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

The Case Against Media Consolidation

The Case Against Media Consolidation: Evidence on Concentration, Localism, and Diversity
edited by Marc Cooper [Fordham University]

People's Movements, People's Press

People's Movements, People's Press: The Journalism of Social Justice Movements
by Bob Ostertag [Beacon]

Social movement advocacy journalism – from William Lloyd Garrison's Abolitionist to the feminist punk zine Clit Rocket – is the focus for this fine study commissioned by the Independent Press Association. Author Bob Ostertag finds that the measure of success for social movement-based periodicals turns out to be their contributions to movement goals and values rather than measures commonly associated with mainstream commercial press - such as circulation or objectivity. Detailed chapters cover print media of the 19th century abolitionist and suffragist movements, the environmental movement, dissident GIs during the Vietnam War, and the multifaceted gay and lesbian movement. An inspiring and fun read. -jl

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Cable News Confidential

Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media
by Jeff Cohen [PoliPoint Press]

Between 1996 and 2003, Fairness and Accuracy and Reporting co-founder Jeff Cohen went into the belly of the corporate media beast, as a pundit for Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, then as producer of the latter network's ill-fated "Donahue" program. Engaging and often hilarious, Cohen's memoir of his journey from in-the-streets media activist to TV pundit is full of anecdotes revealing how news coverage and "debate" are shaped in today's craven cable news industry. In the book's hopeful epilogue, Cohen surveys some ways in which grassroots progressives are using new media technologies to circumvent the cowardly and formulaic corporate media gatekeepers. Buy extra copies—you'll want to share this book with friends and family. -jl

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Ready, Set, Talk

Ready, Set, Talk!
by Ellen Ratner and Kathie Scarrah [Chelsea Green]

This highly useful, no-nonsense guide to media relations is full of straightforward, well-organized tips for those who need to get their message out through the media. The authors (Ratner, a Fox News analyst and Scarrah, a former media staffer for both Lieberman and Kucinich) provide tactical advice for effective message development, coaching media spokespeople, and securing opportunities to appear on radio and TV programs. An insightful chapter is devoted to strategic uses of Internet communication tools including blogs and social networking tools. Until we live in a democratic media utopia, this book provides some of the wily strategies communicators need to cut through the static. -jl

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Static: Government Liars. Media Cheerleaders, and the People Who Fight Back

Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders, and the People Who Fight Back
by Amy Goodman and David Goodman [Hyperion]

The second collection of essays by Democracy Now! cohost Amy Goodman and brother David picks up where the first one let off—bringing to light some of the dirtiest deeds of the Bush administration and its corporate cronies, and detailing how a compliant corporate media system bears responsibility for allowing crimes against democracy and humanity to continue. As such, it's not always a pleasurable read. But the Goodmans and Democracy Now! have been virtually alone on shining a national spotlight on stories such as the US-assisted overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and extraordinary renditions and torture flights such as that endured by Canadian Maher Arar. As storytellers, the authors provide a highly useful record of how these things took place, including the true interests at stake, the failures of media oversight and democratic accountability, and the grassroots women and men who have met government abuses with courageous resistance. -jl

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Homegrown: Engaged Cultural Criticism

Homegrown: Engaged Cultural Criticism
by bell hooks and Amalia Mesa-Bains [South End]

Anti-racist, anti-patriarchal cultural criticism, as practiced by hooks and Mesa-Bains, is a vital form of media literacy and a survival strategy for young African Americans and Latinos. In an invitingly freewheeling conversation, the authors explore how capitalist-directed cultural trends and marketing undermine our capacity for liberating self-development, particularly among African American, Latino and women. Mesa-Bains and hooks provide characteristically insightful deconstructions of, for example, the iconization of Frida Kahlo, the debate over Ebonics, and purportedly anti-racist films such as Crash and Traffic. For Mesa-Bains and hooks, all of our cultural activity (including media consumption) should eschew passive consumerism to provide opportunities for radical resistance to oppression. -jl

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Marching Plague

Marching Plague: Germ Warfare and Global Public Health
by the Critical Art Ensemble [Autonomedia]

This small book was originally intended to provide documentation and background for the Critical Arts Ensemble's vanguard political art project "Marching Plague," which sought to critique and undermine the US government's post-9/11 fearmongering around biological weapons. The project hit close to home for it's target, however, and the FBI's prosecution of a CAE principal on bioterrorism compsiracy charges became a subtext of the book (and delayed its publication for two years). The book includes a focused, independent narrative on the history of biological weapons development and attempted use. More broadly useful is its examination of how and why the government and mass media have colluded to generate hysteria about bioweapons, exploiting the public's ignorance to keep us distracted from real political issues and, not coincidentally, crises in global health. -jl

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Dark Genius: The Influential Career of Roger Ailes

Dark Genius: The Influential Career of Fox News Founder Roger Ailes
by Kerwin Swint [Union Square]

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Lapdogs

Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush
by Eric Boehlert [Free Press]

Boehlert’s coverage of national journalism and politics was one of the best things about Salon.com for years. Now his first book, a characteristically articulate indictment of the DC press corp’s soft-glove treatment of the Bush administration, does not disappoint. In addition to detailing and analyzing press failures which will be familiar to many readers, Lapdogs attempts to catalog and fathom the administration’s contempt for press access and the national media’s willingness to be cowed and marginalized. Self-consciously following in the footsteps of fellow media observer Eric Alterman, Boehlert also explores the connection between mainstream journalists' behavior and right-wing attacks on the "liberal media." -jl

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Democracy's Edge

Democracy's Edge: Choosing to Save Our Country by Bringing Democracy to Life
by Frances Moore Lappé [Jossey-Bass]

Lappé’s latest book contains grassroots recipes for a functioning participatory democracy, what she calls a “revolution of hope.” The book’s snapshots of effective activism and simple ways to get involved are intended for a broad audience (buy it for your parents), but also are guided by an uncompromising vision for social and economic justice. Lappé’s chapter on media activism contains one of the best summary accounts of the 2002-2003 US fight against media consolidation. -jl

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