Category Archives: Book Reviews

If the Internet is not the answer, what is?

Book: The Internet is Not the Answer

Author: Andrew Keen

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press, New York City

277 pages, $25

Communication scholars over the last decade have been unabashed in their claims of the Internet’s potential to transform society through its unique capacity to digitize, store and transmit mass amounts of information as well as its potential for the creation of user-generated content. And although both scholars and the public at large generally agree the Internet has been a good thing for the progression of the human race, Andrew Keen, an entrepreneur and columnist for CNN, vehemently disagrees.

In The Internet Is Not the Answer he argues that the Internet is creating a two-tier caste system, eroding middle-class jobs for the sake of profit. Or, as he writes in the preface, “Rather than promoting economic fairness, it is a central reason for the growing gulf between rich and poor and the hollowing out of the middle class. Rather than making us wealthier, the distributed capitalism of the new networked economy is making most of us poorer.”

While Keen’s argument is brazen, it nevertheless deserves consideration. After all, if the Internet is responsible for causing more societal harm than good, the public should stand up and take note. The keyword though is “if,” considering Keen has the daunting task of backing up his controversial stance with sound evidence and reasoning. Recognizing the scope of this challenge, Atlantic Monthly Press, the publisher, provided Keen with 277 pages to defend his position.

Keen’s writing style is frantic and the logic of the book follows suit. Relying on broad strokes to paint reality and combine distinct concepts, Keen covers an astonishing amount of ground including everything from Amazon’s and Google’s destructive tendencies on society to the demise of the music industry and Kodak. Keen’s fondness for brevity leaves little time for a thorough exploration between the ideas being presented and often forces him to rely too much on anecdotal evidence to support his claims. This can be problematic when discussing complex and abstract issues such as the economy.

The larger the claim being made by the author, logically it follows then, the greater the expectation by the audience for sound reasoning and evidence to support it. Unfortunately, this is where Keen ultimately fails, as he simply cannot meet the claim that the book’s title suggests. Keen’s penchant for brevity leaves too many factors completely unaccounted for in his frantic race to tie every economic problem to the Internet. Any fair and impartial assessment should also consider factors such as globalization, capital flight, tax havens, regional and international trade agreements, tariffs, and trade imbalances, as well as numerous financial considerations such as currency devaluation or U.S. foreign debt. Unfortunately, Keen does not address such factors.

While the book does not live up to its lofty goals of proving the Internet is responsible for most of society’s economic problems, it nevertheless should not be automatically dismissed. For example, Keen’s account of Amazon’s business practices is thought-provoking and should cause readers to question their loyalty to the company. In that regard, readers more interested in gaining an overall better picture of how many of today’s top Internet companies operate will likely enjoy this book. Those more interested in its economic considerations should take a pass. In the end, The Internet Is Not the Answer demonstrates that while Keen is a talented writer and is asking many of the right questions, he is not an economist, nor does he have the necessary answers.

Wartime photojournalist — the professional side

It’s What I Do, a Photographer’s Life of Love and War

Author: Lynsey Addario

Publisher: Penguin Press, New York, 2015

Hardcover: 368 pages, $29.95

Photographing war is nothing new. People with cameras have gone into zones filled with death and violence for years, bringing back imagery to tell the story of the horrors of war. What are often lacking are the stories of those people who go down to shoot with cameras. Stories of these brave men and women get buried under the imagery they capture on their harrowing journeys. But they, too, face the same dangers as do soldiers fighting in those battles.

Lynsey Addario is a war photographer who has documented most of the wars of the 21st century and details those adventures in this memoir. Her travels have taken her all over the Middle East and Africa, including multiple trips to Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur, the Congo and Haiti. This book is more of a diary of those adventures as opposed to the stories of those she is photographing. But she also writes about life away from the action and how she deals with herself, privately and professionally, as she dedicates her life to her work.

The book starts out very intensely with her description of her own kidnapping and that of three of her male colleagues in Libya in 2011. She talks about how the situation unfolded with her and her colleagues going against the advice of Mohammed, their driver, who was killed at the checkpoint where they were captured. Mohammed tried to warn them numerous times during the event of the dangers, and his growing concern went largely ignored by the rest of the crew and that ultimately lead to them being captured at the checkpoint. During those few days while they were held captive, she described the beatings, threats and molestation by her captors. The intensity of this experience immediately stirs emotions and highlights the dangers of her work.

From there, the book goes into more of the journaling of her career starting from being a kid with her first camera all the way to the present. She shares experiences of covering the women of the Taliban in 2000 where she worked undercover. After the terrorists’ attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001, she began to freelance for the New York Times, eventually culminating in the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting.

The capture saga in the first chapter is the peak of an intense emotional pull as the rest of the book documents her life and career. Thus, the post-first-chapter is where things become more relatable, as now you’re getting a look into something more real to the average reader.

One of the notable struggles she faced was risking her life to gather images, only to have editors choose not to run them. The decisions were often left in the hands of those behind the scenes who did not appreciate the story behind the story. Addario often dismisses their reasoning of simply wanting to keep harsh imagery from the eyes of the public they deemed unable to handle the raw, and sometimes graphic power of her images.

While most of the story is about her war coverage, it is easy for professional photographers to relate to the struggles of balancing professional and privates lives. This is where her story relates to any number of people in the field, regardless of their particular subjects. The time away from loved ones, the dangers associated within the work environment and even bringing that work back home interfere so much with her life.

Addario talks about balancing the photography of war with her current life as a married mother with one child. She married in 2009 and had a baby boy a couple years later. The struggles associated with such a balance are easy to find in society these days as careers have taken the front seat over families.

The book closes by returning to the capture, talking about Mohammad and his decision to be the driver for the crew and bringing up a very big question. Was it worth his life? Mohammad’s desire and passion to pursue the story cost him his life. But that question brought up not only in Mohammad’s death, but also in Addario’s life as a wartime photographer.

Living vicariously through Addario in this book stirs many emotions. Both the struggles and triumphs of her work make for incredible stories of overcoming adversity. “It’s What I Do” shows how passion and commitment can be the foundation for going after what you want from life. After reading through the pages of her memoir, the reader gains an immense respect for the stories not seen in the imagery.

GJR book review: Language evolution slays once-sacred cows in AP Stylebook

The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law                                                                                      

Editors: Darrell Christian, Paula Froke, Sally Jacobsen and David Minthorn                                                          

Publisher: The Associated Press, New York, 2014                                                                                                 

Paperback: $20.95, 514 pages

Broadcast and print journalists who buy new Associated Press Stylebooks every year to keep up with ever-changing grammar rules in their chosen profession probably have grumbled at one time or another about unlearning what once seemed carved into stone.

But for the 2014 spiral-bound edition, published in late spring, the AP editors handed down style decisions that turned otherwise normal grumbling into full-throated outrage.

Consider the following five new rules:

  • For longtime AP Stylebook owners, a decision announced March 20 to eliminate the distinction between “over” and “more than” in stories was not unlike waving a red flag at a charging bull – and the news was received just about as warmly. Before that news broke, “over” had been relegated to spatial relationships (“The plane flew over the city,” for example), while “more than” was used to denote amounts of things.
  • Almost as angst-ridden was the reaction to the April 8 decision that “underway” is now one word in all uses. Previous stylebooks had told us that it was “two words in virtually all uses.” The 1987 version of the AP Stylebook went so far as to say that it is “one word only when used as an adjective before a noun in a nautical sense: an underway flotilla [italics in original].
  • Remember the practice of abbreviating state names in stories? That rule has been cast aside in this year’s stylebook, too. The AP wire noted on April 23, that “effective May 1, the AP will spell out state names in the body of stories,” while “datelines will continue to use abbreviations.” The reason given was thus: “The change is being made to be consistent in our style for domestic and international stories. International stories have long spelled out state names in the body of stories.”
  • On April 2, the Associated Press changed the “illegal immigrant” entry. In a blog post that same day, Paul Colford, the AP’s director of media relations, detailed how the AP stylebook “no longer sanctions the term ‘illegal immigrant’ or the use of ‘illegal’ to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that ‘illegal’ should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.” Colford’s source for his information was Kathleen Carroll, AP senior vice president and executive editor. Carroll, he said, added that “also, we had in other areas been ridding the stylebook of labels. The new section on mental health issues argues for using credibly sourced diagnoses instead of labels. Saying someone was ‘diagnosed with schizophrenia’ instead of schizophrenic, for example. And that discussion about labeling people, instead of behavior, led us back to ‘illegal immigrant’ again. We concluded that, to be consistent, we needed to change our guidance. So we have.”
  • On April 17, Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon took note of the new AP approach to the word “hopefully,” writing this: “Hopefully, copy editors will find another spike on which to impale sentences. Says an update to the AP Stylebook: ‘The traditional meaning is in a hopeful manner. Also acceptable is the modern usage: it’s hoped, we hope [italics in original]. Correct: “You’re leaving soon?” she asked hopefully [italics in original]. The old rule: ‘It means in a hopeful manner. Do not use it to mean it is hoped, let us hope or we hope.’ ”

One of the co-editors of the AP Stylebook is David Minthorn, who also serves as AP’s deputy standards editor. In a 2010 interview with the American Copy Editors Society, he had this to say about the ever-changing nature of the reference work, which he and fellow co-editors Darrell Christian and Sally Jacobsen update yearly: “There has to be an evolution in the language or a clear need for adding or amending terms.”

Anyone who has owned different AP Stylebook versions over the past decade or so has witnessed this evolution. The term “email,” for example, originally had a hyphen after the “e” when that term took root in the early days of the World Wide Web. (In fact, the 2000 edition was the first time the Associated Press included a dedicated Internet style guide in its stylebook.)

But even with all those previous changes in mind, it should be noted that over one journalist has uttered this line about the new 2014 stylebook rules: “More than my dead body!” As the transition to all these new rules gets underway, GJR subscribers can hopefully remember that these are not illegal changes. In fact, according to the AP editors, these sentences are (almost) entirely correct.

At least for now.

John Jarvis is a former managing editor of Gateway Journalism Review. The 27-year print journalist is a publications editor for Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s University Communications group.

GJR book review: Red Smith: ‘Tomorrow will be better’

American Pastimes:
The Very Best of Red Smith
Authors: Terence Smith, Walkter Wellesley “Red” Smith and Daniel Okrent
Publisher: The Library of America, New York
iBook: $14.99, 576 pages

Collections of old newspaper columns often are painful to read. With time, context and currency have faded, and observations that once seemed fresh or witty now seem trite and stale.

One happy exception, however, is “American Pastimes,” the recently released compilation of work by sports columnist Red Smith, spanning his work for the St. Louis Star covering Dizzy Dean to 1934 to his final column for the New York Times, written just days before he died in January 1982. More than three decades after that last column, any paper, any magazine, any website would be thrilled to publish work that sparkles and moves like this.

I became a reader of news in the 1970s. I would read sections of the Times as my father discarded them. Fortunately for me, he didn’t share my interest in sports, so that was what I often got first. My day, therefore, often began with Red Smith (and got steadily more dreary from there). As editor Daniel Okrent says in his excellent introduction, “Smith was tall enough to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the finest prose artists in 20th century American literature.” His subject was ultimately unimportant and his touch often was light, but what he crafted on deadline was memorable and powerful.

Okrent has organized the book both chronologically and by subject matter. Smith adored baseball, boxing and fishing in particular, so long stretches of columns are sorted into sections on those topics. Other columns are divided into sections by decade, and they show his versatility. Smith moved from the Philadelphia Record to the New York Herald Tribune in 1945. In those dark days before ESPN made sports (and talking about sports, and talking about talking about sports) all too available, the Herald Tribune was one of the loudest megaphones a writer could have. The top New York papers had influence as far as the Mississippi River – and when none of the major sports leagues had teams on the West Coast, that megaphone essentially covered the entire sporting world. Or so New York editors must have thought, anyway.

Smith had no portfolio. He covered no single sport and often made a point of looking at the periphery of the scene – that place where many good reporters find telling details. “An intense focus on the sideshow to the main event was essential to Smith’s craft,” Okrent notes. “Not the roaring cars hurtling around the Indianapolis Speedway, but the faces and clothing and refreshment choices of the crowd in the infield.” He displayed the beauty of finding your own story and telling it in your own voice.

He didn’t love all sports. Despite his fascination with boxing, that most violent of all sports, he looked down on motor racing. He wrote disdainfully of “the sports car faith, a booming religion whose ritual includes human sacrifice,” as if that was never part of boxing’s attraction.

Many of Smith’s columns about fishing are as much languid travelogues as they are about fishing. He takes us fly-fishing in Beaverkill, near Roscoe, N.Y., and bass fishing all over the East Coast. These columns usually featured some dopey men facing off against dim-witted fish, and the victor was usually beside the point. In Martha’s Vineyard, for example, Smith tells us, “A guy would make a few fruitless casts, then thrust the butt of his rod into the sand and go light up a cigarette and tell some lies.” The point was just to be there.

He was at his genius best when he married commentary to observation, as when he described the mayor of New York throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Ebbets Field: “Then he threw the ball, a weak little blooper that plopped almost unnoticed on the turf. By this time the band was parading to the flagpole, flanked by enough military to occupy Formosa.” He later quoted Dodgers manager Billy Herman arguing with the umpire: “You are a short word of Anglo-Saxon origin.” This is how to delete an expletive.

Later, when the Mets (“those golden-hearted clowns of all creation”) became amazing in 1969, he captured the baseless optimism colored by cruel history that is true even now. He wrote about a true believer who “had been watching the Mets ever since they introduced the pratfall to baseball back in 1962.” Which makes his last line of the last game so delicious, after pitcher Jerry Koosman completed the win. “When it ended, Koosman was wearing his catcher like prayer beads.”

He also knew the beauty of specificity. Writing about the first epic battle between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, in 1971, Smith wrote that “it was as though Joe Frazier had hit him with a baseball bat, Frank Howard model.” Not just a bat, but an awfully big one. It was a reference guaranteed to get a knowing smile from readers. So was the line from the rematch in Manila, that an Ali shot “sent Frazier reeling back on a stranger’s legs.”

Smith often compared writing to being bled to death. He took to heart Nathaniel Hawthorne’s view that “easy reading is damn hard writing.” But in that very last column in 1982, he explained why he kept at it. “One of the beauties of this job is that there’s always tomorrow. Tomorrow things will be better.” It’s the journalist’s credo.

Andrew Smith is a reporter for Newsday. He is also a New York Mets fan, still.

GJR book review: Is he what Ailes the media? Writer peels curtain back on Fox News chairman

Roger Ailes: Off Camera
Author: Zev Chafets
Publisher: Penguin Books
Hardcover: $26.95, 258 pages

Roger Ailes, chairman of Fox News, is a man the media industry has learned to take seriously, even fear. Though much less well-known to the public than his boss, Rupert Murdoch, his considerable talent and work ethic is responsible for building Fox into the undisputed leader of cable television, leading the cable ratings wars the past 12 years over rivals CNN and MSNBC.

Zev Chafets’ “Roger Ailes: Off Camera” is the story of more than just Ailes’ command of Fox News and its on air-personalities, all of whom Ailes hired since setting up the network with Murdoch’s blessing (and money) 17 years ago. It’s also the tale of a tough small-town boy from Warren, Ohio, a declining factory town in northeastern Ohio. In fact, it is the first third of the book that I found the most compelling, because it explains why Ailes, astute as well as profane, became who he is. Chafets, who had unlimited access to the Fox chairman and others at the network, tells how Ailes got into many fights as a boy (something his working-class father encouraged) despite the fact he has hemophilia, a blood disorder that made bruises not just painful but also potentially fatal.

Chafets also relates how Ailes was devastated upon returning home at Christmas during his freshman year at Ohio University to find his home sold and his belongings discarded. “My mother was what you could call self-absorbed,” Ailes told Chafets in explaining his mother’s decision to leave his father and go West with another man. “She did what suited her.” Still, he remained close to his mother and stepfather, as well as to his natural father, the rest of their lives. Family and small-town values of hard work are paramount in Ailes’ world.

It’s also tale of a man who took advantage of every break he got, from producing the Mike Douglas show for KYW-TV in Cleveland and Philadelphia, where he made key contacts in the entertainment industry, to being a political adviser to Republican presidential campaigns. Ailes has never shied away from political conservatism (he and conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh have a long-time professional relationship), yet he also counts liberals such as the Kennedy family and Barbara Walters as among his closest friends. Over the years, Chafets explains, Ailes would combine his political and corporate consulting with television production. He served key political consulting roles for presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Ailes is credited with counseling Reagan, who had looked old and confused in his first debate In the 1984 presidential campaign with Democrat Walter Mondale, to jab back in the second debate. Ailes candidly told the president the country was wondering whether he was past his prime. The result: Reagan came up with the quip, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Reagan won reelection in a landslide.

Chafets also shows what many liberals see as Ailes’ evil genius. In 1988, Chafets says Ailes was “the spine stiffener for the sometimes indecisive Bush,” directing a brilliant ad campaign that painted liberal Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, Bush’s Democratic opponent, as soft on crime for furloughing a convicted murderer, Willie Horton. In the early 1990s, as Ailes transitioned out of politics into being a broadcast executive, liberals looked at him warily and have fought back against his tight rein at Fox News, which he took over after a short stint at CNBC.

Most readers, especially Fox News viewers, will find stories behind Ailes’ hiring and relationships with such Fox stars as Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Megyn Kelly the most compelling part of the book. For example, readers learn how O’Reilly and Hannity, Fox’s biggest stars, don’t speak to one another, although their offices are on the same floor. Chafets also relates a story of the importance Ailes places upon loyalty in explaining his firing of financial analyst Jim Cramer, now with CNBC, for discussing another job opportunity with a Fox rival and being caught publicly criticizing Ailes.

The book is a quick read and is filled with plenty of admiring anecdotes from those who have worked with, or known, Ailes. Those anecdotes, many filled with stories of Ailes’ kindness and dedication, strike me as being the book’s weakest portions, for I suspect many are telling these stories out of a desire to curry favor with the powerful Fox chairman.

Ailes, rotund and balding at age 73, is under no illusion that the reviews will stay positive after he’s dead. He has no intention of retiring, but he says he knows he has at most another decade to live. He plans to write his memoirs and spend as much time as he can with his only child, a son, Zac, who is just entering his teen years. “Right now, everybody thinks I’m the greatest guy in the world,” Ailes says. “The eulogies will be great, but people will be stepping over my body before it gets cold.” The legacy – the founding of a network from scratch devoted to the conservative 50 percent of Americans, and its commercial success under his leadership – will almost certainly remain

GJR book review: ‘Cronkite’s War’ — and that’s the way it is

Cronkite’s War, His World War II Letters Home
Author: Walter Cronkite IV & Maurice Isserman
Publisher: National Geographic, 2013
Hardcover: $28, 473 pages

That famed broadcaster Walter Cronkite was regarded as “the most trusted man in America” probably says as much about the America of his time as it does about Cronkite.

Journalists today have fallen far from the grace he enjoyed. According to a recent Gallup poll, journalists rank just below bankers and a couple notches above lawyers in terms of perceived ethical standards. Recent disclosures of government’s ready access to today’s media technology giants will likely further erode the public’s trust of media independence and rectitude.

Yet the more you know about Cronkite – and “Cronkite’s War, His World War II Letters Home” by Walter Cronkite IV and Maurice Isserman adds significantly to that knowledge – the more you are inclined to see him as something special.

Cronkite is etched deep in American public consciousness. He was at the vanguard of television journalists who sat down for dinner each evening with the American family. He wore the face of a nation’s pain as he fiddled with his dark-framed glasses and fought back tears while announcing the death of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. On the flip side, there was common wisdom and reassurance with his nightly signature signoff: “And that’s the way it is.”

“Cronkite’s War” reveals a man of normal intellect, reasonable ambition and genuine goodness behind that highly visible public persona. Perhaps most striking these days is to discover a public persona that was not a façade.

Long before Cronkite commanded the television screen, he was writing newspaper copy and delivering news and sports on the radio. Born in 1916 in St. Joseph, Mo., he delivered newspapers in Houston, and he started (but never completed) college at the University of Texas at Austin. A series of local reporting jobs led him back to Kansas City, where he began courting Betsy Maxwell, also a journalist. Cronkite joined United Press news service, married Betsy and was accredited in New York as a war correspondent. Though not drafted because of his color blindness, Cronkite saw plenty of action following his posting to London, where he covered the Allied air war of 1943-45.

There were early signs of the competitive nature that ultimately would take Cronkite to the pinnacle of American broadcast journalism. Before his transfer to London, he was sent from New York on a ship convoy as part of the U.S. invasion of North Africa. On the return trip, eager to be the first to report on the invasion, Cronkite hopped aboard a floatplane launched from his ship to get stateside ahead of a competitor aboard another returning ship.

Cronkite’s forthright nature is evident in many of his letters home. He frequently complained about assignments, his workload, the living conditions in war-rationed London, and his loneliness – not only for his wife, but his beloved cocker spaniel Judy, too. While ambitious, Cronkite often bargained for more time off rather than higher pay as his success grew. Reflecting the same value system, his letters are full of yearnings for more family time.

Arriving in London in late 1942, Cronkite would begin 2½ years of separation from Betsy, who returned to Kansas City when Cronkite left New York. During that period, Cronkite wrote a steady stream of letters to Betsy, more than 100 of which are archived at the University of Texas at Austin and that form the grist for this book. To read the letters along a continuum is to get a sense of World War II that is less dramatic than a strictly historical account – but, in many ways, more revealing. Movies and books often reduce the war to its climactic turning points, its selective moments of high drama. The war is viewed here through the prism of an individual life, and a life not on the battlefield. It is a grinding affair, touching every aspect of life, something to be endured through perseverance and grit, all the while never knowing the ultimate outcome.

As one might expect, the letters’ recurring theme is the separation of Walter and his wife, only married three years before Cronkite’s move to London. As the months tick by, the separation is aggravated by never knowing when it would end. Cronkite endlessly floats fantasies about Betsy joining him in London, only to acknowledge the obvious reasons why it never fully makes sense.

By the end of 1944, Cronkite is full of self-recrimination, swimming in guilt that he has damaged his relationship with Betsy by writing too infrequently or adopting the wrong tone at times. His letters, in reality, are models of compassion and sensitivity. Nonetheless, the separation and difficulties of daily life, despite his steady career advancement, lead Cronkite to a rather dark assessment of the year past: “I guess it was a pretty successful one for me, but I didn’t have much fun living it.”

That low point aside, Cronkite personified resilience throughout these years. There were job perks, such as having cocktails with a soldier named Clark Gable. By and large, the letters reveal a chipper, upbeat and sociable Cronkite. His work gained growing attention as his bylined articles appeared in newspapers across the country. Edward R. Murrow featured him as a commentator on CBS Radio and offered him a job in Moscow, which Cronkite declined. Cronkite was part of a small group of journalists allowed to join a bombing run over Germany in 1943, a raid in which seven planes were shot down and Cronkite ended up firing a machine gun at enemy fighters.

Fellow war correspondent Andy Rooney once called Cronkite a “tough, competitive scrambler.”

The letters, stitched together with adequate connective tissue and historical context, offer a smooth and personal account that is consistent with Rooney’s assessment. Yet the Cronkite that emerges also is a kind of American “everyman,” his letters laced with corny Midwest humor, modesty and general optimism – the kind of traits that endeared him to a generation of television watchers, who through the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s turned regularly to “CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite” for information they could trust.

GJR book review: Media’s sharp words leave deep cuts in society

Race-Baiter: How the media wields dangerous words to divide a nation
Author: Eric Deggans
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2012
Hardcover: $28, 228 pages

When conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly called him “one of the biggest race-baiters in the country,” Eric Deggans turned the epithet into the title for his new book, “Race-Baiter: How the media wields dangerous words to divide a nation.”

Deggans, a TV and media critic for the Tampa Bay Times, also is a contributor to NPR, and the Huffington Post, and he has appeared on MSNBC’s “Countdown,” CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight,” PBS “News Hour,” and Fox New Channel’s “Fox and Friends” and “Hannity and Colmes.” His new book addresses the use of modern media’s powerful techniques to divide Americans by fueling fears, reinforcing prejudices and promoting hate while reaping huge profits and manipulating politicians.

Deggans writes that mass media no longer are a uniting force in America, as was the case when three television networks each sought wide and diverse audiences, effectively creating a shared cultural dialogue. Conservative cable news channels use a “success-by-segmentation” strategy that demonizes other news outlets and feeds on deep-rooted fears to maintain their fiercely loyal audiences – and, along with right-wing radio and conservative Internet sites, create an illusory sense of perspective for viewers. In fact, they are all recycling the same limited ideas and opinions.

Deggans writes that the popularity of cable TV news, radio talk shows and partisan online media further divide an already segmented population. But, he adds, the popularity of cable news is well substantiated. As an example, he cites MSNBC anchor Lawrence O’Donnell who, while speaking at a 2010 press reception, said the audience members have voted, and they want to watch political opinion shows rather than hard news.

According to a 2011 Pew Center report, Deggans writes, when asked what first comes to mind when they think of a news organization, 63 percent of Americans will name a cable news network, mostly CNN and Fox. Only a third will name a broadcast network.

Another factor driving the cable news boom is that it is easier and cheaper to fill the cable news stations with opinions rather than news.

The book, written and published before the 2012 presidential election, discusses how news events involving African-Americans and other minorities are covered by partisan media in a manner that reinforces the racial biases of their niche audiences. Each chapter was thoroughly and painstakingly researched, and Deggans strongly supports his positions with ample documentation.

One example is when MSNBC’s Al Sharpton galvanized the country with his coverage of the 2012 shooting death of unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin by a Hispanic neighborhood watchman who claims he acted in self-defense.

Deggans writes that the early work done by Sharpton and other journalists of color propelled the story to international attention. Divisive elements in the media subsequently dwelt on the fact Martin was wearing a “hoodie” and smoked marijuana – which, in the minds of some right-wing extremists, was enough justification for the shooter to act in self-defense.

He also writes about U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Shirley Sherrod, who was vilified by the media, condemned by the NAACP and forced to resign her appointed position by the Obama administration because excerpts of a speech she delivered at an NAACP convention were cherry-picked by Tea Party activist Andrew Breitbart in his quest to portray Sherrod as a bigot.

Other chapters cover Deggan’s insights about the propaganda techniques used by partisan media to gain and preserve viewership, how the media’s racialization of poverty fuels the conservative narrative that people are poor because they’re lazy and why the audience for hate radio, long dominated by angry ultra conservatives, is declining due to a changing demographic in America.

Deggans has written an easy-to-read book about a difficult topic. He writes that many Americans think the election of President Obama heralded a post-racial era – but, in fact, race issues are more complex than ever because of partisan media that seeks to divide, rather than unite, the public.

In his summary chapter, he describes today’s “media ecology,” in which people get their news from a host of websites, broadcast outlets and social media platforms, all outfitted with customized content suited to their own personal worldviews. There’s very little incentive for people to hear or read opinions that challenge their own beliefs.

Deggans concludes that increased media literacy is the pathway to a real national conversation about race, prejudice and sexism. In the final pages of the book, he discusses the accomplishments of Media Matters and other groups that ferret out and correct misinformation propagated by conservative media.

More of the author’s proposals for reversing polarization by expanding media awareness, such as a concerted effort to ensure media literacy programs are part of the curriculum in all public schools, would have been a welcome addition to this otherwise highly informative and entertaining book.

America faces an insidious threat: the hyperpolarization of citizens who elect officials unwilling to compromise for fear of losing their jobs. Educating citizens about the very points Deggans made in “Race-Baiter’ – how big media profit by peddling hate and fear and why this phenomenon is eroding democracy – should be a national priority.

GJR book review: Book traces ASNE’s efforts to advance newsroom diversity

Chasing Newsroom Diversity: From Jim Crow to Affirmative Action
Author: Gwyneth Mellinger
Publisher: Urbana: University of Illinois
Press, 2013
Hardcover: $25, 238 pages

Professor Gwyneth Mellinger has written a thoughtful, thorough account of the efforts of U.S. newspapers to achieve newsroom diversity through the work of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE). The book is published as part of the University of Illinois History of Communication series, edited by Robert McChesney and John Nerone. To demonstrate the extent to which prejudicial hiring practices were embedded in certain places, Mellinger begins her introduction to the book with a discussion of one response to President Harry Truman’s proposals to reform America with a mandate for fair employment practices, outlaw of the poll tax, integrating the military and making lynching a federal crime. The response by an outspoken segregationist, U.S. Sen. James O. Eastland of Mississippi, came in a speech to ASNE in the nation’s capital and emphasized a defense of Southern traditions, including a historical emphasis on an established racial hierarchy.

Perhaps more telling was the emphasis Eastland placed on the kinship that privileged whites enjoyed in newsrooms across the nation by way of identity-based norms, including conscious hiring decisions by news managers, with a concluding statement: “It is your civil right to associate with, employ and work with whomever you please. Liberty is dead in this country when you are deprived of that right.” (p. 1) He extended his argument further by pointing out that, if a racial percentage of representation were present in journalism hiring practices, 10 percent of the nation’s news positions would be manned by minorities. To a large extent, this speech and that percentage of representation served as a point of departure for ASNE’s efforts to achieve a professional norm by which it would come closer to democratizing newsroom hiring.

Mellinger, chair of the Department of Mass Media at Baker University, is an established journalism historian. She points out how the evolution in understanding about racial issues took place within a professional news context and how it paralleled society at large, in terms of congressional action and Supreme Court rulings about employer hiring practices concerning race, and later on gender and sexual orientation. The book addresses the intransigence of racism and discrimination in an organizational setting while the author presents many parallels in terms of American society at large. She shows how, in spite of improvements in voting rights, public accommodations and access to education, institutional progress would still be hampered – even with Civil Rights gains – as self-interest continued to trump fair play in preserving the status quo.

To her credit, the author does a complete job of reviewing the status of the ASNE in terms of the background of those who addressed the group over time, including every U.S. president since Herbert Hoover, and various influential thought leaders both in and out of the news business, such as Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates. She relates the stories of many talented individuals who were limited by their identity-based differences and also carefully lays out the progression of ASNE organizational leadership with each of their philosophical underpinnings in movement toward achieving change. Using archival evidence, the book also explores the limitations of that organization in achieving diversity initiatives, begun as a corollary to civil rights in the 1960s even with a series of highly motivated and enlightened leaders, including Eugene Patterson at the St. Petersburg Times, who often championed demographic parity initiatives, and Loren Ghiglione, later a Northwestern professor and journalism school dean who was also uncompromising in continuing to target a broad range of multicultural diversity efforts. The first female president, Katherine Fanning of the Christian Science Monitor, and John Seigenthaler who followed, of USA TODAY, also are credited for continuing to fight for newsroom integration. Each attempt to make progress in the direction of inclusion is acknowledged, and the author details appointments of the organization’s first minority affairs director, Carl Morris, and the first African-American president, William Hilliard of the Portland Oregonian.

The level of detail and number of telling anecdotes about what was taking place during different periods gives greater insight into the thought processes of those looking to ASNE for leadership. On occasion, reacting to some event or stereotypes as at the 2001 ASNE meeting; leaders were left to respond to a convention performance by the comedy troupe Capital Steps. The troupe offered a derogatory Chinese skit and a blackface impersonation of Diana Ross. As a result, Gilbert Bailon, now editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who would lead both a coalition of media organizations with multicultural concerns and ASNE, is quoted as saying: “I was sitting next to Rick Rodriguez, ironically, and we both thought, ‘Wow, this is really over the top.’ Now, nobody stood up and said … ‘Stop this thing,’ nothing that dramatic, but there were some of us, particularly some of the minority editors who thought, ‘I really can’t believe they went that far.’ ” (p. 161)

Mellinger provides a very useful and most informative case study of how one professional organization addressed some deeply embedded, institutionalized norms with social, political and cultural implications over an extended period of time – 50 years, with insight into the degree of difficulty it had in trying to dismantle them. The failure of ASNE to achieve its goal of matching newsroom demographic diversity with that of the general population is not a happy story, but it is instructive. It shows that goodwill and good intentions do not always win out – and, in that respect especially, this book’s title is very well chosen as it reflects the ongoing effort to play catch-up in an attempt to alter what was so firmly established.

The great irony of examining an organization of national news leadership representing an influential social organ and operating on behalf of fairness and free speech makes this story even more compelling.