Capsule reviews of new books on media, culture, and democracy. Send review copies to Reclaim the Media, PO Box 22754, Seattle WA 98122, and support your local independent bookstores! Currently under review:

  • The Death and Life of American Journalism by Robert McChesney and John Nichols
  • Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics through Networked Progressive Media by Jessica Clark and Tracy van Slyke
  • Digital Inclusion: Measuring the Impact of Information and Community Technologyed. by Michael Crandall and Karen E. Fisher
  • The Battle of the Story of the "Battle of Seattle" ed. by David Solnit
  • Ethereal Shadows: Communication and Power in Contemporary Italy by Franco Berardi et al.
  • Freedom of the Press: The First Amendment, its Constitutional History and the Contemporary Debate ed. by Garrett Epps

Bookshelf

Henry R. Luce, Time, and the American Crusade in Asia

Henry R. Luce, Time, and the American Crusade in Asia
by Robert Edwin Herzstein [Cambridge]

Dense with biographical and historical detail, Herzstein's study examines how a powerful and connected media tycoon helped influence both the course of American foreign policy and the publc's understanding of East Asian societies. Motivated by a strident and unquestioning anti-Communism, Luce and his senior editors at Time and Life mainstreamed a style of subtly partisan international news coverage which led some critics to call Luce's company the unofficial propaganda wing of the Eisenhower administration. -jl

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Journalistas

Journalistas: 100 Years of the Best Writing and Reporting by Women
by Eleanor Mills, Kira Cochrane and Naomi Wolf [Carroll & Graf]

Provides highlights of the often-overlooked history of 20th century women advocacy journalists and essayists, from Emma Goldman to Erica Jong to Alice Walker. the field of writers included is somewhat canonical, however. Excerpts are regrettably short, and numerous major figures (Ida B. Wells) and contemporaries (Naomi Klein, Arundhati Roy, Irshad Manji, Jill Nelson, etc.) are overlooked. -jl

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All the News That's Fit to Sell

All the News That's Fit to Sell: How the Market Transforms Information into News
by J.T. Hamilton [Princeton]

It's a truism among media activists that business factors influence news coverage on TV, radio and newspapers alike. But how does this happen, and what are structural solutions for the media mainstream? Hamilton attempts to develop an "economic theory of news" based on voluminous research and candid assessments about what people want to read and watch, as well as a principled view of the importance of a critical press for democracy. Useful and thought-provoking. -jl

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Voices of the New Arab Public

Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today
by Marc Lynch [Columbia]

How are electronic communications and populist satellite networks like Al-Jazeera changing political participation in the Arab World? Lynch examines in critical detail the various factors contributing to the contemporary Arab public sphere, including pro-democracy elements, pan-Arab nationalism, and the enduring power of Saudi elites. Lynch's central focus on Jazeera and the Iraq war provides the best-yet of the channel's significance. -jl

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The Venezuelan Revolution

The Venezuelan Revolution: 100 Questions - 100 Answers
by Chesa Boudin, Gabriel Gonzalez and Wilmer Rumbos [Thunder's Mouth]

A helpful rough guide for those seeking a quick primer on Venezuela and the Bolivarian revolution. The topical Q&A format makes it easy to find quick answers: Why do the poor support Chavez? What is the government's development philosophy? The American and Venzuelan authors are generally sympathetic to Chavez but also acknowledge and contextualize criticisms from left and right. Includes a good, if brief discussion of the Venezuelan mass media and media policy/freedom of expression under the new constitution. -jl

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Censoring Culture

Censoring Culture: Contemporary Threats to Free Expression
ed. by Robert Atkins and Svetlana Mintcheva [New Press]

With highly readable essays divided into sections on economics, the Internet, protecting children, hate speech and self-censorship, this volume is a tour de force critical examination of the multiple forms of censorship in the arts today. Considering together censorship based on government regulation, market pressures, well-intentioned hate-speech policies, the volume will enrich many discussions on ceneorship and the arts. The editors have assembled essays, brief reflections and interviews from an unusually wide range of voices, including artists, authors, activists, scholars, journalists, students and other cultural workers. Highly recommended. -jl

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Tragedy and Farce

Tragedy and Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy
by John Nichols and Robert McChesney [New Press]

This satisfying contribution from media reformers McChesney and Nichols recounts the US mainstream media's dismal performance during the buildup to the Iraq War and the 2004 election season. The book offers an informative critique of the national media's apparent bias towards powerful interests, its magnetic attraction towards often-misleading consensus frames for debate on significant issues. A great read; includes an interesting examination of mainstream coverage of the Howard Dean presidential campaign. -jl

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Tell Me No Lies

Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism that Changed the World
ed. by John Pilger [Thunder's Mouth]

A deeply inspiring compendium of the most effective investigative reporting from 1945 to the present. Long excerpts from many journalistic and commentarial heroes: Edward R. Mitford, Jessica Mitford, Eduardo Galeano, Seymour Hersh, Edward Said, Robert Fisk and many lesser-known but highly significant practitioners of an honorable and necessary craft. -jl

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And They All Sang

And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey
by Studs Terkel [New Press]

An enjoyable collection of radio interviews Terkel conducted with a range of mid century musical venerables, hailing mostly from the classical (Andres Segovia) and respectable jazz (Louis Armstrong) worlds, but also including folk musicians Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, among others. Neither a history nor a book about the cultural power of radio, this is nonetheless a good document of the younger Terkel's curious, humble interviewing style. -jl

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey