Washington Post adopts new nameplate slogan – Democracy Dies in Darkness

The Washington Post - Democracy Dies in Darkness

I’m not sure how long it’s been up, but I noticed it this morning. And I think it’s the most distinctive newspaper motto since the New York Times adopted “All the news that’s fit to print.”

The new motto has been getting a lot of coverage lately, getting mentioned over at the progressive Mother Jones and by the Washington insider news outlet Politico.

CNN’s Brian Stelter noted on Twitter that the slogan had been seen on the WaPo’s Snapchat page as of last Friday, and that Post owner Jeff Bezos used the phrase at an event last year.

Post spokeswoman Kris Moratti told CNN:

“This is actually something we’ve said internally for a long time in speaking about our mission. We thought it would be a good, concise value statement that conveys who we are to the many millions of readers who have come to us for the first time over the last year. We started with our newest readers on Snapchat, and plan to roll it out on our other platforms in the coming weeks.”

The phrase has been in play at the Post  Bob Woodward speechfor some time now – with it showing up in a speech at Columbia Journalism School from Oct. 23, 2012.

As a side note, the new slogan has brought this scene from the first Star Wars prequel – The Phantom Menace in a number of tweets:


Washington Post - Democracy Dies in Darkness

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A History of Fake Quotes – Lincoln, de Tocqueville & Alcott

Fake quotes, especially fake Abraham Lincoln quotes, are a popular thing online. Just this week, the Republican National Committee got caught out with one in a tweet celebrating Lincoln’s birthday that read:

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.”

Hmmff, doesn’t even sound like Lincoln – probably because, as the NY Times reports, it likely came from a 1947 advertisement for a book on aging.

The problem of online fake quotes is certainly not limited to fans of our 16th president, however, as I pointed out in a commentary I wrote for the late Charleston Daily Mail back in February of 2007.  Here’s the story, along with a few updates:

America is Great Because Lincoln Hanged Congressmen: Quotes That Aren’t Quotes

By Ralph E. Hanson
February 2007
Charleston Daily Mail

There’s been a popular quote by President Abraham Lincoln making the rounds lately. It goes something like this:

Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged.

There’s only one thing wrong with it as a quote: Lincoln didn’t say it — either directly or indirectly.

As was pointed out last August by FactCheck.org, a non-partisan “consumer advocate” web site run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, the quote actually comes from an article written by conservative scholar J. Michael Waller published in the now defunct magazine Insight. Waller claims that the quote marks around the opening statement in his article were inserted by a confused copy editor.

Despite the debunking last summer, the quote has found new life on the Internet, in a recent column from the Washington Times, and in a speech by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) supporting the “surge” of troops in Iraq. Seems that there’s a lot of folks who are amused by the thought of executing anyone who disagrees with the president.

Of course, the Lincoln comment isn’t the only faux 19th century quote that’s made the round in recent years. Alexis de Tocqueville was a young French aristocrat who toured the United States starting in 1831. He wrote about his experiences in the two-volume book Democracy in America; a book that’s become the definitive source of inspirational quotes about America.

In fact, comments about the book and de Tocqueville were so prevalent on C-SPAN in the 1990s, that founder Brian Lamb had the public affairs network spend more than a year following de Tocqueville’s travels around the country. (Update: I just did a search on C-SPAN’s website and found more than 1,200 references to de Tocqueville.)

But there was one de Tocqueville quote that kept showing up again and again in political speeches:

I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.

(Update: Here’s a link to a speech by Jack Kemp where he gives the faux de Tocqueville quote at about the 9 minute point.  At the time I checked, however, the audio was echoing on this recording.)

Dr. John J. Pitney, Jr., a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, had his students try to locate the source of this commonly used quote. The only problem was that it never showed up in any of de Tocqueville’s books or letters.

It turns out, Pitney writes in The Weekly Standard, that the quote comes from a 1952 speech written for President Eisenhower. The writer most likely drew the quote from a 1941 book on religion and the American dream. (Eisenhower, by the way, attributed the quote not to de Tocqueville but rather to a “wise philosopher who came to this country.”)

The quote has since been used in one form or another by presidents and presidential candidates Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, and Phil Gramm. (Update: Told you this wasn’t a partisan thing – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents!)

Neither of these manufactured quotes is as much fun, however, as the one that got Pennsylvania-born writer Edward Abbey fired as the editor of the University of New Mexico’s literary journal.

On the cover of the magazine he printed the Voltaire quote “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest,” but he attributed it to Louisa May Alcott.

(Update: I was myself guilty of perpetrating a small bit of false quoting here.  I had read that the “entrails” quote was from Voltaire, but if he said it, he was likely quoting from 18th century philosopher Denis Diderot.)

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Media News Keeps Changing – PewDiePie and Playboy

One of the challenges of writing a media literacy/intro to mass comm textbook is keeping it up to date.  Even with new editions coming every two years, current events have a way of   changing the media world we live in at a rapid pace. I give you two examples from this week.

Felix Kjellberg/PewDiePie

An example of a PewDiePie video. NSFW language and talk.

Playboy and Naked Ladies

  • How It Was: In October of 2015, Playboy magazine announced that it was no longer be the place for the lads to go for photos of fully naked ladies. This was not, apparently, because Playboy was newly respectful of women; rather, the magazine was working to rebrand itself to fit in better in the world of PG-13ish social media.
  • How it is: In November of 2017, Playboy announced that it was returning to publishing photos of nude women.  Though they wouldn’t be quite as nude as they had been in the past. Cooper Hefner, the magazine’s creative officer and son of the magazine’s founder, tweeted Monday, “I’ll be the first to admit the way in which the magazine portrayed nudity was dated, but removing it entirely was a mistake.” The New York Post reports, “The new issue displays breasts and butts, but not full frontal nudity that had typified the earlier incarnation before the switch with the March issue a full year earlier.” So now you know.


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Live Stream Opens up Appeals Court Hearing on on Trump’s Travel Ban

By today (Friday afternoon), the big news is that the 9th District Appeals Court did not strike down the court-ordered stay on President Trump’s executive order banning then entrance of traveller from seven Muslim-majority countries and limiting entrance to the US for most refugees.

But to me, the almost as big story was that people all around the U.S. (heck, around the world!) could listen in on the hearing using a live stream of the audio sent out over YouTube and rebroadcast on many television and radio news outlets.

Interested in the hearing? You can listen in with the above stream.

The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that more than 136,000 people listened to the YouTube feed at its peak, and that many more people heard it on Facebook, news web sites, and news channels such as CNN and MSNBC.

While this is not really cameras in the courtroom, as there were no cameras, it is an example of how citizens can get access to our courts without having to try to be there in person. Given that most of the televised trials are those of sensational crime, it is excellent to see hearings (and hopefully trials) of national importance being made more available.


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Women’s Magazines Covering Politics

Journalist Lily Herman had a great Tweetstorm the other day pointing out the big contributions that women’s magazines have been making to political journalism lately.  Without comment, here are her tweets with links.  Lots of good reporting here.  (And a great example of the new media secret – All media are social.)


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Politics, Lady Gaga & the Super Bowl Halftime Show

A couple of weeks ago I put up a post that considered the intriguing, if extraordinarily unlikely, possibility of Lady Gaga singing a protest song by 60s & 70s folksinger Phil Ochs during her Super Bowl halftime show. However much fun that could have been, it did not, of course, happen. There are many reasons why, but perhaps the most important one was that no one associated with Fox Sports and the NFL would let it happen.

But that didn’t stop speculation that Lady Gaga might “do something” during the show.  What that might be, from a Janet Jackson reveal to a Meryl Streep/Golden Globes speech, was never quite clear.  In any event, Fox Sports ran both the pre-game show with the women from the musical “Hamilton” singing “America the Beautiful” and Lady Gaga’s halftime show with a 5-second delay so that any political or overly sexy message could be blocked.

Hamilton cast members sing “America the Beautiful.”

But Lady Gaga managed to get a political message in anyway that no one could reasonably censor – heck, people who might have been offended may not even have realized it was there.

Official video of Lady Gaga’s halftime show, complete with three commercial breaks….

The whole message was delivered in the pre-recorded section of the show where Lady Gaga was up on top of the stadium with a host of light-carrying drones.

In it, the star sang an excerpt of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” followed by a verse of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” and concluded with the last couple of lines of the Pledge of Allegiance. So, where’s the message?

Let’s start with a little history.  Woody Guthrie was the dustbowl singer/songwiter (and Arlo’s dad) who travelled around the country singing protest songs and advocating for workers. According to NPR, he wrote “This Land Is Your Land” as his response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” a song Guthrie reportedly disliked because he heard Kate Smith sing it too many times on the radio in 1930s. Some of the verses we hear a lot – the feel-good ones.  The rebellious activist verses, not so often.   Here they are – all the verses:

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island; 
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters 
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway, 
I saw above me that endless skyway: 
I saw below me that golden valley: 
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps 
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts; 
And all around me a voice was sounding: 
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling, 
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling, 
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting: 
This land was made for you and me.

Those are the verses you’ve likely heard and sung.  Here are the last three:

As I went walking I saw a sign there 
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.” 
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing, 
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people, 
By the relief office I seen my people; 
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking 
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me, 
As I go walking that freedom highway; 
Nobody living can ever make me turn back 
This land was made for you and me.

Folk singer Pete Seeger was a long-time friend of Woody’s, and as he was prepping for his 90th birthday concert, Pete was planning on singing “This Lange is Your Land.” He told Bruce Springsteen, “Well, I know I want to sing all the verses, I want to sing all the ones that Woody wrote, especially the two that get left out, about private property and the relief office.”

I find it impossible to believe that Lady Gaga did not know what she was doing when she put those two song fragments next to each other.  She’s way too savvy of a musician to have done that pairing by accident. And consider what she said in an interview before the show:

“But the only statements that I’ll be making during the halftime show are the ones that I’ve been consistently making throughout my career. … I believe in a passion for inclusion. I believe in the spirit of equality, and the spirit of this country as one of love and compassion and kindness. So my performance will have both those philosophies.”

Now, all of this that I’ve discussed so far has been written about many places, though few have suggested that it was a deliberate pairing of the Berlin and Guthrie songs. But might I suggest one thing further. Let’s consider her inclusion of the end of the Pledge of Allegiance:

“One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

It is perfectly likely that Lady Gaga just included the closing lines of the Pledge. But I can’t help but wonder if she was also including a sly reference to the progressive answer to the Tea Party, the Indivisible movement.  Indivisible is a web site with a document on how progressives can organize to fight President Trump’s political agenda. It also has tools for creating local organizations.  The Indivisible movement has gotten extensive media attention and is at the organizational core of many of the protests being held around the country. Was Lady Gaga giving a shout out there? I think it is possible, but there is no way of knowing as long as she keeps her Poker Face on….

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First Look at 2017 Super Bowl Commercials

So far, I’ve seen two new Super Bowl commercials which I admit I come to with complex reactions.

The first commercial is for the Mercedes AMG Roadster and was shot by the Coen Brothers of Raising Arizona, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and Hail, Ceaser! fame.  In many ways the ad is brilliant, but not one of my college freshmen in two classes had any idea what the joke was in it. Not one of them had any idea who Peter Fonda is or knew of the movie Easy Rider.

Now, I fully realize the ad wasn’t targeted at young people, but….

The second one here is for Budwieser beer and takes tells an edgy immigrant-oriented origin story for the beer and Anheuser-Busch brewery.  It’s a particularly timely bit of branding given the news this week about President Trump’s immigration policy.  The ad, of course, is not a corporate response to Trump’s executive order, as it was clearly in the works for months ahead of this week. It would seem to fit well into the “America” branding that Budweiser used over the summer.  Because what’s more American than immigrants?

According to The Wall Street Journal, the company is not apologetic for the ad. “The story is the truth, it’s not fiction. This is what Budweiser stands for and we are really proud of it.”

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Pre-Class Video – In Spite of Ourselves

This is a somewhat rude, but very old-fashioned song about a really dysfunctional relationship sung by John Prine and Iris DeMent.  But a great way to introduce students to the witty songwriting of John Prine.

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Real Radicals Part II – I.F. Stone’s Weekly

I had a strange journey through the wilds of the radical and protest movements of the 1960s and 70s yesterday morning that I had not anticipated taking. Here’s part 2 of that journey.

Radical journalist I.F. Stone was an investigative journalist who spoke truth to power during his entire professional life, but especially from 1953-1971 while he published his newsletter I.F. Stone’s Weekly.  He was the child of Russian Jewish immigrants, and at times during his life was involved with communist leaning political groups.

Izzy Stone had a hearing problem, so he did much of his reporting based on written documents, which gave him time to dig into the background of stories that other people missed.  He was the earliest journalist to realize that President Lyndon Johnson had been lying about the Gulf of Tonkin incident tat led to escalation of the Vietnam War.  He also documented that nuclear testing could be monitored fairly easily around the world by using geological siesmic sensing stations.

I was first introduced the work of I.F. Stone, oddly enough, through a musical setting for string quartet and the recorded voice of I.F. Stone that had been commissioned by the Kronos Quartet.  How It Happens (The Voice of I.F. Stone) was composed and assembled by composer Scott Johnson.  When I heard the movement “It Raged” on the Kronos album Released/Unreleased, I was blown away by the expressive quality of Stone’s voice, the message that he had to say, and the wonderful way that his sampled voice fit in with Johnson’s music.

Here’s a short excerpt from the Cold War section of it:

And here is the It Raged movement:

I really got to know and understand Stone, however, when I was on the faculty at West Virginia University and I found an old black & white 16mm film in the library from 1973 called “I.F. Stone’s Weekly.” In it, the filmmaker presented a history of Stone’s career, much of it in Stone’s own words.  Ever since then, I’ve been periodically trying to find a digital copy of the film.  And while I could occasionally find information about the film online, there was never a VHS, DVD, or streaming release. (Here’s Roger Ebert’s review of the film from back in 1973 when it was released.)


Yesterday I was looking for a video of Lady Gaga singing an old Phil Ochs Vietnam War era song.  And when I found it, the list of related videos on the side of my screen showed multiple streaming copies of the movie “I.F. Stone’s Weekly”!

So, thanks to Lady Gaga, here is a great film about a great journalist that has been unavailable for way too long.  While I don’t anticipate anyone trying to take this film down from YouTube, I might suggest that if you are really interested in it, you might download a copy.

Set aside some time in the near future to watch and listen to this marvelous film.


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Real Radicals Part I – Lady Gaga & Phil Ochs

I had a strange journey through the wilds of the radical and protest movements of the 1960s and 70s this morning that I had not anticipated taking. Here’s part 1 of that journey; part 2 will come tomorrow.

It all started when I was looking at the Washington Post this morning and found a great article under the headline “Why Phil Ochs is the obscure ’60s folk singer America needs in 2017. ” The article takes a look back at one of my favorite 60s musicians and his deep collection of protest and other folk songs.  Phil was famous for topical songs (Here’s To The State of Richard Nixon), biting satire (Love Me, I’m a Liberal) and gorgeously reflective  songs (There But For Fortune).  But the biggest part of his limited fame was for protest songs like “The War Is Over.”

All too sadly, Phil died by his own hand in the late 70s, a victim of mental illness, just a little before I was to discover his music.

It was that last song, “The War is Over,” that was recently covered by contemporary star Lady Gaga at a free concert during the Democratic National Convention last summer, who asked her audience whether any of them remembered Phil.

Richard Just, in his WaPo article, suggests to Lady Gaga that she do another Phil Ochs song when she provides the halftime entertainment at the Super Bowl in another couple of weeks – perhaps Phil’s most patriotic number “Power and Glory.” (The version I’ve posted is of the fife and drum version, but there are many acoustic versions as well.)

I can’t imagine it happening – but good lord, it would be beautiful!

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