Extra! September/October 2006

    Newsworthy and Unnewsworthy Deaths

    [Note: This piece is a sidebar to "Lives in the Balance."] On August 8, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote, “Arabs have often argued that Americans have a double standard in the Middle East: We are more solicitous of casualties in Israel than in Gaza or Lebanon. I think they’re right, for a variety of reasons.” Indeed, in the New York Times, some of the deadliest attacks in Lebanon were mentioned in passing, or filed under headlines that would seem to diminish their importance. On August 2, Human Rights Watch released a report that documented Israeli attacks on civilians. ...


    Nixed Signals

    After the June 25 capture of one of its soldiers in a raid by Hamas militants, Israel responded with a massive invasion of Gaza. It destroyed the area’s electrical generators, blew up bridges and launched a barrage of artillery at Palestinian camps and settlements. Palestinian fighters vowed steadfast resistance. Whatever meager hopes remained for peace talks, cease-fires or an improvement in the already dire humanitarian situation in Gaza seemed to have evaporated. Israel was demanding the unconditional release of the soldier, while leaders of Hamas—in control of the Palestinian government following the January 2006 elections—insisted he would be returned only ...


    Are You on the NewsHour's Guestlist?

    In 2005, Kenneth Tomlinson, chair of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—and thus the person in charge of disbursing federal public broadcasting funds—sparked controversy with his aggressive push to move PBS and NPR to the right. In a series of public statements, Tomlinson, armed with a dubious study of PBS shows he commissioned from a right-wing ideologue, charged public broadcasting programming with harboring a liberal bias (Extra!, 9-10/05). The study—which, among other things, classified conservative Republicans Sen. Chuck Hagel and former Rep. Bob Barr as “liberals” (Washington Post, 7/1/05)—was primarily an attack on the program Now, formerly hosted by Bill Moyers, ...


    Memory Unerased

    In the days before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, as the U.S. military planned a massive aerial bombing campaign on the densely populated city of Baghdad, the Pentagon phrase “Shock and Awe” was repeated with enthusiasm on television, part of the celebration of the power of modern warfare. At the same time, Deep Dish TV was setting in motion a plan to record, illuminate, document and bear witness to what would be left out of the commercial media war frame. They would title the 13-part series of 28-minute programs Shocking and Awful, and the group of independent artists and media ...


    More Dangerous Than Anyone Thought

    Earlier this year, I asked my undergraduate students at the University of California, Santa Cruz, to evaluate a barrage of news stories declaring that “teen drivers are more dangerous than anyone thought” (Paula Zahn Now, 1/18/06) in response to an American Automobile Association study warning that crashes involving 15- to 17-year-old drivers killed 31,000 people over the last decade. Within minutes, the students, ages 19-21, formulated three obvious questions reporters should have asked about the study: (1) Did the teen drivers “involved in” the crashes in the AAA study cause the crashes? (2) Why are teen drivers singled out, when ...


    Lives in the Balance

    On August 14, the New York Times addressed one of the significant worries for U.S. media outlets covering the Israeli bombing and invasion of Lebanon: Civilians in Lebanon were the primary victims, dying in far greater numbers than Israeli military personnel and civilians combined. (Amnesty International estimated that the fighting killed about 1,000 civilians in Lebanon and about 40 in Israel—8/23/06.) The problem for U.S. media was how to obscure that fact. As the Times put it, “Particularly vexing for many American news organizations is the struggle to determine how and in what proportion images of civilian dead and injured ...


    Applying the Knowledge

    [Note: This piece is a sidebar to "The Power of Conservative Spinning."] There was “a significant increase of understanding by conservatives on how to deal with media” with the rise of Ronald Reagan, explains Morton C. Blackwell, founder and president of the conservative Leadership Institute. “There was very little to distinguish Barry Goldwater from Ronald Reagan in terms of policy,” he said. But there “was an enormous difference in their approach to communications.” Blackwell, who prides himself on having been the youngest Goldwater delegate at the 1964 Republican National Convention, said that Goldwater “really enjoyed needling people who disagreed with ...


    FAIR's Original 1990 NewsHour Study

    [Note: This piece is a sidebar to "Are You on the NewsHour’s Guestlist?"] Following FAIR’s landmark 1989 study of ABC’s Nightline, “Are You on the Nightline Guestlist?” (Extra!, 1-2/89), FAIR was urged to compare Nightline’s narrow, elite roster of guests with those of other news programs. In 1990, FAIR published a new study, “All the Usual Suspects: The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour and Nightline,” which measured Nightline’s progress in diversifying its own guestlist and compared it to the guestlist of the NewsHour, then co-hosted by Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer. To the surprise of some, FAIR found that the guestlist of the ...


    The Power of Conservative Spinning

    In addition to being a journalism professor (whose courses have included Politics of Media), I’m the host of a nationally aired TV program, Enviro Close-Up. My producer, Joan Flynn, and I get many e-mails proposing subjects and guests for the show—the overwhelming majority from conservative public relations companies promoting conservative guests. In terms of volume and intensity, there’s nothing comparable from the progressive world. Speaking of the politics of media, it’s a clear and daily demonstration to me of how the right, far more than the left, realizes the importance of communication. “Special Guests” The most active PR operation that ...


    Star Power Trumps History in AIDS Coverage

    A number of activists at the 16th International AIDS Conference complained that the Toronto gathering foregrounded the rich and famous—most prominently Microsoft chair Bill Gates and former President Bill Clinton—at the expense of front-line workers and people living with AIDS (e.g., “Activists Blast Focus on Celebrity,” Calgary Herald, 8/17/06). “They can’t have it both ways,” responded Conference co-chair Mark Wainberg (AP Worldstream, 8/17/06). Advocates who want the increased public attention that comes with media coverage, Wainberg suggested, should know the deal. “They should understand, as we all do, that we would not have 3,000 journalists at this conference if not ...


    SoundBites

    No “Happy” Talk Asked at a press conference (8/21/06) if he was “frustrated” about the situation in Iraq, George W. Bush responded: “Frustrated? Sometimes I’m frustrated. Rarely surprised. Sometimes I’m happy. This is—but war is not a time of joy. These aren’t joyous times. These are challenging times, and they’re difficult times, and they’re straining the psyche of our country. I understand that.” Some outlets apparently found this reference to the president’s occasional happiness too jarring to be reported. The Washington Post (8/22/06), for example, had Bush saying, with no ellipses: “Sometimes I’m frustrated, rarely surprised. War is not a ...


    Sidebar: Brooks and Shields

    [Note: This piece is a sidebar to "Are You on the NewsHour’s Guestlist?"] The NewsHour features a weekly Friday debate which purports to pit a commentator from the right against one from the left. As a regular segment featuring NewsHour employees rather than outside sources, the segment was not included in the study, but it deserves mention, as it reinforces the NewsHour’s preference for right and center opinions over those from the left. Just as he praised the NewsHour for its supposed balance, CPB ombud Ken Bode (CPB.org, 9/1/05) has singled out the weekly debate as a notable part of ...


    Never Apologize

    [Note: this piece is a sidebar to Star Power Trumps History in AIDS Coverage] A study published in August in the Journal of the American Medical Association (8/9/06) found that sub-Saharan Africans are better at following drug regimens than North Americans. The authors hoped the findings would lay to rest the myth that Africans are incapable of adhering to complicated antiretroviral drug treatment programs, which had been used as an excuse to restrict the region’s access to life-saving drugs. In a related story, the New York Times (8/14/06) reported, “Only a few years ago, there was widespread skepticism that AIDS ...


    SoundBites

    No “Happy” Talk Asked at a press conference (8/21/06) if he was “frustrated” about the situation in Iraq, George W. Bush responded: “Frustrated? Sometimes I’m frustrated. Rarely surprised. Sometimes I’m happy. This is—but war is not a time of joy. These aren’t joyous times. These are challenging times, and they’re difficult times, and they’re straining the psyche of our country. I understand that.” Some outlets apparently found this reference to the president’s occasional happiness too jarring to be reported. The Washington Post (8/22/06), for example, had Bush saying, with no ellipses: “Sometimes I’m frustrated, rarely surprised. War is not a ...


    Letters to the Editor

    Ageism and Katrina Neil deMause’s piece is excellent (“Katrina’s Vanishing Victims,” 7-8/06), especially in showing that the media’s memory for race and class lasted just about a month. But what of age? That is still the most underreported story of all. The “vast majority” of the people who died in New Orleans were old, Martin Smith reported on Frontline’s special on “The Storm” (11/22/06). Katrina was “one of the worst medical catastrophes for the aged in recent U.S. history,” reporter Roma Khanna concluded in the Houston Chronicle (1/28/05). As early as late November, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals ...


    Live vs. Taped Sources

    [Note: This piece is a sidebar to "Are You on the NewsHour’s Guestlist?"] When FAIR published its 1990 study, the NewsHour criticized it for not including taped sources; then-executive producer Lester Crystal argued (Broadcasting, 5/28/90) that taped segments “are a significant part of the program and have included much of the diversity [FAIR] refers to”—suggesting that including taped appearances would show the program to be more diverse than our study of the live segments indicated. It’s worth noting that taped sources are frequently short soundbites, whereas live sources often get an extended opportunity to make various points and develop an ...


    The Party Line on Plame Wilson

    The naming of Richard Armitage as the first Bush administration official to out covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson was treated by the Washington Post editorial page (9/1/06) as proof that there was nothing to the controversy after all. Armitage, according to the Post, only "reluctantly" supported the invasion of Iraq and was "a political rival" of the officials accused by Plame Wilson's wife, Joseph Wilson, of twisting intelligence about Iraq. Citing a Post news story (8/29/06), the editorial claimed that Armitage told columnist Robert Novak about the leak "in an offhand manner, virtually as gossip." Therefore, the Post concluded, ...