Four and a half years ago, during the halftime show for the 2004 Super Bowl, Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson set off a heated national debate about televised decency when Timberlake pulled off part of Jackson's bustier and revealed her right breast.
The global exposure of Jackson's breast was remarkably brief -- roughly half a second -- but more than long enough to send the nation's moral watchdogs into orbit. The following morning, Federal Communications Chairman Michael Powell (the son of former Secretary of State Colin Powell) made the rounds of the morning television talk shows and promised a swift and thorough governmental investigation. The Timberlake/Jackson "flash dance" proved to be a political boon for many in Washington: the controversy enabled Chairman Powell to divert attention from his failed and much-criticized efforts to promote media consolidation, and the FCC's new-found willingness to punish indecency was a boost for President Bush's re-election campaign. Much more detail on the political fall-out of the half-time show is available in the opening chapter of my 2006 book, The Decency Wars: The Campaign to Cleanse American Culture (Prometheus Books 2006).
In the department of jobs you may not have known existed, Kate Braestrup is the chaplain for the Maine Game Warden Service. Lest you think that she spends her time blessing moose and praying for trout, read this excerpt of her book, Here if You Need Me: A True Story (Little, Brown), featured in UUWorldlast November. She describes the complex and emotionally raw situations she encounters in her work in a fascinating interview on Speaking of Faith this weekend.
The Hartford Courant, in a sign of the times for the traditional print daily, will lay off a quarter of its newsroom staff and slash a quarter of its news pages. Jon Fine at Businessweek discusses the "bloodbath," and includes an internal email explaining the "re-invention" of the paper.
Re-inventing a newspaper is a huge undertaking under the best of circumstances. Doing it with significantly reduced resources in a tight timeframe is even more challenging. Now, we must forge ahead with that work while we make the tough decisions about who will go and who will stay.
The Courant is owned by the Tribune Company, which also announced cuts at another of its big papers, the Baltimore Sun. Gloomy days for newspapers, indeed.
As America's demographic face continues to become browner and poorer, who will lead and execute coverage of that evolution? How well will this particular zeitgeist be described and contextualized for consumers who are living it—and who are growing agitated by its gradual, relentless creep? Not to say that only journalists of color can write about people of color, but let's be real: Would the Rev. Jeremiah Wright story have consumed so much ink and airspace if more black journalists controlled the levers of power in big newsrooms?
On June 19, 1865 Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas and let people know that the Civil War had ended and the enslaved were free. This news—and the Union soldiers necessary to enforce the law—made it to Galveston two and a half years after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation took effect. "Juneteenth" became celebrated within black communities in Texas and across the United States as the African American day of independence. Juneteenth became an official Texas state holiday in 1980.
Jeremy Adam Smith links to the Times article and many other great posts in his definitive Father's Day Media Roundup. (I know, a link roundup linking to a link roundup? This is the rabbit hole that is Web 2.0.)
Since Wednesday night’s Pennsylvania Democratic Presidential
Debates, Beacon author Bill Ayers has been in the news for his connection to
Barack Obama, after George Stephanopoulos pressed Sen. Obama to discuss his
association with Ayers. Ayers is a widely respected and admired writer,
activist, and professor of education, whose opposition to the war in Vietnam led
him to be active in the Weather Underground 40 years ago. In media coverage
over recent days, his record and career have been distorted. Here are some
guides to setting the record straight.
The Washington Post investigated the relationship and Ayers'
activities in a comprehensive article.
Post reporter Peter Slevin writes:
The two men served for three years on the board of the Woods
Fund, an anti-poverty group. The board, which Obama has since left, was small
and collegial, said chair Laura Washington, who served with them. It met four
times a year for a half-day, mostly to approve grants, she said. The atmosphere
was "friendly but businesslike."
Washington praised Ayers as "an admired and respected member of Chicago's civic community" and "a very big proponent of self-determination in education: Community schools and for the community to have a role in improving education."
And now for the latest transsexual travesty (there’s at least one a week nowadays, isn’t there?): a transman is pregnant. Female-to-male transsexual (born female, now male) Thomas Beatie is bearded, breastless, and with child, and although he is not the first transman to become pregnant, nor will he be the first to give birth, the situation is causing a major blip on the media’s sensationalism sonar. Beatie has been interviewed on Oprah, told his story to The Advocate, and had his picture passed around like a bottle of Boone’s Farm all over the Internet, with his pregnant abdomen prominent below his reconstructed chest. He’s been called everything from “freak” to “fabulous,” and everyone with an opinion has made it known. Forgive me if I yawn.
Patricia E. Bauer posts a memorial to Melissa Riggio, the daughter of Barnes & Nobel CEO Steve Riggio. who died of leukemia recently at the age of 20. "Ms. Riggio, who had Down syndrome, was the inspiration for Barnes &
Noble’s creation of a special section of books about children with
Wendy Kaminer on the lawsuit pending in Indiana that requires bookstores that sell "sexuality explicit material" to register with the state.
Boston recently hosted an assembly of smart and passionate people focused hard on the buzzword "change." The event wasn’t a political rally, but the 2008 Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism, themed "Storytelling in Many Voices, Many Media." The three-day conference ably met one of the goals of new Director Constance Hale: “Showcasing journalists who are creating exciting work in digital forms while at the same time celebrating those whose work reflects the intelligence, integrity, depth, and creativity that have long been the hallmarks of the best of traditional media.”
From the Pulitzer-Prize winning veterans to J-school students, there was an undercurrent of job anxiety, peppered with optimism, at the conference. Speakers and attendees together tackled tough issues including declining print subscriptions, rapidly evolving technology, and what exactly today’s consumers of news want. There were few definitive answers to that question, but some exquisitely well-informed guesses. Senior Producer at nytimes.com Derrick Henry helpfully pointed to the concise and prescient report, "Creative Destruction: An Exploratory Look at News on the Internet" (pdf). Henry spoke on a panel alongside Russell Contreras, multimedia reporter for the Boston Globe, who also hosts the Globe podcast on minority issues called "Across the Divide." Both Henry and Contreras are doing amazing audiovisual work online and, most importantly, training others--which is crucial to satisfying twenty-first century news' consumers. It seems today that slideshows and sound are important tools in storytelling that are only starting to be used to full advantage.
I was struck by how often I saw the ID "multimedia journalist"--Jane Ellen Stevens was one prominent example--and how many of the speakers’ bios began with a website, like Jessie Scanlon, senior writer for BusinessWeek.com. I think it’s a powerful sign when the nation's top journalists say that they regard their stories placement on the home page as the equivalent to front page, above the fold. And I was excited by the wide range of online work I saw, impressive and varied content beyond the static page--including James Pindell's politicker.com; Josh Benton’s blog; and Brian Storm's multimedia production studio.
Like everyone in book publishing, I think often about the future of the written word, and the viability of our current forms of print. As a book editor, I go to conferences like the Nieman to look for potential projects, and I find journalists--who are working with shorter and shorter word counts as print editions are trimmed--invariably attracted by the length and depth that a book can offer. I'm most encouraged by the journalists who are adapting to new technology with integrity, but who also overwhelmingly continue to find value in what is still one of the fullest and most satisfying forms of storytelling--the printed book.
I was on a semi-vacation last week, so this week's link roundup is a bit larger than normal. Enjoy!
Howard Zinn is adding to his People's History of the United States with a new graphic novel, A People's History of the American Empire. Read about it at Tom Dispatch, and check out this Viggo Mortensen-narrated clip featuring Mike Konopacki's artwork and Zinn's words.
...[I]t’s not about whether diversity is good or bad. Diversity is a fact,
and in America it's not going away. The question is how to best engage
the fact of diversity in a way that builds social capital and increases
civic engagement. And when the pluralists don't engage diversity by
building positive social bonds, then we leave a vacuum that is often
filled by extremists or bigots.
Ms. Oliver’s poetry, which has drawn comparisons to the work of
Emerson and Thoreau, reveals an awestruck regard of nature that verges
on the religious: “What wretchedness, to believe only in what can be
proven,” she writes in “I Looked Up,” the fifth poem in Mr. Perera’s
cycle. Her work also demonstrates a discerning eye and an ability to
render vivid images with a few deft strokes.
sensitively underscores both attributes in a cycle spanning a day from
one dawn to the next, linked by a subtle, recurring four-note motif.
His music neatly conjures Ms. Oliver’s rippling pond, wary crows,
flitting bats and lazily unspooling snake. At the same time, the work’s
dramatic progression, from the shivering anticipation of “Morning at
Great Pond” to the radiant affirmation of the concluding title poem,
“Why I Wake Early,” does justice to the poet’s more transcendental
intents. Enhanced by Mr. Perera’s estimable knack for setting English,
this is a substantial addition to the choral canon.
“When we set about fixing welfare in the 1990s, we said we were going
to encourage work. Near-poor Americans do work, usually in jobs that
the rest of us do not want — jobs with stagnant wages, no retirement
funds, and inadequate health insurance, if they have it at all. While
their wages stay the same, the cost of everything else — energy,
housing, transportation, tuition — goes up.”
Mark Winne, author of Closing the Food Gap, appeared on WUWM's Lake Effect radio show. Listen here.
Kathryn Joyce, whose book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, is forthcoming from Beacon Press in 2009, wrote in the Nationabout the real motives behind worries that there's a looming European "demographic disaster." The piece was cross-posted at RHRealityCheck, where Kathryn has previously posted about Quiverfull, an anti-birth control movement that urges Christian families to "leave the number of children they have entirely in the hands of God."
It happened. On February 29, state senator Ronda Storms (R–Valrico) introduced a bill, SB 2692 [pdf],
styled “The Academic Freedom Act.” Purporting to protect the right of
teachers to “objectively present scientific information relevant to the
full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical
evolution in connection with teaching any prescribed curriculum
regarding chemical or biological origins” and the right of students not
to be “penalized in any way because he or she subscribes to a
particular position or view regarding biological or chemical
evolution,” the bill would not affect the content of the standards,
although it is clear that it was introduced at the behest at those who opposed their excellent treatment of evolution. A string of similar bills in Alabama—HB
391 and SB 336 in 2004; HB 352, SB 240, and HB 716 in 2005; HB 106 and
SB 45 in 2006—failed. With only sixty days in the regular legislative
session, perhaps the Florida legislature will be able to find something
useful to do, instead of wasting its time mollifying creationists.
In the flush of the current presidential campaign, when crowds of blacks and whites caught up in Obama fever chant together, “race doesn’t matter,” and even the mainstream media seems delirious with the possibility that the U.S. may be poised to elect its first black president, it’s hard to remember that only a few months ago college campuses, high schools and workplaces from Louisiana to New York were sites of racial intimidation. 2007 was the year of the noose. Dozens of incidents, in which nooses were hung in places designed to intimidate black workers and students, seemed to engulf the country. Many of these noose hangings seem to have been set off by the case of the Jena Six -- a Louisiana case in which black high school students faced serious criminal charges after a series of violent conflicts with white students. The friction between the students arose after white students hung nooses from a tree that had long been regarded as reserved as a meeting place for white students. Many whites minimized the noose hangings at Jena and in other places as mere pranks. Blacks, by and large, regarded the noose hangings as hate crimes – messages of intimidation and white supremacy inspired by the nearly 5,000 lynchings of black men and women that took place in the 20th century.
Today, it’s almost tempting to dismiss the rash of noose incidents and attendant focus on the history of lynching as just a strange autumnal anomaly -- some kind of retro race moment, a last gasp of 20th century racism. Nooses had fallen so far outside the national conversation that it came as somewhat of a shock last Tuesday when President Bush finally condemned noose displays in a ceremony at the White House commemorating Black History Month. The noose, said the President “is wrong . .. [and has] no place in America today.” The President forcefully insisted that displaying a noose is “not a harmless prank, and lynching is not a word to be mentioned in jest.” Instead the noose, said the President, “is a symbol of gross injustice.”
The timing of the President’s statement was curious. Months earlier, when noose incidents were on the front page of major newspapers every day, a presidential statement denouncing the display of nooses would have been a powerful and authoritative repudiation of racist symbols. Yet at that time, the President was silent on the issue. As a result, President Bush’s statement last week seemed strangely out of time. It read like a random selection from a stack of draft presidential statements, hauled out for Black History Month. Clearly drafted months ago [and perhaps embargoed for unknown reasons], the President’s statement provided no guidance on how to reconcile the rash of noose displays four months ago with the current mood of racial harmony and possibility sweeping the country.
Many were drawn to the Oliver event by her
approachable verse with its intense focus on the natural world and its quiet
delights, but she soon dispensed with any notion that the evening was destined
to be some sort of ecumenical worship service of nature or the poet herself.
That seemed a possibility when many in the crowd of 2,500 gave Oliver a
standing ovation even before she had uttered a word.
But Oliver's self-effacing sense of humor soon
punctured such awe, delivered with a Seinfeldian sense of timing.
"I have a little dog and I'm working hard to
make him famous," Oliver said.
Knowing murmurs rippled through the crowd.
"And he deserves it," she added, to
That dreaded "R-word" is
indeed dredged up in Banished. When
blacks were driven from Forsyth County in 1912, many left behind land that they
owned. They were never paid for that land. It was simply gobbled up and sold by
whites who saw an opportunity to make a quick - and easy - buck. Neither the
blacks who lost land nor their descendants have been compensated.
Hosted by Executive Producer Howard Zinn -- not only a wildly
influential historian and one of the most inspirational activists of modern
times, but also one of the most imminently likable people alive --"The People
Speak" featured an all-star line-up performing excerpts primarily taken from Zinn’s
book Voices of
A People’s History of the United States. The four performances, broken
into segments titled "Class," "Women," "Race," and "War," were the culmination
of tremendous work by Zinn, Anthony Arnove, and Chris Moore of "Project
Greenlight," as well as actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.
While every last one of the actors who participated should
be loudly applauded (yet again!), standout performances included John Legend pouring
his heart and soul into Nina Simone’s "Mississippi Goddamn"; Marisa Tomei reading the words of Cindy
David Strathairn standing in for a member of the House Committee on Un-American
Activities, which for those of us who loved Good Night, and Good Luck was hilarious;
Josh Brolin doing more for Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny
Got His Gun than any high school lit class ever could; and every last time
Staceyann Chin walked onstage.
For those who couldn’t make it into the filled-to-capacity
Cutler Majestic, you can read more about it over at Alternet, watch some more clips on YouTube, and, with any luck, the producers will find a home for the miniseries.