Of all the irritations that come with making a living as a university professor, and there are quite a few, the inability to do much in the way of "reading for pleasure" during the school year is at the top of my list. I'm talking minor irritants, mind you. Don't get me started on the major league indignities that come with working in academia. In any event, at this time of year I like to kick back and catch up on some reading: fiction, nonfiction, it's all good.
One item I've been meaning to read for some time now is Canadian journalist Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. I've read any number of Ms. Klein's essays for The Nation, Mother Jones and other progressive publications. What's more, I've heard her speak on many occasions -- most recently during Democracy Now!'s exceptional coverage of the climate change meeting in Copenhagen earlier this month. However, this is the first time that I've sat down to read one of her books.
In a week marked by a series of contradictions that could make your head spin, Barack Obama accepted the Noble Peace Prize by channeling none other than George W. Bush. Not only did Obama repeat the Bush-era mantra that al-Qaida is evil incarnate, he snubbed the Norwegian royal family with Bush-like insolence.
And in a move that would make Karl Rove blush, the Nobel Peace Prize winner refused to attend a "Save the Children" concert. According to a story in the Christian Science Monitor, a cardboard Obama stood in for the president at the charity event. Add another item to this week's WTF list.
When Obama was named this year's Peace Prize recipient, conventional wisdom had it that the Nobel Committee selected Obama for one reason and one reason only: he's not George W. Bush. An important distinction to be sure, but hardly prize worthy. Or is it?
Last week the world observed the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Not surprisingly, the bulk of U.S. media coverage of the ceremonies was self-serving and demonstrated, yet again, that the corporate press rarely appreciates the lessons -- let alone the ironies -- of history.
Of course, when the wall dividing East and West Berlin fell in November 1989, it was a world historic event: one that marked the end of a repressive regime in East Germany and, soon thereafter, across the entire Soviet Bloc. Still, the barely concealed jingoism and self-congratulatory tone of U.S. press reports was hard to stomach.
It was particularly startling that so few historians or political scientists were asked to discuss the significance of the anniversary. Instead, American audiences were treated to a choir of star journalists -- Tom Brokaw, Robin McNeil, Dan Schorr, among others -- waxing nostalgic about their role in reporting history.
There's an old saw in the news business: Journalism is the first draft of history. Of course, there's an element of truth to this statement. Historians routinely make use of newspapers and magazines, photographs, broadcast transcripts and archival recordings to understand and interpret the past.
But all too often, news workers use this phrase to dodge responsibility for getting the historical record right. It's a convenient way to make claims to journalistic authority without much concern for historical accuracy, or public accountability for that matter.
On Sept. 30, National Public Radio (NPR) announced, with considerable fanfare, the results of a new poll -- conducted in collaboration with the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health -- that found that the American people feel "profoundly shut out of the current health overhaul debate." Listening to this story, I was reminded of a line from Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."
The story, which aired on NPR's Morning Edition, was presented in a fashion that suggested the people's disenfranchisement from critical policy debates, like health care reform, was somewhat surprising -- revelatory in fact. For anyone paying even the most remote attention to grassroots and nationwide efforts to repair this country's broken and dysfunctional health care system, none of this was news.
Rather, this item is just one more indication of the crisis of democracy in this country: a crisis exacerbated by inside-the-beltway journalism practiced by corporate media and so-called public broadcasting.
Somewhere between faith and reason lies the power of the public imagination to shape society, for good or for ill. There was a time, not that long ago, when artists and writers, orators and visionaries, fueled the public imagination. Today, the public imagination is mass-produced and distributed by a handful of media conglomerates whose principle goal is neither inspiration nor enlightenment, but private profit and control.
This is not to say that commercial media are incapable of producing exceptional news, information and entertainment fare from time to time. Lately, however, its seems that for all of the media that is available to us 24/7 -- the printed word, film, broadcast radio and television, cable, satellite and internet communication -- the public imagination is suffering from a chronic case of arrested development.
This condition has reached epidemic proportions in recent weeks. Consider the media spectacle surrounding U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson's (R-S.C.) outburst during President Obama's address before a joint session of Congress or, for that matter, press coverage of Kanye West's schoolyard antics at the Video Music Awards.
I've been AWOL from The Bloomington Alternative during the month of August. I haven't been a total slacker, mind you. Aside from getting ready for the new school year and putting the finishing touches on a book manuscript, I've been keeping tabs on the media and politics by way of my blog.
Here are a few select items gleaned from my blog posts in recent weeks -- with a few additions and revisions for good measure.
First, the good news.
Power to the people
Curious the sort of popular protests that make the news these days. Some months ago it was the Tea Baggers. Lately it's been so-called Birthers and the anti-health care reformers who have captured the limelight.
As healthcare deliberations intensify on Capitol Hill, the American people are confronted with a bewildering array of information, opinion and analysis regarding the Obama administration’s plan to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system. In the spirit of public service, The Bloomington Alternative offers the following glossary of terms used by politicians, public relations professionals and pundits to “debate” healthcare reform.
Following a brief definition, the word or phrase is illustrated in common usage. Examples are taken from recent public statements regarding the President’s reform effort and the crisis of U.S. healthcare.
Blue Dog Democrats
See also Corporate Democrats
A coalition of moderate and conservative Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
A front-page story in the July 8, 2009, edition of the New York Times reported that the Obama administration is cutting deals with health industry groups in an effort to gain support for the president's healthcare reform initiative. "Rather than running advertisements against the White House," the Times notes, "the most influential players in the industry are inside the room negotiating with administration officials and leading lawmakers."
Of course, deal making is at the heart of all political processes, but lately it seems that corporate interests -- the banking industry, automakers, coal companies and the lobbyists who love them -- are the only ones with seats at the table.
If there is an upside to news of Michael Jackson's sudden and unexpected death it is this: wall-to-wall press coverage of the pop star's passing has put the brakes on Western media's propaganda campaign over street protests in Iran -- at least for the time being.
For the better part of two weeks, U.S. and UK news outlets have been spinning the disputed outcome of recent Iranian elections in a manner that supports the strategic aims of Washington, London and Tel Aviv: to discredit the Iranian leadership and legitimate calls for "regime change" in Tehran.
While images of the Iranian people demanding greater transparency and accountability from their government are undeniably moving, if not downright inspiring, press coverage of these spontaneous expressions of democracy reveal the double standards of both the political and media establishment.