Annotated Bibliography

  1. Alterman, Eric. What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News. New York: Basic Books, 2003.
    Although the title of this book seems to point to the political left, Alterman's book is brimming with accounts from those leaning to the right. It is true that Alterman cites the right to reinforce his assertion that the media is not liberally biased, but the depth to which he uncovers evidence to bolster his argument ensures both perspectives are accounted for. What Liberal Media? attacks the notion of liberal bias in the media by providing a sharp and convincing assessment of the realities of political bias in the news. Some of the strongest evidence comes in the form of a quantitative analysis identifying instances of the use of terms to label one as a liberal or conservative or a Republican or Democrat. Even though Alterman touts that this book likely will be ignored by conservatives based on the implication in the in the title, it is clearly a well-researched resource for those who want to decide for themselves if the media is liberally biased.
  2. Bartlett, Donald L. & Steele, James B. America: What Went Wrong? Missouri: Andrews and McMeel, 1992.
    This is a work of investigative journalism by two Pulitzer Prize winning reporters for the Philadelphia Inquirer. The chapters in the book are somewhat modified versions of articles that first appeared in the Inquirer. The authors set out to demonstrate that the rules governing how the American economy works were changed to favor the wealthy over the middle class. They marshal a significant amount of evidence including plenty of graphics to support their contentions. What they don't do is seek to be balanced. They do not provide significant opportunities for opposing viewpoints. This has led some to consider this "junk journalism" and more evidence for liberal bias in the news. Alternatively one could argue that the media has a status quo bias and that mainstream journalists all too infrequently challenge the established thinking of the powers that be. One could argue, as these authors probably would that the news is full of reports supporting or, at least, not questioning how the economy is run. Therefore it could be argued that these reports provide a balance to typical reporting on the economy that is available in the mainstream press.
  3. Chomsky, Noam. Necessary Illusions. Boston: South End Press, 1989.
    Chomsky, in his calm, plaintive manner, says outright that the US Media is a servant to the will of those in power. His radical and controversial beliefs are once again on exhibit as he delivers evidence and examples of a truth, which has been concealed by a “mask of propaganda that portrays the media as advocates of free speech and democracy.” Though he makes his views known from the start, he tries to let the reader make up his/her own mind. By presenting documented fact alongside quotes by official government spokesmen and tracing patterns, which emerge from the history of the 20th century, Chomsky seems confident that the evidence speaks for itself. Thick and heady, Chomsky wastes no words. If you have the desire and patience to think about something too complicated to fit in a 30 second sound byte and too at odds with the accepted ideologies, which govern our daily beliefs and pacify our myopic suspicions, then Necessary Illusions might be worth your time.
  4. Downie, Leonard Jr. and Kaiser, Robert G. The News About The News. New York: Alfred A. Knopf (a division of Random House, Inc.), 2002.
    This is a very recent book, published in 2002 by reliable authors covering a whole range of topics relating to the news media. This includes the effect of economics of the media. "The drive for ever increasing profit is pulling quality down" (108). The change of television news programs from fifteen minute spots to thirty minute spots is also discussed, relating the nature of the media outlets themselves to the news we see. Trends of Americans to move away from print media towards other news sources are discussed, the effects of which on the priunt news media are discussed in a detailed chapter. Testimony from editors is included, for example, the editor of the Inquirer recalling his objective after taking over in the face of deteriorating economic conditions: "My objective was to keep the [standards] from being lowered" (80). The reality of network news sources is given another separate chapter, including interviews with people in the media about the reporting on 9/11.
  5. Gans, Herbert. Deciding What’s NEWS: A Study of CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Newsweek & Time. New York: Pantheon, 1979.
    In the 20+ years since Gans wrote the study there have, no doubt, been substantial changes in newsrooms. However, it seems likely that the basic process for deciding what’s news and how to present it is much the same as it was in the 1970s. Gans spent a significant amount of time as a “participant-observer” in each of the newsrooms observing what the process for deciding what it broadcast or printed. Some of his findings are not especially surprising. For example, he tells us that the president receives ongoing attention because it is assumed that covering him will attract a sizable audience, that if he’s not covered he can cause the news outlets problems and that it is relatively cheap and easy to provide such coverage. A less obvious conclusion he draws is that while news organizations have some reformist tendencies they tend to be conservative. In other words they tend to support the status quo. One of the reasons this book has lasting value is that it gives one a detailed behind the scenes look at the processes involved in deciding what’s fit to print or broadcast.
  6. Gitlin, Todd. The Whole World Is Watching: mass media in the making & unmaking of the new left. California: University of California Press, 1980.
    Gitlin, a one-time president of the Student for a Democratic Society and currently a professor of sociology, analyzes how the press portrayed the student movements of the 1960s and how those portrayals affected how the movements were viewed. As a participant in the events he writes about Gitlin cannot claim the role of unbiased bystander. On the other hand, it is useful and unusual to have the studied opinions of someone with not only an academic interested but also first knowledge of what’s being discussed. Especially interesting is the changing nature of the frames press use to understand and describe the young activists.
  7. Goldberg, Bernard. Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News. Lanham: Regnery Publishing, 2002.
    This is a tell-all book about how the corporate aspect of news reporting influences what news is reported. Goldberg is an experienced CBS reporter and executive who claims that liberal media bias is extremely pervasive in today’s news. He attempts to reveal the bias of all major networks and specifically the bias of Dan Rather and other “star-network anchors.” He also discusses how major networks tend to give in to pressure groups they support rather than simply stating facts. Goldberg is obviously a conservative, and this comes through in his attack of the major networks liberal bias.
  8. Knightly, Phillip. The First Casualty: From the Crimea to Vietnam: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth Maker. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovonavich, 1975.
    The title comes from a 1917 quote by Senator Hiram Johnson. He said: "The first casualty when war comes is truth." Knightly, in examining the work of war correspondents in the period from the Crimean War to the Vietnam War, provides ample evidence to confirm Johnson's view. War correspondents have been apologists and propaganda agents for their governments but they have also been key agents in getting the truth to the folks back home. Beginning in Crimea where war correspondent William Howard Russell provided the British public a less glorious view of the charge of the Light Brigade than Tennyson immortalized in his poem, through Vietnam where early in the war reporters had to battle not only their government but often their own editors and publishers to get an their stories printed, Knightly gives us one fascinating story after another of the role reporters have played in informing or failing to inform the public about the wars they covered.
  9. Lawrence, Regina. The Politics of Force: Media and the Construction of Police Brutality. California: University of California Press, 2001.
    The vast majority of complaints filed against the police for brutality never make it into the press. Occasionally and for a variety of reasons accusations of police brutality do become news. When they do police officials, who usually are given the benefit of the doubt, are often put on the defensive and lose their usual ability to shape how such how such charges are portrayed in the media. The Rodney King case, which is explored here at some length, is probably the most famous such instance. In this scrupulously fair and balanced book Lawrence examines how charges of police brutality were covered the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times from 1981 through 1991. She provides a framework for understanding why they were covered the way they were which focuses on institutionally driven coverage of the news v. event driven news coverage. This book is valuable not only for those interested in news coverage of the issue of police brutality. In many ways police brutality can be seen as an example that illustrates the Lawrence’s thesis. Her arguments for how news is constructed could easily apply to many other issues covered by journalists.
  10. Lee, Martin A. Unreliable Sources: A Guide To Detecting Bias in News Media. New York: Solomon, Norman, Carol Publishing Group, 1990.
    This is one of the few books I have seen that directly tackles the issue of corporate ownership, and not just broad economic effects. Ownership by Time Warner of networks is addressed, the ownership of NBC by GE is addressed, and there is an interesting analysis on the apparent pro-business reporting of PBS. Another interesting thing that this book does is to use obituaries (morbid as it may sound) as examples of bias surfacing. The authors make the claim that key biographical facts are often omitted in obituaries, using examples including Irving Brown, and actress Lucille Ball (55-6). Clear examples of corporate conflicts of interest are laid out in plain sight, my favorite of which is as follows: "NBC President Robert Wright donated money to the Bush [41] campaign, as did GE chief "Neutron Jack" Welsh. NBC News employees didn't have to be told that a Dukakis victory -- or tough, critical reporting on Star Wars -- could cost GE millions of dollars." (81). Quotes from former employees of NBC and other networks are included. This book, though quite long, is a wonderful source of information.
  11. Mindlich, David T.Z. Just The Facts. New York: New York University Press, 1998.
    Published in 1998, this is another recent book addressing the issues of how facts get distorted in the news media. The book starts out with a very thorough discussion of the nebulous topic of objectivity - just what exactly is objectivity, and is it still the main goal of journalism today? The following chapters basically try to break objectivity down into components (for example, nonpartisanship and balance are two focuses) and to analyze these individually. The effect of the quickening of the news cycle by internet publications and the 24-hour news media on accuracy of reporting is discussed. "Most frightening of all, however, is the idea that the barbarians are at the gates of even the most elite news organizations" (4). The book also devotes a chapter to the "Inverted Pyramid" (pg 64-94), the concept of revealing the most important facts of a story first, and moving down to the less important aspects of the story towards the end. This style of reporting and its importance are discussed specifically relating to civil-war events, along with a discussion on the Government Printing Office's establishment, thus putting an end to the party press.
  12. Murray, David & Schwartz, Joel and Lichter, S. Robert. It Ain’t Necessarily So: How the Media Remake Our Picture of Reality. New York: Penguin, 2001.
    This is a very useful book in that it provides us the tools for better analyzing the news especially the quantitative information that is provided. The lessons they teach (if not the conclusions they reach) can and should be applied even by those who do not share the authors’ right leaning politics. They illustrate how frequently the news media distort the meaning of scientific research by ignoring uncertainty and preliminary nature in that report. They show how pollsters can shape their questions to get the results they want. They provide examples of failures of newspapers to follow up a report that would have led a reader to draw one conclusion with a second report when new, contradictory evidence becomes available. One of best aspects of this book is that it avoids the avoids the anger, the finger pointing and the humourlessness that characterizes so many of the discussions of media bias.
  13. Said, Edward W. Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World. New York: Pantheon Books, 1981.
    While in some ways this book is dated, as it focuses on events around the oil and crisis and Iranian hostage crisis of the 1970s and 1980, it nonetheless still has important lessons to teach. It focuses on how Islam is portrayed in the media and by other experts. It provides an object lesson in how one's world view, with its assumptions, prejudices and ignorances can lead to distorted and even dangerous "understandings" of other cultures and nations. The news media, which could be a force in eliminating such biases are, in Said's view often the purveyors of stereotypes and other biases. It is worth noting that Said does not just critique the biases of the U.S. and the West but also discusses the biases in the Islamic world vis-à-vis the West.
  14. Shogan, Robert. Bad News: Where the Press Goes Wrong in the Making of the President. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001.
    Shogan, a reporter who has covered many presidential campaigns himself, analyzes the presses role in presidential elections from 1968 through 2000 and does not like much of what he sees. He notes the ways the media has allowed itself to be used by presidential campaigns and the cynicism that focuses on the trivial while ignoring what is truly important. He urges his fellow political journalists to keep in mind the important role they can play in arming the citizenry with the information they need to be well informed. An especially valuable feature the is work is Shogan’s detailing the role of the press election by election. This allows gives us the opportunity to see the changing role of the press over time.
  15. Sigal, Leon V. Reporters and Officials. Lexington: Heath and Company, 1973.
    Sigal explores the relationships between reporters and officials and how these relationships influence what we see and read in the news. He tries to determine whether the press acts as surrogate for public opinion and in turn influences policy makers inside the government or if the press ignores the public and concentrates on interactions between men in the government and the press. Sigal delves into his wealth of collected data to answer these two sets of questions: “First, how does the press cover the nation and the world? How does it process the information that it gathers? Second, why do officials make use of the press? How do they accomplish their aims through it?” His findings are as timely in 2003 as they were thirty years ago. America is asking itself if the mass media is an arm of the government. This book offers answers to a question that must still be asked, put forth by an ever-growing number of Americans and people all over the world.
  16. Soley, Lawrence C. The News Shapers. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1992.
    This investigative book starts out by identifying what is a ‘news shaper.’ Soley distinguishes between a newsmaker and a news shaper. The first is someone who says or does something news worthy and thus it gets reported; they are the legitimate focus of the news. The second is someone, usually introduced as an ‘expert’ or ‘analyst,’ who provides background or analyses but are not the focus of the news. Soley attempts to prove not only that these news shapers are responsible for significant shifts in public opinion, but that almost all of them are white men with elite organizational ties. Similar to Leon V. Sigal, Soley also accuses various news organizations of purposely tracking down specific news shapers that will provide commentary, which supports the media company’s own editorial opinion and/or political partisanship. Most of the book is made up of critiques of the various forms of news shaping and a few notorious news shapers.