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 128 - The “Healing” Con: How Warm and Fuzzy Appeals for "Unity" Are Used to Protect Power
"Biden Calls For Hope And Healing In Speech," NPR reports. "Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot calls for return to Sept. 11 unity," writes The Chicago Tribune. Following the 2014 Ferguson protests, a CNN headline read, "Obama: Now is the time for peace, healing." "Filmmaker Ken Burns aims for healing with new documentary about Vietnam War," the San Diego Union-Tribune has told us. Everywhere we turn columnists, celebrities, pundits, and politicians are insisting we have "unity," "come together," promote "peace" and work to "heal the divisions."   On its face these concepts sound fine enough: after all, who doesn’t like peace? Unity sounds great! Who wouldn't want to "heal" our wounds? Wounds are bad! But in the majority of political contexts, these warm and fuzzy buzzwords rush past the messy and difficult work of justice, substantive change, or reparations and get straight to the part where everyone just feels good about themselves.   In a world where 2100 billionaires hoard more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60 percent of the planet’s population, where billions live in abject poverty, what do concepts like peace mean? After an administration that has carried out deliberate policies of ethnic cleaning at the U.S border, what does unity entail? In a country that has leveled much of the Middle East, Korea, Vietnam, and overthrown numerous democracies in Latin America, what does healing involve? Without concrete policies of accountability, restitution, restoration and reparation, squishy liberal notions of "unity" and "healing" achieve little more than protecting the status quo.   This isn’t a unique problem: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously reminded white liberals that "True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice," a point he made literally hundreds of times in his years of advocacy to a handwringing media insisting everyone just calm down and go home and let the lawyers at the Department of Justice take care of things.   Nevertheless the problem persist decades later: time and again, before there's been any concrete changes, policy proposals, or restitution to victims of injustice, those in power evoke abstract notions of "healing," "unity" and "peace" to shut up activists and act as of it the work is done right before pivoting back to business as usual.   On this week's episode we will examine the origins of the concepts of "unity" as a political PR gambit, detail how concepts of "healing" which can are very useful in grassroots and interpersonal psychological contexts have been cynically appropriated by those in power, and breakdown how media consumers can avoid the shallow allure of "peace" and "unity" rhetoric in the face of routine, everyday racism, violence, exploitation, and injustice.   Our guest is Lara Kiwani, Executive Director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC).
Jan 20
1 hr 5 min
News Brief: US Media Pathologically Incapable of Criticizing MAGA Mobs Without Evoking Racist Cliches About "Third World"
Following today's mob violence at the U.S. capitol building, we break down how, once again, American media would rather ignore homegrown currents of white supremacist vigilantism and their buddy buddy relationship with law enforcement and focus instead on how an anomalous President Trump makes us like those horrible poor people of the Global South.
Jan 6
32 min
Episode 127: Democratic Leadership's Predictable Scapegoating of 'Defund the Police'
"Sen. Mark Warner said progressives' calls to 'defund the police' were in part to blame for Democratic losses in the House in a cycle when the party was expected to gain seats," The Hill tells us. "How ’defund the police' sabotaged Democrats on Election Day," Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune writes."'Defund the police’ is killing our party, and we’ve got to stop it," said South Carolina Representative Jim Clyburn. In the wake of the Democrats’ disappointing Congressional showing in last month’s elections, centrist Democrats and their media mouthpieces were quick to blame Black Lives Matter and the "defund the police" movement for their subpar results. There’s only one problem: there is no empirical basis for this claim in any of the above comments or reports. No studies, no evidence––not even anecdotally––is provided. Before the printer ink was dry on the ballots, centrist Democrats who lost or underperformed––or made a career out of defending those that do––rushed to blame the so-called "defund the police" movement, highlighting rightwing attack ads featuring the label. After some initial goodwill immediately following the global outpouring of protests after the horrific police murder of George Floyd, mainstream democratic party line has reverted back to it’s old playbook of blaming the Left and Black activists for offending or alienating a nebulous cohort of moderate white voters. As the economy crashed and the world was turned upside down in the Spring of 2020, Democratic leaders had a chance to lobby for robust social welfare programs, guaranteed income, mortgage and rent cancellation and single payer healthcare to get us through this ongoing crisis, whose disastrous implications will extend well beyond the introduction of a vaccine. Instead, however, they lowered expectations, blamed Trump for their own unforced ideological limitations and almost never publicly took credit for the extension of unemployment benefits––the one good thing Democrats actually did achieve, albeit fleeting. The result was a once in a generation opportunity blown, a possible leftwing shock doctrine that was crippled by unmovable austerity ideology. So when the elections came around and the Democrats underperformed, who was to blame? It can’t be party leadership blowing the COVID-19 response and it can’t be the security state-curated centrist tofu candidates who lost or barely won. It has to––once again––be those pesky far left activists. Because Democratic party leadership cannot fail they can only be failed, a scapegoat was needed. On this week’s episode we discuss why "defund the police" and the broader abolitionist movement was that scapegoat, the long history of concern trolling Black activism and perennially blaming movements for justice for right-wing, white backlash from bad faith actors. We also detail how activists are now on the defensive as Democrats, having successfully exploited the broad sentiment of the George Floyd protests for Get Out The Vote fodder, now seek to lower expectations, purge Black Lives Matter of its truly radical elements, and go back to business as usual. Our guest is human rights lawyer and abolitionist Derecka Purnell.
Dec 16, 2020
1 hr 26 min
Episode 126: Obama-Era Media Failures We Shouldn’t Rehash Under Biden (Part II)
This is the second installment of our scoldy, buzzkill, two-part episode on Obama-era media failures we should be on the look out for as the Biden administration takes office. On this episode, we examine five more tropes that, sadly, are already being resurrected. Our guest is Roberto Lovato, author of Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs and Revolution in the Americas.
Dec 10, 2020
1 hr 21 min
News Brief: The ICE and Pentagon-Bloating Vagueness of the "Climate Change is a National Security Issue" Mantra
In light of John Kerry's new "national security" climate role, we follow up on Episode 122 by reading policy papers published by John Kerry's think tank. Hint: they want more money for the Pentagon, ICE, and Border Patrol.
Dec 8, 2020
25 min
Ep. 125: Obama-Era Media Failures We Shouldn't Rehash Under Biden (Part I)
President-elect Joe Biden has promised what he calls a return to "decency" and "unity," and American media has broadly characterized his victory over Donald Trump as, in the words of New York Times columnist Charles Blow, "The Third Term of the Obama Presidency." Many of the same holdovers — Samantha Power, Antony Blinken, Michèle Flournoy, Bob McDonald, Jake Sullivan, Susan Rice, Sally Yates, John Kerry and many in the revolving think tank, consulting outfits, marketing firms, undersecretary advisor world are expected to be back into the White House come January 20, 2021. While they have many obvious superficial differences, the Obama and Biden White Houses will more or less borrow from the same playbook: slick, marketing-focused, technocratic, centrist, hawkish maintainers of the neoliberal status quo. As such, many lessons can be learned from the media’s coverage of the Obama White house and what mistakes not to repeat again. From Obama’s prosecution of foreign occupations to directing dirty wars, supporting the destruction of Yemen to running a drone strike regime, pushing austerity dogma to continue the brutal war on drugs, inhumane immigration enforcement to many routine cruel and violent policies — because they lacked the partisan hook and sadistic fervor of Trump — were largely ignored, downplayed, or soft pedaled by U.S. media from 2009 to the beginning of 2017. This is Part I of a two-part episode breaking down these "media mistakes" - major areas where the American press failed to hold the most powerful person in the world to account. We explore how the Obama era may provide a blueprint of what we may expect under the upcoming Biden administration and how activists can get ahead of these failures before they inevitably manifest. Our guest is Peter Hart, National Communications Manager for Food & Water Watch.
Dec 2, 2020
1 hr 25 min
Episode 124: Mental Health During A Pandemic: How US Media Spins Societal Failures Into Personal Self-Help Journeys
A CNN headline from this past summer read: “Mental health during coronavirus: Tips for processing your feelings.” Psychology Today gave us an article on “Coping With Loneliness During a Pandemic,” while the Washington Post presents, “A guide to taking care of yourself during the pandemic.” Everywhere we’ve turned over the past 9 months, American media has been covering the mental health downside of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown and economic crash on one of these two settings: Awareness Mode or Self-Help Mode. The first setting — “Awareness Mode” — is merely witnessing mass suffering; that is, reporting on the topic with no prescriptions offered. Second is “Self-Help Mode,” which is, to the extent these articles do put forth prescriptions for wellness and mental health, it is entirely individualistic in nature. Your well-being during this once-in-a-century pandemic is up to you — but don’t fret, here are some “guides,” ”plans,” “hacks,” and “tricks” to help you out. Missing from the vast bulk of coverage is the glaringly obvious third option: actionable, proven, political solutions to mental health crises that operate under the radical assumption that  social problems may require social solutions. Nowhere in any of these articles is the idea that socialized medicine, guaranteed income, free childcare, student debt relief or rent and mortgage cancellations may be the best and most rational “hacks” or “tricks” to actually improve mental health of people at scale. Obviously, a robust social safety net wouldn’t solve all mental health problems — after all, countries with universal healthcare and generous unemployment and childcare benefits still have depression and suicides — but we have decades of data showing basic social welfare clearly improves mental welfare. But because mental health crises are seen as moral failings rather than diseases thrust upon innocent people, we are conditioned to view those suffering from their effects as inevitable, losses simply factored into the moral framework of the world. It basically goes like this: If a giant blood-sucking monster were ravaging the country killing thousands of people and terrorizing millions more, the media would never provide us “hacks” or “plans” or “tricks” to cope with the giant blood-sucking monster. It would ask the obvious question: What are those in power doing to stop the monster from killing and terrorizing in the first place? Unfortunately, such an approach is sacrilege in U.S. media when it comes to mental health. The solution is never to lobby for a specific candidate or policy that would provide immediate relief to the masses because neoliberal hyper-atomization, unlike appeals to social solutions, is not seen as political. It’s simply the objective reporter voice mode of journalism U.S. media has uncritically adopted. But collectivist solutions, marked by the political choice to redistribute resources to the less well-off, is a proven technique to help those suffering mental health issues, doubly so during a pandemic that has cut people off from socialization, radially increased substance abuse, and has left millions unemployed. Our guest is writer Colette Shade.
Nov 25, 2020
1 hr 5 min
News Brief: It's Not a "Fall From Grace", This Has Always Been Who Giuliani Was
In this News Brief, we talk with journalist Ashoka Jegroo about Giuliani's long history of racism, white liberal New Yorkers providing cover for his carceral sociopathy because they liked the results, and the pathetic, inevitable final chapter of the former New York mayor.
Nov 20, 2020
34 min
Episode 123: How Liberal Meta-Demands for "Investigations" and "Studies" Are Used to Silence Activists
"Joe Biden Calls For ‘Immediate, Full And Transparent Investigation’ Into Jacob Blake Shooting," Forbes reports. "Obama Fraud Task Force Takes on the Big Banks," Bloomberg News proclaims. "Democratic lawmakers call for vote on bill to study reparations," announces CNN.   It seems that every time there’s a movement toward righting a historical or current wrong, whether police violence, corporate abuses, or climate. change, policymakers muster the same tepid “solution”: initiate a committee, investigation, commission, study, or, if they want to sound super militaristic and Serious a “task force” to probe the issue. This type of rhetorical filler offers elites the best of both worlds: Creating the appearance of attentiveness and progressiveness without requiring any meaningful, overt ideological commitments.   Tethered to explicit political objectives, calls for investigations or studies can be a useful lobbying tool, but absent this, they are more often than not a political trick, psychological tools to compel activists and those outraged on social media to take a break, because now the professionals are handling it. The effect: the political equivalent of a five-day cooling off period, wait the outrage out and channel activist energy into Get Out the Vote fodder and superficial reform-ese that never truly upsets the existing order.   On this episode, we study the phenomenon of the liberal appeals for bare-minimum interventions in times of political crisis, looking at how vague and open-ended calls for studies, committees, task forces, and commissions are designed to elevate the reputations of spineless politicians while nullifying the social movements that actually seek racial, economic, and climate justice.   Our guest is Briahna Joy Gray, former national press secretary for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.
Nov 18, 2020
1 hr 14 min
News Brief - Review: Netflix's Charles Murray-Themed Hallmark Film 'Hillbilly Elegy'
In this Sight Unseen film review, we recap the ideological currents and industry backers of J.D. Vance's white trash whisperer shtick and how it blames everyone for Appalachian poverty but corporations and Republicans.
Nov 11, 2020
45 min
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