A Futurist's Warning: Buckle Up for the Most Disruptive Decade Ever
Futurists aspire to identify the fundamental forces shaping the world in order to predict their effects for decades or even centuries to come. It's quite an ambition and they can't be timid. As analysts, they must think big as well as profoundly. As seers, they need the moxie to make judgments without the usual "on the one other hand, on the other hand" hedge. And like the sign on the neighborhood church said—"Bible Study on the Prophets Cancelled Due to Unforeseen Circumstances"— their foresight had better leave room for the unexpected.
China's Billion Dollar Bet on Remaking the News: It's Not Just Slicker Propaganda
In 1958 the late Harold Isaacs, a foreign-correspondent-turned-political-scientist, wrote a book about American views of China and India examining popular attitudes toward the two societies. His research, an imaginative use of surveys and interviews, found that, from the man on the street to foreign policy experts, impressions of both countries lagged far behind their realities. As he considered future relations between the East's rising powers and the West, Isaacs worried about the effects of outdated perceptions, calling them, poetically, "scratches on our minds." A new study on the expanding international reach of China's news media by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Paris-based NGO that defends freedom of the press, suggests his worry is as relevant today as it was 60 years ago.
President Trump and Typhoid Mary: When Lies Become Epidemic
With his 2020 election campaign officially in gear, President Trump is attacking opponents on all fronts, escalating his disregard for facts, truth and political values. Like the latest measles cases, his demagoguery -- last month Trump leveled a treason charge against The New York Times and threatened a Time reporter with jail -- is most often a one-day story. It shouldn't be. Parroted by party sycophants and right-wing propagandists and echo chambers, Trump's authoritarian outbursts are epidemic. It's time the media industry treated them that way.
Trump TV 2.0: The News Media Can't Ignore the Debut
Donald Trump’s Act Two debuts in January. The country will pay the price if the news media gets hooked on the show.
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Demagogues, Democracy and the News: Come to the Cabaret
I can’t altogether believe that any of this has really happened,” Christopher Isherwood wrote in Goodbye to Berlin, his autobiographical novel of life in Germany at the dawn of the 1930s. The inspiration for the smash hit musical Cabaret, Isherwood’s book tells the story among other things of the tumultuous fall of the Weimar Republic. His line couldn’t capture better what many Americans think about where they find themselves today.
Truth as the First Casualty: When News Ignores the Facts
The first casualty when war comes is truth. Senator Hiram Johnson, an isolationist, said this in 1917 when he was bemoaning America's entry into World War I. Little could the senator have imagined that a century later his observation would apply just as well to American politics. He might also have been surprised to see that the news organizations most people seek out to find the truth are helping to drive up the body count.
The Banana Republicans and Their Media Enablers: Have They No Shame?
Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart found just the right words in 1964 when he concurred in a First Amendment case. The Constitution, he asserted, protected obscene speech except for hard core pornography. I won't try to describe it, Stewart wrote, but I'll know it when I see it.
"Moving to a Finite Earth Economy": What Climate Change Demands and Why
"Men argue, nature acts," Voltaire wrote 300 years ago. The French philosopher couldn't have described the emerging crisis better, as communities, companies, and countries struggle to deal with climate change today. The global debate over how to respond is for good reason: No matter the scale of the issue, from the rising sea level to carbon sequestration, the responses required will be costly, complicated, and, in many cases, controversial. But, like the crisis, the actions needed also are increasingly clear, as David Houle and Bob Leonard lay out in Moving to a Finite Earth Economy — Crew Manual.
Monty Python and the Oval Office: It Might be Funny If It Wasn't So Serious
Like fine art, good wine, and at least in the eyes of the Supreme Court, pornography, humor is tough to define in a few words. President Trump is making it easier by turning national policy into a stand-up shtick. Previous presidents have chosen their words carefully because they knew what they said mattered. Trump is delivering his pronouncements as a version of a comedy club's open mic night. The consequences, the pandemic's statistics, are anything but a barrel of laughs.
Voice of America Under Attack by Trump Administration
In a meeting a year ago, President Trump gave his view of journalists. "These people should be executed," Trump said, "they're scumbags." Well aware the president expects fawning to be their default setting, the news media have largely ignored his private name-calling. It's easy to see why. Whether in press conferences or media scrums, Trump's animosities always are front and center, as are the ad hominem attacks that accompany the word salads he delivers to journalists in place of serious replies.
The Propagandists and their Enablers: The News Media's Parallel Universes
It takes an unusual mind, the English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once wrote, to undertake the analysis of the obvious. Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation and Radicalization in American Politics -- a book that explains how the media are accelerating the country's spiral into national crisis -- actually is the work of three unusual minds. Their thinking couldn't be more relevant or troubling in demonstrating how news coverage of the Trump presidency is deepening the divisions among Americans by the day.
News, Propaganda and Profits: A Warning to Americans From Down Under
As the finale of an annus horribilis, New Year's Eve 2020 is likely to find pandemic isolated Americans at home, couch-bound, and channel surfing through the celebrations around the world. Time zones and international datelines will sequence their shows, teeing up festivities in Australia as an early morning first. People would be wise to keep the Aussies tuned in. The sounds and lights over Sydney harbor aren't the only fireworks that will be worth watching down under in 2021.
The Pollsters' Epic Fail: 2020 Is Not a Technical Problem
Missing their calls on two presidential elections have the pollsters scrambling to fix what went wrong. They need to consider whether their assumptions about the Americans they're surveying make sense anymore.
Disinformation Deconstructs Democracy: Is the News Up to Covering the Story?
Republicans were witnesses on January 6th when the mob stormed the Capitol in order to overturn an election at Trump's behest. So were the journalists who courageously reported the first attempted coup d'état incited by, of all people, a President of the United States. The question is: Will the media cover the growing threat to democracy that Trump's big lie and its enablers' support represent after his impeachment trial is no longer news?
"Influence" Shows Why if You're Not Worried About the November Election, You Should Be
Thanks to two South African journalists and filmmakers, Influence has arrived in time to give Americans a chance to think again. The documentary is all about how advertising metastasized into political consulting to transform politics. The work of Richard Poplak and Diana Neille, the 2020 Sundance Film Festival selection just aired on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It deserves a wide audience south of the border before Americans go to the polls this year.
Donald Trump and the Press: Somewhere Old Bolsheviks are Smiling
"The press should be not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator," Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov wrote in 1901, "but also a collective organizer of the masses." Ulyanov, also known as Vladimir Lenin, couldn't have penned a better description of Donald Trump's media strategy today.
Jim Kiss: A Man Who Defined Friendship
Friend. Americans use the term promiscuously. Their intentions are good, reflecting a country where everyone is from somewhere else. We are usually welcoming, convivial, and, at times, indiscriminate about who we hug or slap on the back. This can occasionally come at a cost; for example, when we use the word "friend" and actually mean something less. And it's no secret that technology has debased the definition. Just watch as devices around you beep or buzz, sending people pawing like Pavlov's dogs for electronic kibbles sent by "friends" who they've never even met. That's what makes losing James M. Kiss, aka "Jim," who passed away on February 1, so significant. He left a mark on the world because of a host of talents. Nothing, however, explains his character and all he did more than his capacity to reach out to others — delivering the essence of friendship.
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The Pandemic and Public Service Announcements: It'll Take More than Smokey the Bear
An 80-year-old poster, a one-liner from the 1950s, a classic 1987 television spot. Rosie the Riveter, her bicep flexed; Smokie the Bear, paw pointed admonishingly; the TV audio conjuring a coked-up brain while on screen a frying pan sizzles an egg. Whether boosting morale on the home front in World War II, warning about forest fires, or waging a war on drugs, public service announcements have delivered messages that often stick well after their causes are gone.
Is Broadcast and Cable Journalism Helping Trump Bury the News?
Attorney General Barr made a stab at stand-up with his press conference last week when he rolled out the Mueller report, but his attempt to mimic a classic from The Daily Showdidn't come close to its star's old routine: Jon Stewart playing the news desk anchor, suddenly goggle-eyed, finger pointing and hollering, "Squirrel!"
Shuttering the Newseum: It's Time for Big Media to Step Up
The decision last month to shutter the Newseum, a Washington, D.C., fixture since 1997, couldn't come at a worse time for journalists, or for Americans who should understand why their job and the First Amendment matter. The Newseum's sponsor, the Freedom Forum, says it will push on. It has a laudable goal: to educate the public about a free press.
The President and his Intelligence Chiefs: When Breaking News Falls Short
President Trump’s attack on his intelligence chiefs following their worldwide threat briefing to Congress last month wasn’t supposed to be a comedy skit. Intended or not, the performance ranks among the best Laurel and Hardy impersonations in years. As National Intelligence Director, Dan Coats, playing the guileless Laurel, briefed Capitol Hill, Trump, the mercurial Hardy, lambasted the spies as naïve, passive and seriously under-trained. The only thing missing was Hardy’s classic line: “Well, Coats, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me in.”
Reflections on Trump in Retreat: Remission Doesn't Mean Cure
Novelists who write political fiction will forever bemoan Donald Trump. Whether their oeuvre is thrillers or serious stories, Trump's exit from the White House after his failed coup d'état is a testament to the old saw: you just can't make this stuff up.
Memo to Democrats: Here's How to Add a Real Debate
With one primary campaign debate down and eleven more to go, the commentariat already is picking winners and losers among the Democratic Party's two dozen presidential hopefuls. Like actors after a Broadway opening night, the Democrats on stage in Miami last month have poured over the reviews. The voters should ignore them. If the two evenings and the after-action analysis have revealed anything about the candidates' qualifications to be President, it's purely accidental. Count on their debates in Detroit on July 30-31 to be just the same.
Watching the Impeachment From Moscow: What Would Arkady Renko Say?
Arkady Renko would have understood it all. We know this police investigator from Moscow, Russia, thanks to the brilliant writing of Martin Cruz Smith. Forty years ago, his best-selling novel Gorky Park introduced the indefatigably honest homicide detective as the Soviet Union died. In The Siberian Dilemma, Smith's latest entry of eight books, Renko copes with the criminal politics and corruption that infects Vladimir Putin's Russia. One thing is certain: If Renko has been watching the impeachment of Donald Trump, he knows exactly the kind of White House he sees.
What's Next After Singapore? Ask TV Critics, Not the Foreign Policy Experts
Washington's foreign policy experts are struggling to explain President Trump's foreign policy. In a White House that has substituted reality TV for real politique, it's time to bring in the media critics who are far more likely to understand what happens in an administration that is all show and no substance.
The Kremlin and the News: Why are Broadcast and Cable Ignoring Putin's 2020 Campaign?
President Trump didn't bother to talk to Vladimir Putin about Russia's preparations to interfere in the 2020 presidential election two weeks ago when he telephoned the Kremlin. Instead, Trump said, the two had a good laugh over the hoax that Putin did anything even remotely offensive in 2016. As for the intelligence community's warning that Moscow is gearing up its attack on the 2020 campaign, Trump was categorical. "We didn't discuss that."
Experiencing Campaign 2020: Don't Take Reality for Granted
Let's face it: except for Peter Sellers' Dr. Strangelove, the Cold War wasn't a barrel of laughs. From hair-raising crises set off by its nuclear balance of terror to proxy wars in countries most Americans couldn't find on a map, Washington's competition with Moscow didn't offer much comic relief. If there were any giggles, they came from Soviet propagandists whose copy sometimes supplied one-liners for cartoon characters like Boris Badenov or Bob Hope's comedy routines. Funny or not then, their successors are giving Vladimir Putin the last laugh as his disinformation warriors gear up to mislead Americans in the 2020 election campaign.
What #MeToo Tells Us About National Leadership
#Metoo is dramatically affecting how people understand sexual harassment and power. But it isn't only about courageous women and abuses. It also carries a message about national leadership, particularly when CEOs seek to claim the nation's top job.
NewsNation Bets on the Middle of the Road: A New Venture and an Old American Story
Wall Street sees its share of contrarian investors; the media business not so much. That's what makes Nexstar Media Group's launch of a national news program that intends to cut across broadcast journalism's current conventions unusual.
Delegitimizing Democracy in 2021: Will Disinformation and Trump Views Be News?
The spectacle of hundreds of Republicans on Capitol Hill pandering to a defeated president’s baseless election claims on January 6th when Congress certifies the Electoral College results looks like the last scene in Trump’s 2020 political charade. The news media needs to call out the disinformation for what it is -- the opening act in their 2021 attack on the democratic process.
Lady Long Rider: The Trail from Montana to Walden Pond
Lady Long Rider by Bernice Ende who rode horseback 30,000 miles solo around the United States and Canada is a fascinating memoir, meditation, and memorial to the women who liberated her and her courage to embark on a decade of journeys across the continent. It deserves to be read.
When Lies Metastasize: A Meditation on the Media and Democracy
The effects of lying and misrepresentation aren't limited to their source. Coming from the Oval Office, they can effect not only how issues are understood, but also how politics works. The Trump White House is a prime example.
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When Local News Dies: A Walk in Mount Adnah Cemetery
The microburst hit Annisquam on a late afternoon last month. A surprise from a line of summer thunderstorms, its winds clocked over 100 miles per hour. Under driving rain, power lines fell, trees uprooted, windows blew in, shingles flew, fences came down. Across Lobster Cove, the village harbor off Cape Ann's Ipswich Bay, 25 sailboats flipped at their moorings. A tour boat from Gloucester taking shelter in the cove ran aground.
The Disinformation Dynasty: The Elephant in the Newsroom
The market for disinformation is growing big time, threatening the democratic process. Right-wing news media and its backers are building the infrastructure to crank it out on an industrial scale.
A Salute to General Abrams: A Lesson in Leadership
For news editors, a presidential election on top of a pandemic, a recession, and a nation-wide movement against racial injustice isn't a recipe for slow news days. It's probably one of the reasons that two months ago a story about a US Army general who broke ranks to make clear what the Constitution means received such scant mention. It deserved a headline.
"Dark Money," the Media and the Integrity of American Democracy
As a case study of Montana politics, the documentary "Dark Money" explores the impact on the state's elections of the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United. It also raises a question: What role do the corporations dominating the American media landscape have in maintaining the integrity of our democracy?
Prophesying the Post-Pandemic World: Buyer Beware
Prepare for the flood of predictions about the world after COVID-19. Take it from a former CIA intelligence analyst and global intelligence expert when it comes to such clairvoyance: caveat emptor—buyer beware.
When Fantasies Replace Facts: It’s Time for a Myth Buster on the News
Scholars who delve into the intellectual intricacies of political theory generally don’t make the roster of on-air pundits. For news producers booking talent, Jeffrey Barash, a professor at the University of Picardie in France, should be an exception. In looking at what makes radical ideologies tick, Barash has examined how Europe’s 20th-century fascists stripped ethics and values from what they said and did to build all-powerful states where politics became nothing more than a tool to manipulate. The result, Barash wrote, steadily blurred the boundaries between facts and fabrications until, as the falsehoods grew, reality disappeared.
CNN Channels Churchill: Confronting Trump's Bodyguard of Lies
"In wartime," Winton Churchill told Franklin Roosevelt and Josef Stalin at their conference in Tehran in 1943, "truth is so precious that she should always be surrounded by a bodyguard of lies." Vladimir Putin can take credit for demonstrating that Churchill's admonition applies just as well in American politics today.
Surveillance Is the Business Model of the Internet. What's Coming Next?
National security made strange bedfellows last week when Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer and his Republican colleague Senator Tom Cotton wrote to acting national intelligence director Joseph Maguire. Their letter raised national security concerns about TikTok, the widely popular video-sharing app. The issue — the company's possible transfer of personal data to the Chinese government — should make TikTok's American fans sit up and take note. For teens, young adults, and their parents who use the app, however, odds are, if they even noticed, the news provoked a yawn.
Covering the Presidency as Performance Art: What Price Are We Paying?
Survivor, The Bachelor, Real Housewives, Keeping up with the Kardashians, Jersey Shore. Cringe-worthy or not, reality TV hits continue to pull in viewers. So does White House in Chaos, President Trump's latest show. It's available on every news network 24/7. What's more, Americans don't need to buy a premium subscription to watch, although at this point it should be clear the price the country is paying.
CEOs Talking About Racism is Good. Telling its Story is Better.
In 1935 Harry Hopkins, the head of the Works Progress Administration, picked Hallie Flanagan, a Vassar College professor, to run a federal project that gave away money, no strings attached. Four years later Congress killed the program. The Republicans lambasted it as communist-inspired, un-American, and a cog in President Franklin Roosevelt's propaganda machine. Short-lived and unloved or not, it's time for Harry Hopkins' idea again.
Considering Common Sense
The best qualification of a prophet is to have a good memory, George Savile wrote three hundred years ago. In musing about prophecy, of course, Savile was talking about the 17th century's equivalent of forecasting. Little did he know that prophecy's 21st century versions would rank survey skills, algorithm writings and wrangling big data way above recall in their descriptions of the job.
Divine Providence for Fools, Drunkards and the United States of America
God has a special providence, Otto von Bismarck once purportedly said, for fools, drunkards and the United States of America. Apocryphal or not, the 150-year-old quote attributed to Germany's famed Iron Chancellor conjures the kind of divine help that anyone paying attention to current events could only wish for today.
Radical Socialism Versus Law and Order: What's in a Name?
The video clips of name-calling and barbed one-liners from the first presidential debate are certain to run non-stop on broadcast and cable news outlets for weeks to come. They degrade the democratic process and it's the news media's fault.
What's Your Corporate Purpose When COVID-19 is Behind Us?
While plant and office closings, furloughs, and draconian budget cuts have reflected the pandemic's economic pain in travel, retail, and a host of other sectors, many companies nonetheless have distinguished themselves by demonstrating that their purpose can go beyond profits. Call it philanthropy, corporate good citizenship, or social responsibility. They are giving priority to their employees, communities, and customers in cushioning the coronavirus's blow. The effort is not only laudable; it makes business as well as humanitarian sense.
The News Business and the Punch and Judy Primaries: Who Dreamed This Up?
In any democracy, the ballot box is the foundation for the serious business of choosing leaders and the process of giving citizens a role in determining the direction their country is led. The applause meter? Not so much.
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Kent Michael Harrington
Analyst, Journalist, Author and National Security Affairs Expert
Covering Campaign 2020: When Leadership Doesn't Make the News
In a presidential campaign amidst a pandemic, there's no question a news story that deserves attention could get lost in the shuffle. Add to that the toll on journalists exacted by the deluge of distortions from President Trump. After nearly four years of covering his non-stop prevarication, through no fault of their own reporters, like football linemen, may well suffer cerebral effects. That's why they could be forgiven for missing an important story of presidential leadership—not from Trump but Joe Biden who recently showed how it's done.
Playing Games with the Census: Why Business Should Pay Attention
There's nothing new about fooling around with the numbers. Joseph Stalin, the Bolshevik dictator who put the capital "T" in totalitarian, knew 100 years ago that information was power. From borscht to ballistic missiles, Stalin manipulated the Soviet Union's statistics on everything. It should be no surprise, therefore, that President Trump -- whose own relationship with the truth also is only coincidental -- would try to play the same game in 2019.
Kremlin Oligarchs and Silicon Valley: It's Not Only About the Money
The testimony by U.S. intelligence chiefs before Congress in their worldwide threat briefing last month made no bones about it: Following its successful covert political attack on the 2016 election, Moscow's effort to subvert American democracy is continuing full steam. The threat assessment was unambiguous. Social media is in Russia's bulls-eye. It's hardly a surprise.
Forrest Gump and 2020: Can Americans Pick Out Fake News?
Profound observations can come in small packages. The eponymous movie Forrest Gumpdelivered one of the best. Stupid is as stupid does. The title character's one-liner couldn't be more relevant to the 2020 presidential election. As Moscow renews its attack on American democracy, to choose intelligently among the candidates' voters must analyze not only their slogans and promises but also the growing onslaught of fake news. The challenge isn't in doubt. The question is, will Americans be able to do the job?
When the Media Covers Madness, Beware When Bizarre Becomes Banal
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is backing a bill that would give Congress a role in removing a president who is unfit to serve. Whatever happens to the idea, it should make the news media think hard about how they cover a mentally ill president.
Local Television: Soft News Is the Hard News Story of the Day
Whether Americans live on the left or right coast or somewhere in-between, and no matter their network of choice, they can count on their favorite local news programs to deliver a daily dose of good news every morning and night. It's a stock-in-trade format whichever channel you choose. Like clockwork, around the 40-minute mark in their hour-long broadcasts, after the weather and sports, unfailingly upbeat anchor teams will queue up their two minutes of video and goodwill.
There's More Than One Contagion: The Infectious Spread of the Lying Virus
Presidents lead with words as much as deeds. When they lie, the damage done isn't only to their credibility. It's also a blow to the country they must mobilize when it faces new challenges. That's why journalism that reports on the impact of lies is no less important than the news stories that reveal them.
What Matters Most: Impeachment, Democracy, or "Dancing With the Stars"?
Classic literature never fails to find new readers because its ideas and expressions capture something enduring about the human experience. No one could have made the point better last week than Representative Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican member on the House Intelligence Committee, who is leading the GOP's defense of President Trump in the impeachment inquiry. Nunes produced a 21st-century version of a 19th-century classic: the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, straight from Alice in Wonderland.
May 25, 2020: A Date and a Choice
When most people think of history, they think of dates. It's easier that way. 1776, 1861, 1929, 1954, 1963, 1974. American independence declared, Fort Sumter shelled to kick off the Civil War, the great stock market crash, the Supreme Court's Brown versus the Board of Education decision, President Kennedy assassinated, President Nixon resigns. If people can't recall the details, remembering a date reminds that something happened. It helps keep things straight.