This week on CounterSpin: The 10-year mark since Hurricane Katrina has occasioned some journalistic looks back at the devastation, and, to a lesser extent, how and why that devastation was disproportionately born by black and poor people — and to a still lesser extent, how those same people are missing from the “silver lining” improvement or “opportunity” narratives now presented.
Would that even that degree of critical consideration would be granted to the anniversary of another disaster for low-income communities of color: the move to “end welfare as we know it,” signed into law in August 1996 by Bill Clinton. If you don’t remember the media stampede — Black women having babies for government checks! Pregnant teenagers draining public resources! — that’s partly because elite media, having championed hard for the dismantling of the safety net, were markedly less interested in tracking the human fallout.
We talk about what was called “reform” of what was called “welfare” with associate professor of history at the University of Vermont Felicia Kornbluh, author (with Gwendolyn Mink) of the forthcoming Ensuring Poverty: Welfare Reform After 20 Years.
And first, as usual, a quick look back at the week’s press.
- “Poor Mothers Don’t Matter in Welfare Policy,” by Felicia Kornbluh and Gwendolyn Mink (Common Dreams, 8/23/15)
This week on CounterSpin: It will soon be the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a devastating event that killed at least 1,800 people across the Gulf Coast region and displaced as many as half a million, followed by rebuilding efforts that were bungling and divisive.
Katrina was a major story for US media; reporters on the scene seemed viscerally affected and conveyed a sense of urgency and outrage at the lumbering federal response. And NBC‘s Brian Williams famously announced, “If this does not spark a national discussion on class, race, the environment, oil, Iraq, infrastructure and urban planning, I think we’ve failed.”
We didn’t really have that national discussion in a sustained way. Some media did better at acknowledging the impact of racism and poverty that meant the disaster hit some people much harder than others, but the serious work you’d hope would follow such recognition for the most part failed to materialize.
Hurricane Katrina is still affecting communities on the Gulf Coast, and some impacts are only really coming to light now. An April story in The Atlantic addressed the lasting trauma for children forced to evacuate their homes and move to new communities where they were unwelcome. More than one-third of displaced children fell at least a year behind in school.
As we look to see how media will talk about ongoing effects of Katrina and the aftermath, we first go back. CounterSpin has discussed various aspects of the story over the years, and this special episode brings you some of those conversations.
This week on CounterSpin: The LA Times described Caitlyn Jenner at the ESPY Awards as like a goddess on a pedestal, teaching the world that trans people deserve respect. At the same time, people like Ashley Diamond, incarcerated in Georgia, have to break legal ground to try and get basic protections and medical care. It’s for sure that big media are giving more, and more fact-based, coverage to trans issues, even if a lot of it has to do with the rich and famous. But it’s also true that media “visibility” can mean a lot more to, well, media, than to the people whose lives and experiences are supposedly being elevated. Exploring the particular struggles that affect gender non-conforming people requires asking some difficult questions, not just about this country’s attitudes toward gender but about its respect for human rights. How deep are media willing to go?
Dean Spade is the author of the book, Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics and the Limits of Law. He teaches at Seattle University School of Law and is founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. We’ll be talking with Dean Spade in a special look at media coverage of trans justice — on this week’s CounterSpin.
This week on CounterSpin: Two recent stories that are hard to miss, but about which some might say most media are missing the point. First, an anti-abortion group is releasing “sting” videos claiming to show that Planned Parenthood profits from the sale of fetal body parts, but rather than focus on sorting facts from flame-fanning, media are spending time scoring the grandstanding match among Republican politicians. Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check will join us to talk about who might profit most from this story.
Also on the show: The killing of the popular African lion known as Cecil by a trophy hunter led some into an unhelpful parlor game of lions vs. people: Which do you care about? Journalists could move the conversation off that dime with a thoughtful examination of the state of animal preservation and the impact of extinction on us all. What might that look like? We’ll hear from journalist John R. Platt, who writes about extinction as well as other environmental issues for Scientific American, among other outlets.
-“Profiting From Fetal Body Parts? The GOP Sure Is,” by Jodi Jacobson (RH Reality Check, 7/15/15)
-Extinction Countdown (Scientific American)
This week on CounterSpin: Puerto Rico’s governor, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, told the New York Times the island’s debt is “not payable.” The debt crisis has already meant closing schools, losing jobs and shutting off healthcare options, so what does it mean that on the mainland, what’s happening in Puerto Rico is just a business story–and not a story story? We hear about that from Ed Morales, author of Living in Spanglish and currently a lecturer at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race.
Also on the show: If media couldn’t use phrases like “despite big strides, barriers remain,” it’s not clear they could even report on the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The legislation made it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities in accommodation, transportation and employment, in order to encourage independent living and economic self-sufficiency. But with only some 20 percent of people with disabilities in the workforce, it’s very clear that barriers remain–and less clear that media are really committed to talking about them. Joining us to talk about that is Beth Haller, professor of mass communication at Towson University and author of Representing Disability in an Ableist World: Essays on Mass Media.
And first, as usual, we take a look back at the week’s press, including Chinese foreign investment, the Samuel DuBose killing and the US’s failing grade on human rights.
- “How Hedge and Vulture Funds Have Exploited Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis,” by Ed Morales (The Nation, 7/21/15)
- Representing Disability in an Ableist World: Essays on Mass Media, by Beth Haller
This week on CounterSpin, a sort of theme show on how media cover government corruption disguised as business as usual. First up: A Wisconsin court has just handed Gov. Scott Walker a “big victory,” headlines in the Washington Post and elsewhere declared. One might’ve hoped they’d lead with what the ruling–about Walker’s abuse of campaign finance rules–did for democracy and the public’s right to know who’s paying what to whom in public office. We’ll talk with Brendan Fischer, general counsel at the Center for Media and Democracy, about what just happened in Wisconsin.
Also on the show: The sense is that the joke is on anyone who’s at all surprised to see former US Attorney General Eric Holder miss nary a beat going from investigating big financial interests to representing them at law firm Covington & Burling. Elite media’s utter lack of interest in the move suggests that outrage is outre, but how might journalists talk about this sort of democracy-mocking shenanigan without normalizing it? Reporter Lee Fang writes for The Intercept and The Nation, among other outlets. He’s followed the revolving door for years; we’ll talk with him about that.
And first, as usual, we take a look back at recent press.
This week on CounterSpin: The New York Times tells readers Barack Obama was moved to negotiate a deal with Iran because of his personal “faith in diplomacy.” Is that an appropriate way to understand how these negotiations came to be? Our guest has an alternate view. We’ll hear from investigative journalist Gareth Porter, author of Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.
Also on the show: Almost as disheartening as it is that this week marks the first time a sitting president will visit a federal prison is the notion that such symbolic acts — like that of commuting the sentences of a few dozen prisoners — might be mistaken for substantive movement toward fundamental change in the criminal justice system. How hopeful is current talk of “reform”? And should reform define the limit of the change we want to see? We talk with Mohamed Shehk of the group Critical Resistance about that.
Plus a look back at recent press, including education and the elections, FBI terror claims, and Serena Williams.
This week on CounterSpin: “Greek Tragedy: Nation Commits Economic Suicide.” OK, it’s the tabloid New York Post, but it’s only yelling what was spoken elsewhere: that Greek voters invited ruin with their “No” vote on an austerity referendum. It’s unclear what will happen now, but the assumption by many in media that the wiser thing would’ve been to just go along with creditors’ terms suggests a disturbing view of how democracy works. We’ll talk about the “No” vote in Greece with Costas Panayotakis, professor of sociology at NYC College of Technology at CUNY and author of Remaking Scarcity: From Capitalist Inefficiency to Economic Democracy.
Also on the show: “Strangers are going door to door late at night and threatening to burn people’s houses down,” a Haitian border guard told the New York Times. These reported attacks on people of Haitian descent (and others) in the neighboring Dominican Republic come in the wake of that country’s move to strip citizenship from tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants and their children. These newly stateless people present a humanitarian crisis, but one that so far US media don’t seem very interested in. We’ll talk about the situation with Rachel Nolan, author of the article, “Displaced in the DR,” which appeared recently in Harper’s Magazine.
Plus a look back at recent press, including the BP settlement, Donald Trump, and TPP and NPR.
This week on CounterSpin: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past,” recited Winston Smith in Orwell’s 1984. Nowadays, news media have a good deal of control over our knowledge and understanding of the past: The Fourth of July weekend will doubtless feature media chatter about what America “stands for,” and how our history has shaped us.
But much of the talk will bear little relationship to the country’s actual history, which is roughly a million times more complicated and conflict-riddled than the image we are usually presented: a more or less steady march of “progress,” with perhaps a few bumps in the road. Someone who’s thought a lot about how we mis-learn history and how that shapes our political life is James W. Loewen. He’s the author of the classic book, Lies My Teacher Told Me, which assesses the textbooks used in US classrooms, turning up falsehoods, elisions and distortions. He explains some of the reasons students say they hate history–and non-white students hate it most of all.
For Independence Day, then, CounterSpin presents an extended interview with author and professor James Loewen.
This week on CounterSpin: Confederate flags may be coming down in Southern states, but it’s still an open question how much the white supremacist murders in Charleston will re-orient media discourse. One part of a conversation with many parts has to do with when journalists choose to unleash the weaponized language of “terrorism”—and the effect that has on public opinion and policy. There’s research to illustrate media patterns on the issue, including a report out of the University of Illinois. We’ll speak with lead author, Travis Dixon, associate professor of communication at the University of Illinois/Urbana.
Also on the show: When an uprising broke out at a Texas prison earlier this year, media accounts said complaints about medical care turned violent at the facility, which overwhelmingly housed immigrants charged with “illegal reentry.” Investigation suggests media didn’t get the story right, though—not too surprising, given the general lack of attention to US prisons and the people in them. We’ll talk about the Texas story, and the bigger story of using prison to address immigration, with journalist Seth Freed Wessler.
- “Study: Media Quicker to Label Muslims Than Whites as Terrorists,” by Julie Wurth (News-Gazette, 6/23/15)
- “The Changing Misrepresentation of Race and Crime on Network and Cable News,” by Travis L. Dixon and Charlotte L. Williams (Journal of Communication, 2/15)
- The True Story of a Texas Prison Riot, by Seth Freed Wessler (The Nation, 6/23/15)
This week on CounterSpin: It hasn’t been probing media coverage that’s roughened the road for the corporate power grab known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, now stalled in Congress despite Barack Obama’s personal appeals. How is it that a deal that mega-corporations want, and most political elites wouldn’t dream of challenging, hasn’t shot through like a greased pig? We’ll talk about public interest activism — the missing piece in much top-down media coverage — with Kevin Zeese of the group Popular Resistance, part of the Stop Fast Track coalition.
Also on the show: Beltway paper The Hill captured it in a headline, “EPA Gives Republicans New Ammo in Fight Against Fracking Regs.” And to many, that’s just what the agency did with a new study that, to hear media tell it, found that fracking doesn’t pose any widespread harm to drinking water. Is that really what the science said? We’ll hear that story of spin and more spin from Wenonah Hauter of Food and Water Watch.
And, as usual, Janine Jackson takes a look back at the week’s press.
This week on CounterSpin: Solitary confinement is discussed so matter-of-factly in US media that you wouldn’t guess that many people in the world consider it to be torture—and call not for its restriction, but its abolition. Some of the information driving that belief can be found in a new report from the Vera Institute for Justice. We’ll hear about the report from co-author Jessa Wilcox, senior program associate at Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections.
Also on the show: If I say soccer’s in the headlines, you likely think of the FIFA corruption scandal rather than the Women’s World Cup, although that’s also happening. It’s not your fault: Despite ever-growing popularity, women’s sports just don’t seem to garner big-time media interest. What needs to change? Our guest researches that very subject. Cheryl Cooky is associate professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Purdue University, and lead author of the new report on TV sports coverage whose name says it all: “It’s Dude Time!”
And, as usual, we take a look back at recent press, including police violence, TPP and CNN‘s “news-like content” unit.
- “Solitary Confinement: Common Misconceptions and Emerging Safe Alternatives,” by Alison Shames, Jessa Wilcox and Ram Subramanian (Vera Institute, 5/12/15)
- “‘It’s Dude Time!': A Quarter Century of Excluding Women’s Sports in Televised News and Highlight Shows,
Cheryl Cooky, Michael A. Messner and Michaela Musto (Communication & Sport, 6/5/15)
This week on CounterSpin: Proponents say the USA Freedom Act, while not perfect, at least means the end of NSA collection of US citizens’ phone records. Is that really true? Could the law’s shortcomings outweigh its merits? We’ll hear from Sue Udry, executive director of the Defending Dissent Foundation and acting director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.
Also on the show: Murder charges will be brought against the Bangladeshi factory owners and government officials responsible for the 2013 collapse at Rana Plaza, the garment industry disaster that killed more than 1,100 people. Barbara Briggs is associate director of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights. We’ll talk with her about what’s being done to prevent such nightmares going forward.
This week on CounterSpin: Are banks that are too big to fail, and too big to jail, too big to surveil? You’d get that impression from corporate media’s subdued reaction to the Justice Department announcement that five major banks would plead guilty to felony charges, including price-rigging. Some major papers spilled some ink, but most went with a wire piece emphasizing the $5 billion the banks will supposedly “fork over” for what the DoJ termed “brazen” criminality, and called it a day. Are media reacting to a not-especially-meaningful ruling, or are they dangerously indifferent to questions of criminal banks? We’ll hear from Bartlett Naylor, financial policy advocate at the group Public Citizen, and former chief of investigations for the US Senate Banking Committee.
Also on the show: The whistleblower is on the front line of the conflict between powerful institutions’ desire to keep secrets and democracy’s requirement that people be well-informed, especially of actions taken in their name. Protecting whistleblowers from persecution is one driving idea behind the international Stand Up for Truth tour slated for early June. One of the participants is retired FBI agent-turned-political activist Coleen Rowley. We’ll talk with her about that.
And first, as usual, we’ll take a look back at the week’s press, including an undercovered story about the NBA and police violence.
This week on CounterSpin: Nuclear weapons generate a lot of media interest when it comes to the question of whether Iran is trying to get them, but when the topic is eliminating nuclear weapons altogether, as at the now concluding UN meetings on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, media could hardly care less. We’ll talk about the NPT with Alice Slater from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and Abolition 2000.
Also on the show: Mark Zuckerberg says he wants to “improve the lives of billions of people”; so why is Internet.org, the Facebook mogul’s new application intended to provide limited free internet access in the developing world, meeting such strong resistance? That word “limited” is a clue; we’ll hear the rest of it from Tim Karr of the group Free Press.
Plus our regular look back at the week’s news, including the US assault in Syria.
- Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
- Abolition 2000
- “Global Internet Activists Give Thumbs Down to Facebook’s Internet.org,” by Tim Karr (Moyers & Company, 5/12/15)
- Free Press
This week on CounterSpin: Researchers report that more than 40 percent of honeybee hives died in the past year, the second-highest loss rate recorded. The AP story lists “mites, poor nutrition and pesticides,” in that order, as possible causes for what’s been called an almost biblical bee decline, but pesticide-makers would have you think they don’t belong on the list at all. Are their PR efforts affecting even government research? We’ll hear from Tiffany Finck-Haynes of Friends of the Earth.
Also on the show: The vivid and powerful New York Times series on conditions for workers in nail salons was the definition of “impact” journalism; New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced responsive measures just days after the story ran. But are occasional blockbuster stories the best media can do for workers rights issues? What’s the next step? We’ll talk about that with journalist Michelle Chen.
And, as usual, we’ll take a look back at the week’s press, including coverage of British elections and North Korea.
- “Extreme Bee Losses Highlight Urgent Need to Restrict Pesticides to Protect Pollinators” (Friends of the Earth, 5/13/15)
- “The Price of Nice Nails,” Sarah Maslin Nir (New York Times, 5/7/15)
- “How Can You Get an Ethical Manicure? Support Worker Organizing,” by Michelle Chen (The Nation, 5/11/15)