in the New York Times, scientists Lawrence Kraus and David Titley wrote

Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person. But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter.

This recent discussion by respected journalists about the news emergency associated with Donald Trump becoming president amounts to a compelling case for citizens to learn more about media / news literacy as a response to this precipitous threat to our democracy.

THE PURPOSE OF CELEBRITY TV JOURNALISM

megyn-kelly-333

How about if we merge a little Charlie Rose, a little Oprah, and a little me all together. And we serve that up as an hour? Wouldn’t you watch that?

Megyn Kelly

When you mix fiction and news, you diminish the distinction between truth and fiction, and you wear down the audience’s own discriminating power to judge.

Bill Moyers

Megyn Kelly leaving Fox News where she was earning $15 million a year to join NBC News for a similar salary was recently a front page story in the New York Times. The test referenced in the headline – Megyn Kelly’s Jump to NBC From Fox News Will Test Her, and the Networks – is essentially twofold: 1) Will she integrate easily into a less partisan, more mainstream news organization?  2) Will she be worth the considerable investment involved? Not mentioned was her occasional lapse into racist demagoguery.

Left ambiguous is whether NBC News, after spending so much on Megyn Kelly, will be in a stronger position to help citizens understand the critical issues facing the country associated with the new Trump administration, starting with the ramifications of immediately repealing the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, with or without a plan to replace it.

Sixty years ago, the public interest obligations of commercial broadcast journalism were taken much more seriously than they are today. News was not expected to make a profit, and news anchors were not paid outlandish salaries. When local TV news and the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes started making lots of money in the early 1970s, the role of celebrity TV journalists became associated more with making money than informing the public.

Citizens with critical media literacy skills are aware of this history and need to be mobilized to hold both commercial broadcast journalism and social media accountable in the new era of post-truth politics. Not an easy task, but something that Bernie Sanders is now calling for.

 

 

KEEPING THE REPUBLIC IN OUR NEW ERA OF POST-TRUTH POLITICS

wsj-trump-re-voter-fraud-222Wall Street Journal, November 28, 2016

Well, Doctor, what have we got – a republic or a monarchy?  

A republic, if you can keep it.

Benjamin Franklin, 1787

Post-truth, adjective

Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

Oxford English Dictionary word of the year, 2016

Rarely have fake news websites received so much attention in the 2016 presidential election and days leading to Donald Trump’s inauguration in January.  As a consequence, many commentators are newly addressing the serious challenge to the role a free press plays as a critical check on public malfeasance.

Despite explanations regarding the failure of the media to hold Donald Trump accountable for his many exaggerations and contradictions, citizens are left feeling powerless to do anything about it, especially if they have deficient critical media literacy skills.

Never has there been a better moment for citizens to play an active role in understanding how commercial media both profit from and encourage our new state of post-truth politics, and begin to do something about it.

Such as contacting the Wall Street Journal about their failure to provide critical coverage of his false claims of voter fraud and potential massive conflicts of financial interests as President. Or thanking Buzzfeed News and PRI for their coverage explaining how teenagers in Macedonia make money generating fake news stories appearing on American social media websites.

Critical media literacy education (CMLE) is suddenly something our democracy needs to take more seriously. Were Ben Franklin around to comment, he would surely agree.

THE HIGH UNACKOWLEDGED COST OF “FREE MEDIA”

trump-5-5-5The question I’d have when it comes to the media is how do we create a space where truth gets eyeballs and is entertaining, and we can build a common conversation?

Barack Obama interview with Bill Maher

President Barack Obama described the current problem with the media to Bill Maher just days before the 2016 election this way:

When I leave here, one of the things I’m most concerned about is the balkanization of the media where you’ve got 800 stations and you’ve got all these websites. People have difficulty now just sorting what’s true and what’s not. If you don’t have some common baseline of facts, you know, we can have a disagreement about how to deal with climate change, but if we have a big chunk of the country that just discounts what 99 percent of scientists say completely, it’s very hard to figure out how we move the democracy forward.

In his view, the imperative of the media is to reach a wide audience, to attract attention as the means to pay for itself. Unfortunately, this conflicts with respecting baseline facts and telling the truth. It certainly does in the realm of commercial TV and cable news, but not in the realm of non-profit, public service media. The distinction is worth examining more closely.

Since public media do not rely on this kind of advertising revenue to exist, they are not driven to grab the attention of viewers and listeners as a set up to see and hear spot ads for which commercial TV and radio are paid by their sponsors depending on the size and demographics of the audience, calculated minute by minute.

Obviously public media need resources to create their content via donations, subscriptions, grants, and a variety of subsidies, but they do not rely primarily, if not solely, on advertising revenue. As Katrina vanden Heuval makes clear, commercial media too often ignore difficult and important subjects because they do not cater to the audiences they want to reach and are generally much more costly to produce.

Like President Obama, most citizens think funding news and public affairs programs is mainly done through advertising that requires large, engaged audiences of the kind Donald Trump was able to deliver throughout the 15 month election season. As previously mentioned, this narrow thinking has perilous consequences, and is too glibly referred to as the “free media” Donald Trump was such a master of exploiting.

Citizens with critical media literacy skills understand these distinctions. Unfortunately, few do, apparently including President Obama.

THE DEFICIT IN CRITICAL MEDIA LITERACY CAN NO LONGER BE IGNORED

49255606-cachedFox News at its heart is not a journalistic institution.

Dean Baquet, Executive Editor, New York Times

In a recent interview in the Financial Times, Executive Editor of the New York Times Dean Baquet described the 2016 presidential election coverage of CNN and Fox News as “ridiculous” and “bad for democracy.”  “This mix of entertainment and news, and news masquerading as entertainment, is kind of funny except that we now have a guy who is a product of that world nominated as Republican presidential candidate.”

Never has the national deficit in critical media literacy skills of the American electorate been more apparent, yet is scarcely discussed even within academic institutions. The Critical Media Project at the Annenberg School for Journalism and Communication, University of Southern California asserts that traditional definitions of media literacy must now include “complex ideological  discussions around media power.”

The new graduate program in Media Literacy and Digital Culture at Sacred Heart University is the first with a specific focus on critical media literacy. That program, in collaboration with the Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME) and Project Censored, helped create the Global Critical Media Literacy Project, and developed a 100 page educator’s resource guide to engage students to more fully comprehend the perils Dean Baquet and others are warning citizens about regarding our news media. (Full disclosure: the author is a member of the ACME board of directors.)

THE MAKE-A-BUCK MEDIA CREATION OF DONALD TRUMP

trump-apprecticeThe money’s rolling in, and this is fun. It’s a terrible thing to say. But bring it on, Donald. Keep going.

Leslie Moonves, Chairman of CBS

It should be pretty hard to miss the decade long build up of Donald Trump as a reality TV star and his incredibly successful run for President this election cycle. If somehow this is still a bit of a mystery, you should read this recent article by Margaret Sullivan in the Washington Post to begin appreciating the downside of commercially driven entertainment and news this blog has been addressing.

You might also begin considering the lack of critical media literacy education in the U.S.

RESPONSIBILITIES OF CITIZENS AS MEDIA CONSUMERS

donald-trump-media-camera-bfc57adf-1c1c-44f8-bf51-8d55eac8b67crtshym4-3876b8b9-e55c-4ad0-a194-501c7d78909e

            Mr Trump is the leading exponent of “post-truth” politics—a reliance on assertions that “feel true” but have no basis in fact.  His brazenness is not punished, but taken as evidence of his willingness to stand up to elite power.

Art of the Lie, The Economist

As the media spectacle of this year’s presidential election gathers terrifying force in the remaining days before the votes are cast, speculation whether American journalists are acting responsibly is growing as well.  Though much of this can easily be attributed to partisan game playing, an alternative view focusing on the responsibilities of news consumers expressed recently by Matt Taibi in Rolling Stone deserves more serious consideration.

It is the view of the Media Stewards Project that commercially driven broadcast journalism too easily succumbs to the siren song of sensationalism more likely to generate a large audience whose attention can profitably be sold to advertisers of every sort.  Independently funded public media sources are better suited to help citizens understand this dynamic, but are not strong enough in the U.S. to provide the critical perspective citizens need to begin addressing the perilous state of our political dysfunction.

Encouraging citizens to acquire critical media literacy skills is essential for increasing their greater participation in the workings of our democracy.

Why Americans Hate The Media Redux

fallows-hate-the-media                                                                The news chases squirrels, calls them rabid, and shoots them. [ ] Journalism does not inform.

Jeff Jarvis

James Fallows, author and national correspondent for The Atlantic, has thoughtfully analyzed the problems and shortcomings of American journalism for decades.  In a recent blog, he reflected on the publication twenty years ago of Breaking The News: How The Media Undermine American Democracy. A condensed version of his book appeared in the Atlantic as Why Americans Hate The Media and is worth reading in this watershed presidential election year.

Respected media critic Jeff Jarvis covers much of the same ground in a recent blog excerpted here:

Imagine if even a fraction of the time we see wasted on cable news were devoted to educating the public about the issues and realities of immigration, refugees, criminal justice, the economy, infrastructure, education, health care costs, entitlement costs, security, the environment, taxes, jobs…. When was the last time you saw TV news do that? How much of any news organization’s work is devoted to doing this, to informing the electorate? Shouldn’t we ask before assigning every story and booking every TV discussion: How will this help the public better decide how to vote?

Journalism is failing the nation. This election is the proof.

These are powerful arguments spanning decades for citizens to reconsider the need for supporting a much more robust public media system providing a critical perspective on the circus atmosphere that has taken over our political process and contemporary journalism driven by overly dominant commercial media interests.