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.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

'The executive is bound to comply with the Rule of Law that prevails in this jurisdiction'

Y'hear that?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Patriotism and the Press

While the prez calls out the New York Times for its "disgraceful" reporting of the bank-surveillance story, the Times has taken it upon itself to mount a vigorous defense of its work and its motivations. Today's edition has a lead editorial, "Patriotism and the Press," that is a must read for anyone wanting to know about Press Freedom 101:

Why publish such bombshell stories? It's a function of the watchdog role of the press, a role disrespected by the administration and forgotten by most who would submit to anything to win a "war" that will no doubt go on for decades. The Times argues:
From our side of the news-opinion wall, the Swift story looks like part of an alarming pattern. Ever since Sept. 11, the Bush administration has taken the necessity of heightened vigilance against terrorism and turned it into a rationale for an extraordinarily powerful executive branch, exempt from the normal checks and balances of our system of government. It has created powerful new tools of surveillance and refused, almost as a matter of principle, to use normal procedures that would acknowledge that either Congress or the courts have an oversight role.

And there's this conclusion, worth reprinting in its entirety:
The United States will soon be marking the fifth anniversary of the war on terror. The country is in this for the long haul, and the fight has to be coupled with a commitment to individual liberties that define America's side in the battle. A half-century ago, the country endured a long period of amorphous, global vigilance against an enemy who was suspected of boring from within, and history suggests that under those conditions, it is easy to err on the side of security and secrecy. The free press has a central place in the Constitution because it can provide information the public needs to make things right again. Even if it runs the risk of being labeled unpatriotic in the process.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Now Playing the Role of Spiro Agnew...

...Is Dick Cheney, the man who keeps acting like Darth Vader despite his daughter's protestations in her recent chat-show appearances that he's not nearly that bad a guy. The latest blood-pressure-raising incident for the veep is the New York Times' publication last Friday of yet another report on the tactics of the Bushies in fighting the war against terror -- namely that the administration is looking into banking transactions of Americans and foreigners in an attempt to ferret out the terrorists who are cashing checks at the local grocery store.

So now we're back to the sabre rattling by the press haters, who believe that any free and independent reporting of questionable government tactics in fighting an illegal and undeclared war is tantamount to treason. Ring 'em up on Espionage Act charges, or something similar, says Gabriel Schoenfeld in the new issue of the Weekly Standard, repeating a call for action he made earlier in the year when the Times also let the public know about the Bush administration's penchant for spying on U.S. citizens.

Cheney, for his part, put on the Agnew mask when he singled out the Times' reporting for criticism at a Republican fundraiser last Friday. "What I find most disturbing about these stories is the fact that some of the news media take it upon themselves to disclose vital national security programs, thereby making it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks against the American people," the veep said, to applause from the friendly crowd oblivious to various problems with Cheney's position:

"The news media take it upon themselves..." That's what a free press is supposed to do -- take it upon itself to tell us what the government doesn't want us to know.

"Vital national security programs..." According to the same folks who assured us of WMD?

"Thereby making it more difficult for us..." We don't know how much difficulty the government really has in tracking terrorists, real or imagined, or whether the programs taken on by the government have any substantive impact on that effort.

"Prevent future attacks on the American people..." If there's never another attack on American soil (unlikely but still to be hoped for) how can we know whether Bush policies kept them from happening or whether we were just lucky?

Times editor Bill Keller gamely stepped up to the press bashers today to respond to the usual flurry of calls for him and the rest of the Times staff to be fitted with prison jump suits. His response is worth quoting in a little detail:

It's an unusual and powerful thing, this freedom that our founders gave to the press. Who are the editors of The New York Times (or the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and other publications that also ran the banking story) to disregard the wishes of the President and his appointees? And yet the people who invented this country saw an aggressive, independent press as a protective measure against the abuse of power in a democracy, and an essential ingredient for self-government. They rejected the idea that it is wise, or patriotic, to always take the President at his word, or to surrender to the government important decisions about what to publish.

So bring on the prosecutors. Let's see what that does for Bush's popularity.

The Fox in the Newsroom

As Slate magazine celebrates its 10th anniversary as the first big online journal of politics and opinion, new-media enthusiasts are considering the future of old media in the 21st Century. Can newspapers, particularly, survive?

That, of course, is a question that gets asked as often as I change the channel on my car radio. Slate's 10th-birthday panel discussion last week answers the question, perhaps surprisingly, in the affirmative.

So how are we going to get young readers to drop their mouses and get newsprint on their fingers? First of all, forget the newsprint. Second, go back to the opinion-based model of newspaper journalism that dominated the 19th Century and before, according to Salon editor David Talbot.

"Newspapers' future is on the Web," Talbot says. "They should be developing more opinionated writers. Fox News showed where popular taste is. People want in-your-face, opinionated media."

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Daily Show and Political Involvement

Jon Stewart is hip. Jon Stewart is in. Jon Stewart is hot. Yep, we know all that. But is it possible that Jon Stewart might be bad for democracy?

Stewart, of course, is the host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, a four-times-per-week skewering of the news and newsmakers around the world. It's widely credited with making news interesting and, yes, even worthy of the consideration of young adults. When Stewart took on Tucker Carlson, then of CNN, a year or so again and called him a "dick" for trivializing news coverage, fans nationwide found that, finally, there was someone who took on the self-important national media and told it when people who work for a living thought of them.

Stewart gets credit for telling it like it is, which -- the critics say -- is something the mainstream media won't do. For instance, Stewart, let Congress have it earlier this week for failing to vote to raise the minimum wage:

"The lower strata of American society has had a free ride for too long. And, if you were to give them $7.25 an hour, you know it would just go, you know, up their nose and through their hose. Kudos to Congress for taking a giant shit on the poorest in the country!"

The studio audience roared, and no doubt viewers also gave up a hearty "damn right". So perhaps Stewart could be an organizing force for alternative politics? Not so fast. In fact, reports Richard Morin in the Washington Post, The Daily Show may be having the opposite impact: Political scientists Jody Baumgartner and Jonathan Morris of East Carolina University conclude in new research that Daily Show viewers may simply become cynical about politics altogether and opt out of the system, failing even to cast ballots in elections.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Yet Another Reason to Converge

Mindy McAdams, who's probably the Daily Kos of journalism prof bloggers, posts today on yet another reason why convergence skills are a must for journalism students today. The Washington Post is now requiring all reporters to submit video, along with stories, when they work an assignment.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

How to Get the Ideology

ABC debuted its 1,498,548th reality show this week -- a particularly insulting number titled "How to Get the Guy" in which a handful of attractive, single 30-somethings try to figure out how to fill the void in their lives with "the guy".

When are we going to see "How to Get a Life When You're Just Fine the Way You Are"?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Where's Sy Hersh When You Need Him?

We've come to find out -- more than six months after the fact -- that U.S. Marines apparently mass murdered civilians in the Iraqi city of Hidatha. Even though the atrocity took place back on Nov. 19, the American public are only finding out about it now with the help of cable news "exclusives". Shouldn't this be appearing on the History Channel, if the slow-to-awaken-to-the-illegality-and-immorality-of-this-war media doesn't go to work checking out these stories until the Pentagon conducts its own investigation?

This is part and parcel of a larger problem with the "liberal" media and the anti-war movement in general: They've been unable to generate much traction in the outrage war. A generation ago, during Vietnam, Seymour Hersh was able to expose the My Lai massacre. For many, that was the final nail in the coffin of American exceptionalism in fighting communism.

Now we get pithy comments such as those uttered by many over the past several days by a number of observers that we shouldn't be surprised that these kind of things happen. Some soldiers are animals, the thinking goes, and that's really a good thing because we want them to be effective fighters. And if that means that a few innocent folks get slaughtered along the way, so be it.