Wake Up and Smell the Money

by Vicki Mayer, author of Almost Hollywood, Nearly New Orleans: The Lure of the Local Film Economy

Probably no one in media studies loves tax policy. Or economic multiplier equations. Or state budget battles. I know that was not my own hook into becoming a doctor of all things fun and entertaining. And yet these things matter more than ever.

For media fans, tax breaks and other incentives are the tinder for what ignites Hollywood media production, and what sets many corporations, developers, economic policy wonks, and speculators on fire. Dedicated public money for a multi-million-dollar film shoot means less risk for studios and Wall Street investors who raise the financing. Public coffers for media infrastructure flip property values and attract schemers to house and entertain the industry’s mobile workforces. In the most ‘successful’ sites outside of Southern California, Hollywood production stokes the hopes for permanent jobs and stable redevelopment; all the while fueling a shadow economy of tradable tax credits and venture capital bubbles.

For myself, though, the language of multipliers became material, more visceral, when I couldn’t park within a block of my own doorstep because there was film crew who had rented my street for a week. I had an infant and groceries. It was summer hot. Everyone and everything was melting while I passed the trailers and catering. Nothing pisses a new mom off like parking. At least, that moment made me think: Who can own the street? How and how much does it cost?

It didn’t take long digging around production spaces that I realized that ‘no parking’ is the burden of only those privileged enough to own space, or even a car for that matter, in a place media producers find desirable and city governments find bankable. This opaque economy of public money for private incentivizing meant borrowing the budgets dedicated to education, health, and social services. Film students, for example, unknowingly traded in increased fees and debts in exchange for the promise they might work their way up a narrow and precarious ladder to full-time work. Unemployed creative workers have found themselves caught between precious few well-paid gigs, explosive rental prices, and the tatters of a safety net for check-ups. After 15 years of seeding Hollywood South, Louisiana is still one of the poorest and most unequal states in the U.S.

So next time we praise the series made in Atlanta, or Austin, or Albuquerque, it might be time for media studies to pay attention to who really got paid for that production, and if they get their money’s worth.

Vicki Mayer is Professor of Communication at Tulane University. She is coeditor of the journal Television & New Media and author or editor of several books and journal articles about media production, creative industries, and cultural work.

A free ebook version of Vicki’s new book, Almost Hollywood, Nearly New Orleans, is available through Luminos, University of California Press’s Open Access publishing program. Download a copy now.

You can also follow her on Academia.edu.


Feminist Media Histories Celebrates Women’s History Month

To celebrate Women’s History Month Feminist Media Histories will be highlighting articles from past issues. Each Tuesday and Thursday throughout the month of March one FMH article will be free to download for 48 hours. We begin with Chika Kinoshita’s article, “Something More Than A Seduction Story: Shiga Akiko’s Abortion Scandal and Late 1930s Japanese Film Culture,” published in the inaugural issue two years ago and available now. A stunning example of how feminist media history can illuminate histories of stardom and moviegoing, while demonstrating the centrality of movie culture to larger discussions of gender and politics in many global contexts. Other articles featured this month will highlight writing on the cinema by filmmaker Esfir Shub and Ms. Magazine critics, the unsung work of female costume designers and radio pioneers, the challenge of digital preservation, lesbian film distribution in the 1970s, contemporary cyberfeminism in Iran and much more.

Featured articles will also showcase the range of special issues published by FMH, including Women and Soundwork, Histories of Celebrity, Materialisms, Found Footage, and Archives and Archivists.

Follow Feminist Media Histories on Facebook and Twitter to catch every free download this month. And watch for future issues on Gender + Comedy, Data, and Comics.

— Shelley Stamp
Editor, Feminist Media Histories

Debunking Media Myths, Those Prominent Cases of Fake News

by W. Joseph Campbell, author of Getting It Wrong: Debunking the Greatest Myths in American Journalism


The mainstream media’s recent angst and hand-wringing about a surge of “fake news” has tended to ignore that the media themselves have often been purveyors of bogus tales and dubious interpretations.

“Fake news” has plenty of antecedents in mainstream media — several cases of which are documented in my book, Getting It Wrong, a new, expanded edition of which was published recently.

The book examines and debunks media-driven myths, which are well-known stories about and/or by the news media that are widely believed and often retold but which, under scrutiny, dissolve as false or wildly exaggerated. Think of them as prominent cases of “fake news” that have masqueraded as a fact for years. Decades, even.

Continue reading “Debunking Media Myths, Those Prominent Cases of Fake News”

Meet Raina Polivka, our new Acquisitions Editor for Music, Cinema and Media Studies

rainaWe are very pleased to announce that Raina Polivka will be joining the University of California Press as our new acquisitions editor in Music and Cinema & Media Studies.

Raina is currently an acquisitions editor at Indiana University Press, where she acquires books in music and cinema, in addition to several other humanities areas. She holds masters degrees in both library science and comparative literature from Indiana.

We are delighted that Raina will bring not only her knowledge and experience in both music and cinema to the press, but her passion for scholarly communication and her genuine warmth.

In her words:

“University of California Press has long been a leader in publishing and scholarly communication, pushing the industry into new directions. I am delighted to join such an innovative and creative organization, to uphold a high standard of scholarship, and to further contribute to the fields of music, film, and media studies in major and lasting ways.”

Raina’s first official day at the press will be December 7th, but she will be joining UC Press staff on Saturday, November 14th, at our booth in Louisville for the American Musicological Society (AMS) meeting.

Along with other staff, our editorial director, Kim Robinson, will also be at AMS this year. Please go by booth 202 in the Galt House Hotel’s Grand Ballroom A and say hello.

New and notable from SCMS 2015, Montréal, Canada

By Mary Francis, Executive Editor, Cinema & Media Studies

What’s new? That is always the biggest question in an editor’s mind going to big annual conference (right up there with, where can I get a really good espresso?*). As a publisher, there is nothing more gratifying than having a colleague approach our exhibit table with that question. And this year was a doozy for us, with a hot-of-the-press number of Film Quarterly, a new sibling in the journals family, Feminist Media Histories, a set of great interviews with media industry insiders, new translations of Bazin, stellar new books on film sound, cinema and the Parisian avant-garde, amateur film, cinematography, ‘lens and screen arts,’ the life and work of Lois Weber, and much more.


As the publisher who wants to bring more of “what’s new?” to the world the Society for Cinema and Media Studies is a feast of timely possibilities: we are all steeped in audio-visual media every day, and SCMS is a great place to learn about, and understand the many ways that our lives are influenced and affected by it all. As a representative of a progressive university press, always looking for work that explores what it means to be an engaged citizen, this year’s program offered plenty of enticing possibilities: a plethora of ways to understand the performances and genres we consume on screen; grapples with newest ways (legal or not, free or not) to access moving image content; rich introductions to the cutting-edge moving image work in galleries; the in’s and out’s of media industries around the world; thought-provoking work on how and why what we watch is (and isn’t) regulated and controlled and by whom. It was great to see so many panels that addressed teaching: there was a lot of energy dedicated to talking about the best ways to introduce students to great films, to great texts, to important concepts about media literacy, to raise awareness of active and intelligent consumption.

*My answer this year: http://tunnelespresso.ca/

Youth Radio Stories

Since 1992, Youth Radio has been an outlet for young people to find their own voices and tell their own stories through media. In Drop that Knowledge: Youth Radio Stories, Elisabeth Soep and Vivian Chavez explore the process of writing and producing these stories, which air on major outlets like NPR and KQED, and the meaning of bringing underrepresented voices to a wide audience.

The challenge for any journalist, write Soep and Chavez, is to “unbury the lede”—to find the unifying point or idea in a story, and to tell it in a way that speaks to the intended audience. Through classic Youth Radio stories, they illustrate how young journalists navigate this terrain, and frame personal experience in an engaging and meaningful narrative.

Telling your story to the world can be life-changing, but it’s not all there is, says Soep in this KALW Crosscurrents interview. She describes how Youth Radio goes beyond cultivating personal expression to promote media literacy and support youth in other ways, like providing access to health care and career counseling.

Youth Radio has won a Peabody and other awards, and its reporters have produced many influential investigative stories, but Drop That Knowledge is more than a celebration of success, says Soep: “Youth voice, to me, is never the answer. It’s the place where we start asking questions…It’s the place we start hearing questions, and engaging in conversations that young people can shape and drive and move forward.”

With the nature of media changing faster than ever before, young people have more opportunities than ever to reach a wide audience. This makes organizations like Youth Radio even more important, says Soep, to give young journalists the skills and the power not only to find their voice and tell their stories, but to get people to listen.

Youth Media’s success has implications beyond the newsroom. In this Edutopia article, Soep opens up a larger conversation about how to bring Youth Radio’s lessons into schools, with a guide to writing radio commentary.

In this Boing Boing article, Soep looks at how playwright Chinaka Hodge is using social media to invite her audience into the lives of the characters in her play, Mirrors in Every Corner, and explores the possibilities of this innovative approach to theater.

Book Launch Recap: Getting it Wrong

This past Saturday, W. Joseph Campbell launched his book, Getting it Wrong, with a talk and book signing at the Newseum in Washington, DC. He brings us the highlights, and audience members’ thought-provoking questions, in this cross-post from his Media Myth Alert blog.
Getting it Wrong Launched at Newseum

Getting It Wrong, my new book about media-driven myths, was launched at a terrific program yesterday at the Newseum, the $450 million museum of news in downtown Washington, D.C.

The Newseum’s John Maynard moderated a brisk “Inside Media” talk, during which I reviewed the myths of:

—William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain,
—Edward R. Murrow‘s 1954 See It Now television program that supposedly ended Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s communists-in-government witch-hunt,
— the so-called “Cronkite moment” of 1968,
—the heroic-journalist of Watergate, and
—the supposedly superlative reporting in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina‘s landfall in 2005.

Signing books at the Newseum

The audience posed several intriguing questions about the book. Among them was whether I thought the media myths confronted in Getting It Wrong would now be forever buried.

It’s probably too soon to say, given the book’s recent publication. But I mentioned in my reply that I’ve been struck by how dearly some myths are held.

The myth of the “Cronkite moment” is an example, I said: It seems quite difficult for some people to believe that Walter Cronkite’s program on Vietnam in February 1968 was not of decisive effect.

The “Cronkite moment” may live on, and continue to be embraced, despite the weight of the evidence that Cronkite’s television report about Vietnam was of scant importance in revising policy or in shaping the president’s thinking about reelection.

A question was posed about how media myths emerge, and I noted that they arise from several sources, including an urge to identify examples of media power. Another factor is what I call “complexity-avoidance”–the appeal of simplified explanations for complex historical events.

It is, after all, far easier to believe that Hearst and his “yellow press” brought on the Spanish-American War in 1898, I said, than it is to grasp the complexities of the failed diplomacy among Spain, Cuba, and the United States that gave rise to that conflict. It is far easier to believe that the Washington Post brought down Richard Nixon’s corrupt presidency, I said, than it is to sort through tangled lines of investigation of the Watergate scandal that ultimately forced Nixon from office.

Even then, I said, Nixon may have served out his term if not for the tape-recordings he made of his private Oval Office conversations. Those tapes, which the U.S. Supreme Court forced Nixon to produce in 1974, revealed his guilty role in the Watergate coverup.

I also was asked whether there are other media myths to bust. Indeed there are, I said. Getting It Wrong may deserve a sequel and suggested as candidates for a follow-on book the dubious phenomenon of “Pharm Parties” and the question of whether Cronkite really was “the most trusted man in America.

I signed copies of Getting It Wrong following the “Inside Media” program, and then toasted the book’s publication at a reception sponsored by the Newseum and American University’s School of Communication.

The School’s dean, Larry Kirkman, offered generous remarks in his toast at the reception, which was attended by AU colleagues, former students, past research assistants, and friends and family.

—W. Joseph Campbell

Uncovering new detail about the bra-burning legend

W. Joseph Campbell

In this guest post, W. Joseph Campbell describes his research into the long-standing myth of bra-burning. It offers a reminder of the importance of not overlooking the local news reports.

Campbell’s book, Getting it Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism, will be launched June 19 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

The legend of bra-burning can be traced to September 7, 1968, and the women’s liberation protest on the boardwalk of Atlantic City, N.J., against the Miss America pageant. A centerpiece of the demonstration was the so-called Freedom Trash Can into which the protesters consigned “instruments of torture,” such as brassieres, girdles, high-heeled shoes, false eyelashes, and copies of magazines such as Playboy and Cosmopolitan.

But the protest’s organizers have long insisted that nothing had been set ablaze at Atlantic City. Robin Morgan, the lead organizer, has asserted, for example: “There were no bras burned. That’s a media myth.”

And yet the epithet “bra-burning” took hold, serving to denigrate and trivialize the objectives of the women’s liberation movement.

I was inclined to accept the denials about bra-burning. They seemed insistent and solid―and no one had produced evidence to the contrary. Bra-burning certainly seemed to be a media-driven myth.

In researching bra-burning for Getting It Wrong, my new book about prominent media myths, I became curious to know what the local newspaper, the Atlantic City Press, had written about the demonstration. I had never seen references to its reporting. Microfilm of the Press proved impossible to obtain through inter-library loan, so I paid a visit to the public library in Atlantic City, to crank microfilm there.

The Press published two articles about the 1968 protest, both on page 4. The lead article appeared beneath the intriguing headline: “Bra-burners blitz boardwalk.”

The article conveyed a sense of astonishment that such a protest would take place at the venue of the Miss America pageant, then a revered tradition in Atlantic City. The article’s ninth paragraph was stunning, in a matter-of-fact sort of way.

“As the bras, girdles, falsies, curlers, and copies of popular women’s magazines burned in the ‘Freedom Trash Can,'” it said, “the demonstration reached the pinnacle of ridicule when the participants paraded a small lamb wearing a gold banner worded ‘Miss America.'”

“Whoa,” I said to myself. “Whoa.” Here was a contemporaneous, eyewitness account―the first such account I had ever seen―that said that bras were burned during the protest.

The single mention of bra-burning was significant and striking. But it was a single mention, and I needed detail and confirmation. The second article in the Press about the protest offered no confirmation; it described the bewildered reactions of boardwalk strollers who watched the protest, but made no mention of burning bras. And the author of the lead article, John L. Boucher, had died in 1973.

Boucher, I learned, could be gruff and tough, in a old-school way. He was also an informal adviser to young reporters at the Atlantic City newspaper. Among them was Jon Katz, who in 1968 was at the outset of a career that took him to the Philadelphia Inquirer and Boston Globe, and to the CBS Morning News as executive producer. After leaving daily journalism, Katz became a writer of mysteries and nonfiction.

Katz had been on the boardwalk that long-ago September day: He had written the other article about the protest for the Press.

I traced Katz to New York state. In interviews by email and phone, Katz said without hesitation that he recalled that bras and other items had been set afire during the demonstration against Miss America.

“I quite clearly remember the ‘Freedom Trash Can,’ and also remember some protestors putting their bras into it along with other articles of clothing, and some Pageant brochures, and setting the can on fire,” Katz said. “I am quite certain of this.”
He added:

“I recall and remember noting at the time that the fire was small, and quickly was extinguished, and didn’t pose a credible threat to the boardwalk. I noted this as a reporter in case a fire did erupt.”

Katz thus offered confirmation that bras and other items had been burned in the Freedom Trash Can.

I sought to interview with Robin Morgan about these new details. She replied to my inquiries through a spokeswoman, declaring: “There were NO bras EVER burned at the 1968 protest.”

So how is all this treated in Getting It Wrong?

The account by Boucher and the recollections of Katz offer “fresh dimension to the bra-burning legend,” I write. “They represent two witness accounts that bras and other items were burned, or at least smoldered, in the Freedom Trash Can. There is now evidence that bras and other items were set afire, if briefly, at the 1968 Miss America protest in Atlantic City. This evidence cannot be taken lightly, dismissed or ignored.”

But at the same time, their accounts lend no support to the more vivid popular imagery that many bras went up in flames in flamboyant protest on the boardwalk. Boucher and Katz offer no endorsement for the central feature of the media-driven myth that angry women burned their bras in a fiery public spectacle.

At most, fire was a subtle, modest, and fleeting element of the protest that day.

Still, “bra-burning” is an epithet not entirely misapplied to the demonstration at Atlantic City. Fittingly, I called the chapter on bra-burning “the nuanced myth.”

W. Joseph Campbell, author of Getting It Wrong, is a professor of communication at American University in Washington, D.C. He has written four other books.

Debunking the Bay of Pigs Suppression Myth

W. Joseph Campbell

In this guest post, W. Joseph Campbell challenges a longstanding myth surrounding the New York Times and the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Campbell’s book, Getting it Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism, will be launched June 19 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Debunking the Bay of Pigs ‘suppression myth’
by W. Joseph Campbell

In early April 1961, the New York Times bowed to pressure from the White House of President John F. Kennedy and “spiked,” or suppressed, its detailed report about the pending Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.

The Times’ purported self-censorship took place a little more than a week before the invasion, which failed utterly in its objective of toppling the Cuban revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro.

The invasion force of CIA-trained Cuban exiles gave up in less than three days and the Kennedy presidency, as well as U.S. standing in the Caribbean and the world, suffered a humiliating setback.

Had the Times not censored itself, had the Times gone ahead and reported all that it knew, the ill-fated invasion may well have been scuttled and a national embarrassment avoided.

Or so the story goes.

The tale of the Times’ purported self-censorship has been recounted in many books, journals, newspapers, and other periodicals over the years. The episode offers supposedly timeless lessons about the perils of self-censorship, about the risks of yielding to pressure to withhold sensitive information on national security grounds, and about what can happen when the news media give in to power-wielding authorities.

The anecdote about the Times’ self-censorship is potent, compelling, delicious and timeless. And as I describe in my forthcoming book, Getting It Wrong, it is also a media-driven myth.

The Times did not suppress its reports about the pending invasion of Cuba. It did not censor itself.  In fact, as is discussed in Getting It Wrong, the Times’ reports about preparations for the invasion were fairly detailed, not to mention prominently displayed on the front page in the days before the Bay of Pigs invasion was launched.

Given the widely held notion that the Times had censored itself, it was fairly surprising to find in my research just how much reporting there was in advance of the invasion. The run-up to the Bay of Pigs was no one-day story.
Not all of the pre-invasion reporting was accurate or on-target. Much of it was piecemeal. But there was ample coverage in the Times and other U.S. newspapers so that readers knew something was afoot in the Caribbean, that an assault on Castro was in the works.

The coverage supposedly reached a point where Kennedy told his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, a week before the invasion: “I can’t believe what I’m reading! Castro doesn’t need agents over here. All he has to do is read our papers. It’s all laid out for him.”

The notion that Kennedy asked or persuaded the Times to suppress, hold back, or dilute any of its reports about the pending Bay of Pigs invasion is utter fancy.

As I discuss in Getting It Wrong, there is no evidence that Kennedy or his administration knew in advance about the content of the Times’ reporting about the pending Bay of Pigs invasion. There is no evidence that Kennedy or anyone in his administration lobbied or persuaded the Times to hold back or spike that story, as is so often said.
So what accounts for what I call the “suppression myth”?

I write in Getting It Wrong that the myth “stems from confusion with a separate episode during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, when Kennedy did ask the Times to postpone publication of a report about the Soviets having deployed nuclear-tipped weapons in Cuba. On that occasion, when the prospect of a nuclear exchange seemed to be in the balance, the Times complied.”

As for the significance of debunking the suppression  myth, I write:
“Exposing the myth demonstrates how the Kennedy administration sought to deflect blame for the Bay of Pigs and make a scapegoat of the Times. On separate occasions in 1961 and 1962, Kennedy told the senior executives of the Times that had the newspaper published more about the pending assault on Cuba, the invasion might have been scuttled.

“Such an interpretation of course shifts responsibility away from the authorities who possessed the power to order an invasion of a sovereign state,” I write. “Puncturing the Times-suppression myth, then, allows blame for the Bay of Pigs fiasco to be more properly apportioned.”

W. Joseph Campbell, author of Getting It Wrong, is a professor of communication at American University in Washington, D.C. He has written four other books.

A funny thing about media myths

W. Joseph Campbell. Photo: Jeff Watts, American University

In this guest post, W. Joseph Campbell, author of Getting it Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism, shows how media-driven myths can take on lives of their own and persist even after being rejected by the people involved. On his blog yesterday, Campbell revealed the story behind Mark Twain’s famous quote, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

Media-driven myths are prominent tales of doubtful authenticity―false, dubious, or improbable stories about the news media that masquerade as factual. A funny thing about media-driven myths is that some of them live on despite having been pooh-poohed by figures who were central to the story.

The heroic-journalist myth of Watergate offers a telling example of this peculiar feature of some media myths.

The Watergate myth―one of 10 that I debunk in my soon-to-be-published book, Getting It Wrong―maintains that the intrepid investigative reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post brought down Richard Nixon’s corrupt presidency in the Watergate scandal.

“That Woodward and Bernstein exposed Nixon’s corruption is a favored theme in textbooks of journalism and mass communication,” I write in Getting It Wrong, noting how the tale has become “deeply ingrained in American journalism as one of the field’s most important and self-reverential stories.”

But leading figures at the Washington Post have sought periodically over the years to dismiss the notion that their newspaper took down a president.

Katharine Graham, the newspaper’s publisher during the Watergate years, insisted the Post did not topple Nixon. “Sometimes people accuse us of bringing down a president, which of course we didn’t do,” Graham said in 1997, at a program marking the scandal’s twenty-fifth anniversary. “The processes that caused [Nixon’s] resignation were constitutional.” And Woodward has been quoted as saying, “To say that the press brought down Nixon, that’s horseshit.”

As I note in Getting It Wrong, to roll up a scandal of Watergate’s dimension and complexity “required the collective if not always the coordinated forces of special prosecutors, federal judges, both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court, as well as the Justice Department and the FBI.

“Even then,” I write, “Nixon likely would have served out his term if not for the audiotape recordings he secretly made of most conversations in the Oval Office of the White House. Only when compelled by the Supreme Court did Nixon surrender those recordings, which captured him plotting the cover-up and authorizing payments of thousands of dollars in hush money.”

Similarly, Walter Cronkite long dismissed claims that his televised report in February 1968 about the Vietnam War had a powerful influence on President Lyndon Johnson.

In an editorial comment at the close of that report, Cronkite said the war effort in Vietnam was “mired in stalemate” and suggested that negotiations eventually might offer a way out for the United States.

Upon hearing Cronkite’s dire assessment, Johnson supposedly snapped off the television set and exclaimed: “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” Or something to that effect. Versions vary.

The program and Johnson’s despairing response have become the stuff of legend―another media-driven myth. As I write in Getting It Wrong, the power of the anecdote “resides in the sudden, unexpected, and decisive effect Cronkite’s pronouncement supposedly had on the president.”

Interestingly, Cronkite scoffed at the suggestion his report on Vietnam had a great effect on Johnson. For years, he characterized the program in modest terms, writing in his 1997 memoir that the “mired in stalemate” assessment was for Johnson “just one more straw in the increasing burden of Vietnam.”

In promoting the book, Cronkite told the CNBC cable network that he doubted the program “had a huge significance” for the president. On another occasion, Cronkite said:

“I think our broadcast simply was another straw on the back of a crippled camel.”
But in what may have been tacit acknowledgement of the appeal of media-driven myths, Cronkite late in his life came to embrace the view that the program on Vietnam was a significant moment. For example, he told Esquire magazine in 2006, about three years before his death:

“To be honest, I was rather amazed that my reporting from Vietnam had such an effect on history.”

However, as is discussed in Getting It Wrong, Johnson did not see the Cronkite program when it aired. The president at the time was in Austin, Texas, making an appearance at the 51st birthday of a longtime political ally, Governor John Connally.

“Today you are 51, John,” the president said at about the time Cronkite was offering his “mired in stalemate” commentary. “That,” Johnson said, “is the magic number that every man of politics prays for―a simple majority.”

W. Joseph Campbell, author of Getting It Wrong, is a professor of communication at American University in Washington, D.C. He has written four other books.