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Profile: Project for Excellence in Journalism

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Project for Excellence in Journalism was a participant or observer in the following events:

The story of the Pentagon’s propaganda operation—using military analysts in media outlets to promote the administration’s policies in Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond)—is going remarkably unreported in those selfsame media outlets. Political bloggers are keeping the story alive, and Democratic congressmen are beginning to call for investigations (see April 28, 2008 and May 6, 2008)), but remarkably little about the operation has appeared either in the mainstream press or on broadcast news shows. One such lawmaker, Senator John Kerry (D-MA), says that he “decided to push this issue hard because ever since the New York Times expose appeared, the silence has been deafening.” Kerry says there needs to be a “thorough investigation” into government contracts and “whether Americans’ tax dollars were being used to cultivate talking heads to sell the administration’s Iraq policy.” But unlike the pre-Internet paradigm, this story may not be so quick to disappear. Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, says, “We are in a time when stories can have a second life.” Political bloggers on the Internet, who keep chipping away at stories long after they have disappeared from the headlines, can give stories another chance, says Rosenstiel, citing the example of bloggers reviving the story of the US attorney firings in 2007 (see November 8, 2007). Rosenstiel says that his organization tracked the mainstream media for a week after the Times story was printed. Out of around 1,300 news stories, only two touched on the Pentagon analysts report, and both of those were on PBS’s Newshour (see April 24, 2008). Independent television analyst Andrew Tyndall says it would be too much to expect for any broadcast news outlets to engage in the story over the airwaves, as they almost never do what he calls “self-criticism stories,” but, he says, “this is really the sort of thing that all of the networks should have addressed online.” Virtually the only mainstream response from the broadcast news has been a short piece from NBC anchorman Brian Williams, who responded on his blog ten days after the Times story ran, and generally extolled the virtues of the analysts with whom he had worked (see April 29, 2008). Former CBS editorial director Dick Meyer, who oversaw CBS’s “Public Eye” blog before it was discontinued due to cutbacks, says that would have been the perfect place to examine the story. “This controversy about military analysts would have been right in our ballpark,” says Meyer, who now works for National Public Radio. “It’s irresponsible for a modern news organization to not have some kind of readers’ advocate, some kind of public editor function,” he says. [Politico, 5/8/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Brian Williams, Andrew Tyndall, CBS News, Project for Excellence in Journalism, Dick Meyer, New York Times, John Kerry, Tom Rosenstiel, Public Broadcasting System

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism releases a study that finds that, by and large, the media coverage for Republican presidential candidate John McCain has been more negative than that for his opponent, Democrat Barack Obama. The Center writes: “Press treatment of Obama has been somewhat more positive than negative, but not markedly so. But coverage of McCain has been heavily unfavorable—and has become more so over time.” The study also finds: “Much of the increased attention for McCain derived from actions by the senator himself, actions that, in the end, generated mostly negative assessments. In many ways, the arc of the media narrative during this phase of the 2008 general election might be best described as a drama in which John McCain has acted and Barack Obama has reacted.” The study also notes that coverage for McCain’s running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, “had an up and down trajectory, moving from quite positive, to very negative, to more mixed. What drove that tone toward a more unfavorable light was probing her public record and her encounters with the press. Little of her trouble came from coverage of her personal traits or family issues. In the end, she also received less than half the coverage of either presidential nominee, though about triple that of her vice presidential counterpart, Joe Biden. The findings suggest that, in the end, Palin’s portrayal in the press was not the major factor hurting McCain. Her coverage, while tilting negative, was far more positive than her running mate’s.” [Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism, 10/22/2008] The progressive media watchdog site Media Matters will call the study “arguabl[y] flaw[ed]” and will note that it does not include conservative talk radio, whose coverage of the presidential campaign has amounted to what the site calls “an all-out effort to foment hate and suspicion of Obama among their listeners, promoting the most baseless and farfetched of smears and advancing falsehoods—including about Obama’s religion and background—that have taken hold among a substantial percentage of the electorate” (see July 9, 2008, August 1, 2008 and After, and November 10, 2008). [Media Matters, 11/6/2008]

Entity Tags: Media Matters, Barack Obama, John McCain, Project for Excellence in Journalism, Joseph Biden, Sarah Palin

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections

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