The News, It Is a-changin': bin Laden and the Mass Media


 

by Walter Brasch

 

It was a little before 9 a.m.

 I was chatting with two students.

 Another student came in, and asked if we had heard a plane had hit a building in New York City.

 We hadn't, but I assumed it was a light private plane, and the pilot had mechanical difficulty or problems with wind turbulence.  

 A minute or so later, another student came in. It was a passenger jet, she said.

 The first student had read the information in a text from a friend, who had received it from another friend, who may have heard it somewhere else. The second student had read it while surfing a news site on the Internet. In a few moments I became aware of how news dissemination had changed, and it was the youth who were going to lead the information revolution.

 A half-hour later, in an upper division journalism class, we were flipping between TV channels, and students were texting with friends on campus and in other states.

 By 12:30 p.m., the beginning time for my popular culture and the media class, every one of the 240 students heard about the murders and terrorism that would become known as 9/11. Most had not seen it on TV nor heard about it from radio. There was no way I was going to give that day's prepared lecture. The students needed to talk, to tell others what they heard, to listen to what others had heard. To cry; to express rage. And, most of all, they needed to hear the conflicting information, and learn the facts.

 For the first century of colonial America, news was transmitted at the pace of a fast horse and rider. But even then, most citizens read the news only when they wandered into a local coffee shop or tavern and saw the information posted on a wall. The first newspaper, Boston's Publick Occurrences, lasted but one issue, dying in 1690. The next newspaper, the Boston News-Letter, wasn't published until 14 years later. Fifteen years passed before there was another newspaper. By the Revolution, the major cities along the eastern seaboard had weekly newspapers, with news from England taking up to three months to reach the American shores and be printed. News from one colony to another might take a couple of weeks or more. All of it was subject to censorship by the colonial governors.

 By the Civil War, reporters in the field could transmit news by telegraph—assuming that competitors or the other side didn't cut the wires. Even the most efficient operation took at least a day to gather, write, transmit, and then print the news.

 Radio brought World Wars I and II closer to Americans. Photojournalists—with film, innumerable developing chemicals, and restricted by the speed of couriers, the mail service, and publication delays—gave Americans both photos and newsreel images of war.

 Television gave us better access to learning about wars in Korea and Vietnam.

 And then came the Persian Gulf War, and the full use of satellite communication. Although CNN, the first 24-hour news operation, was the only network to record the destruction of the Challenger in January 1986, it was still seen as a minor network, with audiences of thousands not millions. The Persian Gulf War changed that, along with the nature of the news industry. CNN built an audience during Operation Desert Shield, from late Summer 1990 to Jan. 16, 1991. On that evening, the beginning of Desert Storm, CNN was the only American-based news operation in Iraq. From the al-Rashid Hotel, its three correspondents and their teams transmitted news and video as the U.S. sent missiles into Baghdad.

 Two decades later, individual media have almost replaced mass media as sources for first information. Twitter, Facebook, Linked-in, and innumerable ways to text message now link individuals and groups. Individuals can also transmit photos and video from cell phones to You Tube and dozens of other hosts, making everyone with a cell phone a temporary reporter or photojournalist. It also leads to extensive problems in discerning the facts from rumors and propaganda. The media—individual and mass—have united a world's people.

 In Iran, Tunisia, and Egypt, it was Facebook and Twitter, not state-run mass media, that gave the people communication to launch their protests that would lead to the fall of two authoritarian governments.

 On May 1, in a nine-minute television address beginning at 11:35 p.m., EST, President Obama t old the world that Navy SEALs had successfully completed their mission to kill Osama bin Laden. Those not at their radio or TV sets learned about it from messages and video on their cell phones or computers.

 It is still be the responsibility of the mass media--of radio, television, newspapers, and magazines--to give in-depth coverage and analysis of the events. But, for millions worldwide, it is no longer the mass media that establishes the first alerts.

 

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist, the author of 17 books, and a retired university journalism professor. His latest book is Before the First Snow.]

 

 

The 4 million women you can thank for your last meal

From the Restore Fairness blog-

They’re the backbone of our food supply. Their hands sliced the chicken breast we had for lunch. Their sweat brought the fresh tomato to our plates. Their backs bent to pick the lettuce in our salads. They are America’s undocumented workers.

Every day, on farms and factories across America, millions of women work to produce billions of dollars worth of fruit and vegetables that fill our stores and kitchens and nourish our children. At least 6 out of every 10 farm workers in this country are undocumented, and almost all of them live on the fringes of society, earning below minimum wage and facing humiliation, exploitation and sexual assault from their employers on a regular basis.

According to a new report, ‘Injustice on Our Plates,’ published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the 4.1 million undocumented women living and working in the U.S. are among the lowest paid and most vulnerable members of our society. These women form the backbone of the agricultural system in this country, looking after their families, often working weeks without getting paid, working in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, with little or no recourse to any protection against the indignities they suffer at the workplace. They live in constant fear of being discovered and sent back to their home countries, with the looming threat of being separated from their children, many of whom are American born. It is grossly unfair that while contributing as much as $1.5 billion a year to the Medicare system and $7 billion a year to the Social Security system, undocumented immigrants will never be able to collect benefits upon retirement.

The report was compiled by SPLC researchers who conducted extensive interviews with 150 women from Mexico, Guatemala and other Latin-American countries who are or have been undocumented, and are working in the food industry, picking tomatoes, apples, green beans, lettuce, etc. in places like Arkansas, California, Florida, Iowa, New York and North Carolina. From a CNN article about the report-

Regardless of what sector of the food industry these women worked in, they all reported feeling like they were seen by their employers as disposable workers with no lasting value, to be squeezed of every last drop of sweat and labor before being cast aside.

Interviewed for the report, a woman called Maria reported being paid as little as 45 cents for each 32-pound bucket that she filled with tomatoes, and said that one employer did not allow his workers to go to the bathroom during their work-shifts. Olivia, a 46-year old meatpacker who came to the U.S. from Mexico to run away from her abusive husband and build a better life for herself, told the SPLC the horrific story of how she was raped by one of her supervisors after working a 12-hour shift. When she tried to report the incident to the senior management, her complaints were met with the retort, “What is so bad about that? He left you in one piece, didn’t he?” Despite extreme medical injuries and severe emotional trauma from the attack, Olivia was too scared to report the rape to the police out of fear that her immigrant status would be found out and she would be deported. Like countless women in similar circumstances, she was bound by the desperate need to work in order to look after her daughter and her parents who depended on her, and she had no option but to continue working for the man that beat her unconscious and raped her. The new report tells us that Olivia’s story is not the anomaly, but the norm-

Undocumented immigrant women are, in most cases, virtually powerless to protect themselves against such attacks…Some feel too much shame to report harassment or sexual violence, leaving them extremely vulnerable to exploitation by male co-workers or supervisors…Their abusers use their lack of legal status against them, knowing they are not likely to report sexual harassment or even violent attacks. Because of the many obstacles arrayed against them — fear, poverty, shame, lack of access to legal resources, language barriers, immigration status and cultural pressures — few immigrant women ever come forward to speak out against the wrongs committed against them. Too often, they are forced to compromise their dignity — to endure sexual harassment and exploitation — to obtain a better life and a measure of economic security for themselves and their families.

These women are economic refugees, running away from lives beneath the poverty line, hunger and desperation in their home countries, with the hope of working hard to provide their children with basic amenities like education, health and stability. The fact that such injustice and degradation is suffered by tens of thousands of hard-working women in this country on a regular basis is horrific and shameful on a number of levels. These women, responsible for putting food on our tables, are part of a systemic malady that is only getting worse. This is indicative of the sad irony of a world where high-level trade and capital move across borders with uncanny speed and ease, lining the pockets of nations and people in power, while the hands that build these “globalized” empires are forced to remain circumscribed within their lot, regardless of how unfair a lot it might be.

Deporting all 10.8 million undocumented immigrants would cost the economy over $2.6 trillion over the next ten years, not to mention the huge human rights violations that would occur as a result. Moreover, legalizing undocumented workers would raise the U.S. gross domestic product by $1.5 trillion over a decade. The report stresses the importance of immigration reform that would address these injustices in a way that is comprehensive, while respecting fundamental American values of dignity and justice.

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

 

 

 

Are you voting tomorrow?

From the Restore Fairness blog-

Tomorrow is voting day, so make sure you get out there and vote. Here are some things that might motivate you to make your vote count and have your voice heard in the 2010 elections-

Our friends at Colorlines have been running a blog section on their website called ’2010 Elections’ that keeps you up to date with all news, events, and information pertaining to the mid-term elections. Their latest entry features Senator Harry Reid’s interview with Univision in which he promised Univision reporter Jorge Ramos that he would bring the DREAM Act up for a vote again, regardless of whether he won or lost tomorrow’s election. Reid’s opponent is a Tea Party supporter Sharron Angle, who’s election campaign centered around a series of racist, anti-immigrant ads. Another article on ’2010 Elections’ illustrates the hypocrisy of Republican strategist Robert de Posada, the man who created the ad that advised the Latino community not to vote in this election. Colorlines tells us that after creating this ad that told Latinos not to vote, it turns out that he himself voted by absentee ballot in Virginia earlier this month. The ad says-

Democratic leaders must pay for their broken promises and betrayals…If we go on supporting them this November, they will keep playing games with our future and keep taking our vote for granted…If they didn’t keep their promise on immigration reform then, they can’t count on our vote…Don’t vote this November. This is the only way to send them a clear message. You can no longer take us for granted. Don’t vote.

It is exactly this sort of voter suppression that we need to fight by voting tomorrow. Our friends at Presente.org told us about this and other voter suppression tactics that have been seen impacting the Latino community and their allies around the country. In Texas, a voter registration group called Houston Votes has been the victim of a systematic suppression campaign, including baseless allegations of fraud by the local registrar, and a string of threatening emails strewn with racist insults. The result: registrations have dropped from 1,000 per day to under 200. In Arizona, Senator Russel Pearce — the same man who authored SB 1070 — is accusing organizations like Mi Familia Vota of “voter fraud” in a thinly veiled effort to hamper their registration activities and scare Latino voters from the polls.

A number of radicals are resorting to fear-mongering and scare tactics to ensure that certain communities are denied a voice in this election. In addition to voting tomorrow, get involved with an important project called Video the Vote, a national network of everyday people on who watch out for problems on Election Day. The project helps people report things they see when voting and also document incidents that occur in their area. Started in 2006, Video the Vote volunteers have helped raise national awareness of voting problems by recording over 1,000 videos that have been broadcast on networks like CBS, CNN, and ABC and viewed over 1 million times online.

It’s essential that voter suppression problems get reported right away and that their full story is told by the media on Election Day. Video the Vote urgently needs more volunteers, so if you want to help protect the right to vote, join today and tell your friends about the program as well.

And one last thing. Did you know that thousands of people didn’t cast in 2008 because they didn’t know where to vote? Luckily, for the first time in American history, every voter can now look up their polling place. All you have to do is enter your address to find out which polling station is yours. And make sure to share this handy tool with your friends through Facebook and Twitter.

Happy voting!

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

 

 

 

How Many J-Words Can Dance on the Tip of a Tongue?

CNN’s Rick Sanchez decided to go toe-to-toe with faux newser Jon Stewart and suffered the same fate as the last CNNer to do so – Tucker Carlson. However in the aftermath, we have a sort of “how many J-Words can dance on the tip of the tongue” argument brewing.

Stewart had been doing to Sanchez what he’s done to so many others for weeks – made fun of him. It’s the penalty one pays when one is famous and says dumb things. It’s all too easy for Stewart’s crack staff to find double-speak video and other public statements to hold crapweasels up to ridicule. I think Stewart’s brand of ridicule, despite its definite bite, is far less passionate than Keith Olbermann‘s skewers of the famous and inane. One gets the sense that Jon knows it’s a joke while Olbermann actually believes his targets are the Worst Persons in the World.

But then, I ain’t famous so what do I know?

Punking Yourself
If you live under the glare of studio lights and talk for a living – incessantly – you’ll punk yourself occasionally. It happens. And when it does, you have to either have a great sense of humor or develop tough skin, because the dumber you are, the more you’ll be held up to ridicule. Exhibits A-D, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Christine O’Donnell, and Sharron Angle, et al.

Sanchez’s skin is apparently as thin as John McTheusela’s, as is the skin of Sanchez’s CNN overlords. Sanchez let the J-Bombs fly, CNN fired him, he apologized to Stewart soon after and Jon and Rick rode into the sunset, at least if not BFFs, OK with things. And, Christopher Hitchens takes up Sanchez’s cause.

Hitchens? Really? Famous crusading atheist? Has cancer?

One in the same.

Hitchens argues that Sanchez’s anti-Jewish statements are literally true. Despite the anti-semitic overtones, he says Jews (along with white Christians) actually are disproportionately represented in media and entertainment boardrooms. To Hitchens, Sanchez simply stated a fact no more problematic than saying African Americans are under-represented. And as boneheaded as Hitchens often is, he has a point. But, it was never about THAT point and it isn’t a necessarily a socially polite thing to say.

It all boils down to a “who can safely say the N-word, or in this case, the J-word”. Sure, Sanchez was unbelievably stupid, but if we’re going to fire every TV personality who’s stupid, TV would consist of lots of HD snow and annoying test pattern buzz.

But, you could make an argument that would be an improvement.

Not a White Supremacist Candidate
I personally find Sanchez annoying and I suspect his assumed anti-semitism may be real to some degree, although, barring any information to the contrary,  I’m not so sure he’d be a good candidate for your neighborly white supremacist enclave.

I don’t condone what he said. In fact, I don’t think it is as literally true as Hitchens does either. But, I’m not sure if it’s a firing offense when put in context.

Sanchez did the right thing in calling Stewart to apologize – though he wimped out by letting his wife announce it to the public on Facebook. Everyone might have been better served if the apology was both personal and public. A true mea culpa with some teeth – perhaps a show or series of shows devoted to anti-semitism coupled with some work with Jewish charities and up close and personal exposure to Jewish people. The Jewish religion believes in atonement, a earthly one to be sure, but atonement nonetheless.

If Sanchez refused to do these things, if his superiors had to co-opt him to do them – in a very public way – they, and those calling for his resignation, would have every right to say, “don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.” Or, if he did it again, ala Mel Gibson, away with him. No one has to cut the man some slack and some believe no one should.

But we might all learn a little about ourselves and each other if we did.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

 

 

MSNBC or CNN should launch a show about science policy

Inspired by a radio interview I heard earlier today, I ran a quick Google search and found this 2008 nugget from Wired magazine:

The Project for Excellence in Journalism just released The State of the News Media 2008, its annual analysis of cable television news. The mediascape proved barren: On average, five hours of viewing would yield 71 minutes of politics, 26 minutes of crime, 12 minutes of disasters and 10 minutes of celebrities. Science, technology, health and the environment received just six minutes of coverage (with health and health care accounting for half of that.)

Think about that: for every five hours of cable news one watched in 2007, viewers say just three minutes of science, technology, and the environment, three things that underlie literally every single aspect of our lives. And what this report doesn't point out is that much of what we do hear about science comes from non-science reporters - why should I trust a reporter whose field of expertise is the national political process or the local school board to suddenly grasp the details of peer-reviewed data?

It seems that every time an MSNBC substitute host gains a slight following, they get their own show. Rachel Maddow, David Shuster, Dylan Ratigan, and now Lawrence O’Donnell. The next time MSNBC has a whole in its lineup, instead of turning to a personality, it should turn to a subject. Or maybe CNN could replace Larry King with an actual news show, not another celebrity-fest.

I’m not very good at science. Both my parents are geologists, and yet my lowest grade in college was in rocks for jocks. But I do know the scientific method when I see it, and I do understand the importance of science in my daily life. Just this week I’ve seen local news stories about toxic chemicals used in retail receipts and a debate over putting fluoride in municipal water. From the air we breathe to the way our children’s food is processed, there’s no escaping science. So before debating science policy, responsible journalists should make sure their viewers actually understand the science rather than the political talking points. Let’s move the science from destination websites only insiders visit to a venue people are already watching anyway – like cable news.

The new show should come from scientists and science journalists who reach conclusions after making their observations, not pundits who observe only what will affirm their existing beliefs. The host should refuse to ever interview politicians unless they a) are scientists themselves (there are four Congressmen with PhDs in physics or chemistry); b) are on for less than five minutes for the sole purpose of describing the contents of a bill they’ve introduced; or c) are being held accountable for attacking science, like when the Bush administration censored NASA and the EPA over climate change.

The whole point of such a show would be to communicate with voters and lay persons, so it shouldn’t be too wonky. 

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