Raza Rumi, director of the Park Institute for Independent Media at Ithaca College in NY, joins Mickey for a wide-ranging conversation about the importance of non-corporate media and media literacy. Rumi notes that in most of the important social movements in US history, journalists played important roles within the movements, rather than staying on the sidelines in the name of “objectivity.”
Then Nolan Higdon reports on legislation in the California state Assembly (AB 873 and AB 787) that would require media-literacy instruction in the state’s public schools. Higdon notes that technical facility with media and devices by itself does not build a critically media literate public. He warns about the overt influence from Big Tech on policy and not enough input from educators and relevant nonprofits regarding how media literacy curriculum for public education may be implemented at the classroom level.
Raza Rumi is a professor, journalist, author, and policy analyst. He is currently Director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College in upstate New York. Originally from Pakistan, he worked in both the print and broadcast media in his home country. He holds degrees from the London School of Economics. His most recent book is Being Pakistani: Society, Culture, and the Arts.
Nolan Higdon is a lecturer in education at the University of California Santa Cruz campus. He’s also the author of the book The Anatomy of Fake News and a co-author of The Media and Me: A Guide to Critical Media Literacy for Young People, as well as other works of media analysis. He is a frequent guest on the Project Censored Show.
Video of Interview with Raza Rumi
Video of Interview with Nolan Higdon
Below is a Rough Transcript of the Interview with Raza Rumi
Mickey: welcome to the Project Censored Show on Pacifica Radio. I’m your host, Mickey Huff. Today on the program, we are very honored to welcome scholar Raza Ahmad Rumi, who is a policy analyst, journalist, and author. He is director of the Park Center for Independent Media and teaches in the journalism department at Ithaca College.
He is also faculty at Brooks School of Public Policy, Cornell University. That was during 2015 and 2017. Raza was a scholar in residence at Ithaca College and taught courses in journalism and writing departments as well as the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, New York University. Raza has been a fellow at the New America Foundation, United States Institute of Peace, and a member of Think Tank at Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics at Georgetown University.
Raza is also editor of the Friday Times the Edge and Ideas and Future. He edited Pakistan’s leading newspaper Daily Times and also worked as a TV broadcaster in Pakistan before he moved to the United States in 2014. Raza is the author of Delhi Bihar, impressions of a Pakistani Traveler, the Fractious Path, Pakistan’s Democratic Transition, and Identity and Faith.
and conflict. His most recent book, Being Pakistani, Society, Culture and the Arts, was published in June 2018 by HarperCollins India. Raza co edited a volume of essays entitled Rethinking Pakistan. It was published by Anthem Press in September of 2020. And Raza Rumi, it is an honor to have you on the Project Censored show.
I spoke with you in one of your classes some, some time ago now, and it was an amazing honor to be there. We at Project Censored, of course, are big supporters of what you do and certainly the Park Center for Independent Media. And we’re going to talk, too, about something called the Izzy Award. So thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us today, Raza.
Raza: Thank you, Mickey. The pleasure and honor is all mine. Let me just…
Mickey: Well, this is fantastic, man. We’re gonna have a stellar conversation. Your breadth of knowledge and experience in areas around media literacy, independent journalism, human rights. Your work is extraordinary, and I’m honored to share it with our audience.
Let’s start with the work that you’re, you’re currently doing, that you’ve been doing. You took over as director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College in New York. You followed Jeff Cohen, who was, I believe, the founder of the kind of program there. And Jeff Cohen also was the co founder of Fairness and Accuracy.
In reporting and so certainly big shoes to fill and you’ve certainly filled them. So let’s talk a little bit about that about your work at the park center and the importance of independent media and then we’ll talk a little bit about something that you do each year. It’s the annual Izzy Awards in honor of the great muckraker.
I.F. Stone so Raza talk a little bit about the program.
Raza: Yes. Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity as in me and the center that I’m representing. And, you know, the park center for independent media is now. 15 years old initiative you know, generously supported by the park foundation and of course Ithaca college and it is a center which is very unique in its mandate and mission, but perhaps the only one of this kind in the entire country, because it explicitly aims to you know, talk about and teach about promote independent non corporate nonprofit media in the U S.
And globally and which is very important as you know that most of us and most of the publics in america and even in the world are Familiar with what we call the corporate media. They think corporate media the cnn’s of this world The msnbc’s of this world are the media right and all the other alternative independent media streams movements Are kind of footnotes of Of our, our present and the past, but the reality is that the that American history is also a history of dissent, you know, in the 18th and the 19th and the 20th century, independent publications, whether they were aiming to abolish slavery, secure child rights, workers rights, women’s rights.
LGBT rights you know, and ending racial discrimination and racism. These movements were led by journalists, by publishers, by writers, you know, and there still are being, these wars are being waged today. People like you at Project Censored, your colleagues, I mean, the work you guys do is absolutely critical to understand contemporary America.
And the reality is, it’s all… The corporate power, the control hides it from the mainstream. So that’s what we aim to challenge at our center. We teach students about that. We train them in how to engage with this media. We have an internship program which every summer enables students to work with independent outlets.
And then we have, of course, as you mentioned earlier, the annual Izzy Award named after I. F. Stone, the legendary, iconic. dissenting journalists of the 20th century and we honor journalists or outlets each year that are following sort of Izzy Stone’s footsteps, his style of reporting and his you know, no holds barred, direct, brave commentary about the world.
Yeah, absolutely. And Raza, thank
Mickey: you so much for that great encapsulation of so many of the important things that you and your colleagues do at the Park Center at Ithaca College. Again, the mission of our sort of the center, your center and what we do with the project are So overlapping and the founder of Project Censored actually one of the last books he did was called Stories That Changed America, and it looks at muckrakers of the 20th century, and Izzy Stone, of course, is among them, right?
Going back to Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, Upton Sinclair, George Seldes, I mean, you know, filling it in. So many, and I, I’m very happy that you went back as far as you did. You know, we could go back even further into the 1700s, but pamphleteering, journalists, writers, thinkers critics in many ways, people that not just wanted to tear down, but they wanted to build a new, they wanted to make better sort of the promise in many ways of America.
And journalists have always been at the core of that. But over the course of the 20th century, and I want to get your position or your view on this, your perspective. As we saw increased professionalization of journalism, we kind of saw it move more and more into an established sort of corporate platform that is called mainstream media.
We don’t really use that term at the project because there’s nothing mainstream about six corporations controlling 90% of the platforms, as you know. We call it the establishment press or corporate, we just say corporate media or corporate press if, you know, if that, if that label fits, then, then wear it.
The use of the mainstream label really kind of, I think, hoodwinks the public into thinking that these private for profit corporations report in the public interest. And unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Can you talk a little bit about that challenge and how you see what you’re doing at the Park Center to sort of really rival that?
Thank you. So I mean, just Mickey, just think about the you know, if we were to talk about, okay, let’s use the establishment slash corporate media, I’ll avoid mainstream after your correction and rightly so. But you know, if we look at the rise of the of establishment media, it is so much interlinked interlaced with the rise of capitalism.
dominance in the 20th century with the emergence of U. S. as the empire, you know, particularly in the post Second World War order. And so I guess that whole politics of the Cold War where the Western bloc led by the U. S. had to kind of wage this endless war against those evil commies. So you had to keep the domestic populace.
under you know, immense check and immense control. What Chomsky and Herman call about manufacturing consent. So it all emerged with that. How do you prepare people to wage war? How would people accept that today, the U. S. is spending more than 800 billion on defense while there is no direct threat to the country from any of its neighbors.
Is Canada going to invade the U. S.? Is Mexico going to invade the U. S.? Is Guatemala going to come and invade the U. S.? Is Cuba going to, God forbid, walk into the U. S.? No. But it is the whole machine, the, the corporate capitalist machinery. And for that, a media, which is blind. And that’s why you also see in this time period, the term objectivity, it’s used so randomly, and it’s now embedded in our.
common parlance, you know, you, you read in the papers, you read in the articles, New York time op eds, you know, in classrooms and mainstream journalism schools, and you will see the focus on objectivity. I mean, what is objectivity? It’s nothing, it’s bullshit. Because the thing is, I mean, how can you say, how could you Call a sexual offender and take his perspective or whatever he was doing as I mean, his perspective would be taken by the prosecutor, by the judge, by the court, but not by a journalist.
The journalist has to say that a particular offense has been committed and they aren’t, they aren’t two sides to it or for a murder or for a you know you know Dealing with shelterless people or we are not giving public health care. There’s only one side that there are 40 million people with no health insurance in the United States.
And so there, there isn’t a second other side, both side-ism, right?. And this, this is embedded. These are the techniques, sophisticated techniques used by this, this huge corporate you know, mammoth machine. And then of course, the imperatives of advertising, because now corporate media is all, but I mean, everything is advertising.
And since the fifties, we see so much research has gone into how attitudes, beliefs, styles, tastes. The way you consume news, the way you consume, I use this, this word consume very pointedly, because it means that the news is a product, a commodity to be sold on the shelf. It is not for there to inform, to educate, to enlighten, to expand your horizon, to expand your understanding of the world.
No, it is about, you know, how many clicks now or how many viewers on TV or how many subscriptions of the paper or the magazine that go. Go along. So I guess this is the broad kind of environment that we live in, but you know, it has had some of the most dangerous consequences for the United States. In my view, this is my ninth year in the U.S. I disclaimer.
I’m very happy to be in the U.S. I’m glad that, you know, I’ve got all these opportunities to teach, to engage with the world, because there are people like you, there are communities which are willing to sort of, you know talk about how to change the world, how to be critical and how to think critically.
But overall, look at, look at the gun violence. I mean, I’ll give you five examples that are often used, you know, gun violence is the biggest, biggest cop out biggest lie that has been sold. You know, it’s always somebody’s mental health. It’s somebody lonely, you know, Hey, this guy went into a school and shot 30 kids, but you know, he was lonely.
He was a good guy. He used to play in his neighborhood, but something happened. No, it’s the. It’s the stupid gun and their manufacturers and their promoters and the politicians who take money for that and the entire ecosystem, which promotes violence as a bedrock of American society, right? Nobody wants to talk about that.
Number one. Number two, I always cite is healthcare. It is one country in the world where when I arrived here in the US, you know, of course I would occasionally when I was abroad. You know. And I’ve lived in many parts of the world, the UK, Europe, the Philippines and my home country, Pakistan, of course, and you know, we would hear NPR or CNN more about foreign news, you know, quote unquote.
But you know, when I came here and I heard people on radio. talking in favor of private health care and kind of dissing on public health care. I was stunned. I said, how is it possible that people are saying that public health care is a bad thing, that making a workforce, a citizen citizenry healthy and protecting against disease or other you know sort of threats, life threats is something bad.
And it’s all. The brainwashing that is, that goes along media, my own relatives who live here, you know, they often talk in favor of private health care. I know a lot of doctors, you know, there are thousands of doctors of Pakistani origin. Many of them extol the virtues of private healthcare and I’m like, Oh, no, what the hell. Third, climate change.
It’s happening right in where you live on the West coast where I live upstate New York, there are droughts there, there’s a crisis with, with farmland shortages of water change in cropping patterns I mean, it’s happening in, in front of our eyes.
Mickey: And the massive fires.
Raza: I mean, look at look at Canada. I mean, Ithaca was had the worst air quality worse than Many poor nations in the world where, you know, air quality cited as linked to poverty and bad governance and state failure.
And here’s Canadian wildfire coming in right back into New York and, you know making lives miserable. So I guess climate change and that denialism, I mean, somewhat has been addressed because it’s such a serious crisis, but still, if you look at overwhelming. Majority of programming of op eds of commentary, news items, it’s, it’s nowhere given the same kind of treatment.
You know, the UN puts out this IPCC report alarming us of the threat to this planet in the next 10 to 20 years. It’s not even the distant future, like the dystopian Netflix shows about 2089 or something. It’s right at our doorstep. And still it was given the most, the shoddiest treatment possible by prestigious papers like New York Times or Washington Post.
Mickey: And for years they would cover it, they would invite somebody from the Exxon sponsored Heartland Institute to give the both sides story as you were mentioning earlier on another topic. And it’s a common way that these are framed. So Razi, you’re three–
Raza: two more– immigrants, migrants, enemies. I mean, On the one hand, for centuries, America prided itself as a land of immigrants, you know, there are novels and songs and, and self congratulatory narratives on that.
But now this whole you know, anti immigrant narrative, it’s so embedded, you know, on mainstream TV, always, almost always immigration officials are taken as. Sources as experts. I mean, they are obviously going to stop. That’s their task. All Republican Party senators or congressmen who hate the idea of whatever immigrants and with that demonization, you see it feeding directly into the xenophobia, Islamophobia and Trumpism that we are encountering.
I mean, Trumpism is not something that came with Trump. It was, it already was there. Thanks to corporate media, just, just press many buttons and triggers to use that. And number five, which I would you know, Call as in another very, very serious crisis. And it has to do with poverty, poverty. The word P is not to be found anywhere.
Maybe an occasional annual op ed in Washington Post would say, Hey, the poor number. And I always start my classes, you know, both in public policy school and in journalism, I ask the students, okay, guys, do you know how many poor people, how many people live below the poverty line, official poverty line, not the world bank 2 dollar a day, but the U.S. Has a much higher poverty line.
And trust me, nobody knows grad level undergrad level. And I don’t blame them because they never read about it. They never hear it. They don’t, you know, the CNN never talks about it that New York Times doesn’t put in a headline. It doesn’t come on their phone. You don’t see Insta posts on that. So when the Google and they say, Oh, it’s 40 million.
Oh, and you add another layer of people you know, 80 million, I mean, two thirds of Americans have no savings in their bank account. They will, if they have a serious disease, if there was emergency, life is over. Over is the word, right? And I’m appalled because how can world’s richest nation, the sole superpower, I mean, with immense resources, I mean, there is money, 800 billion.
I just mentioned all if you do is, you know, chop one eighth of that or one sixth of that to feed. The poor are taking care of the shelterless, you know take care of the public healthcare systems. So it is this whole media system is deliberately keeping people in the dark. It is feeding into xenophobia and reactionary politics that we are sort of facing and grappling with.
Mickey: Welcome back to the Project Censored Show on Pacifica Radio. I’m your host, Mickey Huff. Today in this segment, we are having a rousing conversation with policy analyst, journalist, and author, Raza Rumi. He is also the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, where he teaches in the journalism department author of numerous books.
Raza you, you just rattled off before the break a list of five areas where you know, where the corporate media in particular in this country are not just woefully deficient, but sometimes just completely AWOL. The last one you mentioned being poverty. And of course, when you said that I immediately thought of the issue of class, right.
And, and, and the issue of class, the issue of class is. Just completely absent from these corporate papers, these publications they don’t talk about the relevance of class. And even in the Democratic Party, that’s been kind of subsumed with identity politics, and I’m not saying that understanding race and the history of racial oppression isn’t significant, but part of intersectionality as a theoretical construct includes class.
Even African American scholars like bell hooks, you know, focused on where we stand class matters. I mean, these folks talked all about it. Adolf Reed Jr. African American economist talks all about the importance of class analysis. So you mentioned, of course, the Republican party having its host of well fascistic concerns and, and sort of focal points that they, they, they sort of are fixated upon the Democratic party seems to be fixated in its own way on.
On some of its own kind of distractions, the degree to which that we have a really hyper partisan media climate that the corporate media has not only helped to create, but it continues to inflame it. It stokes those kinds of divisions, and it renders anybody outside the two party system that wants to actually address any of the five issues you mentioned seem like they’re from outer space, right?
So just really quickly, just wanted to see if you could maybe connect some of the dots between the ways in which corporate media report versus independent media on these very issues and how that independent media really is designed throughout history, muckraking, to spur people to civic engagement, not just create passive consumers.
Raza: Totally. Mickey, thank you. I think that’s such an important distinction. Of course, like everyone else in America, or I would say like a good number of people, the C word is you know, red flag, you can’t talk about class, you know, because classes, but commies, you know, the evil commies, these you know socialists talk about, and it is totally absent from discourses, even reporting on race or racial discrimination or injustice forgets, omits class deliberately.
I mean, class is the most vital construct to understand our world. And of course, you know, it is something that the editors, it is something that the corporate media tries to shy away, but, but as you rightly said, contrarily, the independent media is far, far. better at capturing that particular dimension of our world and, and the way things are.
And they connect the whole class differentials class oppression and class struggles that are underway in the U.S. Into their reporting and their commentary. I mean, look at Democracy Now! It doesn’t shy away from that. Look at Jacobin of course would do that. But, you know, magazines like Dissent you know, Mother Jones, The Nation you know, all these sort of great, great publications bring that dimension into their narratives, and they inform people that it is something, this class inequality is one of the most important issues to be understood and linked, and, and I think, I think that is the kind of a dent that they’re making into, particularly since the rise of the internet technologies in the, since the 1990s, you know, middle of 1990s, you know, and then the exponential increase in independent media outlets, you know, online media outlets, and now on YouTube or other platforms, you have a far more engaged you know journalism than What it was prior to them to the 1990s.
Of course, the downside of that has been the rise of disinformation and propaganda also using the same platforms and technologies. But having said that, I think that contest is still Ongoing. And it is too early to say that we have been consumed by I mean, of course, the big tech companies have made it worse.
So in a way, they’re also you know, they reproduce the corporate values as well as these class differentials, because they, you know Mark Zuckerberg is a billionaire. Musk is the billionaire who’s squeezing and choking Twitter.
Mickey: The billionaire free press.
Raza: Yeah, exactly. So, so I guess the pushback on these platforms is also immense and it is really heartwarming to see that, you know in a way they are exposing themselves.
I mean, Zuckerberg exposed himself during the 2016 election and the congressional hearings, though not much has come. Come about in you know from that whole process yet. And Musk has exposed himself way too soon as to what his designs are and how utterly, utterly foolish he can be.
Mickey: So Raza Rumi I want, there’s two things.
One, just stem, I want to get into higher education and the role of critical media literacy education in particular, as connected to journalism and journalism schools as really an antidote to the sort of like the between the truth, emergency and fake news, moral panic. Right? These are the kind of things we have at our disposal.
But one example that just screamed to the fore in media coverage in events in the last few weeks, as you know, was the media coverage of the submersible. That was trying to see the Titanic and the tragedy there with the people dying there, but the media coverage on that versus the 700 migrants you know, that Europe was turning their back on in the Mediterranean.
It’s only been recently that the Washington post is bothering to notice the poor treatment of immigrants of migrants of these are human beings. So the human rights angle again, class trump’s all right. That all the interest on the Titanic and Netflix even put the movie back on. You know, I mean, the coverage of it was just, I don’t know what else to say other than it was disgusting, I mean, in many ways, and not at all looking at humanity, whether it’s the people in the submersible or the people, the migrants, I mean, you have people paying quarter million dollars to go gawk at a grave at the bottom of the ocean, you know, being, getting tons of money and coverage and people looking for them, and again, not denigrating those people. But when you compare it and contrast it to the human rights disaster ongoing, I mean, last week 700 people in the Mediterranean, next week, it’s a half a million people in sub Saharan Africa.
I mean, keep going. You could, and this is something I know that you are passionate about, but I had to at least mention that even Barack Obama noticed the sort of junk food news abuse quality of like what’s going on here. And Obama as a neoliberal, I mean. You know, who, who attack more whistleblowers than any president combined.
Even these kinds of people are noticing this ludicrous corporate frame. So anything to add about that?
Raza: Yeah, I think what I love, Mickey, is that even Obama, I just, love the choice of your words, but yes, absolutely. Even a poster child, poster boy of neoliberal capitalist order in America Mr. Obama could not help notice that. So it was that bad, you know, that’s what it actually says. I mean, This ongoing crisis like that, the board that capsized on, you know, in Greece more than 600 people died. And do you know that they were you know, more than half of the people on that board were from my home country, Pakistan.
And, you know, it was the most shocking, shocking and tragic things. And, you know, these the board operators had actually locked them in the. Basement of the ship in the lower deck and locked them from outside so that they couldn’t even escape or swim or whatever when they were drowning.
I mean, it is the most horrific form of death and the Greek coast guard were involved in it. I’ve been talking to Greek journalists and activists. They knew this was happening and they let it happen because that is the unwritten policy. Let these migrants, these illegals. Die on our shores rather than have them in our country.
I mean, it is, it is as brutal and as awful as it is, unfortunately. And the media reporting on that well, perfunctory, a couple of reports, a few articles and over, and then comes this expensive submarine, which incidentally also had two billionaire Pakistanis, you know, The richest sort of family of Pakistan has had their son and grandson in there and non stop 24 seven coverage on BBC, CNN, New York Times.
I mean, yes, as you rightly said, we cannot denigrate those lives. All lives matter. And for this matter, any human being in that particular situation, I mean, We value human life. We value that. But, but the kind of coverage that was given, I mean, was so disproportionate and exposed this media so much that even the loyal fans of corporate media.
Could not help notice like Barack Obama. I mean, yes, I mean, he’s kind of at the top of the food chain, but, I was reading on Twitter, average readers of Washington post of New York times, or viewers of CNN, the kind of comments they were leaving.
I mean, I was heartened that people they’re not as dumb as some, as these corporations think they are. I mean, they are smart people. It’s just that you keep on feeding them bombarding with them with this messages and the power of propaganda is such, but I think deep down both these things, what we talked earlier apply in this particular case.
One is of course, class those on the ship, those six, 700 unfortunate dregs of the earth, you know, ratchet of the earth (unintelligible) I mean, but people looking for a better life or looking for opportunities, you know, because they, They obviously were not risking their lives for fun or adventure.
Okay. So the, so the class difference was completely overlooked. I mean, completely, you know, wrapped in sugar coated terms not to offend the sensibilities of their. pristine readers, you know, if you mentioned class inequality, poverty, whatever it’s, it’s going to affect some people. And the second particular important is the kind of agenda, the new setting, the editorial agenda that is set within the newsrooms within, within these organizations.
It was very, very clear four, five people in one place and hundreds of on the other. And remember. Right after a week of that particular tragedy, you know this, this big fish trawler sinking, there was another tragedy again on the, on an Italian coast that of course, smaller number of people, but dozens, you know, and yet you would have not, I mean, I haven’t really seen an in depth story on that as I just saw on the Guardian.
That’s all. So, I mean, you know, it’s all very clear how corporate media you know, sets the, the news agenda, the you know, political agenda whether it’s immigration and, and unfortunately you know, there were more critiques of this in European press. than in the American press, because let’s not forget what we do here on the U. S. Mexico border. I mean, they have mass graves of unidentified people who died in 120 degrees Fahrenheit while crossing the border or the desert like conditions, and they just died. You know, there’s no, there’s no trace of their identities and they were, you know no reporting on them in the corporate media.
Mickey: Well, worthy and unworthy victims as Chomsky and Herman would, would say, as you referenced earlier Rosarumi director of the Park Center for Independent Media. One, one last area that we wanted to get to is. Again, riffing from the thread earlier, the importance of independent journalism, muckraking journalism in the public interest is that it spurs people to civic engagement by giving them contextual, factual, historical information.
It informs people about the challenges that are being faced by local communities. What role do we see in higher education? And look, we’re both in higher education, and it’s in a massive state of disrepair due to the long, long onslaught of corporatization and neoliberal policy implementations. So, I mean, that’s another show in and of itself.
Get Henry Drew on here, and you can talk about it for hours. But. Teaching journalism, right? So I, I mentioned critical media literacy earlier as well. So how do you see the fusion of, of not just teaching journalism to be stenographers to those in power, but what are the core tenants here that you really think we should be teaching in our journalism schools and how it’s connected to media literacy and meaningful civic engagement?
Raza: Thank you so much. I think what you mentioned earlier about the role of journalism and journalists intersecting with social movements. I mean, as I mentioned earlier in the 19th century, if you look at you know, the abolition abolitionist movement the, the labor rights movement the civil rights movement in the 20th century.
The counterculture movement, the anti-war movement the L G B T Q movements rather, multiple movements and the women’s rights movements, you know, if you look at them, and as I mentioned earlier at the start, I mean, journalism was playing a central role in leading and shaping the attitudes and information and the worldview of the citizens.
You know, because indy press, independent media, Treats you know, human beings as citizens of a particular country of a particular world, not as consumers, not as objects, not as commodities, you know, and that is the primary difference. And I think if you link that to the crisis in higher education, that is the issue of citizenship is gradually eroding.
You know, there’s a crisis in the humanities, as we know, you know, philosophy. History, et cetera, all have been traditionally undermined, have been underfunded now in many places, you know because it is something that makes or shapes a citizenship, a person who’s engaged with the world, right.
Instead of a person who would go and fit as a small cog in the corporate machine, whether it’s in the STEM field or in other fields but I think one of the key tenets, I mean, you know, there are many But let me think of a few. I think the first is, of course, I think educating and teaching students about this, the rich, dynamic you know, history of social movements and the role of press therein, instead of keeping a journalist as an outside, as an aside, observer, detached, neutral, quote, unquote, objective spectator.
No, they were part and parcel of the, of the process of social change. In fact, it has been carefully designed since the early 20th century to separate it so that you know, social change becomes something with the political machine and the political finance campaign managers and not citizens per se.
Right. And it’s, it’s a, it’s a clear distinction that we have now. Right. So for every change, you got to hire lobbyists in DC, pay them hundreds and thousands of dollars, you know, for a simple bill. How are people, I mean, that’s what Bernie Sanders was doing and twice they blocked him, but Bernie Sanders, I think has.
Left a lasting legacy over American politics, you know, on how to organize, how to defeat you know, big financing, big donors and the role of you know dirty dark money as they call it the
Mickey: occupy movement as well. Like the language of the 99%, right? I mean, Again, that was a class based movement and, you know, it kind of dissipated, but it gave that sort of lexicon, right?
It gave that kind of verbiage for people to start quickly encapsulating the issue of class, which of course the corporate media and the political class want to ignore, right?
Mickey: yeah, go ahead. No, no. Well, so just the other thing you had mentioned the crisis in higher education and stem fields and I’m just I immediately thought of Tim Wise.
Anytime this stuff comes up. I always talk about what he says instead. Forget stem. We need mesh. And mesh is media, literacy, ethics, sociology, and history that if we don’t have those things with stem, then we just have people making bombs for fun or whatever, right? We have people doing things because they can not people doing things to help other people and to be meaningfully engaged citizens and creating a better life for all of humanity and living things.
That’s kind of a distinction that I think, I think should be at the core of higher education. And I think journalism programs could probably do a lot more to connect those dots. What are your
Raza: No, I think you just rightly identified what I was going to. The second, second point is you see.
Understanding of history. I mean, on the first point, you know, so all nation states rewrite history, they blacken history, they distort history they abuse history for their purposes. You know, you have to create a nation, you have to imagine a nation and the U.S. Is no exception. And that is why perhaps, the nation in the image of.
Slave owning founding fathers or, you know so it has been a very, or a you know a group of people erasing the Native American memories and tribes and populations and languages and cultures. I mean, these are very problematic. Parts of nation building that America has undergone.
And so that’s why whether it’s a journalism student or a liberal arts student, they must go through this sort of unlearning of history that they have been growing up since middle school, high school. And the second, and that’s why social movements and the role of media, but then they will not be able to do so without media literacy .
And I think that’s where. Project Censored and other such initiatives across the country and globally are so important. They are so important because I have taught students and met students and I’ve met grown up adults, forget about students, who do not know how to interpret or distinguish between what is Credible, what is not credible, how to you know, believe in a photograph.
And with all this disinformation you know, warfare, that the world is undergoing, particularly America. It’s become even more imperative to introduce that and right from high school level, it, if not earlier. And without that we will not be able to challenge this large you know, manufacturing consent systemic.
order that we face today. And I think that is where creative curricula both at school and college level needs to be retooled and refashioned. And I think the third most important aspect of the curricula is introducing students. To indy press to independent media outlets, you know, in my classrooms over the last, you know, five, six years, most students did not know about many outlets.
Some knew about pro publica as an investigative outlet or whatever, but they didn’t know about Descend. They didn’t know about Jacobin. They didn’t know about Project Censored, right? So Or Fair.Org, you know, so et cetera. And so, I think it has even now the curricula I have seen in journalism schools does not include that adequately or does not address that adequately.
And I think that is something that we need to push, push, push, and, you know, speak about. until we get something done.
Mickey: Yeah, Raza Rumi, I could not agree more. And I’m thinking of George Seldes, you know, the job of journalists wasn’t to just report the facts. It’s to tell the public what’s really going on.
Right. It’s to help people understand in context. Right. And this is what muckraking journalists have been doing. For ages, right? And I think that you hit on the third point. I just couldn’t agree more that journalism, criticism of journalism, media criticism is something that’s often just not involved, not part of journalism education.
And in fact, even going back in the history of Project Censored found that in 1976. Walter Cronkite was an original supporter of Project Censored and Hugh Downs, right? These are establishment as it gets people, but they understood that the criticism was constructive. It wasn’t to get people to turn it off.
Maybe now we’ve talked more about those options of turning off corporate media. But it was a matter of offering the constructive criticism for why are you not covering these important stories that these independent people can cover? Why can’t you cover them? And, and I think that the, the kernel of, and I’m biased as the director of the project now, the third director.
After Carl Jensen and Peter Phillips, you know, working with Andy Lee Roth here. I just think that that needs to be really infused into journalism curriculum somehow. I think that it’s woefully lacking in having people understand that criticizing journalism isn’t the same as calling it the enemy of the people like
Donald Trump did.
Raza: Yes, I think that’s a very important point. Absolutely. Absolutely. No, thank you, Mickey. It’s such a pleasure always, you know, to talk to you and I hope I made some sense, you
Mickey: Absolutely. It’s been amazing to have you on the program. And last thing Raza Rumi. Anything you want to share with people about where they can find out more about your work, website any social media handles, anything you want to share with our audience, please.
Raza: Yeah. So, so please you know, if you’re interested in the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, visit parkindymedia. com. Sorry parkindymedia. org And that’s our website or you can just search in the google for that and you will find we also have a Web magazine called The Edge which I strongly urge you to take a look We invite commentaries and reports from leading academics journalists and thinkers So the edge media.
org is the website and you want to know about me. It’s razarumi. com
Mickey: Thank you, Raza Rumi. Thank you so much for joining us today. Policy analyst, journalist, and author. He is the director of the Park Center for Independent Media, teaches in the journalism department there. Raza Rumi, thank you so much for all you do at the Park Center and well beyond.
And of course the Izzy Awards, amazing. Again, folks in the Project Censored audience, if, if you were unaware of all the amazing things that Raza Rumi is doing and the Park Center for Independent Media does, Please check them out and, and follow the links that Raza suggested. Raza Rumi, thanks for joining us on the Project Censored Show today.
Below is a Rough Transcript of the Interview with Nolan Higdon
Mickey: Welcome back to the Project Censored Show on Pacifica Radio. I’m your host, Mickey Huff. In this segment today, we continue on the theme of media and journalism, in this case more specifically critical media literacy. We are joined by a longtime contributor to the program, Dr. Nolan Higdon, he is a media scholar, author of numerous books, including co authored a couple with me, including United States of Distraction and Let’s Agree to Disagree. He is also the author of The Anatomy of Fake News which is a stellar academic and historical look at news literacy education in the United States, or maybe we should say the lack thereof.
Nolan, of course, is a scholar, a lecturer at University of California, Santa Cruz, and other places. Nolan Higdon, we recently put together an analysis, and this is something that you’ve been doing for quite some time. So you’ve been building on the analysis of media literacy, education, and policy, public policy.
Years ago, it’s been more than five now. In the wake of the moral panic around fake news after the 2016 election legislature started to realize that maybe the United States was lacking in media literacy education certainly which was an area of focus and expertise for you. And in the ensuing years, we’ve seen efforts to police mis and disinformation.
We’ve seen efforts to censor whether algorithmically or through deplatforming, we’ve seen big tech kind of jump in and sort of have its stake in trying to police and curate information, misinformation, disinformation. What you’ve been saying for years, certainly what I’ve been saying, what we’ve been saying at Project Censored is likely the best antidote to problems around fake news, propaganda, et cetera, is having a critically media literate and news literate public, which means we need to have media literacy education.
So in a recent piece titled Mandatory Media Literacy Education Could Be Coming to California Schools Soon. But will it lead to media literacy education or corporate indoctrination, right? We spell out a pretty important interpretation, I think, of what’s happening around media literacy education policy.
Nolan, can you remind our listeners briefly sort of the trajectory here of the lack of media literacy in the U.S. and let’s come up to the present about what might be wrong with some of these efforts. Nolan Higdon.
Nolan: Yeah, and that’s exactly right, Mickey, what you said there. And before I respond, I also want to say what’s up to the Project Censored universe.
And thank you so much for having having me on the show. The media literacy in the United States, we really lagged behind other nations. You know, this is in large part due to two reasons. One is we have a really decentralized school system. So if you don’t do it at the fed level, which rarely happens or the state level, which rarely happens, you can’t get it in every school because every school district has control over curriculum.
The second reason is, and I think this is the one that’s really started to break in 2016 is there was this kind of Almost elitist assumption that if you have a media classroom, students are just gonna be watching films and listening to music and writing poems. They’re not gonna be learning the things they need to learn for the 21st century.
I think that the moral panic over fake news and to a degree, some of the freak out over disinformation during the pandemic. really changed people’s perceptions about that. They started to conclude that, you know, people use media sometimes on the low end, 8 to 12 hours a day on the high end, 14 to 16 hours a day on average.
And so this is what people are doing with their lives. It’s necessary to teach them. It’d be like trying to take mentions of farming out of the curriculum in the 19th century or something like this is what people do with their lives. And regardless of how we may feel about it but we really, we really didn’t do it.
So in some ways, this is a really positive step to see that that states were putting language in about media literacy. We saw about 20 plus states do this after 2016 the majority of which, though, were really, quite frankly, toothless. It was saying things like, we should have media literacy, we should make media literacy curriculum available, which, which is a step in the right direction, but folks in education will know that, that unless there’s a carrot stick and a mandate. Things really change in education. So you really need to mandate media literacy. You need to train teachers to teach it. It needs to be a requirement that students want to and need to fulfill. And I think that’s what we see these these California bills starting to do. But there’s two bills, and I think they both address problems with media literacy, but they also leave questions about potential problems in the future.
So the first bill Assembly Bill 873 by Mark Berman of Menlo Park that bill requires teaching media literacy in K through 12 schools. So I think that’s a great thing. But what’s left out of the bill is the question of who’s going to teach this? Who can teach this? Just because you’re an educator doesn’t mean you have content knowledge and everything, right?
And so, who’s going to train these media literacy instructors? And this is something we all know that Alison Butler Media Freedom Foundation and Project Censored. She, long been an advocate for us. We need to have more serious professional development for, for teachers and media literacy.
And the second bill tries to get at that assembly bill 787. It tries to bring together stakeholders such as teachers and tech experts, which is a problem. We’ll talk about why that is and researchers to figure out how to offer. media literacy in California. So the, the bills are a step forward, but, but here’s the problem.
When it comes to training teachers and picking the content, not all media literacy is the same. And as we’ve talked about for years, there’s this, we call corporate or a-critical media literacy. This is where Facebook and Nickelodeon and Google. They want to turn media literacy into teaching young kids how to use digital tools and platforms and get them, quite frankly, to be dependent on these tools and platforms.
Or a critical approach, which is what I know the two of us advocate for and, and a lot of folks in our larger circle advocate for. It’s not just about learning how to use these platforms and what these platforms are, but examining them in the political economy, examining their context, what are their political motivations, what are their economic motivations what are the power structures invested in this?
So in a critical classroom, we don’t want to just learn how to use, a meta platform. We want to know, who’s the funding behind meta? What relationships does meta have with governments? How do those conflicts of interest affect what we see and don’t see on the platform? And so my concern with these bills.
Is that we haven’t carved out enough space to make sure we get the nonprofit educators, the non-corporate educators to get a say in what this curriculum is. And we get those very same non-profit, non-corporate institutions to be a part of the professional development for teachers. And so I’m talking, of course, about Project Censored I’m talking about university institutions, like the Critical Media Project from USC.
I’m talking about Alison Butler, and I work with her here in Massachusetts, and MassMediaLit is another one. So I think there’s a lot of these organizations that could really help. Advanced media literacy to where it becomes something other than just kind of a corporate indoctrination, which so many of our, corporate gangsters want it to be.
Mickey: Absolutely, and well put and there’s some of that history in the recent article and that’ll be linked at ProjectCensored.org when this program is posted on our website. Nolan, can you talk about the history to going back to the 1990s? Something called “channel one”, that was like a morning news program for classrooms. It was like a mandatory part of things that people watched it pushed products and so forth.
Big tech companies like you just mentioned have relationships with schools and districts, many of them hamstrung or experiencing. financial difficulties, right? So the military never has any problem with their budgets, it seems, but schools have to have bake sales for books and such.
So they’re actually kind of targets. So whenever Apple comes and says, we’ll provide Mac books or iPads. The purpose isn’t just to provide those tools, it’s to provide specific brands, and it’s also then, I know you’re also researching another book right now with Alison Butler on surveillance capitalism in the classroom and technology, and it’s another way to data harvest students.
I mean, this is all ironically part of media literacy education, but one must be more critically media literate in order to understand what the questions even are. To figure out what actually needs to be in a bill. As you said earlier, I think one of the first things you said was, who’s going to teach this media literacy in the K 12 schools and with what tools?
Right. And with what theoretical foundation, how will they be put in to practice? And you did say, of course, that you think that nonprofits have a big role in this academic should have a role in this. But let’s talk a little bit again, more specifically about some of these challenges that lawmakers may be unaware of.
You mentioned. The bill by Mark Berman, you also mentioned Jesse Gabriel’s Assembly Bill 787, right, and you talked about sort of the bringing to the table of who has a stake in this. Can you talk a little bit more about some of those purported stakeholders and why, again, you think media literacy academics should be a real serious component as a central figure in that conversation?
Nolan: Yeah, absolutely. You know, American public schools are incredible in the sense the amount of our population that goes through them. Kids more or less are required to go. They’re there more or less on a daily basis for the majority of the week. And corporations have long recognized that, look, this is a great opportunity to get an audience that has to pay attention.
You know, if we can get our product in the front of a classroom, students are going to have to see it. They’re going to have to pay attention to the ad. And this goes back to what you pointed out. I mean, this goes back decades, but one of the prime examples was Channel One. Channel One recognized in the 1990s, there was this discourse about how we need news literacy.
And so channel one was a corporate entity that said, yeah, we’ll provide a video every morning that has news broadcast to teach news literacy. But in between the broadcast segments, we’re going to have commercials. We want to be able to advertise to students. And as you point out, this is after the Reagan revolution and the start of the, the neoliberal destruction of American public education.
And a lot of schools needed money from things like channel ones. They allowed this, this advertising in the classroom. It went beyond that, of course, you know, like where I went to school in high school, Pepsi funded part of our school. They gave donations to it. Donations and air quotes. And so we had Pepsi machines on campus and a Pepsi emblem on our school board and all that stuff.
But as you point out things have gotten even different like from where we’re sitting now. It’s almost kind of antiquated or a more comfortable era of when they were just trying to advertise their products. Now these media companies want to get in to also collect user data. You know, they’ve, long since convinced Congress, this goes back to 2012, to loosen student privacy rights.
So that EdTech platforms, I’m talking about Canvas, I’m talking about Blackboard, I’m talking about Turnitin, so they can get into schools and get access to student data. Sometimes this is by the way student data that not even parents can access in some cases. If their kid’s in high school and is 18, this EdTech company can find out everything they want about their student, but the parent cannot.
So these companies have long seen schools as an opportunity. To extract data about students and then also get a required audience they can advertise to. And quite frankly, a lot of administrators and some educators are just ignorant about these things. They’re enamored with the new tools and how sexy the laptop looks or the tablet or the phone or the, oh, isn’t it so cool?
These kids are playing a video game while learning. But really what’s happening is this is corporate propaganda. This isn’t media literacy. And so we need to do a better job. I think those of us who are critical and continuously pushing back against this to say, like, “hey, look, you can have corporate software and tools in the classroom.”
The classroom is a free and open space. And I’m a proponent of academic freedom. I’m one of, I guess, the few left on earth but I’m proponent of this academic freedom, but you have to introduce them responsibly. So to your point if you say that Apple donated these Macbooks to our school, That’s really misleading.
You know, Apple gave these MacBooks in exchange for student data is probably a more accurate way to say it. And I think as an educator you have a responsibility to introduce these things properly to the students. So they’re more well informed on what’s going on with them and their data and their privacy.
Mickey: Back to media literacy education. So there must be then this critical component that goes along with the gadgets goes along with the tools. And again you’re not suggesting per se, that we should have none of this technology in the classroom, right? This isn’t the finger wag. This is responsible use and understanding what’s going on on the platforms behind the platforms, what’s going on behind these tech companies and how best to utilize public policy and shaping education to have the most responsible use with protections of privacy and supportive academic freedom. That does sound like a tall order in today’s political climate, but it also doesn’t sound all that bad, does it?
Nolan: No, not at all. And, you know in terms of the political climate, you know, I think one cool thing about the political climate is it can always change.
And I know Mickey, you and I’ve talked about this a lot, when you do bring these issues up to people and, you know, you try and depoliticize them. So you’re not for team blue or team red, but you, you talk about them in terms of this person’s child or this person’s job, if they’re an educator. People respond and polls show this once you turn them on to how much corporations are attempting to exploit students and faculty in schools.
People really do resist it. So I think part of the job that’s out there is for us to to vocalize and make people aware of this. Hopefully we can change that political climate.
Mickey: Absolutely. And once again, the antidote to a lot of these challenges we face in our information ecosystem, you know, they really can be addressed by critical media literacy education.
Perhaps these bills are a better beginning to that. We’ve been talking to Nolan Higdon. Nolan, can you tell people where they can find more of your work or follow you online?
Nolan: Yeah, you can find out my profile information at UniversityofCaliforniaSantaCruz.Edu. And you can also find my work.
I’m on Twitter. I’m on Facebook. I’m on LinkedIn. So folks can follow me there, but if you want to follow my work and my publications, definitely can follow me on Substack. I’m a sarcastic scholar, and you can follow my work at projectcensored. org as well.
Mickey: Absolutely. Nolan Higdon, again, lecturer, Merrill College, University of California, Santa Cruz, Project Censored National Judge.
He is co author of The Media and Me, A Guide to Critical Media Literacy for Young People. Also, Let’s Agree to Disagree: A Critical Thinking Guide to Communication, Conflict Management and Critical Media Literacy. Also, The Anatomy of Fake News, A Critical News Literacy Education. Nolan Higdon, thanks so much for joining us once again today on the Project Censored Show to talk about the importance of critical media literacy education.
Nolan: Thank you very much, Mickey, and thank you everybody for listening.