Posted in extra credit

Alternative Facts Follow-Up

(Written by Martha S.)

I wanted to follow up our episode on news media with a short discussion of why I picked the topic to begin with. As I have said on the podcast many times, I’m a librarian, and specifically I am a teen services librarian. One of the foundations of my profession is providing access to, and helping people find, reliable information, a principle which is more important than ever these days and particularly for teens, who are far less likely to go beyond their curated social media feeds to find alternate or corroborative sources of information. Teaching information literacy is no longer optional for librarians, it is a necessity. Because of that, I thought it would be useful for us to look at how pop culture presents the news and journalism, and how we react to that.

This past Saturday, Melissa McCarthy returned to SNL to reprise her role as Sean Spicer. Her portrayal has been brilliant, I think it’s fair to say, and highlighted something about the way Spicer is dealing with his role as the disseminator of information for an administration that tells us nothing but lies: hostilely. Spicer, and our current White House, are our antagonists, and they are helping foster a culture of distrust and skepticism when it comes to the news. Our first reaction is to assume that he’s lying (because he is).

One of the things I thought was striking about all the homework we talked about in this episode was that the news sources in them are treated first and foremost as being trustworthy, and then only later shown not to be: CJ is a trustworthy source of information, which is how she gets away with sidelining stories that should be a bigger deal. The Daily Prophet can spread misinformation about Harry Potter because it has a reputation for telling the truth. No one questions Glass’ articles because the New Republic has a good reputation. When we find out those things aren’t true (in the case of The West Wing, we see this develop over the course of the episode), we are meant to feel betrayed. This isn’t how the news is supposed to work! And yet, it does, and recently, it does often and without shame.

Anyway, I don’t really have any more profound thoughts than that I’m sad that our news media culture has turned into one of distrust and hostility. I don’t think it’s new, clearly news has always been a cultivated experience for us so that the people in charge can control the way the population thinks and feels about things (which sounds WAY more 1984 than I thought it would, yikes). I hope some day we get back to a place where I can read a headline and not feel the urge to cross-check in on four other sites, if for no other reason than that I don’t have time for that every day.

Supplementary Materials

Lois Lane: Fallout
The first Lois Lane YA novel by Gwenda Bond, this series follows a teenage Lois as she investigates and exposes scandals for her high school newspaper. Clark Kent shows up only occasionally as a texting partner for Lois to bounce ideas off of, which is really the best use for Clark. I mentioned (awkwardly) in the episode that the relationship between journalism and superheroes is fascinating to me, and it’s fun to read about one of comics’ most famous journalists in her nascent teenage years.

Wag the Dog
A 1997 film directed by Barry Levinson that shows some truly epic misdirection from a president’s shenanigans (Dustin Hoffman invents a war in actual 1984 style to take attention away from a president’s sex scandal, and oh man do I wish that our president would actually be punished for a sex scandal to the magnitude that would necessitate a fake media war).

“Waiting on the World to Change” by John Mayer
Political music was something we didn’t really have a chance to touch on in the episode, and maybe that’s because it wasn’t totally germane to the conversation. Music, after all, doesn’t really get used as a delivery tool for news – it can’t be timely enough. The closest it gets, I think, is as a way for musicians to enter the news conversation; it’s commentary on the environment rather than an informative source itself. But I appreciate deeply the lyrics from this song (despite not being a huge fan of John Mayer), particularly the lines “And when you trust your television/ What you get is what you got/ But when they own the information/ they can bend it all they want.”

Posted in episodes

Episode 7: Alternative Facts, or, How We Relate to News Media

The homework for the episode:
Pete: The West Wing, episode 1.13: “Take Out the Trash Day”
Martha: Shattered Glass, 2003 film starring Hayden Christensen
Calee: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (book)

Martha uses the podcast as a thinly veiled excuse to watch Shattered Glass again, and to plumb the depths of Slate to read about the real world scandal. Pete is way more politically savvy than anyone else in the room (natch), and Calee keeps us all grounded by reminding us that teenagers really are the future of the resistance (a thematic callback to Episode 2, even if we all forgot to point that out!). Martha ALSO awkwardly shoehorns in a discussion about superheroes and news coverage of vigilantism, but maybe it comes out all right in the end?

Your podcasters’ credentials:
Pete: Cheated and has two, but we’ll forgive him since Knox Fortune, the talent behind the single “Help Myself” is his little brother. Also the Legion playlist on Spotify.
Martha: Brave Chef Brianna, issue no. 1, by Sam Sykes and Selina Espiritu
Calee: Tangled: the Series, episode 4

Alternative Facts – Additional Material
All the President’s Men (film)
Daredevil, 1.11 and 1.12 (Netflix tv show)
“Paparazzi” by Lady Gaga (song)
Spider-Man (specifically the 2002 film starring Tobey Maguire, by J. Jonah Jameson is a character that transcends media formats)
Spotlight (film)
The Wire, season 5 (tv show)

Pete also notes the life and real life escapades of Jayson Blair, a journalist for the New York Times who was fired in 2003 in the wake of a plagiarism scandal of his own. You can read about him, and some candid hot takes from a talk he gave at Duke recently, here.

We also refer to a couple of additional articles found on Slate, covering the Stephen Glass scandal (including Hannah Rosin’s, the inspiration for Chloe Sevigny’s character Caitlin, review of Glass’s fictionalized account of his story The Fabulist). You can find those here:

“Steve and Me: How accurate a portrayal of journalism is Shattered Glass?” by David Plotz

“Glass Houses: Why did I – vain skeptic – fall for the too-good-to-be-true journalism of Stephen Glass?” by Jack Shafer

“Glass Houses: Stephen Glass still doesn’t believe in the world around him” by Hannah Rosin

“Lies, Damn Lies, and Fiction” by Adam L. Penenberg (The Forbes article that outs Glass)

Also, Pete found an archived version of Glass’s “Hack Heaven” piece, find it here

Our theme for our next episode is going to be: Caring (or Not) for the Natural World. Enjoy doing your homework!

Your homework for April 26:
Pete: Avatar, 2009 film by James Cameron
Martha: Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, vol. 1 by Hayao Miyazaki
Calee: Idiocracy, 2006 film by Mike Judge