Citations Needed
Citations Needed
Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson
Citations Needed is a podcast about the intersection of media, PR, and power, hosted by Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.
Episode 178: The Palliative Pop-History of American "Racial Progress" Narratives
"Our progress has been part of the living history of America," President Jimmy Carter declared in a 1979 speech. "America is a nation of progress, of moving forward," Senator Chuck Grassley stated in 2022 on the Senate floor. "The story of America is a story of progress and resilience, of always moving forward, of never, ever giving up. It's a story unique among all nations," President Joe Biden announced in his 2023 State of the Union. For decades - even centuries - policymakers, and media on their behalf, have employed some variation on the same rhetorical theme: the United States is a nation of progress, especially so-called "racial progress." Though our Great Experiment has been imperfect, we're told, it's constantly improving, steadily and automatically forging ahead toward its ideal state. Yes, we've been home to the violent oppression of untold sums of people, but look how far we’ve come! There have objectively been political gains for all groups historically and currently denied basic rights in the U.S. This is obvious. But the trajectory is far from linear, raising the question: How far have "we" really come? Are people, especially Black, Latino, and Native people, less likely to suffer through poverty than any time before now? Are police and prisons any less violent? To what extent have U.S. law and policymaking really evolved? On this episode, we dissect the liberal assertion that social, particularly racial, progress in the U.S. is inevitable, that there's this comforting "arc" of history bending towards justice. We examine how this idea came to be, who gets to define the metrics of "progress," and why it's dangerous to advance the tidy Vaseline-lens narrative that societal improvement is part of some preordained future. Our guest is Dr. Julian M. Rucker.
Mar 22
1 hr 12 min
Episode 177: Popular Anti-Union Talking Points and How to Combat Them
"Unions used to make sense but are obsolete in today's economy!" Unions are an "outside force" or "third party." "I'm a strong worker. Unionization will harm me personally and only help the weak and lazy workers." "Unions are rigid, old fashioned hierarchies." We’ve all no doubt heard these talking points at some point, if not often, from news shows, opinion pieces, TV dramas, members of our families, our co-workers and, probably most of all, our bosses. What’s remarkable is how little these general talking points have changed throughout the decades. Some versions of these pat anti-union lines have been around since there have been unions. It's generally unseemly to appear anti-worker or not OF the working class so opposition to the one thing that historically empowers the working class––unions––is seen as crass and politically incorrect. So, in its place has emerged a popular set of go-to, sophistic arguments that allow one to appear pro-working class without the messiness and ideological heavy lifting of actually supporting labor organizing and unionization. These McArguments––that after decades of anti-union messaging feel right without being right––appeal to ignorance, prejudice, vagueness and gendered and racialized perceptions of what labor is, and what labor deserves: the protection and stability offered by collective bargaining. On this episode, we detail eight of the most popular anti-union talking points, their origins, who they serve, their purpose and power, and––most important of all––how to combat them. Our guest is union organizer and author Daisy Pitkin.
Mar 15
1 hr 15 min
News Brief: Defensiveness and Demagoguery in East Palestine
In this News Brief, we discuss the initial lack of coverage of the devastating February 3rd train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio; the coverage of the lack of coverage; the GOP's "white genocide" exploitation; Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg's defensiveness; and the real human stakes of decades of bipartisan deregulation and union-busting. Our guest is journalist Matthew Cunningham-Cook (@matthewccook5), a writer and researcher covering health care, retirement policy and capital markets. He is currently a reporter at The Lever.
Mar 1
35 min
News Brief: The Battle Over NYT's Lurid, Tabloid Coverage of 'Trans Issues'
In this News Brief, we break down the recent controversy over the open letter sent by 1200+ NYT contributors pushing back on The Times' salacious coverage of "trans issues," and how the Paper of Record's response has proved to be thin skinned, sanctimonious, and hypocritical. With guests Eric Thurm and Julia Carmel.
Feb 24
47 min
News Brief: How Newspapers Aided Genocide in California - An Interview with Benjamin Madley
In this extended interview, we speak with UCLA Associate Professor Benjamin Madley about his book, "An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe," and discuss how newspapers, tracts, and paperbacks were an essential element in assisting and priming the public for the genocide of California's native population. Prof. Madley's work was instrumental in our research for previous Citations Needed episodes - namely, "Episode 158: How Notions of 'Blight' and 'Barrenness' Were Created to Erase Indigenous Peoples" and "Episode 172: The Foundational Myth Machine - Indigenous Peoples of North America and Hollywood" - so we were thrilled to dig even deeper into his work on this special News Brief.
Feb 15
48 min
Episode 176: How the “Parental Rights” Rallying Cry Has Been a Rightwing Stalking Horse for Over 100 Years
"Surrounded by children, DeSantis signs the 'Parental Rights in Education' bill," ABC13 reports. "Biden partnered with organization which questioned parents' rights to be notified about their kids' transition" Fox News tells us. "Parental rights isn't a partisan issue. It's what's best for our children," an opinion column in The Washington Times warns. We've heard these cries for over a century from reactionary forces: we’re just a bunch of scrappy "parents" protecting our kids from sinister, secular forces of state control. But what does "parents' rights" mean exactly? Which parents' rights are we talking about? Which "rights" are we centering, and who funds which parents to assert which set of rights that, we are told, are essential to these "parents"? There is, of course, no essential "parents" cohort with a coherent ideology and view on education. But, as a term, it's a useful stalking horse for far right political projects targeting education, namely those opposing secularism, anti-racism, LGBTQ existence, labor, and teachers unions. A skeleton key for whatever reactionary cause doesn’t want to be presented as such. After all, who could oppose "parents' rights." Like the clever term "pro-life," the "parents' rights" label is similarly designed to put advocates of secularism and progress on the defensive, to erase parents who oppose a far-right agenda, and court sympathetic and whitewashing coverage from corporate media. On this episode, we discuss the history of "parents' rights" as a popular right-wing slogan, from its uses in opposing child labor laws in the early 20th century to pushing religious indoctrination in public schools in the 1990s to today's attacks on trans people and teachers unions; how its evocation by the right––and acceptance by media outlets––obscures the darker motives and political forces at work; and why any media framing of what "parents" want or don't want is inherently mugging bullshit. Our guest is Jennifer Berkshire.
Feb 8
1 hr 9 min
Episode 175: Selective Humanitarianism and the US Role in Afghanistan's Post-Occupation Famine
"History will cast a shadow over Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan," the Washington Post’s David Ignatius warned in April of 2021. "Biden's Betrayal of Afghans Will Live in Infamy," George Packer cautioned in The Atlantic magazine in August of that year. "The Cost of Betrayal in Afghanistan," wrote The Atlantic Council’s Ariel Cohen in Newsweek shortly thereafter. When news broke in April of 2021 that the Biden administration planned to withdraw all documented US troops from Afghanistan after a 20-year occupation, media outlets almost uniformly rushed to issue condemnations. How could the US, and the West more broadly, simply "abandon the Afghan people," especially women, we’d so bravely liberated? How could the US just up and leave, when it had invested and sacrificed so very much to counter the Taliban over the course of two decades?   This outrage stood, and still stands, in stark contrast to the media’s default state of indifference to the suffering people of Afghanistan, and the US’ extensive role in engineering that suffering. For many decades now, American, British, and other Western media have only really seemed to be concerned with the plight of Afghan people, namely women, when it serves to bolster the case for war, occupation, and the continuation of US regional hegemony. Meanwhile, during Afghanistan’s now second winter of famine after having more than $7 billion dollars stolen from its economy by the United States and its allies, these very same pundits and outlets are uniformly silent on this unfolding human rights disaster, caused, again, in large part, by the United States itself.   On this episode, we examine the media's pattern of selective, chauvinistic outrage when addressing the welfare of Afghan people. We also study how media diminishes the enormous role the US has played in destabilizing the country of Afghanistan and endangering its people, how media portray US military solutions as the only means of support for Afghan people, and how media treat Afghans as little more than pawns in a game of US soft- and hard-power expansion and domestic media-focused moral preening.   Our guests are Hadiya Afzal and Julie Hollar.
Feb 1
1 hr 31 min
Episode 174: How Your Favorite 1990's "Very Special" Anti-Drug Episode Was Probably Funded by the US Government
On a Very Special Episode of "Home Improvement," Tim and Jill lecture their son about the dangers of marijuana after he’s caught smoking a joint. On a powerful episode of ABC’s "Sports Night," written by Aaron Sorkin, sportscaster Dan Rydell delivers a four-minute monologue on how dope killed his younger brother. On a devastating episode of CBS's "Chicago Hope," a dozen teenagers are rushed to the emergency room after taking a new psychedelic drug at a rave. We’ve all seen these "Very Special" drug episodes throughout our childhoods and adolescence. For some reason, our favorite shows, seemingly out of nowhere, decided to dedicate an entire episode to the perils of teenage drug use. These episodes, mostly from the 1980s and '90s, have become a cultural punchline, something amusing and mocked but ultimately, one would think, harmless. But what most viewers don't know is that many of these episodes were not just part of a teen-oriented convention turned TV trope; a number of them were actually funded by the federal government to the tune of hundreds of thousands––sometimes millions–– of dollars to promote so-called "drug awareness." The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in the late 1990s made a deal with multiple TV networks to include anti-drug messaging in show plots. In 1997, Congress approved a plan to buy $1 billion of anti-drug advertising over five years for its National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. From at least 1997 to 2000, the Feds paid TV networks to air what was ostensibly drug awareness public health information but was, in many key ways, propaganda to sustain and build support for the war on drugs. The White House drug office paid networks large sums of money to weave so-called "anti-drug" stories in their narratives, undisclosed to the viewer, often revising and approving scripts without the show writers knowledge. Rather than being harmless––if corny––anti-drug messages we can all now laugh at, these narratives were also part of a broader scare strategy to frighten, misinform, and prop up the federal government's war on drugs both at home and abroad. On this episode, we will review some of the major TV shows that ran these episodes, how much money they took in from the U.S. government, and how these tropes shaped and directly impacted public policy that promoted racism, imperial meddling in Latin America, and mass incarceration. Our guest is Kassandra Frederique, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Jan 25
1 hr 27 min
News Brief: 'Tough Love' Used to Justify Abusing Children and Surplus Black Population in Alabama
In this News Brief, we talk with Josie Duffy Rice about her new podcast, "Unreformed: The Story of the Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children,” incarceration as racial disciplining mechanism, and what has––and hasn't––changed in our so-called "juvenile justice system".
Jan 18
39 min
Episode 173: How to Sell Police Crackdowns on Homeless People to Liberals
"The city has had 125 daily interactions," New York Mayor Eric Adams tells the Daily News. "We’re working to solve the homelessness crisis, with innovative mental health interventions," San Francisco Mayor London Breed tells reporters. The city needs to "clean up homeless encampments," countless city officials tell us. Everywhere we turn, our elected –– largely Democratic –– governors and mayors are talking about quote "solving the homelessness crisis" without specifying what, exactly, these plans entail.   Saying elected officials are going to harass and displace the homeless population until they’re incarcerated or leave our city and wealthy neighborhood sounds unseemly and inhumane. But this –– minus the occasional and insufficient attempts to offer public housing –– is more or less the strategy of most big cities: Send in police to "sweep up" encampments, enforce low-level drug offenses and ticket the unhoused for loitering and camping, But saying this is the plan sounds mean, so, over the past couple of years, as America’s housing crisis has grown more acute and the end of COVID-era tenant protections unceremoniously sunset, a cottage industry of pleasant sounding euphemisms have emerged to sell police-led homeless crackdowns to squeamish liberals.   The right-wing, historically, is fairly upfront with its bootstrap, austerity logic. And they, for the most part, don't run major cities where the homelessness crisis manifests. Liberals and progressives –– short on resources and political incentive to actually address the underlying issues –– need to sell the same played out, discredited carceral attempts at removing Visible Poverty but, unlike Republicans, can't do so in explicit terms. So, a PR regime emerges to paper over these glaring contradictions, leading to heretofore unseen levels of bullshittery.   On this episode, we going to examine four popular euphemisms employed by "blue" city leaders to sell the same old carceral playbook to their wary, self-identifying progressive constituents, how these programs do little to address the central issues of a lack of affordable and free housing, and how city leaders –– with wildly insufficient federal support for housing, a foaming anti-homeless media and suffering from institutional political cowardice –– are left with little more than meaningless "emergency declarations," Tough Guy, Take Charge press conferences, and nice-sounding rehashes of the same failed, cruel policies of austerity and precarity.   Our guest is The Wren Collective's Henna Khan.
Dec 21, 2022
1 hr 23 min
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