THE PURPOSE OF CELEBRITY TV JOURNALISM

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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?

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

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            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.

THE CRUMBLING OF ROGER AILES AND GOP-TV

Roger Ailes

Roger Ailes built the Republican party –

now both are crumbling in plain sight

Richard Wolffe

Very few citizens are aware of the historic role Fox News creator Roger Ailes played from the late sixties onward to foster the rise of the modern Republican party and alter the tenor of political discourse in America.

 

That history is clearly delineated in How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Factory by Tim Dickenson five years ago in Rolling Stone, and further articulated by media reporter Gabriel Sherman in his 2014 biography, The Loudest Voice In The Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News — And Divided a Country.

Worth reviewing are the interview with Gabriel Sherman by Terry Gross, host of Fresh Air on NPR,  in 2014 about how Ailes rose to such prominence; and Jane Mayer’s recent reflection in the New Yorker on Fox News trading in political scandal.

 

BREITBART NEWS, STEPHEN BANNON AND THE RISE OF THE “ALT-RIGHT”

stephen-bannon 2 2 2

Mr. Trump’s decision to make Stephen K. Bannon, chairman of the Breitbart News website, his campaign’s chief executive . . . formally completed a merger between the most strident elements of the conservative news media and Mr. Trump’s campaign, which was incubated and fostered in their boisterous coverage of his rise.

                                           Aug 18, 2016, New York Times

The advent of Stephen Bannon as Donald Trump’s new campaign manager is a significant milestone in the steady evolution of the Republican Party to the extreme right long facilitated, and now lead by experienced “alt-right” media manipulators. The history of this poorly understood evolution puts into stark relief the failure of for-profit media, particularly TV journalism, to illuminate this dangerous development in American politics.

In 2013, respected political scientists Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein sought to draw greater media and public attention to the troubling rightward drift of the Republican party in their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional  System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. In an interview with Bill Moyers on PBS, they expressed  surprise and disappointment that none of the major network TV news organizations showed any interest whatsoever in discussing this topic.

Only recently have a few journalists and pundits begun to draw more attention to the role Breitbart News has played in the rise of Donald Trump. A key episode was the remarkable duping of the New York Times in covering the campaign by Andrew Breitbart and James O’Keefe to destroy the community organizing group ACORN by posing as a pimp and his prostitute seeking advice to circumvent the law.

Though the failure of Republican leaders to recognize their responsibility for the rise of the “alt-right” and its enabling of Donald Trump as their presidential candidate is finally being widely discussed, there are still too few connections drawn between the huge profits generated by right-wing media organizations and the threat they pose to the functioning of American democracy.  Speculation regarding a new right-wing media organization involving Donald Trump, Stephen Bannon and deposed Fox News guru Roger Ailes to cash in on demonizing Hillary Clinton should she be elected president is worth following closely in the run up to election day this year.

 

Who “Founded” ISIS?

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The Night That Obama and Hillary Founded ISIS

 

Donald Trump once again captured major media attention over several days in August by claiming unequivocally that President Obama was the “founder” of Isis, and that Hillary Clinton was the “co-founder,”  something he first suggested in early January. This presented a challenge to news organizations nationwide to explain whether there was any truth to Trump’s claim about who was responsible for creating Isis which did not end when he eventually said he was being sarcastic.

This generated even more accounts explaining why Trump supporters do not care whether what he says is true or not because the news media are biased against him. The Washington Post reported the complex factors and policy decisions made over many years by members of the Bush and Obama administrations, as well as actions by Congress, which contributed to the rise of Isis. Unfortunately, analysis of this kind is all too rare and not suited for careful consideration on commercial television news programs.

Boiled down, key underlying factors leading to the creation of ISIS were:1) invading Iraq with only dim awareness of the deep Sunni-Shia historical divisions suppressed by Saddam Hussein; 2) not providing sufficient civilian and ground forces to maintain stability; 3) the disaster of allowing Nouri al-Maliki to oversee Iraq’s transition to democracy which greatly exacerbated Sunni-Shia tensions.

These major developments were primarily the responsibility of the Bush administration, as was promoting the false connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as reason to invade Iraq and topple him. Absent more thoughtful, fact-based discussions about how Isis came to exist, wild accusations about who is responsible will continue to be taken seriously by large numbers of voters in this election season.