Feb 7 2006

Fighting Back

FAIR's media activism successes

If FAIR’s work consisted entirely of quantitative studies and the well-documented criticism that appears in every issue of Extra!, the group would be akin to a conventional think tank. But throughout FAIR’s history, it has had a significant emphasis on media activism—treating media giants just as one would any other powerful political or government institution, by directly confronting news outlets when they misinform readers and viewers, keep the lid on stories that should be on the front page, or bombard communities with hateful stereotypes. FAIR didn’t invent media activism, but we have helped to develop and refine the techniques that […]

Feb 1 2006

Media Reform for What?

The success so far, the challenge ahead

Most people have heard the famous quote by press critic A.J. Liebling, “Freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one.” Recently I keep recalling another, less popular quote in which Liebling referred to the press as the “weak slat under the bed of democracy.” He continued: It is an anomaly that information, the one thing most necessary to our survival as choosers of our own way, should be a commodity subject to the same merchandising rules as chewing gum, while armament, a secondary instrument of liberty, is a government concern. A man is not free if he […]

Feb 1 2006

The Secret Origins of FAIR

How police spies and media moles helped launch a movement

In 1997, the Soviet Union detonated thermonuclear weapons in the sky over the United States, shutting down the Pentagon’s computer systems and leaving the nation vulnerable to invasion and occupation. The U.N., dominated by East Bloc Communists, became the U.S.’s de facto government, forcing schoolchildren to pledge allegiance to the U.N. flag. The year 1997 never fit this profile in reality, but it did in Amerika, the 12-episode miniseries broadcast by ABC in 1987. To this day, Jeff Cohen won’t reveal the identity of the person who sent him an advance script of Amerika. But that anonymous person made Cohen […]

Feb 1 2006

20 Stories That Made a Difference

For better or worse

FAIR was founded on the belief that journalism matters—that getting out the truth can improve the world, while news that distorts or denies reality can have terrible consequences. To illustrate this conviction, we’ve compiled a list of 20 news stories published since FAIR’s 1986 debut that had a major impact on society—for good or for ill. The list is not meant to be a comprehensive collection of the most momentous stories of the past 20 years, but rather to be illustrative of the power of media. Stories that should have led to serious changes, but were underplayed by corporate media, […]

Feb 1 2006

On the Shoulders of Giants

The unbroken tradition of press criticism

On the occasion of FAIR’s 20th anniversary, it is appropriate to recall some of the early press critics who helped blaze the trail that FAIR has so honorably followed. George Seldes Like FAIR, George Seldes was dogged in his quest for journalistic accuracy. Seldes had been a journalist for five years in 1914, when the first shots were fired across the trenches of the Western Front. After covering the Great War, which killed 8 million people, he would say (Freedom of the Press): I now realize that we were told nothing but buncombe, that we were shown nothing of the […]

Feb 1 2006

Consider the Source

The Nightline study and media research

I first became acquainted with FAIR in 1987, when a friend handed me a special issue of Extra! (10-11/87) that described the distortions in U.S. news coverage of Nicaragua, highlighting the success of the Reagan administration at manipulating the news media. At the time, I was a grad student in sociology at Boston College, and was working on a study of media strategies of the Central America solidarity movement and exploring broader questions about how news media reported U.S. foreign policy. With Cold War assumptions shaping both the political debate on Capitol Hill and mainstream news coverage of U.S. involvement […]

Feb 1 2006

The Language of Extra!

Reflections on fairness and accuracy

A major focus of my research is the way language can be used to oppress or empower, and I have applied this perspective to media discourse in my writing for Extra! magazine. This has given me an opportunity to reflect on what it means—for media critics as well as for those we scrutinize—to be precise, independent, reasonable and evenhanded. By examining the work of fellow writers for Extra! over the past 20 years and in learning from my own assignments, I have altered both my own approach to criticism and my definitions of key terms. My first project for Extra! […]

Feb 1 2006

A Cornerstone of the Media Reform Movement

FAIR at 20

I remember the first time I heard of FAIR as if it were yesterday. I was a graduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle, and Alexander Cockburn was giving a speech on campus. This was 1986, and Cockburn was in his full glory; his main beat at the time was media criticism, and nobody did it better. The auditorium was packed to capacity with nearly 1,000 people. Before taking the podium, Cockburn turned the microphone over to Jeff Cohen, who was traveling around the nation to discuss the new group he was forming called Fairness & Accuracy In […]