Media Musings

A blog for students and stalkers of Brian Steffen, centering on issues of concern in media studies.

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Location: Indianola, Iowa, United States

Hello all... I'm a professor of communication studies at Simpson College and a junkie of all things media. I'm blogging on life on the faculty at Simpson and working with some of the best young future professionals in the world.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Espionage Act Rears its Ugly Head

Back in 1917, when America was troubled by socialists and anarchists and other folks who thought that unrestrained capitalism was a bad idea, the Woodrow Wilson administration decided that going to war in Europe to protect American commerce was a good idea. The socialists and anarchists and others of their ilk thought that going to war, and drafting American boys to fight it, was a really bad idea. So they did what they thought the First Amendment guaranteed them the right to do -- they argued against the war.

For their trouble, the socialists and anarchists and others prompted the Wilsonites and the Congress to pass a law called the Espionage Act that, essentially, made it illegal to engage in any kind of speech that succeeded in stirring up public opposition to that war. Several thousands folks went to jail simply for arguing against war and against American policy, and the Supreme Court found the Espionage Act constitutional because such speech created "clear and present danger of bringing about a substantive evil that Congress has a right to prevent."

Those were the early years of First Amendment jurisprudence, and your civics class probably taught you that the rights of free expression had, thankfully, been expanded since then.

But, it turns out, the Espionage Act is back and could soon be trotted out in a major campaign by the Bushies to silence independent journalism. As Adam Liptak reports in Sunday's New York Times: The "Bush administration is putting pressure on the press as never before, and it is operating in a judicial climate that seems increasingly receptive to constraints on journalists."

No matter that the reporting by the Times and the Washington Post has unveiled the unsavory side of America's tactics in the War on Terror: This is war. It just strikes me that Gore Vidal's story in the film Bob Roberts in 1992 is becoming truer each day: We're the frogs who've been put into a pot to boil, but because the cook increases the temperature only slowly we never realize we're being boiled until it's too late.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Living With War and Neil Young

Neil Young isn't only the greatest living singer-songwriter (sorry, Bob Dylan), but he's also creating a media stir with a new album titled "Living With War." All this coincides with the start May 1 of my new course on "Freedom of Speech in Wartime."

The entire album is a swipe at the War on Terror and at George W. Bush and already (and predictably) has conservatives counter that Neil is ... is ... is ... Canadian! (And you know that the Canadians are practically French.)

Take a look at this clip on from CBS on the album. And for the "fair and balanced" view, make sure you check out Neil Cavuto's blast at Young from Fox News.

And you can listen to the entire album, free of charge, by going here.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

More From the Treason Beat

It's been a tough stretch what with finals and all -- not a terribly inviting time to be blogging. But the grades are filed and now I'm baaaaack.

Since my last post, there's been lots of ink and pixels devoted to the controversy over whether the Pulitzer Prize committee is taking a stand against the Bush administration by awarding two of the prizes to stories that exposed U.S. tactics in fighting the war on terror -- both of them of dubious legality and both likely to further erode public and international support for U.S. actions.

Gambler and radio windbag and former drug czar Bill Bennett has added to to the conservative backlash against independent journalism by noting that New York Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau and Washington Post scribe Dana Priest shouldn't get awards but should rather "go to jail" for filling in the American people on what it is being done in their name.

Today, newspapers around the country ran Cal Thomas' rant that journalists who publish evidence of American wrongdoing in fighting terror are traitors.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Prize-Winning Journalism — Or Treason?

The Pulitzer Prizes are out, and it's no surprise that the winner in the national reporting category was the New York Times' expose from reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau on the Bushies' domestic-spying program. This was a story of Woodward-and-Bernstein proportions and highlights the problems faced by a free and independent press during a time of war.

Despite all of the historical evidence that a free and critical press is most necessary during time of war, some folks just don't get it. The right-leaning blog Power Line has a note today on The Pulitzer Prize for Treason. It's good reading in that it gets in the minds of the folks who buy into "unitary executive" reasoning.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Keeping the Register Honest

National Public Radio has a new audio report on Des Moines resident Ralph Gross, who was invited to serve on the Des Moines Register's Reader Advisory Board and wound up being a thorn in the newspaper management's side. Gross used his spot on the Register's board to push the idea that the newspaper should be a serious journalistic product and not a funnel for profits for owner Gannett Inc.

This isn't the first time Gross has gotten publicity for pushing on management to do more journalism and less business. Columbia Journalism Review gave him space last fall to talk about the questions he raises: "Who will embrace their civic responsibility to raise awareness on this issue? In markets with no competition, like Des Moines, what are the options for doing so? And if the answer is no one and none, say so and let’s move on to create a new information delivery system for this democracy, because the current one is dying."

The NPR story runs about seven minutes, and you'll need Real Audio (a free download) to listen to it.

'Don't You Just Want to Bitch-Slap Him?'

There's apparently an art form to writing the cover lines that "grace" the cover of Cosmopoitan, says editor Kate White. "Orgasms Unlimited" and "Touch Him There!" are the teases on the cover in the current month.

"'We must spend at least 10 hours a month doing them, and the most awful of them break us up, lines like, 'Don't you want to just bitch-slap him?''" White says at "Those magazine cover lines -- cunning, funny, surreal -- may be absurd. But there's a craft to writing them, and they do sell magazines."

There's certainly no arguing with results: Cosmo now claims to be the largest-selling women's magazine in the world, with 2 million newsstand sales alone each issue. And White herself is about to come out with a heavily promoted book titled (get this): How to Set His Thighs on Fire: 86 Lessons on Love, Life and (Especially) Sex.

Friday, April 07, 2006

'Da Vinci Code' Author Wins Copyright Case

OK, so Dan Brown isn't a copyright infringer after all. I still say the DVC is an incredibly bad book. Which means the movie version will make tons of money.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

New Battles in the Anti-Porn War

On the heels of our viewing in the Media Law course of the documentary film, "Inside Deep Throat," comes this dispatch from the AP's David Crary:

Anti-porn activists are seeking new tactics to fight an unprecedented deluge of porn which they see as wrecking countless marriages and warping human sexuality. They are urging federal prosecutors to pursue more obscenity cases and raising funds for high-tech brain research that they hope will fuel lawsuits against porn magnates.

Law students should take a read of this story in time for next Tuesday's class, during which we'll discuss the film and tie it in with our textbook chapter on obscenity.