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Citations Needed

Updated 8 days ago

Society & Culture
News
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Citations Needed is a podcast about the intersection of media, PR, and power, hosted by Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.

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Citations Needed is a podcast about the intersection of media, PR, and power, hosted by Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.

iTunes Ratings

2134 Ratings
Average Ratings
2043
30
12
16
33

Great show

By Yeagerbrown - May 01 2020
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Like NPR but the hosts aren’t boring libs

Favorite Media Criticism

By Atlanticconveyor1982 - May 01 2020
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I’ve learned a lot from this show about how the media behaves.

iTunes Ratings

2134 Ratings
Average Ratings
2043
30
12
16
33

Great show

By Yeagerbrown - May 01 2020
Read more
Like NPR but the hosts aren’t boring libs

Favorite Media Criticism

By Atlanticconveyor1982 - May 01 2020
Read more
I’ve learned a lot from this show about how the media behaves.
Cover image of Citations Needed

Citations Needed

Latest release on May 20, 2020

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Citations Needed is a podcast about the intersection of media, PR, and power, hosted by Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.

Rank #1: Episode 22: Trumpwashing -- How the Media Uses Trump to Launder Our Criminal Past

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The unique threat and vileness of Donald Trump’s presidency can’t be overstated. Since he took office a year ago, he’s increased civilian deaths in Afghanistan by 50%, increased civilian deaths in Syria and Iraq (surpassing Obama’s death toll in just under 7 months), issued dozens of nuclear threats against North Korea, unraveled the Iran deal, bombed Hezbollah, Iranian and SAA positions in Syria, signed a smash and grab tax bill for billionaires, and issued order after order making life hell for immigrants and other vulnerable communities.

But with this unique threat comes a rhetorical habit of "Trumpwashing" that, while perhaps tempting in the short term, will - in the long term - have disastrous effects.  

The desire to revamp the image of the pre-Trump Republican party and the United States in general – a concept Ali Abunimah coined “Trumpwashing” - is a favorite rhetorical tic of Russia-obsessed democrats and centrist extremists who’s primary charge is treating the phenomenon of Donald Trump as anomalous from American history, rather than its most pure, and even logical, manifestation. This trope - in addition to denying the realities of the past hundred years of American politics and policy - carries with it pernicious long term effects.

We discuss this broader narrative with The Intercept's Jon Schwarz.

Jan 10 2018

57mins

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Rank #2: Episode 45: The Not-So-Benevolent Billionaire: Bill Gates and Western Media

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Russia, as we all know, has sinister “oligarchs” whereas in the United States, we are told, we have “philanthropists,” “job creators,” and “titans of industry” who earn their wealth through hard work, moxie, and guile. Aside from a few cartoonishly evil billionaires – like the Walton family, Peter Thiel, and the Koch brothers – the average American has a warm and fuzzy feeling about the super wealthy. 

The most notable of these Benevolent Billionaires is Bill Gates, whose foundation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, operates the largest overseas “nonprofit” regime in the world, worth over 40 billion dollars–– twice that of the next biggest foundation. The Gates Foundation receives almost uniformly softball coverage from the media, many of whom receive funding from Gates through various investment and donor arrangements, both from his personal coffers and the foundation that bears his name.

In this two-part episode we ask how much this network of patronage effects Western media’s overwhelmingly positive and uncritical coverage of Gates. How can one can be critical of this type of massive outsized influence without devolving into paranoia? What is the nature of the capitalist ideology that informs Gates’ so-called philanthropy? And how do his programs often harm those they allegedly aim to help?

We are joined this week by Dr. Linsey J. McGoey, associate professor of sociology at the University of Essex and author of the book, “No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy.”

Jul 25 2018

1hr 9mins

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Rank #3: Episode 03: The Rise of Superpredator 2.0

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Episode 03: The Rise of Superpredator 2. 

Episode 3 is about the media narrative surrounding the rise of so-called “gang raids” that have exploded over the past three years. These high-stakes, headline-grabbing spectacles target, almost exclusively, black and brown people and are carried out by hundreds of local, state, and federal officials with little scrutiny from the media. 

Our guest: Josmar Trujillo, a Harlem-based organizer, writer, trainer, and agitator.

See show notes here: https://medium.com/@CitationsPodcst/episode-03-the-rise-of-superpredator-2-0-4339020ea9a2

Jul 21 2017

38mins

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Rank #4: Episode 34: What the Hell is Wrong with MSNBC?

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MSNBC is by far the most influential mainstream media outlet on the American Left. It sets the tone and defines the boundary for what is acceptable discourse among American liberals. But major issues the Left is generally thought to care about - imperial war, worker strikes, Palestine, climate change - are almost entirely absent from coverage, as the network increasingly looks like a 24-hour Trump-Russia infomercial.   What is the point of having a liberal cable news network when it ignores so many major issues on the Left and pushes a narrative that, in the aggregate, does little beyond selling more weapons systems and inflaming US-Russia proxy wars in Syria and Ukraine? How did MSNBC get this way? What are the corporate forces making it so terrible, and is there hope for a more thoughtful, politically relevant network?    We are joined, anonymously, by a former MSNBC employee.   Transcript:  https://medium.com/@CitationsPodcst/episode-34-what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-msnbc-5a4538f32ef

Apr 18 2018

54mins

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Rank #5: Episode 21: Quantifying Negative Media Portrayals of People of Color

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According to one 2014 study, 75% of white Americans don’t have any non-white friends. Put another way, white people’s perception of African Americans and other people of color comes primarily from media representations rather than actual interactions. As such, how communities of color are portrayed in the media – from news and opinion pages to movie and TV screens – is tremendously important.

Two newly-published reports reveal how these perceptions are consistently distorted to over-emphasize Black and Latinx criminality, center white people in sympathetic portrayals as either victims or heroes, and overwhelmingly lump immigration coverage in with coverage of crime and violence.

In this episode, we discuss the bare statistics of how people of color, immigrants, and the poor are shown in media, why it matters, and the consequences of media makers from newsrooms to Hollywood perpetuating destructive stereotypes.

We're joined by some of the people behind these reports, Lucy Odigie-Turley of The Opportunity Agenda and Nicole Rodgers of Family Story.

The Guests

Lucy Odigie-Turley is the Opinion and Media Research Coordinator with The Opportunity Agenda. An experienced communication researcher with training in both qualitative and quantitative methodologies, Lucy conducts and organizes multi-methods research to assess dominant media narratives and public opinion about poverty, immigration, and criminal justice.

Nicole Rodgers is the founder and executive director of Family Story, a communications and research organization that elevates stories of diverse families. A strategist with broad expertise in communications, branding, and research in the public interest, Rodgers is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Role Reboot, an online magazine dedicated to storytelling and social critique from a new generation of Americans rethinking “traditional” family, breaking through stereotypes, and bucking expectations about gender roles.

The Reports

Redefining Sanctuary: Analysis of public attitudes and media coverage of sanctuary jurisdictions and related immigration policies Lucy Odigie-Turley | December 2017 | The Opportunity Agenda

A Dangerous Distortion of Our Families: Representations of Families, By Race, In News and Opinion Media Dr. Travis L. Dixon | December 2017 | Color Of Change

Jan 03 2018

1hr 5mins

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Rank #6: Episode 96: The Christian Cinema-GOP Persecution Complex

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The last two decades have seen the release of a number of explicitly Christian movies which tell stories of believers navigating the trials and tribulations - both literal and figurative - of a perceived non-Christian world. In this universe, followers of Christ are constantly under siege by secularists, swarthy Muslims, gay and trans agenda-pushers, feminists and a hostile, out-of control federal government.

While the media usually lumps these movies into a generalized “faith” category they are best viewed not as earnest meditations on religion and “faith,” but a political project on behalf of the Republican party, with a distinct protestant flavor.

Today, we are going to focus on the biggest and most influential players in the “Christian cinema” space: production company and distributor PureFlix and Affirm, a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Worldwide. Pureflix and Affirm embody the core ideological tropes of the U.S. conservative base: a promotion of US militarism, anti-Muslim racism, pro-capitalist messaging, hostility to LGBTQ populations, anti-Semitic Zionism and a runaway contempt for women.

On this episode, we’ll discuss how the Christian cinema industry is not just low-budget schlocky propaganda that’s fun to dunk on (though it certainly is), but something more deliberate, sinister, and corrosive––a state-subsidized, far-right messaging machine for American reactionaries and imperial interests.

We are joined by author, artist and filmmaker Frank Schaeffer.

Dec 11 2019

1hr 22mins

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Rank #7: Episode 95: The Hollow Vanity of Libertarian "Choice" Rhetoric

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“'Right-to-work' means freedom and choice,” a Boston Globe op-ed explains. “As housing costs rise, some people are choosing to live on the road instead,” a Fox Business headline states. “If your insurance company isn’t doing right by you, you should have another, better choice,” reads Joe Biden’s campaign platform. We’re told repeatedly that “freedom of choice” is essential to a robust economy and human happiness. Economists, executives, politicians, and pundits insist that, the same way consumers shop for TVs, workers can choose their healthcare plan, parents can choose their kids' school, and gig-economy workers can choose their own schedules and benefits.

While this language is superficially appealing, it’s also profoundly deceitful. The notion of “choice” as a gateway to freedom and a sign of societal success isn’t a neutral call for people to exercise some abstract civic power; it’s free-market capitalist ideology manufactured by libertarian and neoliberal think tanks and their mercenary economists and media messaging nodes. Its purpose: to convince people that they have a choice while obscuring the economic factors that ensure they really don’t: People can’t “choose” to keep their employer-provided insurance if they’re fired from their jobs or “choose” to enroll their kids in private school if they can’t afford the tuition.

In this episode, we examine the rise of “choice” rhetoric, how it cravenly appeals to our vanity, and how US media has uncritically adopted the framing--helping the right erode social services while atomizing us all into independent, self-interested collections of “choices.”

We are joined by Jessica Stites, executive editor of In These Times.

Dec 04 2019

1hr

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Rank #8: Episode 91: It's Time to Retire the Term "Middle Class"

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“Building a wall won't save America's crumbling middle class,” Elizabeth Warren tells us. “Sanders healthcare will raise taxes on the middle class,” a CNN headline reads. “There’ war on the middle class,” a Boston Globe editorial laments.     The term “middle class” is used so much by pundits and politicians, it could easily be the Free Space in any political rhetoric Bingo card. After all, who’s opposed to strengthening, widening, and protecting the “middle class”? Like “democracy,” “freedom,” and “human rights”, “middle class” is an unimpeachable, unassailable label that evokes warm feelings and a sense of collective morality.   But the term itself, always slippery and changing based on context, has evolved from a vague aspiration marked by safety, a nice home, and a white picket fence into something more sinister, racially-coded, and deliberately obscuring. The middle class isn’t about concrete, material positive rights of good housing and economic security––it’s a capitalist carrot hovering over our heads telling us such things are possible if we Only Work Harder. More than anything, it's a way for politicians to gesture towards populism without the messiness of mentioning––much less centering––the poor and poverty.   This week we are joined by Jane McAlevey, a union organizer, scholar and Senior Policy Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley’s Labor Center.

Oct 23 2019

54mins

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Rank #9: Episode 12: The New Atheists, Celebrity Crusaders For Empire

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Since the mid-2000’s, a specific breed of liberalism has emerged broadly called “New Atheism”. While the movement is hardly a monolith, it has at its core features of liberal chauvinism, anti-"political correctness", “science”, secularism, and a general deference to U.S. foreign policy consensus. It’s biggest champions, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Maajid Nawaz, Bill Maher and the late Christopher Hitchens were and are major features in mainstream discourse–from television shows on HBO to major podcasts to writings featured everywhere from The New York Times to The Guardian to The Daily Beast.

For years, however, leftists of all stripes--anti-imperialists, socialists, progressives--have expressed concern over this brand of liberal chauvinism, its outsized place in the media and its ability to turn the U.S., and white Americans in particular, into The Real Victims; its ability to offend the religious while championing boilerplate National Security consensus and imperial wars abroad. It seemed vaguely provocative but who was it really offending? And, more importantly, who was it serving? We discuss with guest Luke Savage.

Oct 11 2017

1hr 14mins

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Rank #10: Episode 35: The Total Blackout of the Korean Left

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When Americans read about the Korean "conflict" in the Western press, the articles are populated almost entirely with Serious Western Talking Heads, weapons contractor-funded think tank "fellows," and former and current U.S. military brass. Who's never consulted, much less heeded, are peace and left activists from the Korean peninsula. 

The notion that perma-hostility from the U.S. and arming the South to the teeth is in Korea's best interest -- and is assumed to be popular -- is simply taken for granted by U.S. media. But is this a reflection of the sentiments of most Koreans? What are the forces that oppose nonstop U.S. military occupation and endless war? How come we rarely, if ever, hear from them? And who does this wide spread erasure benefit? 

Our guest today is Christine Ahn of Women Cross DMZ.

Apr 25 2018

1hr 2mins

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Rank #11: Episode 58: The Neoliberal Optimism Industry

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We're told the world is getting better all the time. In January, The New York Times' Nick Kristof explained "Why 2017 Was the Best Year in Human History." The same month, Harvard professor and Bill Gates' favorite optimist Steven Pinker lamented (in a special edition of Time magazine guest edited by - who else? - Bill Gates) the “bad habits of media... bring out the worst in human cognition”. By focusing so much on negative things, the theory goes, we are tricked into thinking things are getting worse when, in reality, it's actually the opposite.

For the TEDtalk set, that the world is awesome and still improving is self-evidently true - just look at the data. But how true is this popular axiom? How accurate is the portrayal that the world is improving we so often seen in sexy, hockey stick graphs of upward growth and rapidly declining poverty? And how, exactly, are the powers that be "measuring" improvements in society?

On this episode, we take a look at the ideological project of telling us everything's going swimmingly, how those in power cook the books and spin data to make their case for maintaining the status quo, and how The Neoliberal Optimism Industry is, at its core, an anti-intellectual enterprise designed to lull us into complacency and political impotence.

Our guest is Dr. Jason Hickel.

Nov 28 2018

1hr

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Rank #12: Episode 94: The Goofy Pseudoscience Copaganda of TV Forensics

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Since the early 2000s, a spate of forensics-focused TV shows and films have emerged on the pop culture scene. Years after Law & Order premiered in the '90s, shows like CSI, NCIS, and The Mentalist followed, trumpeting the scientific merit of analyzing blood-spatter patterns, reading facial and bodily cues, and using the latest fingerprint-matching technology to catch the bad guy.

Yet what these procedurals neglect to acknowledge is that many of these popular forensic techniques are deeply unscientific and entirely political. Spatter pattern-matching, firearms analysis, hair analysis, fingerprint and bite mark analysis — they’re all mostly bullshit with little scientific merit. Despite this, forensics have helped contribute to the wrongful convictions of thousands of people: a storytelling aid, prosecutorial smoke and mirrors, a courtroom PR tool to lend scientific verisimilitude to what is very often just circumstantial, hunch-based police work.

On this episode, we break down how popular culture depictions of forensics helps mislead viewers — and by extension jurors — into thinking forensics are science that proves guilt rather than what they really are: slick marketing collateral to help prosecutors convict someone they already think is guilty for other, nonscientific reasons.

We are joined by Aviva Shen, Senior Editor at Slate.

Nov 27 2019

1hr 3mins

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Rank #13: Episode 11: The Deficits Racket Part I -- Single Payer Propaganda War

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The idea that we’re “running out of money” and have to “tighten our belts" is a common trope in US media; the premise that the US government is like a household that must balance its books, largely taken for granted by liberal and right-wing outlets alike.

But is this premise correct? Is it true that the United States is over-budget and ready to explode with insolvency? Where does this conventional wisdom come from and whom does it benefit? 

On this and next week's show we seek to answer some of the questions. In Part I: Single Payer Propaganda War, we examine the primary talking points against Single Payer and other big government programs and how to combat them with guest Stephanie Kelton. 

Sep 27 2017

1hr 3mins

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Rank #14: Episode 20: Lotteryism, Part II -- A Most Dangerous Game: How Sports Are Used to Fleece Public Trusts

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Previously on Citations Needed, we discussed the notion of "Lotteryism," that is, the use of the media by large corporations to obscure solidarity in favor of morality tales of "making it." 

It's a scam to extract resources from local governments in hopes they can "win" corporate cash, headquarters, facilities, and, of course, the promise of "jobs". Cities around the US and the world debase themselves to compete for the "honor" of hosting the Olympic Games, the World Cup, or just a new sports team - shelling out millions, if not billions, of public funds to build arenas and stadiums that average citizens often can't even afford to set foot in.

On this episode we discuss how the media helps sports owners and other corporate forces fleece the public. With guest Dave Zirin, Sports Editor at The Nation. Follow him @EdgeofSports.

Dec 20 2017

52mins

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Rank #15: Episode 04: The Root of All Evil

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On Episode 04 we talk about a recent New York Times article — and the broader media habit of painting the US as benevolent democracy-seeker and Iran and other Official Enemies as cynical imperialists.

In this episode we dissect the true history of what caused chaos in Iraq, who’s to blame and what the real motives were behind the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations designs for the country. All this in the context of a battle for control over remaining ISIS territory in Syria and Washington, Riyadh, and Tel Aviv’s desire to stop the dreaded “Shia crescent”.

Show notes: goo.gl/zcGHvd

Jul 26 2017

51mins

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Rank #16: Episode 64: Mike Rowe’s Koch-Backed Working Man Affectation

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In recent years, television personality Mike Rowe has amassed a wildly popular following due to alleged working-class straight talk about topics ranging from the affordability of college to reasserting a culture of pride in craftsmanship and labor. From his 5.2 million Facebook followers to his cable programs, his everyman schtick, on its surface, can be very appealing: after all, who doesn’t love a hard day’s work and loathe detached, ivory tower eggheads?

But hiding under his superficially appealing blue-collar façade is dangerous ideology, one funded by the Koch Brothers and other far-right, anti-labor corporate interests and specifically tailored to pick off a certain constituency of Home Depot Democrats while pushing political impotence, anti-union narratives and anti-intellectualism. Through a clever combination of working class affectation and folksy charm – often exploiting real fears about a decline in industrialization – Rowe has cultivated an image that claims to be pro-worker, but primarily exists to line the pockets of their boss.

Our guest is Street Fight Radio's Bryan Quinby.

Jan 30 2019

1hr 8mins

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Rank #17: Episode 74: Liberal Gandhi Fetishism and the Problem with Pop Notions of 'Violence'

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"The United States believes any Palestinian government must renounce violence,” a U.S. official told Ha'aretz. When it comes to nonviolence, writes Barbara Reynolds in The Washington Post, “Black Lives Matter seems intent on rejecting the proven methods." "Violence Is Never the Answer," New York Times columnist Charles Blow insists.

We are told endlessly that violence is inherently and unequivocally bad, something - when it comes to advocating for social justice or against military occupation and fascism - that’s always to be avoided, condemned and renounced. It must be rejected, our press and politicians declare, in favor of non-violence, so-called "peaceful protests" and the democratic process.

But in popular discourse, discussions of violence aren’t really about violence; rather, they’re about sanctioned versus unsanctioned violence. The routine violence of poverty, racist policing, militarism is never called "violence"–––it's just the way things are, a law of nature, the price of "stability". But unsanctioned violence, namely that carried out by activists, non or sub-state actors, and those generally distant from the halls of power, causes outrage without any coherent criteria for this indignation.

On this episode, we discuss how what is and isn't deemed "violence" by our media is largely a function of proximity to power and whether those actions challenge or serve the interests of the status quo.

We are joined by journalist and author Natasha Lennard.

Apr 24 2019

1hr 13mins

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Rank #18: Episode 51: How 'The West Wing' Poisoned the Liberal Mind

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Post-Cold War liberal chauvinism knew no better ideological conduit than the hit NBC series The West Wing. Foreign policy was imperial, staffers were self-satisfied, and Serious Democrats fended off radical leftists and made the Tough Choices needed to run a benevolent superpower.    The West Wing, created and primarily written by Aaron Sorkin, heavily influenced the politics of dozens of high-status Obama-era liberals. By their own admission, we know it had among its superfans Obama staffers Sam Graham-Felsen and Eric Lesser, Vox founders Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias, The New Statesman’s Helen Lewis, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell (who produced and wrote for the show), Democratic party hacks Meredith Shiner and Micah Lasher, and many more. Indeed, it’s fair to say anyone under 40 who came up through the ranks of liberal public relations and politics during the Obama years was either directly impacted by The West Wing or, indirectly, by those under its comforting, Starbucks-color-palette worldview.    On this week's episode, we discuss how this Sorkinized worldview both informed and reflected prevailing thought in the Democratic Party, promoted smugness as the highest virtue, and––more generally––how ideology is spread through seemingly benign cultural products like schlocky television dramas.    We are joined by Toronto-based writer and co-host of the Michael and Us podcast Luke Savage.

Sep 26 2018

57mins

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Rank #19: Episode 92: The Responsibility-Erasing Catch-all of ‘Automation’

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"As technology shifts more layoffs loom at tech companies," Reuters tells us. "PepsiCo is laying off corporate employees as the company commits to millions of dollars in severance pay, restructuring, and 'relentlessly automating'," notes Business Insider. "Apple’s dismissal of 200 self-driving car employees points to a shift in its AI strategy," CNBC declares.

For decades, mass layoffs, factory closures, and industry shifts––from the auto industry to journalism to banking––have often been presented by American media, not as the moral choices of greedy CEOs private equity and hedge fund managers looking to extract wealth for them and their shareholders, but instead the unavoidable result of nebulous, ill-defined––but entirely inevitable–– “automation.”

After all: C-level decision makers, billionaire media owners, hedge funds, and private equity firms had no choice. No one is to blame, it’s simply the way it is. The logical, albeit cruel, end result of specific policy choices, all decided by powerful moral agents over the past 30 years, is presented as a force of nature, something outside our control, unstoppable and immutable.

On this episode, we examine how capital has, for centuries, blamed layoffs and cost cutting on inscrutable developments in technology and efficiency models out of their control, what this pat excuse hides, why it's sometimes true and sometimes not, and and why the media shouldn’t take claims of CEOs’ hands being forced by “market changes” at face value.

We are joined by Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and writer and researcher Peter Frase.

Oct 30 2019

1hr 7mins

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Rank #20: Episode 08: The Human Rights Concern Troll Industrial Complex

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We discuss the cynical use of "human rights" to advance US interests with guest Glenn Greenwald. 

The conceit that the U.S. has been a dedicated and earnest promoter of “freedom”, “democracy,” and “human rights” throughout the world — even if, at times, a “flawed” one — is a defining narrative, largely taken for granted by major media. But how accurate is this assumption? What do we mean when we talk about human rights? What abuses are highlighted and which aren’t? Where do labor rights fit into the broader discussion of human rights?

On this episode of Citations Needed, we attempt to parse some of these complex questions and how they fit into a broader discussions of soft power and war.

Sep 06 2017

1hr 15mins

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Episode 110: The Shiny-Object Psychology of American Capitalist “Innovation”

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“Free markets drive innovation!” It’s a narrative imparted to us ad nauseam. The ultimate catalyst of creation and progress — we’re told by policymakers, business executives, think tanks, and the media outlets that bolster them — in which great strides in healthcare, electronics, media, and other areas are the domain of private enterprise motivated by competition and profit, and unencumbered by state intervention.

As the prospect of socialism — or at least the word “socialism” — regains currency in the West, these claims have resurged. Capitalism’s supporters insist that a profit-first system is the reason the world is always improving, lifting people out of poverty while equipping them with iPhones, WiFi, and central air conditioning. Socialism, they contend, hinders innovation because public ownership of the means of production removes the competition and profit that ostensibly incentivize creativity.

But why are we expected to believe that concentrating ownership of the means of production in the hands of a few is the key to progress and prosperity for all? How is it that the most important metrics of “innovation” are consumer goods available to some, rather than socialized, need-based programs available to all? And above all, who does this narrative that “innovation” is driven by Anglo-American style Randian capitalism really serve?

On this episode, we delve into these questions, looking at how the United States — the world’s foremost champion of capitalism — packages propaganda about its alleged innovation; the reasons capitalism not only fails to drive innovation, but also actively destroys it; and the U.S.’s brutal actions to thwart socialist efforts toward a more equitably and sustainable version of “innovation” at home and aboard.

Our guest is Current Affairs associate editor Vanessa A. Bee.

May 20 2020

1hr 2mins

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Episode 109: Self-Help Culture and the Rise of Corporate Happiness Monitoring

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How can one achieve happiness? It’s the eternal question. From Aristotle to Al-Ghazali, Thomas Aquinas to Arthur Schopenhauer. The answer, we’re told, is to look within. These days, we’re told repeatedly by our modern philosophers, Oprah Winfrey, Srikumar Rao, Tony Robbins, Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra and other corporate happiness monitors that prosperity and fulfillment come through deep introspection and mindfulness—just pay for more inspiring books, videos, retreats, seminars, and classes!   These prescriptions, while ostensibly useful in the short term for answering personal questions or alleviating stress, all fall within the genre of self-help. The trouble is, on the whole, they’re not very helpful at all. The self-help industry is predicated on the ever-American and thoroughly capitalist concepts of rugged individualism and personal responsibility, arguing that if you have a problem, it’s invariably up to you, and only you, to fix it. Meanwhile, it imparts the appearance of virtue and legitimacy with hollow, cherry-picked references to Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and psychology.   In recent years, there’s rightfully been a new crop of criticism leveled against the self-help industry, with books offering “anti-self-help” alternatives for improving one’s life, calling for people to relax and stop placing so much pressure on themselves. Still, many of these critiques embrace the same form of individualism as the media they decry, ignoring the reality that the best way to ‘help’ people is to ensure their material needs—like housing, food, and healthcare—are met.    On this episode, we’ll chronicle the development of modern self-help culture, from its 19th-century protestant, capitalist roots to its modern ambassadors; analyze how self-help culture promotes the values of neoliberalism; examine the ways in which modern mainstream critiques of the self-help industry fall short, embracing the same reactionary principles they should be rebuking, and dissect the profound institutional incentives that compel us to prioritize solipsism over solidarity.    Our guest is political economist and author William Davies.

May 06 2020

1hr 4mins

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Episode 108: How GDP Fetishism Drives Climate Crisis and Inequality

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"Economists' forecasts for GDP growth in 2020 vary widely," says The Economist. "Algeria's GDP growth falls to 0.8% in 2019," one Reuters headline reads. "GDP — the broadest measure of economic activity — grew at an annual rate of just 1.9% during the third quarter," NPR warns. Everywhere we turn for economic news, the Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, is held up as the key proxy for prosperity and sound fiscal policy.    Since its codification as the new gold standard for measuring prosperity at the Bretton Wood conference in 1944, the GDP has been the most popular metric used by American and British media when measure a nation’s prosperity. The GDP, and its close cousin, the Gross National Product, have not been without its critics for decades, but prying it from its top position as The Most Important Policy Goal has been an impossible task. Despite many labor activists, environmentalists and economists leveling critiques at its myopic, capitalist ideology, the metric has remained central to how the media and lawmakers determine fiscal policy.    But what is the GDP exactly? How did it become the go-to proxy for prosperity in Western media? What are its ideological inputs, and how did post-war notions of colonialism and extractivism helps cement its place in our collective mindset? And what, more importantly, do activists argue we should replace it with? On this episode of Citations Needed we will explore these questions and examine how centralizing Gross Domestic Product––by its very design––obscures climate crisis, labor abuses, racism, drudgery, and a whole host of society's ills.    We welcome economic anthropologist Dr. Jason Hickel back to the show.

Apr 29 2020

1hr 1min

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Episode 107: Pop Torts and the Ready-Made Virality of ‘Frivolous Lawsuit’ Stories

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“Woman Sues TripAdvisor After Falling off Runaway Camel,” reports the Associated Press. “Red Bull Paying Out to Customers Who Thought Energy Drink Would Actually Give Them Wings,” eyerolls Newsweek. “Tennessee man sues Popeyes for running out of chicken sandwiches,” scoffs NBC News.

We see “frivolous lawsuit” stories all the time and have for decades. Seemingly absurd cases of get rich quick schemes often with catchy headlines, a caricature of a plaintiff friendly legal system run amok. These stories play into faux-populist tropes of a country full of lazy poor people looking to cash in and a sleazy legal system that leeches off hard-working Americans.

But how organic are these “pop torts”––or popular stories of frivolous lawsuits––and more importantly, how true even are they? What organizations are behind cherry-picking and teeing up these shameful tales of greed for uncritical writers, editors and producers? Who’s backing them, and what, perhaps, may be their ulterior motives?

Moreover, what are the human stakes to so called “tort reform” and how did it come to be that the vast majority of Americans came to accept the premise that, at some point in the 1980s, we all became amoral lawsuit happy scumbags out to shutdown mom and pop stores and grab a quick buck?

We are joined by the Center for Justice & Democracy's Joanna Doroshow.

Apr 22 2020

1hr 12mins

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Episode 106: The Sanitization of Sanctions

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As COVID-19 continues to endanger the health of people throughout the world, it also magnifies a long-existent global humanitarian crisis: The use of sanctions by the United States and other powers as a weapon of war. In Iran, one of the countries most devastated by the contagion, sanctions have strangulated the supply of medical equipment crucial to testing the population and treating those who are infected, inspiring some members of the political establishment to call for sanctions to be eased. While these pleas are necessary, they’re woefully inadequate and long overdue. Sanctions aren’t just a problem when there’s a pandemic. Iran had been subjected to U.S. and UN-imposed sanctions long before the appearance of the contagion—as had Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, Iraq, and far too many other countries deemed Official Enemies of the United States and its allies, resulting in economic destabilization, vulnerability to U.S. militarism, starvation, illness, and mass deaths.    Amid these life-or-death stakes, media and think tanks’ responses to sanctions range from mere handwringing to outright bloodlust. Rather than decisively condemning sanctions as ruthless acts of economic warfare, American media largely perpetuates the narrative that sanctions are a necessity, and often a force for good, in the effort to punish and “change the behavior” of some perceived “rogue” government. Meanwhile, little criticism is offered outside of tepid suggestions that those sanctions should be tweaked.    On today’s show, we’ll examine how the U.S. levies sanctions to undermine countries opposed to U.S. hegemony, how sanctions are laundered as benign in the media, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the preexisting, decades-long barbarism of U.S. foreign policy.    We are joined by guests Keyvan Shafiei and Hoda Katebi.

Apr 15 2020

1hr 30mins

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News Brief: Widespread Indifference to Covid-19 in Prisons

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In this extended News Brief, we discuss how the rapid increase of Covid-19 in prisons and jails is being met with indifference by lawmakers and US corporate media.

Apr 08 2020

59mins

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News Brief: Top 10 Worst Covid Crisis Takes (So Far)

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After over 100 episodes, scores of News Briefs, and almost three years of content production, Citations Needed has finally done it: reduced itself to a listicle. On this News Brief, we examine the top ten worst COVID-19 takes to date (not including the celebrity 'Imagine' video). Proceed with caution.

Mar 29 2020

42mins

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News Brief: As a Social Democracy Response Fails, Likelihood of Martial Response to Covid19 Rises

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In this News Brief, we detail recent reports the National Guard and US military may be used in a law enforcement capacity and what this says about the failures of the liberal state. With unemployment potentially reaching 30 percent and an urgent, robust social democratic response from the federal government unlikely, a debate about safeguarding against martial order––especially from an administration with a well documented inclination towards abuse of power–-is urgently needed.

Mar 23 2020

27mins

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Episode 105: Pandemic, Pelosi, and the People We Consider Human

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The COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging the globe, leaving immeasurable human suffering in its wake. Who is left behind, struggling to survive on the frontlines of precarity, is – as with all things – determined primarily by wealth, privilege, and access to resources and political capital.   This fact has been starkly on display in recent days, as Congressional Democrats began debating their response to the crisis: corporations, wealthy investors and industry were prioritized, formal wage workers were given crumbs, and the undocumented and informal economy workers – such as domestic caregivers; undocumented workers; sex workers; and freelance, contract, and off-the-books workers – were ignored completely.  On this week's episode, we analyze a 48-hour time period of coverage in The New York Times and The Washington Post when the discussion of who was going to be prioritized and aided – and who wasn't – cemented in popular discourse with little logic or meaningful debate.   We are joined by Fahd Ahmed, Executive Director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM).

Mar 18 2020

39mins

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Episode 104: The Pete Peterson Austerity Empire and the “How Will You Pay For It?” Lie

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“According to the Bipartisan Policy Center," "a recent study by the Concord Coalition disagrees," "One review of your budget by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says." We’ve seen these seemingly benign Official Sounding sources hundreds of times—from presidential debates to 60 Minutes to countless articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times.

But what the average person can’t reasonably know is that these organizations—Bipartisan Policy Center, the Concord Coalition, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and PR projects like “The Can Kicks Back” and “America Speaks”—are all veiled front groups for a single, far-right billionaire whose entire life mission was to privatize social security, medicare and other entitlement programs under the auspices of fighting a so-called “deficit timebomb.” For decades, a web of Pete Peterson-backed front groups—often funded in concert with other like minded billionaires—has used the faux neutrality of think tanks, institutes, and academia to launder "anti-deficit" messaging for American pundits, reporters, and politicians, entirely capturing the narrative around deficits and their alleged pending destruction of society as we know it.

This week, we explore the origins of Pete Peterson’s austerity propaganda machine, his web of influence, how he helped co-opt both conservative and liberal knowledge production, and how he and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to undermine what little liberal government the United States has left.

We are joined by David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect.

Mar 11 2020

1hr 14mins

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Episode 103: The Glib Left-Punching of “Purity Politics” Discourse

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"Obama Warns Against ‘Purity Tests’ In Democratic Primary," Spectrum News reports. "Spare Me the Purity Racket," Maureen Dowd opines in The New York Times. "'Purity Tests' Divide Democrats," US News & World Report announces. "Political purity tests are for losers," bellows The Hill.   We hear it all the time: progressives, leftists, radicals — and even liberals — are told they must not engage in the siren song of "purity politics." Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, we are told. We must be pragmatic, realistic, we must lay down our ideological arms and stop pining for Nirvana when so much is on the line in November.    Evoking purity politics functions — more often than not — as a catch-all defense against any and all criticism of establishment Democrats. In 2016, Hillary Clinton partisans used it against Bernie Sanders supporters; in 2020, Bloomberg’s flacks use it against Sanders again, and even Sanders partisans use it against leftist skeptics of electoralism. Put simply, purity politics is a Get Out Of Jail Free card, a perennial lesser of two evils narrative of an inherent impossibility of anything other than incremental change. At their core, charges of purity politics are ahistoric and anti-intellectual, pathologizing alternative theories of change that don’t require political compromise as youthful vanity. Indeed, how to balance compromise and ideals has been, for centuries, the central question of the Left, everyone from French revolutionaries to Russian socialists, Black American radicals and Indigenous struggles in North America to Third World liberation movements around the globe have struggled to answer: when do we compromise and when do we not?   But "purity politics" ignores this essential and rich question altogether, brushing aside morally fraught debates about political strategy and reducing anything short of the path of least resistance to unserious solipsism and juvenile stubbornness.  
   On this episode, we discuss how demands that people drop "purity politics" only go in one direction; how moral urgency has historically been pathologized as youthful narcissism; and how our jaded, broken media elites routinely conflate preemptive defeatism with political savvy.   Our guest is attorney and writer Malaika Jabali.

Mar 04 2020

1hr

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Episode 102: The Conservative Sanctimony of Journalistic Impartiality

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One of the most prized professional norms for journalists, particularly the United States, is the preservation of neutrality in reporting. While the concept of “objectivity” has fallen out of fashion among mainstream reportage in recent years, related concepts that convey a similar idea such as “impartiality” and “neutrality” have come to replace it. In their mission statements and codes of ethics, corporate and government owned outlets routinely proclaim the importance of impartiality and balance, in the sanctified pursuit of fair, unbiased reporting.    In theory, this can be a healthy idea. Distinguishing between so-called opinion or editorial versus neutral, down-the-middle reporting –“objectivity” or “impartiality” can give the reader a sense that a series of facts are being reported rather than some guy’s opinion.   The fundamental problem is when this vaguely aspirational genre morphs into an unchecked ideology––an ideology that requires one to think we live in a world where said facts are curated and created outside of long-existing power structures; that those who produce, on an institutional scale, knowledge products via think tanks and academic institutions are without bias. That journalistic institutions, funded by large corporations and billionaires themselves, don’t decide which neutral facts are important and which aren’t.   “Objectivity” that doesn’t calibrate power asymmetries or attempt to account for its own institutional ideology isn’t a mode of reporting, it’s conservative conditioning that––if not in intent, in effect––does little more than advance prevailing ruling class ideology. Indeed, anyone who’s ever studied marketing or PR or propaganda will tell you the most effective messaging is that which appears unbiased and impartial.    On today’s show, we’ll examine how objectivity came to be a defining principle of Western journalism and how U.S. media’s understanding of impartiality provides an urbane veneer for racism, homophobia, anti-poor policies and other reactionary currents.   We are joined this week by journalist Lewis Raven Wallace, author of The View from Somewhere: Undoing the Myth of Journalistic Objectivity.

Feb 26 2020

1hr 16mins

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Episode 101: The False Universality of “Common Sense”

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“145 CEOs Call On Senate To Pass 'Common-sense, Bipartisan' Gun Laws,” NPR states. “Local Democrat pushes back on NY bail reform law: It's about 'common sense,' not politics,” a Fox News headline reads. “The Only Thing More Dangerous Than Trump’s Appeal to Common Sense Is His Dismissal of It,” The Nation warns. Everywhere we turn we are told by pundits and politicians that "common sense" demands we support their preferred policy prescription.   It's a common appeal: a political issue—whether health-insurance, immigration, foreign policy, or gun violence—reaches a real or perceived extreme, and, in reaction, media pundits and political figures claim the most appropriate response must be ostensibly neutral, reasonable "common sense" reforms.   But these claims are insidious. While "common sense" may appear to be a constructive guiding principle, there is no meaningful definition of the concept and when it is evoked, it's almost always an appeal to status quo ideology. What’s sensible to a member of the Tea Party isn’t the same as what’s sensible to an activist seeking to end police violence. So, whose “common sense” is really being promoted when we hear these calls to action? On this week's episode, we explore how appeals to “common sense” present politics as a matter of rationality rather than of morality; how these demands reinforce centrist and right-wing ideologies and how the Left can work to build an alternative common sense.   We are joined by cultural anthropologist Dr. Kate Crehan, Professor Emerita at College of Staten Island and the CUNY Graduate Center.

Feb 19 2020

1hr 4mins

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Episode 100: Willie Hortonism 2020 - Media Attacks on Prison Reform

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Since the rise of Black Lives Matter and a broader cultural awakening in the United States of just how wildly out of whack, cruel and hyper-punitive our criminal legal system is, modest reforms began to emerge across the United States. The lowest hanging fruit for reforms was to get rid of or radically reduce pretrial cash bail: a system that simply exists to punish the poor for being poor.

20 percent of people in the United States currently incarcerated––76 percent of those in local jails––have not been found guilty of any crime, they are simply awaiting their trial and cannot pay their bail because they cannot afford it. One 2015 study found that people in jail had a net median income of less than $5,000 a year, and are overwhelmingly Black and Latino. Put simply: bail exists not to protect the public, it exists to punish the poor for being poor. In response to this jarring injustice, some states began instituting modest reforms, reserving bail for so-called “violent crimes,” but requiring judges to consider people’s income when setting bail for other offenses. A number of cities across the country began to see reductions in the number of people in jail pretrial.

Unsurprisingly, reform has been met with swift and vicious reaction from pro-carceral forces. Police unions, sleazy politicians, rightwing think tanks, and conservative and liberal media alike prey on propagandized public fears to attack reforms as ushering in a new dystopian era of Escape from New York lawlessness. To do this, among other disingenuous tricks of emotional blackmail, they’ve reanimated one of the oldest in the book, Willie Hortonism: seeking out anecdotal cases of a formerly jailed person who goes on to commit a crime, demagoguing this one example often using racist tropes, and exploiting the media feedback loop to pushback and curtail movements for reform.

On this episode, we're joined by Color Of Change's Clarise McCants and Brooklyn Defender Service's Scott Hechinger to highlight various tropes the media use to push back against prison reform and how to fight back against their playbook of fear and racism.

Feb 05 2020

1hr 19mins

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Episode 99: The Cruel, Voyeuristic Quackery of Rehab TV Shows

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Over the last 20 years, the topics of substance use and treatment have become the stuff of televised entertainment: heart-wrenching stories of desperation and redemption, of suffering and survival. Shows like A&E’s Intervention and VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, which depict people with substance use disorders and their experiences navigating recovery in rehab, have gone a long way to shape our common narratives about what addiction is and how it should be addressed.    The central conceit of these shows is that anyone struggling with addiction must follow the same road to recovery: stay at a for-profit treatment facility for approximately one to three months, requiring, among other things, complete abstinence from drugs and/or alcohol, no matter how excruciating or dangerous. While these methods are effective for some, they’re profoundly harmful for others.    In promoting this one-size-fits-all approach to treatment—which can be accompanied by punitive and often humiliating experiences—these shows reinforce techniques and philosophies that are not only scientifically debunked, but also have the potential to endanger people’s lives. Meanwhile, they serve as an advertising platform for these for-profit rehab centers themselves, many of which have been shown to be prohibitively expensive, ineffective, and, in some cases, deadly.    On this episode, we examine the pseudoscience, myths, and fundamentally quasi-christian self-help ideology promulgated by this genre of television; the ways in which these shows exploit addiction for the sake of story; and the relationship between rehab television and the multibillion-dollar for-profit treatment industry.  Our guest is journalist and author Maia Szalavitz.

Jan 29 2020

1hr 4mins

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Episode 98: The Refined Sociopathy of The Economist

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From its inception as agriculture trade paper in 1843 to the present day, The Economist has provided a gateway into the mind of the banking class. Something of an anomaly in the publishing industry, The Economist is not quite a magazine, not quite a newspaper; aspirational in its branding but bleakly limited in political ambitions; brazenly transparent in its capitalist ideology, yet inscrutable in its favorably spinning for American and British imperialism and racism.

It is publication owned by the wealthy for the wealthy and advertises itself as such. Its only moral pretense: a long history of championing what it calls “liberalism, ”a notoriously slippery term that, in The Economist’s world, views freedom to profit and exploit labor as interchangeable with the freedom of religion, press and speech.

As such, examining The Economist’s history, its connection to British and American banking interests and intelligence services, can tell us a great deal about the narrow focus of Western, and specifically British notions of “liberalism.” The promotion of capital flows over justice, enlightened imperialism over self-determination, abhors overt racism while promoting more subtle forms of race science and colonialism, all along easing the conscience of wealthy white readers that want to feign concern about human suffering but who have everything to gain by doing absolutely nothing about it.

On this episode, we are joined by Alexander Zevin, author of Liberalism at Large: The World According to The Economist.

Jan 22 2020

1hr 26mins

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Episode 97: Porch Pirate Panic and the Paranoid Racism of Snitch Apps

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Everywhere we turn, local media — TV, digital, radio — is constantly telling us about the scourge of crime lurking around every corner. This, of course, is not new. It’s been the basis of the local news business model since the 1970s.

But what is new is the rise of surveillance and snitch apps like Amazon’s Ring doorbell systems and geo-local social media like Nextdoor. They are funded by real estate and other gentrifying interests working hand in glove with police to provide a grossly distorted, inflated and hyped-up vision of crime.

One of the major factors fueling this misconception is the feedback loop where media — both traditional and social — provide the ideological content for the forces of gentrification. Police focus their “law enforcement” in low income areas, local news reports on scourges of crime based on police sources, then both pressure and reinforce over-policing of communities of color, namely those getting in the way of real estate interests' designs––All animated by an increase in police-backed surveillance tech like Amazon’s Ring.

On this episode we will break down these pro-carceral interests, how they create a self-reinforcing cycle of racist paranoia and how local “crime” reporting plays a role in creating this wildly distorted perception of “crime.”

We are joined by two guests: Sarah Lustbader, senior legal counsel at The Justice Collaborative, and Steven Renderos, co-director of MediaJustice.

Jan 15 2020

1hr 24mins

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Episode 96: The Christian Cinema-GOP Persecution Complex

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The last two decades have seen the release of a number of explicitly Christian movies which tell stories of believers navigating the trials and tribulations - both literal and figurative - of a perceived non-Christian world. In this universe, followers of Christ are constantly under siege by secularists, swarthy Muslims, gay and trans agenda-pushers, feminists and a hostile, out-of control federal government.

While the media usually lumps these movies into a generalized “faith” category they are best viewed not as earnest meditations on religion and “faith,” but a political project on behalf of the Republican party, with a distinct protestant flavor.

Today, we are going to focus on the biggest and most influential players in the “Christian cinema” space: production company and distributor PureFlix and Affirm, a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Worldwide. Pureflix and Affirm embody the core ideological tropes of the U.S. conservative base: a promotion of US militarism, anti-Muslim racism, pro-capitalist messaging, hostility to LGBTQ populations, anti-Semitic Zionism and a runaway contempt for women.

On this episode, we’ll discuss how the Christian cinema industry is not just low-budget schlocky propaganda that’s fun to dunk on (though it certainly is), but something more deliberate, sinister, and corrosive––a state-subsidized, far-right messaging machine for American reactionaries and imperial interests.

We are joined by author, artist and filmmaker Frank Schaeffer.

Dec 11 2019

1hr 22mins

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Episode 95: The Hollow Vanity of Libertarian "Choice" Rhetoric

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“'Right-to-work' means freedom and choice,” a Boston Globe op-ed explains. “As housing costs rise, some people are choosing to live on the road instead,” a Fox Business headline states. “If your insurance company isn’t doing right by you, you should have another, better choice,” reads Joe Biden’s campaign platform. We’re told repeatedly that “freedom of choice” is essential to a robust economy and human happiness. Economists, executives, politicians, and pundits insist that, the same way consumers shop for TVs, workers can choose their healthcare plan, parents can choose their kids' school, and gig-economy workers can choose their own schedules and benefits.

While this language is superficially appealing, it’s also profoundly deceitful. The notion of “choice” as a gateway to freedom and a sign of societal success isn’t a neutral call for people to exercise some abstract civic power; it’s free-market capitalist ideology manufactured by libertarian and neoliberal think tanks and their mercenary economists and media messaging nodes. Its purpose: to convince people that they have a choice while obscuring the economic factors that ensure they really don’t: People can’t “choose” to keep their employer-provided insurance if they’re fired from their jobs or “choose” to enroll their kids in private school if they can’t afford the tuition.

In this episode, we examine the rise of “choice” rhetoric, how it cravenly appeals to our vanity, and how US media has uncritically adopted the framing--helping the right erode social services while atomizing us all into independent, self-interested collections of “choices.”

We are joined by Jessica Stites, executive editor of In These Times.

Dec 04 2019

1hr

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Episode 94: The Goofy Pseudoscience Copaganda of TV Forensics

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Since the early 2000s, a spate of forensics-focused TV shows and films have emerged on the pop culture scene. Years after Law & Order premiered in the '90s, shows like CSI, NCIS, and The Mentalist followed, trumpeting the scientific merit of analyzing blood-spatter patterns, reading facial and bodily cues, and using the latest fingerprint-matching technology to catch the bad guy.

Yet what these procedurals neglect to acknowledge is that many of these popular forensic techniques are deeply unscientific and entirely political. Spatter pattern-matching, firearms analysis, hair analysis, fingerprint and bite mark analysis — they’re all mostly bullshit with little scientific merit. Despite this, forensics have helped contribute to the wrongful convictions of thousands of people: a storytelling aid, prosecutorial smoke and mirrors, a courtroom PR tool to lend scientific verisimilitude to what is very often just circumstantial, hunch-based police work.

On this episode, we break down how popular culture depictions of forensics helps mislead viewers — and by extension jurors — into thinking forensics are science that proves guilt rather than what they really are: slick marketing collateral to help prosecutors convict someone they already think is guilty for other, nonscientific reasons.

We are joined by Aviva Shen, Senior Editor at Slate.

Nov 27 2019

1hr 3mins

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Great show

By Yeagerbrown - May 01 2020
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Like NPR but the hosts aren’t boring libs

Favorite Media Criticism

By Atlanticconveyor1982 - May 01 2020
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I’ve learned a lot from this show about how the media behaves.