prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Archive for February, 2012

Stolen Valor Debated by the Supreme Court

Posted by prof e on February 23, 2012

A law that got its start at CSU-Pueblo has made its way all the way to the Supreme Court where, this week, justices debated when it becomes a crime to tell a lie. In this case the lie is about being a recipient of  a military medal.

The Stolen Valor Act of 2005 got its start as a college paper written by Pam Sterner when she was a student at the University of Southern Colorado, now renamed CSU-Pueblo. Pam and her husband Doug are seen in this photo taken in their home in Virginia where they now live. According to the Daily Herald,

Pam Sterner went back to school in her early 40s at Colorado State University in Pueblo, Colo. In a political science course, she wrote a paper that grew out of her husband’s frustrations over phony award claimants whose worst punishment was public embarrassment. That paper eventually led to the Stolen Valor Act.

What is the significance of the Stolen Valor Act for students of the media? The Supreme Court will make its judgement based on whether the law is consistent with the 1st Amendment to the Constitution and its protection of free speech. Opponents of the Stolen Valor Act are concerned that defense of the law could lead to additional restrictions of free speech. The 1st Amendment is the most important legal protection for the media industries because of it protects not only personal speech, but it also protects the press which is broadly understood as media of all kinds. The 1st Amendment protects a broad array of speech, including speech that is mean-spirited, unpatriotic, and worse. [See a previous post on this blog which examined the protection of protests at military funerals.]

Lying about one’s exploits is not new nor unique to claims of military honors. As one person said in response to the debate over false claims of heroism, “there are only a six hundred Navy Seals in total. But in bars around the country, on any given Friday night, there are three times that number.”

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Posted in 1st amendment, politics | 19 Comments »

Whitney Houston’s Teachable Moments

Posted by prof e on February 15, 2012

Whitney Houston taught us a lot about life. When a pop star lives, and dies, in the media spotlight teachable moments are part of the package. But not all of those moments have a happy ending. The last, and some would argue most lasting, lesson from Whitney’s life may be that battling addiction is a struggle that too often ends tragically for everyone involved.

Whitney had it all: a gift of a voice that only comes around once or twice in a lifetime, beauty, fame, and fortune. Whitney taught us that moving from the church choir to the concert hall takes just a few short steps if you’ve got real talent. She taught us that life is to be celebrated and that music can lift our spirits like nothing else. And she taught us to be careful about who we choose as friends and lovers.

Sadly, Whitney joins a long line of musical performers who lost the battle with drug and/or alcohol. Every generation and every musical style can point to artists who sacrificed their own lives in the pursuit of their musical passion. See my earlier post, Popular Music’s Sad Legacy, for other recent examples of musicians who met a similar fate.

For some the struggle to rise from obscurity to stardom is too much to bear. Climbing Mt. Everest may be a suitable metaphor. While many aspire to reach the top, the summit has room for only a  few superstars at a time. Those who slip and fall off the trail are quickly forgotten and even those who reach the summit are not guaranteed a safe return to base camp. The air is thin, and the lack of oxygen can impair one’s judgement at those critical moments when the trail gets steep and storms roll in.

The mass media are known for creating, and destroying, careers and legacies. Even after a career has peaked, the after-market of reality TV shows are there to drain whatever life remains. Whitney’s family and friends probably wish they could “undo” the hours of videotape footage that was recorded in the making of Being Bobby Brown, a reality TV series that aired on Bravo in 2005.

No doubt, Whitney Houston’s music will live on long after her death. But it will always be remembered as music that ended abruptly before the final verse and chorus were sung.

Posted in music | 23 Comments »

Pink Ribbons and PR Missteps

Posted by prof e on February 6, 2012

The social media buzz machine turned into a buzz saw late last week for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. If you’ve been anywhere near this social media maelstrom you know that the Komen Foundation has taken a major hit for its decision to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, and then reversing the decision, all within a 72-hour period. According to Advertising Age, the incident “showed how a brand can boomerang from one of the most loved into one of the most reviled in a head-snapping two days.’’

First a little background. Over the years the Komen Foundation, and their Race for the Cure, has raised billions of dollars for diagnosis, treatment and research of a disease that kills about 110 women every day in this country. The foundation gives away tens of millions of dollars every year and some of that money, about $700,000, had been going to Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood was using that money to provide screenings and mammogram referrals to women who might not otherwise be able to pay for these services. But Planned Parenthood is also the largest provider of abortions in the US, and that has resulted in close scrutiny by members of congress who want to ensure that government funds are not being used to provide abortions. Planned Parenthood is currently under investigation by congress with regard to its financial dealings and that was the initial reason cited by the Komen Foundation as to why they were withdrawing funding from Planned Parenthood. However, as negative responses mounted the story began to change. The Foundation countered that Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms, only referrals, and that this change in funding was about being more responsible stewards of precious resources. You can see their initial response in this YouTube video.

Proponents and opponents have taken sides, sometimes determined by their view on the always-contentious topic of abortion. Critics of the Komen Foundation’s decision to halt funding to Planned Parenthood saw the decision as knuckling under to political pressure from the pro-life lobby. As you might guess, the reversal fired up the pro-life crowd who had been pleased with the earlier decision.

This blog is not a forum to debate the relative merits of either side in the culture war raging around abortion, but this case-study provides an opportunity to observe how a non-profit, known for years of service in the battle against breast cancer, could so quickly find itself under attack by many of the people that it claims to serve. The power of social media to aggregate discussions and dissent is once again center stage. Reaction to SOPA and PIPA last month, and now this…demonstrates the raw energy that can be focused by the impassioned use of  these modern-day megaphones. There’s another angle that students of media should consider. How you learned about this event may also be shaping your understanding of the issues at stake. According to an op-ed in the NYT, the media’s coverage of the story has been biased by the media’s failure to understand the perspective of those on the pro-life side of the issue.

Part of the problem facing Komen is that they appear to be giving in to political pressure…first from pro-life, then pro-choice, political operatives. Even after issuing an apology for their earlier decision plenty of anger remains. Some of their funding sources are now saying that they will stop giving to the Komen Foundation and only time will tell if the Foundation can bounce back from this misstep.  Somewhat ironically, both the Komen foundation and Planned Parenthood are reporting increased giving in the wake of the scandal. Planned Parenthood reported that it had raised $3 million in a 72-hour period, including a $250,000 pledge from NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Additional Resources: Kaiser Health News has collected summaries of news organizations’ reports on the debate.

NOTE: if you respond to this post please do your best to keep your comments focused on the media issues related to the story.

Posted in interactive media, media effects, new media, politics, PR, social media, Uncategorized | 17 Comments »