Posts Tagged ‘media literacy’

In earlier posts, there has been exploration of such phenomena as the use and misuse of the terms “fake news” and “trolls,” along with the many impacts of covert disinformation campaigns, contemporary propaganda, and other phenomena of distorting or negating truth-telling through media manipulation and dissemination of outright falsehoods.  A major media event has just occurred in which a video was surreptitiously altered through digital editing and shared in an attempt to make it seem as if Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was “stumbling over and slurring her words” in a recent interview.  This doctored video was spread through social media, including by President Trump and figures connected to him.  Here is an article in the New York Times that includes video reporting of the story, and another from the Washington Post.

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In an earlier post, mediateacher.net highlighted the New York Times teaching resource “Film Club.” There are many great shorts that they post along with discussion points and lesson plans, such as the recent post, Animated Life: Seeing the Invisible

For Media Literacy or Social Studies teachers, here is another exceptional new series of short videos that can be used as resources for debate of current events and  contemporary intersections of media, politics, and propaganda: Operation Infektion. These docs explore the longstanding practices of disinformation campaigns by Soviet and Russian secret services (such as the KGB) that have evolved over several decades and whose impacts appear to be quite substantial in America and many countries.  Below are links to the video series and an article by director and writer Adam Ellick.

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Across countless societies throughout history, teachers have regularly occupied highly scrutinized positions relative to their impact on young people and the expectations of their roles in terms of what they can and cannot say to their students.

Among the issues that define our relation to each other, language is undoubtedly one of the most important.  It is vital that words are used appropriately and precisely.  The study of cultures and societies often can revolve around the use and impact of words to describe human behavior and social currents.

Fake = Fabricated, Intentionally Fictitious

Fake = Fabricated, Intentionally Fictitious

During the past year, a notable phenomenon has arisen that has some history in print journalism but has taken on new meanings and uses in the age of the Internet and digital social media: “fake news.”  The basic definition of this practice as it quickly evolved in recent times is that stories and articles would be fabricated and posted through fictional, anonymous, or proxy web entities.  The content is completely fictional in nature.  Made up.  Quite often based on the talking points, trending topics, and attack ads of the moment.  By now, this has been a highly documented practice, sometimes from blighted enclaves in Macedonia or from “Cameron Harris, a new college graduate with a fervent interest in Maryland Republican politics and a need for cash,” as reported by actual journalist Scott Shane.

To be literate means to understand vehicles of communication – linguistic, visual, mathematical, and much more.  When methods of communication are twisted and used to distort or blind to the truth or the search for truth, this is quite serious and potentially extremely damaging.  As history has shown us, it can, indeed, be fatal.  When one’s leaders twist, misuse, or distort words, and particularly those that describe vital topics of the day, this can also be lethal to societies and to democracy.


A Free Press Classic by Sam Fuller

As Thomas Jefferson said, “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

Language, words, and visual communication are very important, and so is our ability to interpret the various messages that are on the pages and various sized screens in front of us.  This is at the heart of what we call media literacy.  Teachers must continue to strive to enable our students to scrutinize the statements of those who represent us, of those with whom we engage in discussion and debate, and of those who research and report the stories that depict, interpret, and impact the world that we inhabit.

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obamas-2008As we near election day in the United States, this also means that the days of the Barack Obama presidency are concurrently winding down.  As opposed to examining the initiatives and actions of the Obama Administration in current events lessons and Civics classes, educators and students will begin to integrate study of these momentous previous eight years into coursework that deals with contemporary history.  These investigations and evaluations of this administration must also be seen through the lens of public perception and the roles of media platforms in what we see, hear, and communicate about our government.  As has been noted on previous occasions in posts at mediateacher.net — such as in Media Literacy at the White House and The Presidential Inauguration and Imagesit’s not something that can be said too often in U.S. history, but President Obama’s tenure has been a game changer for media literate leadership.

How will the events of these years be seen through the prism of comparison and contrast with other eras and leadership examples?  Undoubtedly, perceptions will be made up of a mix of facts, perceptive analyses, partisan posturing, storytelling, advertising, and many variations in between.  It is clear that both President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are already inspiring profound reflections on the major impact of their years in the White House, such as the piece titled “To the First Lady, With Love” from the New York Times Magazine, featuring “four thank-you notes to Michelle Obama, who has spent the past eight years quietly and confidently changing the course of American history,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Gloria Steinem, Jon Meacham, and Rashida Jones.  

familyThe inspired, heartfelt testimonials that have been beginning to appear over recent months echo similar tributes seen at the end of another Democratic presidency that was marked by messages of change and fresh renewal (whether borne out by the reality of its achievements or not): the Kennedy administration.  Interestingly, this was also a presidency that consistently demonstrated the vital importance of media literacy to understand the contexts and legacy of political events in modern eras.  Television and film, including home movies, were to mark and shape the John F. Kennedy presidency and its legacy like no other previous administration, while the Obama presidency will be seen as having a relationship to the media platforms of its era like never before, particularly in the relationships of Internet, social media, and popular discourse, along with the explosion of the television experience.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Michelle Obama, and Daveed Diggs at the White House

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Michelle Obama, and Daveed Diggs at the White House

In the midst of this, there is another rather intriguing parallel of note.  The Kennedy presidency was marked by the pastoral and cannily mystical term of “Camelot” (by President Kennedy’s widow Jacqueline Kennedy shortly after his assassination) to describe a feeling of the “moment” that embodies the time of the Kennedys in the White House: “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment that was known as Camelot” (Lerner and Loewe).  In an even more direct way with the current administration, a musical can be seen to embody the impact and times of the current presidency.  For one to describe that place of a shining home upon a hill, with its growing family, glamorous parties, and vegetable garden, yet inhabited by people whose skin color would have marked them as slaves in the years of the construction of this home, a term that comes to mind is “Hamiltonia.”

President Barack Obama relaxes on a sofa in the Oval Office with wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha, Feb. 2, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be used in materials, advertisements, products, or promotions that in any way suggest approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

The Obama family in the Oval Office

For a musical to emerge that examines the roots of the country and in which the principals are played by people whose ethnicity reflects not that of the founding fathers but those who currently inhabit the White House, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton marks one occasion where the creative output of a culture and the zeitgeist embodied by its leaders are remarkably in sync.  The celebrations and honors by those who have been inspired and empowered by the examples and actions of Barack and Michelle Obama have only just begun; it seems clear that the impacts and legacy of their images and personas will continue to resound for generations to come.  For me, this striking, dynamic place and time of the Obama family in the White House might be called Hamiltonia. 

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clinton-trumpThe debate today between the Democrat and Republican candidates for President of the United States, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, is predicted to be the most watched contest in the history of televised debates since the game-changing moment between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon on September 26, 1960.  Yes, it was 56 years ago to the day.  And in 2016, as summed up in the New York Times, “Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump are spoiling for an extraordinary clash over race and gender that could come as early as Monday’s debate, with both presidential candidates increasingly staking their fortunes on the cultural issues that are convulsing the nation.”

As a tool for educators, here is a comprehensive article authored by Frank Baker and Karen Zill that can be very useful for navigating the issues of watching and analyzing the debates: “Media Literacy: How to Watch the Debates.”  It also features downloadable debate analysis worksheets (here is one of them).

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