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

Mission Al Jazeera

Mission Al Jazeera: Build a Bridge, Seek the Truth, Change the World
by Josh Rushing [Palgrave Macmillan]

This book is part memoir, tracing Josh Rushing's path from military spokesman during the Iraq war - a role most famously documented in Jehane Noujaim's documentary Control Room - to on-air producer for Al Jazeera's English-language broadcast service. As such, it provides a fascinating insider perspective on that network's possible role in the US (the network has hardly any carriage on US cable systems). While light on deep analysis of the US media or the war, the book does provides Rushing some opportunity to critique the US military's press relations during the war, and he compares Jazeera's coverage of the war favorably to the largely uncritical US network coverage. Rushing also provides many interesting anecdotes on press-military interactions at CentCom in Kuwait. -jl

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The Last Days of Democracy

The Last Days of Democracy: How Big Media and Power-Hungry Government are Turning America into a Dictatorship
by Elliot Cohen & Bruce Fraser [Prometheus]

Cohen and Fraser's book is at its core an extended sermon condemning the Bush Administration's many excesses and abuses of power, and arguing that the concentrated power of corporate media has been actively complicit in the country's shift towards authoritarianism. The authors' political analysis is designed to rile up those who already agree with them, rather than to change new minds; Cohen and Fraser are at their best when they're adding new information to the debate, which unfortunately is not very often. Still, a useful compendium of connections between a range of media/communications issues and progressive critiques of Bush policies. -jl

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Bleeding Afghanistan

Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence
by Sonali Kolhatkar and Jim Ingalls [Seven Stories]

In this timely and much-needed volume, Kolhatkar and Ingalls fill in some of the appalling gaps in American popular understanding about Afghanistan, attacking our collective amnesia about the history of US intervention, the right wing’s cynical use of women’s liberation language, and media coverage typified by deep racism. At the book’s center is a highly insightful chapter analyzing the structural biases and omissions of US establishment media coverage of Afghanistan since the 1980s. -jl

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When the Press Fails

When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina
by W. Lance Bennett, Regina G. Lawrence, and Steven Livingston [Univ. of Chicago]

This book examines "the tendency of the [American] press to record rather than critically examine the official pronouncements of government" during the post-9/11 Bush administration. Despairing at this lack of press independence, the authors argue that the most important remedy for this trend is to revive public debates over the importance of public-interest journalism. Focusing deep analysis on several particular large stories - the Iraq War, Abu Ghraib and Katrina, the book argues that effective public-sphere standards of press accountability could have produced more analytical news coverage, giving people the knowlege and the will to have a greater influence on governmental action. -jl

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Hip-Hop Education Guidebook

The Hip-Hop Education Guidebook Volume 1 by Marcella Runell, Tatiana Forero Puerta, and Martha Diaz [Hip-Hop Association]

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White Bicycles

White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960's
by Joe Boyd [Serpent's Tail] buy online

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Remaking Media

Remaking Media: the Struggle to Democratize Public Communication
by Bob Hackett and Bill Carroll [Routledge]

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Anatomy of Deceit

Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy
by Marcy Wheeler [Vaster]

With her first book, blogger Marcy Wheeler exemplifies the very best contributions to civil discourse being made by nonprofessional commentators and researchers on the web. The book's task is at once simple and complex – narrating and deconstructing how the Bush Administration used cooked-up intelligence and the willing help of a few prominent DC journalists to mislead the country into the Iraq War. News coverage of the story turned some of its key players (Scooter Libby, Judith Miller, Joseph Wilson, Valerie Plame, Patrick Fitzgerald) into household names. But as happens too often in today's DC insider-beat journalism, reporters and networks lost sight of the truly big stories – how Federal Government officials pursued a policy of grand-scale public deception – and how some of the same officials cynically snuffed out the career of an undercover intelligence agent, as part of a political hit job. Instead, press coverage tended to repeat White House messages and frames, or treat the investigation into Plame's outing as an inconsequential game of tit-for-tat. In this environment, it was often progressive bloggers like Wheeler who regrounded the story in democratic values, including the very basic work of simply creating a narrative that ordinary folks can follow. By doing so, Wheeler has performed a valuable act of journalism – at the same time demonstrating how rare that can be in Washington DC these days. -jl

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A Century of Media, A Century of War

A Century of Media, a Century of War
by Robin Andersen [Peter Lang]

read our full review of A Century of Media here.

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Fighting for Air

Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America's Media
by Eric Klinenberg [Henry Holt]

A detailed and readable examination of how absentee ownership, centralized programming, and fake “localization” are undermining quality journalism and media diversity, and thus harming our democracy. Facing off against the industry trend toward greater consolidation, Klinenberg argues for the preservation of truly local media. In addition to providing detailed, engaging stories about how radio consolidation has harmed local communities (including the now-infamous train wreck near Minot, North Dakota), Klinenberg delivers an admirably human look at in the world of alternative weeklies. -jl

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