Tragedy and Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy

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Thomas Frank called Tragedy and Farce “an appeal to reason in a dark time.” Including the sharpest analysis of 2004 election coverage yet and the first detailed look at the burgeoning media reform movement, this book is both an exposé and a call to action. In it John Nichols and Robert McChesney—two of the country’s leading media analysts—argue that during the 2004 election and throughout the Iraq war and occupation, Americans have been starved of democracy’s oxygen: accurate information. More than anything John ...

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<B> Bestselling authorities on the media analyze recent election coverage and its contribution to the decline of American democracy. "A popular government without popular ... information or the means of acquiring it is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both."-James Madison, 1822 James Madison's worst fears were realized in 2004, when voters in a popular election lacked popular information and the means to acquire it. More than anything John Kerry, George Bush, or even Karl Rove did, the media's miscoverage of the campaign decided the election. <P><B> Most disturbingly, the problems with the election coverage reflect long-term problems with U.S. journalism. John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney, two of the country's foremost media analysts and founders of the national media reform group Free Press, dissect the troubling trends in journalism that surfaced in 2004-the decline in resources and standards for political journalism and the organized campaign by the political right to control the news cycle. They show how government decisions made without the informed consent of the American people have led to a media system that undermines democracy. Including newsmaking interviews with John Kerry, Howard Dean, Barack Obama, and other key players in the political process, this book is both an expos? and a call to action. Library Journal This bleak assessment of the state of the media offers a harsh indictment of the Bush administration's control of information and proposes an even fiercer denunciation of the media for failing during the Iraq war and the 2004 election to expose deception and to look beyond the statements of White House officials. Nichols (Washington correspondent, the Nation; Jews for Buchanan) and McChesney (communications, GLIS, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Rich Media, Poor Democracy) fault the press for failing to challenge Bush on the precedent, costs, and strategies of the preemptive war in Iraq: they judge its performance as "one of the darkest moments in the history of U.S. jour Read more Show Less

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Overview

Thomas Frank called Tragedy and Farce “an appeal to reason in a dark time.” Including the sharpest analysis of 2004 election coverage yet and the first detailed look at the burgeoning media reform movement, this book is both an exposé and a call to action. In it John Nichols and Robert McChesney—two of the country’s leading media analysts—argue that during the 2004 election and throughout the Iraq war and occupation, Americans have been starved of democracy’s oxygen: accurate information. More than anything John Kerry, George Bush, or even Karl Rove did, the media’s miscoverage of the campaign and war decided the election. Most disturbingly, the flawed coverage reflects new, structural problems within U.S. journalism.

Tragedy and Farce dissects the media failures of recent years and shows how they expose the decline in resources and standards for political journalism—as well as the methodical campaign by the political right to control the news cycle. In our highly concentrated media system it has become commercially and politically irrational to do the kind of journalism a self-governing society requires.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"We need McChesney and Nichols desperately. Their book is a lifeboat for surviving the burst dam of bullshit called ‘American media.’" —Greg Palast, author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy

"If we want a media that matters again, we have to build it from the ground up. Nichols and McChesney point the way. Let’s act." —Jim Hightower

"Good fuel for progressive responses to the Fox cabal." —Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal
This bleak assessment of the state of the media offers a harsh indictment of the Bush administration's control of information and proposes an even fiercer denunciation of the media for failing during the Iraq war and the 2004 election to expose deception and to look beyond the statements of White House officials. Nichols (Washington correspondent, the Nation; Jews for Buchanan) and McChesney (communications, GLIS, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Rich Media, Poor Democracy) fault the press for failing to challenge Bush on the precedent, costs, and strategies of the preemptive war in Iraq: they judge its performance as "one of the darkest moments in the history of U.S. journalism." The authors conclude that Kerry's greatest flaw as presidential candidate was his failure to understand that the media were no longer independent and unbiased, leading him to the mistaken belief that it would respond to the outlandish attack on his Vietnam record by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. In contrast, Bush was adept at manipulating the media by feeding information to supportive outlets, such as FOX News and the Washington Times while starving those he found antagonistic. This fine portrayal of the critical condition of an independent media is strongly recommended for public libraries. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The media are immoral, biased, unreliable and unpatriotic. But, The Nation correspondent Nichols and media scholar McChesney argue, it's the right's fault, not the left's. It's true, they write, that the American press corps is heavily staffed with liberals. But, as A.J. Liebling once observed, freedom of the press belongs to the person who owns the press, and the megacorporations that control the media have used their freedom to convert the news into a source not of information but of entertainment, thereby abdicating the responsibilities of a "democracy-sustaining journalism"-namely, to keep an eye out on those in power, expose them when they're committing crimes and serve the truth. "Each medium need not do all of the above," the authors write, "but the media system as a whole must assure that the whole package is delivered to the whole population." It doesn't, of course, thanks to that entertainment agenda; the old if-it-bleeds-it-leads doctrine gives way to class-war cheerleading, as the press chases after what the ABC brass instructed its reporters to do: "focus on personalities, pop culture, and ‘big gets,' " which means heavy coverage of things like Michael Jackson's trial and Winona Ryder's shoplifting bust. With a wealth of fads and celebrities to cover, who has time to explore voter fraud or the war in Iraq in any depth? Self-censorship rules, and it serves the interest of the powerful; after all, the administration didn't require the media to concentrate on Martha Stewart and Scott Peterson, but it surely benefited from those distractions. And which advertising-funded newsroom wants to battle an army of well-organized right-wing bloggers, eager for the slightest hint ofliberal bias, the gang that hounded Dan Rather off the air?The authors' argument gets a little soft when they trumpet their media-reform platform-but, to gauge by this book, no one else but the right is going to do the job. Good fuel for progressive responses to the Fox cabal.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781595580160
  • Publisher: New Press, The
  • Publication date: 11/1/2005
  • Pages: 211
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.36 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet the Author

John Nichols is The Nation’s Washington correspondent, an editor at the Capital Times, and is co-founder of the national media reform organization Free Press. He is the author of The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney and Jews for Buchanan. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C.

Robert W. McChesney is the Gutgsell Endowed Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the author of some two dozen books on media and political economy, including Digital Disconnect, Communication Revolution, and the award-winning Rich Media, Poor Democracy; a co-author, with John Nichols, of Tragedy and Farce; and a co-editor, with Ben Scott, of Our Unfree Press, and, with Victor Pickard, of Will the Last Reporter Please Turn Out the Lights (all published by The New Press). McChesney and Nichols are also the co-authors of the award-winning Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex Is Destroying America. McChesney’s work has been translated into thirty-one languages. He lives in Champaign, Illinois, and Madison, Wisconsin.

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