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

Finding Iris Chang

Finding Iris Chang: Friendship, Ambition, and the Loss of an Extraordinary Mind
by Paula Kamen [Da Capo]

Paula Kamen's previous book was a journal-like personal account of her own struggles with chronic migraines little understood by a succession of friends and caregivers. Here, Kamen's attempt to contextualize and understand the mental illness and suicide of her friend and fellow author Iris Chang is scarcely less personal. Chang was young, driven and brilliant – an investigative long-form journalist whose book-length studies in Chinese and Chinese-American history (including The Rape of Nanking, were widely celebrated for their depth and empathy with historical underdogs and the victims of forgotten injustice. Kamen examines how Chang's empathy and intense focus on her work were intertwined with issues of depression and bipolar disorder; she also draws upon Chang's life to make broader observations about the invisible forms of trauma often faced by dedicated investigative journalists. -jl

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Broadcasts from the Blitz

Broadcasts from the Blitz: How Edward R. Murrow Helped Lead America Into War
by Philip Seib [Potomac Books]

This biographical study focuses on Murrow's pre-war and wartime years heading the London bureau of CBS. Closely following the British debates on whether to engage in the growing conflict between the National Socialist regime in Germany and its victimized neighbors, Seib tracks Murrow's personal responses to events, and the access to powerful officials afforded by his status as a prominent American journalist. Seib's main interest is to examine Murrow's conviction that Britain – and later, the United States – should enter the war, and how that conviction colored his broadcasts from London. For Seib, Murrow's siding "with the angels" more than makes up for any lack of objectivity in his coverage. The study raises compelling questions about the proper role of ethics and advocacy for contemporary journalists, in a period in which many prominent journalists once again helped lead America into war. -jl

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Spongeheadz: U & MEdia

Spongeheadz: U & MEdia by Lynn Ziegler [Book Publishers Network]

Media educator and activist Lynn Ziegler's first published work is a delightful tactical guide addressed to parents concerned about the effect of TV on their kids. Both sternly cynical about TV's potential as an educational tool and optimistic about young peoples' ability to critically engage with flawed media content, Spongeheadz offers moms, dads and kids creative and often fun tools for squeezing out the mental sponge. Targeted topics include deceptive advertising, racist stereotyping, and TV's often-corrosive effect on literacy. Ziegler also provides tools for engaging kids (and adults?) in critical thinking about the constructed nature of media programs by thinking about the policies and technology involved in contemporary media production. An added bonus: page after page of illustrations of fantasy TV remotes drawn by Ziegler's young students. -jl

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Beyond the Green Zone

Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq
by Dahr Jamail [Haymarket]

Dahr Jamail's journalistic essays will stand as one of the most important documents of what war and occupation mean to Iraqis whose communities are suffering the short- and long-term effects. In this first collection, Jamail shares the voices of his Iraqi interviewees as well as those of fellow journalists, Iraqi drivers and fixers, and US soldiers – voices largely missing from US mainstream coverage of the war. It's Jamail's own voice which is the real find, however – interweaving his journalistic coverage with comments on the political and media forces that paved the way for war, and reflections on the haunted sense of connection and responsibility he gained from his travels to and from Iraq. -jl

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Communication Revolution

Communication Revolution: Critical Junctures and the Future of Media
by Robert McChesney [New Press]

Critical media scholar and activist Bob McChesney focuses his attention on his own academic field in his latest title, and Communication Revolution will be of primary interest to students (nonacademic as well as academic) of political communications. The book’s opening chapters offer an annotated historical bibliography of the American idea of a free press, leading to a description of the author’s own political education. McChesney describes becoming politicized around academia’s unwillingness to challenge, rather than simply observing or enabling, how powerful economic and political establishments have led media away from its traditional watchdog role. He argues that media scholars should embrace responsbility for helping encourage media norms and institutions that support civic engagement and democracy. -jl

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Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity

Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity
by Robert Jensen [South End Press]

In his latest work, Robert Jensen launches an unflinching and personal attack on the consumption of pornography and the porn-ization of mass entertainment media. Getting Off surveys how porn serves as a pervasive but rarely-examined cultural support for patriarchy, homophobia and racism. Jensen also attacks conventional definitions of masculinity based on conflict and emotional noncommunication, and implicates porn in its continued hold on modern men of all political stripes. -jl

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Alternatives on Media Content, Journalism, and Regulation

Alternatives on Media Content, Journalism, and Regulation
ed. by Seeta Peña Gangadharan, Benjamin De Cleen, Nico Carpentier [University of Tartu (download pdf here)]

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Whose Summit? Whose Information Society?

Whose Summit? Whose Information Society? Developing countries and civil society at the World Summit on the Information Society
by David Souter [Association for Progressive Communications (download pdf here)]

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Unmarketable

Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity
by Anne Elizabeth Moore [New Press]

Kids today are creating their own culture and counterculture in the midst of a manipulative media landscape wherein "alternative," "independent," and "underground" have lost their meaning, deployed over and over by corporations angling for a piece of the teen rebellion market. Punk Planet editor and DIY evangelist Anne Moore looks at this Orwellian phenomenon from many angles - the corporate cooptation of radical culture, the use of copyright law to prohibit rather than protect creativity, the shifting definitions of authenticity and integrity, the attractions of selling out, and the ever-present possibilities for cultural counterinsurgency. The results: easily the best, funniest and most memorable book on cultural resistance in a world where resistance to branding has itself become the basis for more branding. -jl

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Welcome to the Terrordome

Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports
by Dave Zirin [Haymarket Books]

Zirin is probably the most thoughtful and politically savvy sports writer working today. Here offers his second fantastic collection of essays connecting sports, sports journalism and social/political issues, including racism and sexism in professional sports, doping and responses to doping, soccer and globalism, and the extreme contradictions between the high-dollar economics of professional sports and the popularity of sports as a social institution in many lower-income communities. Citing past examples such as Muhammad Ali, Toni Smith, Oscar de la Hoya and others, Zirin calls for politicized athletes to join forces and use their status as public figures to work for justice. He also calls for fans to recognize the struggles for justice both masked by and embodied within sports. Zirin's work offers a way of looking at sports as a principal site for such struggles, and not simply (to paraphrase Noam Chomsky) as "training in irrational jingoism." -jl

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