Monday, May 28, 2007

Pg. 69: "When the Press Fails"

Today's feature at the Page 69 Test: When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina by W. Lance Bennett, Regina G. Lawrence, and Steven Livingston.

About the book, from the publisher's website:
During the gravest moments of George W. Bush’s tenure — the response to 9/11, the buildup to war with Iraq, the Abu Ghraib scandal — the media largely reported reality as his administration scripted it. Why, in these times when we most need a critical, independent press, does this essential pillar of democracy fail us? A sobering look at the intimate relationship between political power and the news media, When the Press Fails argues that reporters’ dependence on official sources disastrously thwarts coverage of dissenting voices from outside the beltway.

The result is both an indictment of official spin and an urgent call to action that begins by questioning why the mainstream press neglected to cover considerable evidence against the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Drawing on hard-hitting interviews with journalists and analysis of content from major news outlets, the authors show that such catastrophic blind spots, particularly during the Abu Ghraib controversy, have stemmed from a lack of high-level sources within government willing to question the administration publicly. Contrasting these grave failures with the refreshingly critical reporting on Hurricane Katrina — a rare event that caught officials off guard, enabling journalists to enter a no-spin zone — When the Press Fails concludes by proposing new practices to reduce reporters’ dependence on power.

The authors ultimately contend that if ordinary Americans start to hear alternative perspectives aired in the legitimizing arena of the mainstream press, they just might begin to act as a public — no longer suffering with private shock and awe as world-changing events unfold before their eyes.
Among the praise for When the Press Fails:

"When the Press Fails confronts some of the most important questions now facing the press, the public, and our shared democracy-and does so with rare precision and insight. This book has the power to ignite a much-needed public discussion about the role of `the media' in public life and it should be required reading in newsrooms across the country."

--Dan Rather, global correspondent, HDNet

"When the Press Fails is a valuable and clarifying book for people in the news media-and perhaps even more for members of the public who feel abused by the press's failures. Inside and outside the news business, everyone knows that something serious is wrong with the way Americans get and assess information. This book does a very good job of explaining what that something is, and what parts of it can be addressed."

--James Fallows, author of Breaking the News and correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly

"Political partisans have tried for years to discredit journalists, resulting in a press corps now overly conscious of its image. This book illustrates how America gets hurt when journalists are too intimidated to do their jobs."

--Bob Edwards, host of the Bob Edwards Show and former host of Morning Edition

"Not all Washington journalists will applaud the arrival of When the Press Fails, but they should and probably will read it. It is a stinging critique of media coverage of the Bush administration, especially its policy in Iraq, and it raises serious questions about how the White House has `spun' much of the media into a form of docile dependency on official handouts, leading to an overall failure of accountability. Thus is the public shortchanged. Between the lines is a cry for the media to wake up to its social and political responsibilities."

--Marvin Kalb, founding director and senior fellow of the Joan Shorenstein Center

Learn more about When the Press Fails at the publisher's website, and read an excerpt from the book.

W. Lance Bennett is Ruddick C. Lawrence Professor Communication and Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington; Regina G. Lawrence is Department Chair and Professor of Political Science in the Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University; and Steven Livingston is Professor of Political Communication in the School of Media and Public Affairs and holds a joint appointment in the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.

The Page 69 Test: When the Press Fails.

--Marshal Zeringue