Citations Needed is a podcast about the intersection of media, PR, and power, hosted by Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.
info_outline Episode 110: The Shiny-Object Psychology of American Capitalist “Innovation” 05/20/2020
Episode 110: The Shiny-Object Psychology of American Capitalist “Innovation” “Free markets drive innovation!” It’s a narrative imparted to us ad nauseam. The ultimate catalyst of creation and progress — we’re told by policymakers, business executives, think tanks, and the media outlets that bolster them — in which great strides in healthcare, electronics, media, and other areas are the domain of private enterprise motivated by competition and profit, and unencumbered by state intervention. As the prospect of socialism — or at least the word “socialism” — regains currency in the West, these claims have resurged. Capitalism’s supporters insist that a profit-first system is the reason the world is always improving, lifting people out of poverty while equipping them with iPhones, WiFi, and central air conditioning. Socialism, they contend, hinders innovation because public ownership of the means of production removes the competition and profit that ostensibly incentivize creativity. But why are we expected to believe that concentrating ownership of the means of production in the hands of a few is the key to progress and prosperity for all? How is it that the most important metrics of “innovation” are consumer goods available to some, rather than socialized, need-based programs available to all? And above all, who does this narrative that “innovation” is driven by Anglo-American style Randian capitalism really serve? On this episode, we delve into these questions, looking at how the United States — the world’s foremost champion of capitalism — packages propaganda about its alleged innovation; the reasons capitalism not only fails to drive innovation, but also actively destroys it; and the U.S.’s brutal actions to thwart socialist efforts toward a more equitably and sustainable version of “innovation” at home and aboard. Our guest is Current Affairs associate editor Vanessa A. Bee.
info_outline Episode 109: Self-Help Culture and the Rise of Corporate Happiness Monitoring 05/06/2020
Episode 109: Self-Help Culture and the Rise of Corporate Happiness Monitoring How can one achieve happiness? It’s the eternal question. From Aristotle to Al-Ghazali, Thomas Aquinas to Arthur Schopenhauer. The answer, we’re told, is to look within. These days, we’re told repeatedly by our modern philosophers, Oprah Winfrey, Srikumar Rao, Tony Robbins, Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra and other corporate happiness monitors that prosperity and fulfillment come through deep introspection and mindfulness—just pay for more inspiring books, videos, retreats, seminars, and classes! These prescriptions, while ostensibly useful in the short term for answering personal questions or alleviating stress, all fall within the genre of self-help. The trouble is, on the whole, they’re not very helpful at all. The self-help industry is predicated on the ever-American and thoroughly capitalist concepts of rugged individualism and personal responsibility, arguing that if you have a problem, it’s invariably up to you, and only you, to fix it. Meanwhile, it imparts the appearance of virtue and legitimacy with hollow, cherry-picked references to Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and psychology. In recent years, there’s rightfully been a new crop of criticism leveled against the self-help industry, with books offering “anti-self-help” alternatives for improving one’s life, calling for people to relax and stop placing so much pressure on themselves. Still, many of these critiques embrace the same form of individualism as the media they decry, ignoring the reality that the best way to ‘help’ people is to ensure their material needs—like housing, food, and healthcare—are met. On this episode, we’ll chronicle the development of modern self-help culture, from its 19th-century protestant, capitalist roots to its modern ambassadors; analyze how self-help culture promotes the values of neoliberalism; examine the ways in which modern mainstream critiques of the self-help industry fall short, embracing the same reactionary principles they should be rebuking, and dissect the profound institutional incentives that compel us to prioritize solipsism over solidarity. Our guest is political economist and author William Davies.
info_outline Episode 108: How GDP Fetishism Drives Climate Crisis and Inequality 04/29/2020
Episode 108: How GDP Fetishism Drives Climate Crisis and Inequality "Economists' forecasts for GDP growth in 2020 vary widely," says The Economist. "Algeria's GDP growth falls to 0.8% in 2019," one Reuters headline reads. "GDP — the broadest measure of economic activity — grew at an annual rate of just 1.9% during the third quarter," NPR warns. Everywhere we turn for economic news, the Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, is held up as the key proxy for prosperity and sound fiscal policy. Since its codification as the new gold standard for measuring prosperity at the Bretton Wood conference in 1944, the GDP has been the most popular metric used by American and British media when measure a nation’s prosperity. The GDP, and its close cousin, the Gross National Product, have not been without its critics for decades, but prying it from its top position as The Most Important Policy Goal has been an impossible task. Despite many labor activists, environmentalists and economists leveling critiques at its myopic, capitalist ideology, the metric has remained central to how the media and lawmakers determine fiscal policy. But what is the GDP exactly? How did it become the go-to proxy for prosperity in Western media? What are its ideological inputs, and how did post-war notions of colonialism and extractivism helps cement its place in our collective mindset? And what, more importantly, do activists argue we should replace it with? On this episode of Citations Needed we will explore these questions and examine how centralizing Gross Domestic Product––by its very design––obscures climate crisis, labor abuses, racism, drudgery, and a whole host of society's ills. We welcome economic anthropologist Dr. Jason Hickel back to the show.
info_outline Episode 107: Pop Torts and the Ready-Made Virality of ‘Frivolous Lawsuit’ Stories 04/22/2020
Episode 107: Pop Torts and the Ready-Made Virality of ‘Frivolous Lawsuit’ Stories “Woman Sues TripAdvisor After Falling off Runaway Camel,” reports the Associated Press. “Red Bull Paying Out to Customers Who Thought Energy Drink Would Actually Give Them Wings,” eyerolls Newsweek. “Tennessee man sues Popeyes for running out of chicken sandwiches,” scoffs NBC News. We see “frivolous lawsuit” stories all the time and have for decades. Seemingly absurd cases of get rich quick schemes often with catchy headlines, a caricature of a plaintiff friendly legal system run amok. These stories play into faux-populist tropes of a country full of lazy poor people looking to cash in and a sleazy legal system that leeches off hard-working Americans. But how organic are these “pop torts”––or popular stories of frivolous lawsuits––and more importantly, how true even are they? What organizations are behind cherry-picking and teeing up these shameful tales of greed for uncritical writers, editors and producers? Who’s backing them, and what, perhaps, may be their ulterior motives? Moreover, what are the human stakes to so called “tort reform” and how did it come to be that the vast majority of Americans came to accept the premise that, at some point in the 1980s, we all became amoral lawsuit happy scumbags out to shutdown mom and pop stores and grab a quick buck? We are joined by the Center for Justice & Democracy's Joanna Doroshow.
info_outline Episode 106: The Sanitization of Sanctions 04/15/2020
Episode 106: The Sanitization of Sanctions As COVID-19 continues to endanger the health of people throughout the world, it also magnifies a long-existent global humanitarian crisis: The use of sanctions by the United States and other powers as a weapon of war. In Iran, one of the countries most devastated by the contagion, sanctions have strangulated the supply of medical equipment crucial to testing the population and treating those who are infected, inspiring some members of the political establishment to call for sanctions to be eased. While these pleas are necessary, they’re woefully inadequate and long overdue. Sanctions aren’t just a problem when there’s a pandemic. Iran had been subjected to U.S. and UN-imposed sanctions long before the appearance of the contagion—as had Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, Iraq, and far too many other countries deemed Official Enemies of the United States and its allies, resulting in economic destabilization, vulnerability to U.S. militarism, starvation, illness, and mass deaths. Amid these life-or-death stakes, media and think tanks’ responses to sanctions range from mere handwringing to outright bloodlust. Rather than decisively condemning sanctions as ruthless acts of economic warfare, American media largely perpetuates the narrative that sanctions are a necessity, and often a force for good, in the effort to punish and “change the behavior” of some perceived “rogue” government. Meanwhile, little criticism is offered outside of tepid suggestions that those sanctions should be tweaked. On today’s show, we’ll examine how the U.S. levies sanctions to undermine countries opposed to U.S. hegemony, how sanctions are laundered as benign in the media, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the preexisting, decades-long barbarism of U.S. foreign policy. We are joined by guests Keyvan Shafiei and Hoda Katebi.
info_outline News Brief: Widespread Indifference to Covid-19 in Prisons 04/08/2020
News Brief: Widespread Indifference to Covid-19 in Prisons In this extended News Brief, we discuss how the rapid increase of Covid-19 in prisons and jails is being met with indifference by lawmakers and US corporate media.
info_outline News Brief: Top 10 Worst Covid Crisis Takes (So Far) 03/29/2020
News Brief: Top 10 Worst Covid Crisis Takes (So Far) After over 100 episodes, scores of News Briefs, and almost three years of content production, Citations Needed has finally done it: reduced itself to a listicle. On this News Brief, we examine the top ten worst COVID-19 takes to date (not including the celebrity 'Imagine' video). Proceed with caution.
info_outline News Brief: As a Social Democracy Response Fails, Likelihood of Martial Response to Covid19 Rises 03/23/2020
News Brief: As a Social Democracy Response Fails, Likelihood of Martial Response to Covid19 Rises In this News Brief, we detail recent reports the National Guard and US military may be used in a law enforcement capacity and what this says about the failures of the liberal state. With unemployment potentially reaching 30 percent and an urgent, robust social democratic response from the federal government unlikely, a debate about safeguarding against martial order––especially from an administration with a well documented inclination towards abuse of power–-is urgently needed.
info_outline Episode 105: Pandemic, Pelosi, and the People We Consider Human 03/18/2020
Episode 105: Pandemic, Pelosi, and the People We Consider Human The COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging the globe, leaving immeasurable human suffering in its wake. Who is left behind, struggling to survive on the frontlines of precarity, is – as with all things – determined primarily by wealth, privilege, and access to resources and political capital. This fact has been starkly on display in recent days, as Congressional Democrats began debating their response to the crisis: corporations, wealthy investors and industry were prioritized, formal wage workers were given crumbs, and the undocumented and informal economy workers – such as domestic caregivers; undocumented workers; sex workers; and freelance, contract, and off-the-books workers – were ignored completely. On this week's episode, we analyze a 48-hour time period of coverage in The New York Times and The Washington Post when the discussion of who was going to be prioritized and aided – and who wasn't – cemented in popular discourse with little logic or meaningful debate. We are joined by Fahd Ahmed, Executive Director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM).
info_outline Episode 104: The Pete Peterson Austerity Empire and the “How Will You Pay For It?” Lie 03/11/2020
Episode 104: The Pete Peterson Austerity Empire and the “How Will You Pay For It?” Lie “According to the Bipartisan Policy Center," "a recent study by the Concord Coalition disagrees," "One review of your budget by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says." We’ve seen these seemingly benign Official Sounding sources hundreds of times—from presidential debates to 60 Minutes to countless articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times. But what the average person can’t reasonably know is that these organizations—Bipartisan Policy Center, the Concord Coalition, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and PR projects like “The Can Kicks Back” and “America Speaks”—are all veiled front groups for a single, far-right billionaire whose entire life mission was to privatize social security, medicare and other entitlement programs under the auspices of fighting a so-called “deficit timebomb.” For decades, a web of Pete Peterson-backed front groups—often funded in concert with other like minded billionaires—has used the faux neutrality of think tanks, institutes, and academia to launder "anti-deficit" messaging for American pundits, reporters, and politicians, entirely capturing the narrative around deficits and their alleged pending destruction of society as we know it. This week, we explore the origins of Pete Peterson’s austerity propaganda machine, his web of influence, how he helped co-opt both conservative and liberal knowledge production, and how he and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to undermine what little liberal government the United States has left. We are joined by David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect.
info_outline Episode 103: The Glib Left-Punching of “Purity Politics” Discourse 03/04/2020
Episode 103: The Glib Left-Punching of “Purity Politics” Discourse "Obama Warns Against ‘Purity Tests’ In Democratic Primary," Spectrum News reports. "Spare Me the Purity Racket," Maureen Dowd opines in The New York Times. "'Purity Tests' Divide Democrats," US News & World Report announces. "Political purity tests are for losers," bellows The Hill. We hear it all the time: progressives, leftists, radicals — and even liberals — are told they must not engage in the siren song of "purity politics." Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, we are told. We must be pragmatic, realistic, we must lay down our ideological arms and stop pining for Nirvana when so much is on the line in November. Evoking purity politics functions — more often than not — as a catch-all defense against any and all criticism of establishment Democrats. In 2016, Hillary Clinton partisans used it against Bernie Sanders supporters; in 2020, Bloomberg’s flacks use it against Sanders again, and even Sanders partisans use it against leftist skeptics of electoralism. Put simply, purity politics is a Get Out Of Jail Free card, a perennial lesser of two evils narrative of an inherent impossibility of anything other than incremental change. At their core, charges of purity politics are ahistoric and anti-intellectual, pathologizing alternative theories of change that don’t require political compromise as youthful vanity. Indeed, how to balance compromise and ideals has been, for centuries, the central question of the Left, everyone from French revolutionaries to Russian socialists, Black American radicals and Indigenous struggles in North America to Third World liberation movements around the globe have struggled to answer: when do we compromise and when do we not? But "purity politics" ignores this essential and rich question altogether, brushing aside morally fraught debates about political strategy and reducing anything short of the path of least resistance to unserious solipsism and juvenile stubbornness. On this episode, we discuss how demands that people drop "purity politics" only go in one direction; how moral urgency has historically been pathologized as youthful narcissism; and how our jaded, broken media elites routinely conflate preemptive defeatism with political savvy. Our guest is attorney and writer Malaika Jabali.
info_outline Episode 102: The Conservative Sanctimony of Journalistic Impartiality 02/26/2020
Episode 102: The Conservative Sanctimony of Journalistic Impartiality One of the most prized professional norms for journalists, particularly the United States, is the preservation of neutrality in reporting. While the concept of “objectivity” has fallen out of fashion among mainstream reportage in recent years, related concepts that convey a similar idea such as “impartiality” and “neutrality” have come to replace it. In their mission statements and codes of ethics, corporate and government owned outlets routinely proclaim the importance of impartiality and balance, in the sanctified pursuit of fair, unbiased reporting. In theory, this can be a healthy idea. Distinguishing between so-called opinion or editorial versus neutral, down-the-middle reporting –“objectivity” or “impartiality” can give the reader a sense that a series of facts are being reported rather than some guy’s opinion. The fundamental problem is when this vaguely aspirational genre morphs into an unchecked ideology––an ideology that requires one to think we live in a world where said facts are curated and created outside of long-existing power structures; that those who produce, on an institutional scale, knowledge products via think tanks and academic institutions are without bias. That journalistic institutions, funded by large corporations and billionaires themselves, don’t decide which neutral facts are important and which aren’t. “Objectivity” that doesn’t calibrate power asymmetries or attempt to account for its own institutional ideology isn’t a mode of reporting, it’s conservative conditioning that––if not in intent, in effect––does little more than advance prevailing ruling class ideology. Indeed, anyone who’s ever studied marketing or PR or propaganda will tell you the most effective messaging is that which appears unbiased and impartial. On today’s show, we’ll examine how objectivity came to be a defining principle of Western journalism and how U.S. media’s understanding of impartiality provides an urbane veneer for racism, homophobia, anti-poor policies and other reactionary currents. We are joined this week by journalist , author of .
info_outline Episode 101: The False Universality of “Common Sense” 02/19/2020
Episode 101: The False Universality of “Common Sense” “145 CEOs Call On Senate To Pass 'Common-sense, Bipartisan' Gun Laws,” NPR states. “Local Democrat pushes back on NY bail reform law: It's about 'common sense,' not politics,” a Fox News headline reads. “The Only Thing More Dangerous Than Trump’s Appeal to Common Sense Is His Dismissal of It,” The Nation warns. Everywhere we turn we are told by pundits and politicians that "common sense" demands we support their preferred policy prescription. It's a common appeal: a political issue—whether health-insurance, immigration, foreign policy, or gun violence—reaches a real or perceived extreme, and, in reaction, media pundits and political figures claim the most appropriate response must be ostensibly neutral, reasonable "common sense" reforms. But these claims are insidious. While "common sense" may appear to be a constructive guiding principle, there is no meaningful definition of the concept and when it is evoked, it's almost always an appeal to status quo ideology. What’s sensible to a member of the Tea Party isn’t the same as what’s sensible to an activist seeking to end police violence. So, whose “common sense” is really being promoted when we hear these calls to action? On this week's episode, we explore how appeals to “common sense” present politics as a matter of rationality rather than of morality; how these demands reinforce centrist and right-wing ideologies and how the Left can work to build an alternative common sense. We are joined by cultural anthropologist Dr. Kate Crehan, Professor Emerita at College of Staten Island and the CUNY Graduate Center.
info_outline Episode 100: Willie Hortonism 2020 - Media Attacks on Prison Reform 02/05/2020
Episode 100: Willie Hortonism 2020 - Media Attacks on Prison Reform Since the rise of Black Lives Matter and a broader cultural awakening in the United States of just how wildly out of whack, cruel and hyper-punitive our criminal legal system is, modest reforms began to emerge across the United States. The lowest hanging fruit for reforms was to get rid of or radically reduce pretrial cash bail: a system that simply exists to punish the poor for being poor. 20 percent of people in the United States currently incarcerated––76 percent of those in local jails––have not been found guilty of any crime, they are simply awaiting their trial and cannot pay their bail because they cannot afford it. One 2015 study found that people in jail had a net median income of less than $5,000 a year, and are overwhelmingly Black and Latino. Put simply: bail exists not to protect the public, it exists to punish the poor for being poor. In response to this jarring injustice, some states began instituting modest reforms, reserving bail for so-called “violent crimes,” but requiring judges to consider people’s income when setting bail for other offenses. A number of cities across the country began to see reductions in the number of people in jail pretrial. Unsurprisingly, reform has been met with swift and vicious reaction from pro-carceral forces. Police unions, sleazy politicians, rightwing think tanks, and conservative and liberal media alike prey on propagandized public fears to attack reforms as ushering in a new dystopian era of Escape from New York lawlessness. To do this, among other disingenuous tricks of emotional blackmail, they’ve reanimated one of the oldest in the book, Willie Hortonism: seeking out anecdotal cases of a formerly jailed person who goes on to commit a crime, demagoguing this one example often using racist tropes, and exploiting the media feedback loop to pushback and curtail movements for reform. On this episode, we're joined by Color Of Change's Clarise McCants and Brooklyn Defender Service's Scott Hechinger to highlight various tropes the media use to push back against prison reform and how to fight back against their playbook of fear and racism.
info_outline Episode 99: The Cruel, Voyeuristic Quackery of Rehab TV Shows 01/29/2020
Episode 99: The Cruel, Voyeuristic Quackery of Rehab TV Shows Over the last 20 years, the topics of substance use and treatment have become the stuff of televised entertainment: heart-wrenching stories of desperation and redemption, of suffering and survival. Shows like A&E’s Intervention and VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, which depict people with substance use disorders and their experiences navigating recovery in rehab, have gone a long way to shape our common narratives about what addiction is and how it should be addressed. The central conceit of these shows is that anyone struggling with addiction must follow the same road to recovery: stay at a for-profit treatment facility for approximately one to three months, requiring, among other things, complete abstinence from drugs and/or alcohol, no matter how excruciating or dangerous. While these methods are effective for some, they’re profoundly harmful for others. In promoting this one-size-fits-all approach to treatment—which can be accompanied by punitive and often humiliating experiences—these shows reinforce techniques and philosophies that are not only scientifically debunked, but also have the potential to endanger people’s lives. Meanwhile, they serve as an advertising platform for these for-profit rehab centers themselves, many of which have been shown to be prohibitively expensive, ineffective, and, in some cases, deadly. On this episode, we examine the pseudoscience, myths, and fundamentally quasi-christian self-help ideology promulgated by this genre of television; the ways in which these shows exploit addiction for the sake of story; and the relationship between rehab television and the multibillion-dollar for-profit treatment industry. Our guest is journalist and author Maia Szalavitz.
info_outline Episode 98: The Refined Sociopathy of The Economist 01/22/2020
Episode 98: The Refined Sociopathy of The Economist From its inception as agriculture trade paper in 1843 to the present day, The Economist has provided a gateway into the mind of the banking class. Something of an anomaly in the publishing industry, The Economist is not quite a magazine, not quite a newspaper; aspirational in its branding but bleakly limited in political ambitions; brazenly transparent in its capitalist ideology, yet inscrutable in its favorably spinning for American and British imperialism and racism. It is publication owned by the wealthy for the wealthy and advertises itself as such. Its only moral pretense: a long history of championing what it calls “liberalism, ”a notoriously slippery term that, in The Economist’s world, views freedom to profit and exploit labor as interchangeable with the freedom of religion, press and speech. As such, examining The Economist’s history, its connection to British and American banking interests and intelligence services, can tell us a great deal about the narrow focus of Western, and specifically British notions of “liberalism.” The promotion of capital flows over justice, enlightened imperialism over self-determination, abhors overt racism while promoting more subtle forms of race science and colonialism, all along easing the conscience of wealthy white readers that want to feign concern about human suffering but who have everything to gain by doing absolutely nothing about it. On this episode, we are joined by Alexander Zevin, author of Liberalism at Large: The World According to The Economist.
info_outline Episode 97: Porch Pirate Panic and the Paranoid Racism of Snitch Apps 01/15/2020
Episode 97: Porch Pirate Panic and the Paranoid Racism of Snitch Apps Everywhere we turn, local media — TV, digital, radio — is constantly telling us about the scourge of crime lurking around every corner. This, of course, is not new. It’s been the basis of the local news business model since the 1970s. But what is new is the rise of surveillance and snitch apps like Amazon’s Ring doorbell systems and geo-local social media like Nextdoor. They are funded by real estate and other gentrifying interests working hand in glove with police to provide a grossly distorted, inflated and hyped-up vision of crime. One of the major factors fueling this misconception is the feedback loop where media — both traditional and social — provide the ideological content for the forces of gentrification. Police focus their “law enforcement” in low income areas, local news reports on scourges of crime based on police sources, then both pressure and reinforce over-policing of communities of color, namely those getting in the way of real estate interests' designs––All animated by an increase in police-backed surveillance tech like Amazon’s Ring. On this episode we will break down these pro-carceral interests, how they create a self-reinforcing cycle of racist paranoia and how local “crime” reporting plays a role in creating this wildly distorted perception of “crime.” We are joined by two guests: Sarah Lustbader, senior legal counsel at The Justice Collaborative, and Steven Renderos, co-director of MediaJustice.
info_outline Episode 96: The Christian Cinema-GOP Persecution Complex 12/11/2019
Episode 96: The Christian Cinema-GOP Persecution Complex The last two decades have seen the release of a number of explicitly Christian movies which tell stories of believers navigating the trials and tribulations - both literal and figurative - of a perceived non-Christian world. In this universe, followers of Christ are constantly under siege by secularists, swarthy Muslims, gay and trans agenda-pushers, feminists and a hostile, out-of control federal government. While the media usually lumps these movies into a generalized “faith” category they are best viewed not as earnest meditations on religion and “faith,” but a political project on behalf of the Republican party, with a distinct protestant flavor. Today, we are going to focus on the biggest and most influential players in the “Christian cinema” space: production company and distributor PureFlix and Affirm, a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Worldwide. Pureflix and Affirm embody the core ideological tropes of the U.S. conservative base: a promotion of US militarism, anti-Muslim racism, pro-capitalist messaging, hostility to LGBTQ populations, anti-Semitic Zionism and a runaway contempt for women. On this episode, we’ll discuss how the Christian cinema industry is not just low-budget schlocky propaganda that’s fun to dunk on (though it certainly is), but something more deliberate, sinister, and corrosive––a state-subsidized, far-right messaging machine for American reactionaries and imperial interests. We are joined by author, artist and filmmaker Frank Schaeffer.
info_outline Episode 95: The Hollow Vanity of Libertarian "Choice" Rhetoric 12/04/2019
Episode 95: The Hollow Vanity of Libertarian "Choice" Rhetoric “'Right-to-work' means freedom and choice,” a Boston Globe op-ed explains. “As housing costs rise, some people are choosing to live on the road instead,” a Fox Business headline states. “If your insurance company isn’t doing right by you, you should have another, better choice,” reads Joe Biden’s campaign platform. We’re told repeatedly that “freedom of choice” is essential to a robust economy and human happiness. Economists, executives, politicians, and pundits insist that, the same way consumers shop for TVs, workers can choose their healthcare plan, parents can choose their kids' school, and gig-economy workers can choose their own schedules and benefits. While this language is superficially appealing, it’s also profoundly deceitful. The notion of “choice” as a gateway to freedom and a sign of societal success isn’t a neutral call for people to exercise some abstract civic power; it’s free-market capitalist ideology manufactured by libertarian and neoliberal think tanks and their mercenary economists and media messaging nodes. Its purpose: to convince people that they have a choice while obscuring the economic factors that ensure they really don’t: People can’t “choose” to keep their employer-provided insurance if they’re fired from their jobs or “choose” to enroll their kids in private school if they can’t afford the tuition. In this episode, we examine the rise of “choice” rhetoric, how it cravenly appeals to our vanity, and how US media has uncritically adopted the framing--helping the right erode social services while atomizing us all into independent, self-interested collections of “choices.” We are joined by Jessica Stites, executive editor of In These Times.
info_outline Episode 94: The Goofy Pseudoscience Copaganda of TV Forensics 11/27/2019
Episode 94: The Goofy Pseudoscience Copaganda of TV Forensics Since the early 2000s, a spate of forensics-focused TV shows and films have emerged on the pop culture scene. Years after Law & Order premiered in the '90s, shows like CSI, NCIS, and The Mentalist followed, trumpeting the scientific merit of analyzing blood-spatter patterns, reading facial and bodily cues, and using the latest fingerprint-matching technology to catch the bad guy. Yet what these procedurals neglect to acknowledge is that many of these popular forensic techniques are deeply unscientific and entirely political. Spatter pattern-matching, firearms analysis, hair analysis, fingerprint and bite mark analysis — they’re all mostly bullshit with little scientific merit. Despite this, forensics have helped contribute to the wrongful convictions of thousands of people: a storytelling aid, prosecutorial smoke and mirrors, a courtroom PR tool to lend scientific verisimilitude to what is very often just circumstantial, hunch-based police work. On this episode, we break down how popular culture depictions of forensics helps mislead viewers — and by extension jurors — into thinking forensics are science that proves guilt rather than what they really are: slick marketing collateral to help prosecutors convict someone they already think is guilty for other, nonscientific reasons. We are joined by Aviva Shen, Senior Editor at Slate.
info_outline News Brief: A Conversation With Indigenous Media Resistance on Mauna Kea 11/20/2019
News Brief: A Conversation With Indigenous Media Resistance on Mauna Kea In Ep. 90, "How Western Media's False Binary Between 'Science' & Indigenous Rights Erases Native People," we explored the ways capital-S "Science" has been wielded by those in power to erase Native people and culture around the world. Our discussion of the Thirty Meter Telescope "controversy" at Mauna Kea in Hawai'i drew much online debate but instead of talking about the activists there, we thought we'd talk to them––specifically those running the Puʻuhonua o Puʻuhuluhulu movement media team, Nā Leo Kākoʻo, who are working 24/7 to push back against colonialist narratives and hacky, racist local reporting. We are joined by Mikey Inouye, a filmmaker and co-chair of the Honolulu branch of Democratic Socialists of America, and Ilima Long, media coordinator for Nā Leo Kāko‘o and member of Huli, a non-violent, direct action organization that is one of the leaders on Mauna Kea.
info_outline News Brief: Bolivia Coup Coverage and the Limits of 'Agency' Discourse 11/15/2019
News Brief: Bolivia Coup Coverage and the Limits of 'Agency' Discourse In this News Brief, we discuss the battle over whether or not to call what happened in Bolivia a "coup," and the problem with the always popular, slippery evocation of "agency."
info_outline Episode 93: 100 Years of U.S. Media Fueling Anti-Immigrant Sentiment 11/13/2019
Episode 93: 100 Years of U.S. Media Fueling Anti-Immigrant Sentiment "A preponderance of foreign elements destroys the most precious thing [a nation] possesses - its own soul,” wrote the politically-influential Immigration Restriction League in early 1919. "The great hotbeds of radicalism lie in the various colonies of alien workmen," declared The New York Times on January 5, 1921. Warning of the "menace" posed by "millions of intending immigrants of the poorest and most refractory sort," The Saturday Evening Post insisted days later that "the character of those who have been coming to us from overseas has unmistakably deteriorated." While anti-Chinese and anti-Asian laws had been on the books for decades, the passing of the Immigration Act in October 1918––and later the Immigration Act of 1924–the United States ushered in a new era of racist, anti-left, anti-immigrant sentiment. By the early 1950s, new laws upheld a racist ranking system for “desirable” ethnic groups, making it easier for the U.S. to deport people suspected of being Communists, anarchists and other radicals. All of which happened in parallel with the rise of major media tropes of immigration reporting; tropes that––with varying degrees of subtlety––still exist today. On this episode - recorded live at Cornell University's Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art in Ithaca, New York on October 25, 2019 - we highlight a number of these tropes, including the media's rampant association of immigrants with criminality and terrorism, deserving refugees vs. undeserving migrants; frequent references to immigrants as invading hordes or vermin infestations; appeals to allegedly race-neutral “law and order” sentiment; and today's right-wing open border panic. We are joined by Cornell professor Shannon Gleeson.
info_outline Episode 92: The Responsibility-Erasing Catch-all of ‘Automation’ 10/30/2019
Episode 92: The Responsibility-Erasing Catch-all of ‘Automation’ "As technology shifts more layoffs loom at tech companies," Reuters tells us. "PepsiCo is laying off corporate employees as the company commits to millions of dollars in severance pay, restructuring, and 'relentlessly automating'," notes Business Insider. "Apple’s dismissal of 200 self-driving car employees points to a shift in its AI strategy," CNBC declares. For decades, mass layoffs, factory closures, and industry shifts––from the auto industry to journalism to banking––have often been presented by American media, not as the moral choices of greedy CEOs private equity and hedge fund managers looking to extract wealth for them and their shareholders, but instead the unavoidable result of nebulous, ill-defined––but entirely inevitable–– “automation.” After all: C-level decision makers, billionaire media owners, hedge funds, and private equity firms had no choice. No one is to blame, it’s simply the way it is. The logical, albeit cruel, end result of specific policy choices, all decided by powerful moral agents over the past 30 years, is presented as a force of nature, something outside our control, unstoppable and immutable. On this episode, we examine how capital has, for centuries, blamed layoffs and cost cutting on inscrutable developments in technology and efficiency models out of their control, what this pat excuse hides, why it's sometimes true and sometimes not, and and why the media shouldn’t take claims of CEOs’ hands being forced by “market changes” at face value. We are joined by Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and writer and researcher Peter Frase.
info_outline Episode 91: It's Time to Retire the Term "Middle Class" 10/23/2019
Episode 91: It's Time to Retire the Term "Middle Class" “Building a wall won't save America's crumbling middle class,” Elizabeth Warren tells us. “Sanders healthcare will raise taxes on the middle class,” a CNN headline reads. “There’ war on the middle class,” a Boston Globe editorial laments. The term “middle class” is used so much by pundits and politicians, it could easily be the Free Space in any political rhetoric Bingo card. After all, who’s opposed to strengthening, widening, and protecting the “middle class”? Like “democracy,” “freedom,” and “human rights”, “middle class” is an unimpeachable, unassailable label that evokes warm feelings and a sense of collective morality. But the term itself, always slippery and changing based on context, has evolved from a vague aspiration marked by safety, a nice home, and a white picket fence into something more sinister, racially-coded, and deliberately obscuring. The middle class isn’t about concrete, material positive rights of good housing and economic security––it’s a capitalist carrot hovering over our heads telling us such things are possible if we Only Work Harder. More than anything, it's a way for politicians to gesture towards populism without the messiness of mentioning––much less centering––the poor and poverty. This week we are joined by Jane McAlevey, a union organizer, scholar and Senior Policy Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley’s Labor Center.
info_outline Episode 90: How Western Media's False Binary Between "Science" and Indigenous Rights is Used to Erase Native People 10/16/2019
Episode 90: How Western Media's False Binary Between "Science" and Indigenous Rights is Used to Erase Native People “Science and religion fight over Hawaii's highest point,” one CNN headline puts it. “Desecrating sacred land or finding new frontiers?” BBC asks. "Science, Interrupted: Mauna Kea Observatories ‘caught in the middle,’” Pacific Business News writes. When tensions arise between native communities and the so-called “pursuit of science,” more often than not Western media presents this point of conflict as a symmetrical and simplistic case of “science vs. superstition.” Science is framed as a morally and politically neutral quest for truth––an objective and innovative good that will unequivocally benefit humanity. But Western “science”––despite its rank-and-file advocates' often best intentions–– has historically been used as the public relations vanguard of colonialism and white supremacy. A Trojan Horse presented as ideologically neutral, followed by an outpouring of exploitation, industry and the erasure of native peoples––both culturally and physically. While everyone can agree scientific research and progress are good things, the institution of “science” as such––from North America to Australia to Africa to Palestine-–has a long history of serving on the front lines of white, capitalist expansionism. This week we are going to discuss this history, how anti-colonial scientists are pushing back against these forces, and how we can expand human knowledge and understanding without weaponizing the enterprise to serve the interest of power. We're joined on this episode by Nick Estes, Assistant Professor in the American Studies Department at the University of New Mexico.
info_outline Episode 89: How Charges of 'Appeasement' Equate Diplomacy with Treason 10/09/2019
Episode 89: How Charges of 'Appeasement' Equate Diplomacy with Treason “Israel says EU's response on Iran recalls Nazi appeasement,” reported Reuters. “The Biden Plan for Appeasement,” spat a recent editorial in The New York Sun. An editorial in The Washington Examiner pleaded, “President Trump, stop the appeasement of North Korea." New York Magazine tells us, “U.S. Scraps Military Exercise to Appease North Korea,” and The National Review’s Jonah Goldberg has denounced both Obama and Trump's respective "appeasements". This past June, Fox News ran an article, “Rep. Tim Ryan calls Trump’s historic visit to the DMZ an 'appeasement tour.'” The ‘appeasement’ charge is shorthand for the weak-kneed naivety of pursuing peace with an implacable, existential, irredeemable, expansionist, and unequivocally evil enemy. Crying ‘Munich!’ works to obscure rational thought and stigmatizes diplomacy––using the horrors of gas chambers and jackboots marching into Paris to equate the deescalation of a conflict with conspiring with the enemy. We're joined today by Jim Naureckas of Fairness and Accuracy in Media.
info_outline Episode 88: The Mythical Bygone Glory Days of "Free Speech" 09/25/2019
Episode 88: The Mythical Bygone Glory Days of "Free Speech" We are often warned by conservatives, liberals and even some on the Left that we live in a time where “free speech” is under threat from far-left forces. “Political correctness” and “snowflakes” have shut down free inquiry, specifically on college campuses, and led to a crisis threatening the very foundation of our democracy. But the origins of the label “free speech” — as it’s currently practiced — paint a much messier picture. Rather than appealing to the Vietnam-era Berkeley protest glory days, what one sees when examining the history of the concept is a temporary tactic used by the Left in the mid-to-late 1960s that has, since that late 1980s, become a far-right wedge designed to open up space for racism, eugenics, genocide denial, trans and homophobia and anti-feminist backlash. Defense of the right to keep open this space as an appeal to a universal value hides a well-funded, coordinated far-right attempt to maintain a conservative, largely male and cishet version of political correctness. On this episode, we discuss where the contemporary concept of “free speech” comes from, what its uses and misuses have been and how a rose-tinted time of pristine, perfectly free" speech never really existed. We are joined by journalist and author P.E. Moskowitz and Chair of Princeton University's Department of Anthropology Carolyn Rouse.
info_outline News Brief: Jon Schwarz on Samantha Power's Whitewashing Memoir 09/23/2019
News Brief: Jon Schwarz on Samantha Power's Whitewashing Memoir Friend of the show and writer at The Intercept Jon Schwarz joins us to review Samantha Power's self-serving, ahistorical memoir.
info_outline Episode 87: Nate Silver and the Crisis of Pundit Brain 09/18/2019
Episode 87: Nate Silver and the Crisis of Pundit Brain Nate Silver tell us Joe Biden’s inconsistent political beliefs are, in fact, a benefit. They’re “his calling card” and evidence he “reads the room pretty well”. Venality, we are told, is “a normal and often successful [mode] for a politician.” Insurgent progressive groups like Justice Democrats shouldn’t call Biden out of touch with the base because, Silver tell us, “only 26 of the 79 candidates it endorsed last year won their primaries, and only 7 of those went on to win the general election.” On Twitter and his in columns, high-status pundit Nate Silver, has made a career reporting on the polls and insisting he’s just a dispassionate, non-ideological conduit of Cold Hard Facts, just channeling the holy word of data. Empirical journalism, he calls it. But this schtick, however, is very ideological - a reactionary worldview that prioritizes describing the world, rather than changing it. For Silver - and data-fetishists like him - politics is a sport to be gamed, rather than a mechanism for improving people’s lives. We are joined by Current Affairs editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson.