Apr
01
2006

'Capote' vs. Capote

History, Hollywood and the mainstream media

About a year ago, in anticipation of the 40th anniversary of the publication of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, his journalistic account of a murder and its aftermath that he called a “non-fiction novel,” I began to do some research on the book and its author. I read just about everything published on Capote’s life and work, talked to some of the participants in the saga of the Clutter family murder and even visited the Holcomb, Kansas area, the scene of the crime. Initially, I had no idea that not one but two motion pictures about In Cold Blood were […]

Apr
01
2006

A Record of Journalism in Crisis

Out of the Buzzsaw, into the Fire

BOOK REVIEW Feet to the Fire: The Media After 9/11 By Kristina Borjesson Prometheus Books, 2005 Kristina Borjesson lost her producing job at CBS News as a consequence of her unsuccessful struggle to air a report about the 1996 explosion of TWA Flight 800. Many people, including scores of eyewitnesses, still believe that a missile—possibly fired by mistake by our own military—brought the plane down. Borjesson might have been able to confirm their belief, but the FBI seized a piece of the wreckage she intended to have tested for explosives. CBS had been very interested in the story, but after […]

Apr
01
2006

George Gerbner, 1919-2005

From anti-fascist fighter to cultural environmentalist

George Gerbner was born in Budapest in 1919 and fled to the United States to escape fascism in 1939, but he never lost his Hungarian accent. What he said about U.S. media culture often sounded as foreign as the way he said it. Gerbner spent his life in an adopted country saturated with graphic depictions of violence, a culture where the apex of expression often seemed to be focused through the crosshairs of a weapon. But he did not like media violence. I sat next to him at a dinner party while attending a conference in Istanbul, and the topic […]

Apr
01
2006

Wrong on Iraq? Not Everyone

Four in the mainstream media who got it right

AP's Charles Hanley

When former UN chief weapons inspector David Kay told the Senate Armed Services Committee in January 2004, “We were all wrong,” he was admitting that officials had been wrong to claim Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The we-were-all-wrong trope entered the political lexicon as a mea culpa, but today the White House and its media defenders employ it as a defense of a war started over phantom weapons. We may have been wrong, they argue, but so were the Clinton administration, congressmembers of both parties and other Western intelligence agencies. As George W. Bush’s approval ratings languished last fall, […]

Apr
01
2006

Good News! The Rich Get Richer

Lack of applause for falling wages is media mystery

The Bush administration made a concerted effort to trumpet a “booming” U.S. economy in early December, widely understood as an attempt to reverse what polls indicate to be the public’s largely negative views on the matter. There are, of course, obvious reasons the majority of Americans dissent from the White House’s rosy presentation of the economy: Most American households are not, in fact, seeing their economic fortunes improve. GDP is up, but virtually all the growth has gone into corporate profits and the incomes of the highest economic brackets. Wages and incomes for average workers, adjusted for inflation, are down […]

Apr
01
2006

Fear & Favor 2005 -- The Sixth Annual Report

Outside (and inside) influence on the news

In 1896, New York Times publisher Adolph Ochs laid out standards by which journalism is still judged today, declaring that his paper would “give the news, all the news . . . impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect or interest involved.” Unfortunately, mainstream media often fail to live up to that goal; demands from advertisers, government, media owners and other powerful people frequently manage to blur or breach the wall between the editorial and business ends of the newsroom. In survey after survey, journalists report that they feel outside—or inside—pressures to avoid, slant or promote certain stories […]

Apr
01
2006

Now It's a Chemical Weapon, Now It's Not

White phosphorus and the siege of Fallujah

U.S. Air Force dropping white phosphorus on NLF guerrillas in Vietnam, 1966. (photo: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)

  Gearing up for an invasion of Iraq in 2002, U.S. media vividly evoked the cruel effects of unconventional weapons. Washington Post foreign affairs columnist Jim Hoagland referred repeatedly to Saddam Hussein’s imagined stockpiles of “horror weapons” and “weapons of horror,” and later to the “horrors” of Saddam’s past use of chemical weapons (7/11/02, 10/25/02, 9/24/03). Leading outlets had their correspondents produce feature stories on former Iranian soldiers and Kurds still suffering from Iraqi mustard gas and other agents used in the 1980s. “We came under heavy bombardment, but there was no shrapnel,” Newsweek (3/19/03) quoted an Iranian veteran. “Then […]

Apr
01
2006

'Our Media Refuse to Name This Reality'

Jonathan Kozol on resegregated education

COUNTERSPIN INTERVIEW Jonathan Kozol is the author of many books about education, among them Amazing Grace and Savage Inequalities. In his new book, The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, Kozol draws a grim picture of U.S. public schools, particularly those in poor urban neighborhoods. He graphically reports on the decaying infrastructure, the underspending and overcrowding, the lack of art and music teachers and librarians —many of the things that are taken for granted in better-off public schools. The theme that seems to connect these troubling factors is race. We began by asking Kozol if […]