Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Year in Media

Andy Barr -- an alum of this class -- joins other journalists to discuss the media year of 2010.

Jon Stewart as Edward R. Murrow

No joke. The New York Times reports:

Did the bill pledging federal funds for the health care of 9/11 responders become law in the waning hours of the 111th Congress only because a comedian took it up as a personal cause?

Mr. Stewart declined to comment on the passage of the bill.

And does that make that comedian, Jon Stewart — despite all his protestations that what he does has nothing to do with journalism — the modern-day equivalent of Edward R. Murrow?


There have been other instances when an advocate on a television show turned around public policy almost immediately by concerted focus on an issue — but not recently, and in much different circumstances.

“The two that come instantly to mind are Murrow and Cronkite,” said Robert J. Thompson, a professor of television at Syracuse University.

Edward R. Murrow turned public opinion against the excesses of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Mr. Thompson noted that Mr. Murrow had an even more direct effect when he reported on the case of Milo Radulovich, an Air Force lieutenant who was stripped of his commission after he was charged with associating with communists. Mr. Murrow’s broadcast resulted in Mr. Radulovich’s reinstatement.

Walter Cronkite’s editorial about the stalemate in the war in Vietnam after the Tet Offensive in 1968 convinced President Lyndon B. Johnson that he had lost public support and influenced his decision a month later to decline to run for re-election.

Note, however, that W. Joseph Campbell writes:

Embedded in the Times article were two prominent media-driven myths, both of which I address and debunk in my latest book, Getting It Wrong.

One was the notion that Murrow’s half-hour television report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy in 1954 turned public opinion against the senator and his communists-in-government witch-hunt. In fact, however, McCarthy’s favorable ratings had been falling for a few months before Murrow’s program, which aired March 9, 1954.

The other embedded myth was the allusion to the “Cronkite Moment” of February 1968. That was when Cronkite declared on-air that the U.S. military was “mired in stalemate” in Vietnam. Supposedly, Cronkite’s analysis was an epiphany for President Lyndon Johnson, who suddenly realized his war policy was a shambles.

But as I note in Getting It Wrong, Cronkite’s “mired in stalemate” assessment was scarcely novel or stunning at the time. And Johnson didn’t even see the Cronkite report when it aired. He was in Austin, Texas, attending a birthday party for a longtime political ally, Governor John Connally.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Importance of The Daily Show

If you are wondering why we are reading a book about fake news, consider this item from Politico:
Paging Jon Stewart: The White House needs your help.

Robert Gibbs, President Obama’s press secretary, told reporters on Tuesday that he hopes the Comedy Central host can persuade enough Republican senators to vote for a 9/11 health bill so it can head to the president’s desk.

“If there's the ability for that to sort of break through in our political environment, there's a good chance that he can help do that,” Gibbs said in his briefing. “I think he has put the awareness around this legislation. He's put that awareness into what you guys cover each day, and I think that's good. I hope he can convince two Republicans to support taking care of those that took care of so many on that awful day in our history.”

Stewart has dedicated lengthy segments on “The Daily Show” to the legislation that would help the first responders on Sept. 11.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


James Rainey writes at the Los Angeles Times:

When we last checked in on Patch.com, the fastest-growing news outfit in America was staffing up and making the most robust media foray into suburbia in years.

Patch this week opened its 600th hyper-local website, in the Atlanta neighborhood of Buckhead. The sites, which provide basic news coverage and ask readers to bolster reportage on their towns, have opened in 105 California communities, with more launching every day.

The remarkable thing about Patch, besides its explosive growth in recent weeks (it had 565 sites just one week ago), is how it's no longer luring just rookies but, more recently, a cadre of seasoned news veterans. Many of the journalists are returning to the sort of work they did when they started in journalism decades ago.