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Tag: Politics

Engagement and Serving the Republic

In a time of Trump, how should journalists serve the public? Should they join the protests? Become a partisan, opposition press? Or stick to neutrally reporting the facts? In this three-part series, media ethicist Stephen J. A. Ward, author of “Radical Media Ethics,” rejects these options. A proper response requires a radical rethink of journalism ethics. He urges journalists to practice democratically engaged journalism, which views journalists as social advocates of a special kind. They follow a method of objective engagement which Ward calls pragmatic objectivity. Journalists of this ilk are neither partisans nor neutral reporters of fact. In the first article in the series, Ward defines democratically engaged journalism. In the second article, he explains and applies pragmatic objectivity. In this article, Ward shows how democratically engaged journalism opposes Trump’s tribalism of Us versus Them.

Throughout this series, I stress the need to articulate norms for journalism viewed as a form of advocacy, a democratically engaged journalism.

Some would say this is old news.

They might note that journalism ethics already thinks the political aim of journalism is to serve the public, or a republic. Codes underline the democratic duties of a free press.

I disagree. “Serving the public” or “informing citizens for democracy” are high-minded phrases insufficient to define the political ends of journalism. There is something distinct about objective engagement not found in codes.

In journalism ethics, we should not rest content with vague promises to serve the public. As we saw in the first article, journalists need to be precise about what sort of democracy is on offer. I proposed that journalists promote a plural, egalitarian, liberal democracy.

In the second article, we saw how the meaning of serving the public depends on whether journalism is viewed as a neutral reporting of facts; or, an impartial (but not neutral) engaged journalism of critical analysis and courageous investigations of the powerful.

I now introduce a third reason to not rest content: the problem of patriotism. It is said that journalists serve the public as patriots. But what does patriotism require? What kind of patriotism advances plural democracy?

In a time of Trump, it is imperative for both citizens and journalists to define patriotism. Trump and his supporters endorse a narrow patriotism, a tribalism of Us versus Them.

His political slogans, “Make America Great Again” and “America First” appear to encourage a strong, or extreme, patriotism that could justify aggressive foreign policies that would make the solution of global issues, through international cooperation, even more difficult.

An ethic of objectively engaged journalism needs to say what form of patriotism is compatible with its political aim of protecting liberal democracy.

Therefore, in this final installment, I argue that: (1) Patriotism, not truth-telling or objectivity, is the de facto master norm of journalism ethics; (2) Journalists should practice a moderate patriotism that opposes an extreme Trump-style patriotism. (3) Radical ethics means that journalists in a digital world should become global patriots.

Patriotism As Master Norm

Patriotism is a group loyalty, a special affection for one’s country that prompts people to do things they would not do for other countries, such as dying on the battlefield. It can be a quiet love of country or it can be a fierce, anti-democratic emotion that silences criticism.

Patriotism is a contested value. Some praise patriotism as a primary civic virtue that binds a society together. Critics reply that patriotism can be aggressive and xenophobic.

Patriotism is a serious and long-standing problem for journalism ethics because, as an emotion-laden loyalty to country, it can prompt journalists to practice their craft unethically. Patriotic feelings may cause journalists to promote extreme nationalism or violate their duties of truth telling when reporting on issues affecting their nation.

Patriotism has long been the master norm of journalism ethics. Patriotism tends to trump other values, where they conflict. Much of the history of war reporting is a history of reporting patriotically in support of a nation’s war effort, and the circulating of propaganda.

Yet patriotism’s role in codes is usually implicit or unstated, lying just below the surface—below the high-minded appeals to objective reporting and impartial truth telling. But, in times of social division or threat, journalism’s commitment to patriotism reveals itself.

Today, the influence is worrisome. In 2016, coverage of the Brexit referendum, the refugee crisis in Europe, and the Trump campaign provided examples of a toxic mix of patriotism and nationalism to produce inaccurate portrayals of other cultures and minorities.

Moderate, Democratic Patriotism

We can place the kinds of patriotism on a continuum with extreme patriotism on one end and weak patriotism on the other end. Moderate patriotism lies between these extremes.

Extreme patriotism includes: (1) a special affection for one’s country as superior to others; (2) an exclusive concern for one’s country’s well-being and few constraints on the pursuit of one’s country’s interests; and (3) automatic or uncritical support for one’s country’s actions.

Moderate patriotism differs. It consists of a special but not exclusive concern for one’s country. It supports a morally constrained pursuit of national goals; and conditional and critical support of one’s country’s actions. The loyalty is genuine but limited.

I favour a moderate, democratic, patriotism, a love of democratic principles. Democratic patriotism is a love of one’s country, traditions and practices in so far as they promote the values and principles of liberal democracy, as discussed in the first two articles.

Democratic patriotism is not identical with love of a strong leader. It is love of a society dedicated to the flourishing of citizens under liberal principles and institutions.

This is a patriotism for plural liberal democracy and a democratically engaged media.

To be a democratic patriot, it is not necessary to deny personal affection for one’s country. But it is important to constantly subject that affection to public scrutiny, logic and fact, and exposure to larger non-parochial values such as global justice and human rights.

The Compatibility Problem

How compatible are journalism and patriotism? They are largely compatible if journalists subscribe to moderate democratic patriotism.

The democratic patriot and the democratic journalist will be on the same side of a number of public issues: both will support accurate, unbiased information; free speech; a critical news media; and a public sphere with diverse perspectives. Both will favor the protection of liberties, transparency in public affairs, and the evaluation of appeals to patriotism.

Strong or extreme patriotism is largely incompatible with democratic journalism because it tends to support editorial limits on the press, or it exerts pressure on journalists to be uncritical, partisan, or economical with the truth.

Journalism’s democratic values come under severe test when a country decides to go to war, to deny civil liberties for security reasons, or to ignore the constitution in order to quell domestic unrest. The duty of journalists to critique a country’s leadership may be very unpopular among some citizens in times of war.

The publication of a government’s human and civil rights abuses may lead to accusations that the press is aiding the “enemy.” Officials and citizens may condemn journalists who report illegal or unethical actions in foreign countries by one’s nation military or intelligence communities.

Nevertheless, the public journalist is still duty-bound to resist such pressures.

In times of uncertainty, journalists have a duty to continue to provide news, investigations, controversial analysis, and multiple perspectives. They should not mute their criticisms, and they should maintain skepticism toward all sources.

Journalists need to fact-check and verify patriotic claims like any other important political claim in the public sphere. And they need to robustly defend the freedom to question such claims.

If journalists abandon this critical democratic role, they will fail to help the public to rationally assess public policy.

Global Patriots?

I have done what I can to make love of country and love of journalism compatible. But, in a media-linked world, such a ‘fix’ for the problem of patriotism is incomplete.

A digital journalism cannot help the world address urgent global problems, from immigration to terrorism, unless its practitioners transcend, to a significant degree, their reliance on tribal ways of thinking.

The Harvard psychologist Joshua Greene, in his book Moral Tribes, explains why. Evolution has created a human brain that thinks about moral problems in tribal (or group loyal) terms. It tends to see issues as a matter of Us versus Them. Patriotism in society and in journalism, e.g., propagandist war reporting, is another form of tribalism.

But here is the kicker: this form of thinking is hopelessly outdated for a world where many of our most urgent problems are global issues requiring cooperation among nations, not Us versus Them tribalism.

Yet the latter is precisely the stance that Trumpism shouts from the rooftops: a suspicion of “Them”, and a willingness to put America “first” –even if unjust to Them? This “dog-eat-dog” tribalism made some sense in the past, but now it may wipe our species off the face of this blue planet.

Greene, like myself, think we need a global ethic that helps us resolve disputes between groups with different tribal ways. In ethics, we “go global.”

If this analysis is true, we have reason to question the master-norm status of patriotism. Journalists should regard themselves as global patriots, first; national patriots, second.

A global patriot bases her ethics on what I call moral globalism. Her primary values are cross-border principles of human flourishing and human rights, including the promotion of democratic institutions globally and working in good faith on global issues. Journalists see themselves as public communicators to the world, to a global public sphere.

Global patriotism, then, is loyalty to the largest group possible—humanity. The global claim of patriotism is the claim that humanity makes on all of us.

Globalism does not deny that people can have legitimate feelings of concern for their country or compatriots; it only insists that such feelings must not violate the non-parochial principles of human rights and other global values.

Conclusion: Opposing Trump Tribalism

What are some of the implications for journalism practice of adopting a moderate form of democratic patriotism?

The main implication is that a democratically engaged journalism should critique Trump tribalism in the public sphere. Wherever the president or his supporters claim that some action is demanded by patriotism, or is an expression of patriotism, journalists need to ask what form of patriotism is presumed and what evidence supports the claim.

The questions to be asked and investigated are many: Does patriotism demand the dismantling of Obamacare? A travel ban on Muslim countries?

Are media leaks about Russian interference in American politics an unpatriotic journalism? What constitutes an “enemy of the people?” The alleged unethical media or extreme nationalists?

Who will do more harm than good for the republic in the long run: advocates of a return to a fierce tribalism or advocates of a more global ethics and foreign policy?

Journalists should not assume that when Trump talks about patriotism and waves the flag that what is being discussed is a common or unobjectionable love of country, but rather an extreme patriotism, that can be prompted by anti-democratic impulses.

The problematic nature of appeals to patriotism means that journalism should reflect on the relationship of patriotism, democracy, and criticism of one’s country and leaders. Moderate democratic patriotism agrees with Spanish philosopher Ortega Y Gasset that, in a democracy, “criticism is patriotism.”

In the end, everyone in society has an interest in our attitudes to patriotism. Philosopher Martha Nussbaum, in Political Emotions, argued that liberal democracies have a responsibility to inculcate in citizens the appropriate patriotic attitudes.

So, I end the series. I have sketched the basic topics, challenges and ideas of a radical approach to reforming journalism ethics.

The most important task of journalism ethics is to develop these notions, and to find ways to teach and implement them in practice.

Stephen J. A. Ward is an internationally recognized media ethicist, author and educator. He is Distinguished Lecturer in Ethics at the University of British Columbia, Courtesy Professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon, and founding director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin.

This post originally published at MediaShift. Reposted here with permission.

Three duties in a time of Trump

In the turmoil of a Trump election victory, and the dawn of a robust right-wing American government, it is time to do journalism ethics with utmost seriousness.

Journalism ethics is not a set of formal rules that students are forced to memorize and then find these ideals inoperable in the workplace.

Journalism ethics is the heart and soul of why you are a journalist, and why it matters.

Today, this soul-searching begins with a large question: What sort of journalism does America need to meet the great political challenges ahead?

What is the point of journalism practice in a time of Trump?

My answer is: to protect liberal democracy by embracing three related duties:

  • the duty to advance dialogue across racial, ethnic, and economic divisions
  • the duty to explain and defend pluralistic democracy against its foes
  • the duty to practice the method of “pragmatic objectivity”

The duties work together to promote an egalitarian, plural, tolerant, democratic polity, which should be the political goal of public journalism. The duties work against a populist democracy dominated by a “strong man,” where freedom is freedom for the most powerful and abrasive.

The duties oppose the untrammeled, vengeful will of intolerant citizens who see the election as a “winner take all” victory for their side.

trump time

One cannot discuss the point of a practice in the abstract. Journalism ethics begins with some perception of the media’s social context. What is this context?

We live in a time of danger for moderate, liberal democracy with its divisions of power, freedom of expression, protections for the rights of all citizens, and the empowerment of minorities despite the displeasure of traditionalists.

Trump time has been a long time coming.

It has been long prepared for by: bad education, American insularity, and the myth of exceptionalism; incorporation of fundamentalist religion into politics; the deepening of economic inequality; seeing strength in guns and the person of violence; mistaking ‘in-your-face’ ranting for honest, democratic communication; and the worship of fierce partisanship over compromise.

Other contributors: An extreme patriotism which views those who disagree as enemies of the state; regarding America as white, male-dominated, and Christian; an insouciance toward fact and a suspicion of intellect; the preference for character assignation over rational argument; a fear of ‘others’ and the replacement of thought by slogan.

The result? A society populated by too many politically ignorant and apathetic consumer citizens, easy targets of demagogues. Now, these unsteady forces have the power of social media to create a totalitarian mindset in the heart of what was once the world’s greatest liberal democracy.

What to do?

Given this uncertain future, what should journalists do?

There are two options that should not be followed. One option is for journalists to counter the bombast and distorted statements of the Trumpites by producing a bombastic, counter-balancing opposition press. There is already too much rant-induced media.

“Here is where the first media duty arises: the duty to promote dialogue across divisions.”

The second option is for journalists to see themselves, delusionally, as only neutral chroniclers, as stenographers of ‘fact’ as the political drama unfolds. This is an outdated notion of objectivity formulated in the early 1900s for a different social context.

The best response lies between journalistic ranting and the mincing neutrality of stenographic journalism: it is a democratically engaged journalism committed to three duties.

A democratically engaged journalism is not neutral about its ultimate goals. It regards its ethical norms and methods as means to the flourishing of a self-governing citizenry. Here is where the first media duty arises: the duty to promote dialogue across divisions.

In a column on this site over a year ago, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack, I talked about the media’s duty to mend. Journalists have a duty to convene public fora and provide channels of information that allow for frank but respectful dialogue across divisions. They seek to mend the tears in the fabric of the body politic.

In a time of Trump, the duty to practice dialogic journalism is urgent. This means challenging stereotypes and the penchant to demonize. It means linking the victims of hate speech to citizens appalled by such discrimination, building coalitions of cross-cultural support.

Go ‘deep’ politically

However, fostering the right sort of democracy-building conversations is not enough.

Conversations need to be well-informed. Here is where the second duty arises.

Journalism needs to devote major resources to an explanatory journalism that delves deeply into the country’s fundamental political values and institutions, while challenging the myths and fears surrounding issues such as immigration.

The movement of fact-checking web sites is a good idea but insufficient. It is not enough to know that a politician made an inaccurate statement. Many citizens need a re-education in liberal democracy—those broad structures in which specific facts and values takes their place. They will be called on soon to judge many issues that depend on that civic knowledge.

“Journalism needs to devote major resources to an explanatory journalism that delves deeply into the country’s fundamental political values and institutions…”

John Stuart Mill once said that if we do not constantly question why we hold basic beliefs, they become “dead dogma.” How many citizens would be hard-pressed to say what democracy is (beyond voting) or exhibit an understanding of the history and nature of their own constitution beyond phrases such as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”? How many have a virulent and imbalanced commitment to the Second Amendment alone?

Such a democracy is flying blind and vulnerable to demagogues.

Here is a small list of some topics for explanatory political journalism:

  • The idea of a constitutional liberal democracy: Not liberal in the derogatory sense of favoring big government but liberal in making the basis of society the protection of a core of basic liberties. Plus, the idea of constitutional protection of the rights of all citizens, including minorities, against the wavering, often tyrannical, will of the majority.
  • The division of powers: The extent of the powers of a president and his duty to uphold constitutional rights including not threatening action against critical speakers. Also, the idea of judicial independence from any president who would try to tell the courts what rights to recognize or reject.
  • Deep background on immigration: Especially the difference between immigrants and refugees, the international refugee agreements, and the human face of the immigrants and refugees who come to this land.
  • The meaning of political correctness: Its origins, the abuse of the term, and its ‘cover’ for hate speech. Plus investigations into groups that support hate speech and thinly ‘disguised’ racism online.
  • The difference between a free press and a democratic press: A free press values the freedom to say what it likes, no matter what the harm done. A democratic press uses its freedom to strengthen and unify plural democracy, while minimizing harm.

Pragmatic objectivity

In carrying out these two duties, journalists are not neutral chroniclers. They are avid investigators of the facts, but they are not stenographers repeating other people’s alleged facts. They accept the third duty, of pragmatic objectivity—to systematically test the social and political views of themselves, and others.

Those who adopt pragmatic objectivity are engaged journalists who see their norms and methods as means to a larger political goal—providing accurate, verified and well-evidenced interpretations of events and policies as the necessary informational base for democracy. Their stories are not without perspective or conclusions, yet such judgments are evaluated by criteria that go beyond citing specific facts, from logical rigor to coherence with pre-existing knowledge.

“…the third duty, of pragmatic objectivity—to systematically test the social and political views of themselves, and others.”

Pragmatic objectivity recognizes that any code of journalism ethics is based on a more fundamental political and social conception of a good society—in this case an egalitarian and plural democracy. Within this overarching set of values, journalists can go about being as factual, verificational, and impartial in daily practice as they please. But they do not pretend that they are completely neutral, without values and goals. Objectivity is not a value-free zone.

In my book, The Invention of Journalism Ethics, some years ago, I introduced this idea of pragmatic objectivity as a method for testing any form of journalism. My aim was to provide a substitute for the traditional idea of news objectivity as eliminating interpretation and perspective. I believe this conception is now a timely norm for today’s journalism.

Ethics as political morality

In sum, the new social context calls on journalists to clarify their political goals and roles.

In the days ahead, the key issues of journalism ethics will be questions of political morality—the way we think a democracy ought to be organized, and the media’s role in it.

Many journalism conferences focus on practical “tool box” tips, such as using new technology; or, they focus on how to attract audiences through social media.

Yet, when a country enters an uncertain political period, journalists need to return to journalism ethics and political themes, just as such themes arose during the civil rights movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

For many journalists and news organizations, the next several years will be a severe test of their beliefs and ideals—and their will to defend them.

Journalists will not escape the searching question: Why are you a journalist? 

Stephen J. A. Ward is an internationally recognized media ethicist, author and educator. He is a distinguished lecturer in ethics at the University of British Columbia, Courtesy Professor at the University of Oregon, and the founding director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin. His book, Radical Media Ethics: A Global Approach, won the 2016 Tankard Book Award.

Featured photo (top right of page) by Disney/ABC Television Group CC BY-ND

Q & A with Chris Wells: Trump as a Media Mastermind

Chris Wells is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His latest work, published in Political Communication, examines the many strategies Donald Trump used to generate news coverage. CJE sat down with Wells to discuss what the success of Trump’s attention-grabbing tactics mean for journalism.

CJE: Could you explain a bit about what your study on Trump uncovered? 

Wells: First and foremost, Trump is a media person. He’s been obsessed with getting attention. At one point, he posed as his own spokesperson and contacted news outlets. We kept asking ourselves, “Is he just an incredible strategist?” But, it’s probably more intuitive to him. It’s been his job for 35 years. A strategy feels like it should be thought out, but it’s more second nature to him. I think he’s surveying the environment very closely, when he notices attention to himself is slacking off he does stuff to get talked about. Data scientist David Robinson did an analysis of his tweets. Half are run-of-the-mill campaign tweets, like “Great to see you in Iowa.” Then there are the crazy ones, which are coming from an Android phone. The non-crazy ones are coming from another device, which suggests it’s his staff.

Credit: David Robinson

An analysis of which words appeared in Trump’s tweets sent from Android or iPhone. Analysis and graph by David Robinson.

CJE: These ‘crazy’ tweets seem to garner a lot of media attention. Is there such a thing as bad publicity?

Wells: He’s been at the heart of conflict for a constant 30 years. What we see at the beginning of the primaries, in that environment it might be all publicity is good publicity. We often are coming from the standpoint that we feel uncomfortable with things he saying, but amongst Republican primary voters his policies were very popular. He’s sensitive to how the crowd is responding and he gives the crowd what they want.

Credit: Ronald B. Rapoport

Trump’s supporters were largely supportive of his policy proposals. Analysis and graph by Ronald Rapoport, Alan Abramowitz, and Walter Stone.

CJE: Do you think Trump takes advantage of journalistic norms?

Wells: The issue is the amount of press coverage he earned. The numbers are unbelievable. He got basically as much press attention as much of the other Republican candidates combined. He’s an unusual candidate, but the one single thing about him is his ability to attract media. He noticed he liked attention and that it could benefit him. Earning 2 billion dollars in paid media is astonishing. The press noticed early on that writing about Trump got them a lot of clicks. Outlets want to get attention because they’re selling ads. But what leads them to lavish that much attention on one person? The metric which allows everyone to see number of clicks is kind of amoral. It’s totally agnostic. We’re just doing it because it gets us money. You haven’t applied any ethical standards to it, which is the issue.


Trump generated nearly $2 million in free media. Analysis and graph by The New York Times.

CJE: What is your biggest concern with Trump’s media influence, and how should journalists ideally respond to present and future Trump tactics?

Wells: The press needs to have an agenda and decide what it wants to cover and not chase around the candidates exclusively. Asking candidates something like, “We’ve done this detailed reporting on the nature of the economy and here are the major issues, please respond.” We’ve almost entirely neglected to create in the public’s mind what the real problems are and that seems like a massive failure. The bigger issue is being a little reflective of where you are allocating your news media. You have to get clicks, to get advertising revenues. The question is how and to what extent can media deal with that pressure? That’s the latest shift in this trend.

CJE: Do you have any advice for journalists going forward? 

Wells: I urge journalists to think about how can you create content that is deeper, more substantive and more issues-based and also still attracts the audience. How do we find formats that will attract audiences enough to sustain news outlet and can do this real issues-driven work? How can you bring that format out? More importantly, how can you deliver real content that will inform people? We need to gives the public hope and mobilization.

Feature image by Michael Vadon/CC BY-SA

Ethics and Elections Event December 8

Please join the Center for Journalism Ethics December 8 for a panel — “Journalism Ethics & Election 2016” — at 6:30 p.m. at the Overture Center in Madison. We will explore the role of political journalism in the federal elections, particularly the presidential race, covering questions of truth, trust and verification.



Molly Ball, The Atlantic

Molly Ball is a staff writer for The Atlantic, where she is a leading voice in the magazine’s coverage of U.S. politics. She has been awarded the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting, the Sandy Hume Memorial Award for Excellence in Political Journalism, and the Lee Walczak Award for Political Analysis for her coverage of political campaigns and issues. She appears regularly as an analyst on NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS’s Face the Nation, PBS’s Washington Week, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and NPR.

Ball previously reported for Politico, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and the Las Vegas Sun. She has worked for newspapers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Cambodia, as well as the New York Times and the Washington Post. She is a graduate of Yale University and was a 2009 recipient of the Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan. In 2007, she won $100,000 on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Ball grew up in Idaho and Colorado. She lives in Virginia with her husband and three children.

Craig GilbertGILBERT, NWS, PORTER, 1. - Journal Sentinel Washington D.C. correspondant Craig Gilbert. October 9, 2013. GARY PORTER/GPORTER@JOURNALSENTINEL.COM, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Craig Gilbert is the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Washington Bureau Chief and author of “The Wisconsin Voter” political blog. Gilbert has covered national and state politics for the paper since 1990, has covered every presidential race since 1992, and has written extensively about the electoral battle for the swing states of the Midwest. He was a 2009-10 Knight-Wallace fellow at the University of Michigan, where he studied public opinion, survey research, voting behavior and statistics, and was a Lubar Fellow at Marquette University Law School, researching an in-depth study of one of the nation’s most polarized places, metropolitan Milwaukee. He previously worked for the Miami Herald, the Kingston (NY) Daily Freeman and was a speechwriter for New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Gilbert has a B.A. in History from Yale University.    



Photo courtesy of Coburn Dukehart, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Michael Wagner, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Mike Wagner is associate professor and Louis A. Maier Faculty Development Fellow in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He directs the Physiology and Communication Effects Lab. He is affiliated with the Department of Political Science and the La Follette School of Public Affairs. He’s published more than 40 books, journal articles and book chapters in the areas of political communication, journalism, public opinion, and biology and politics, including the book, Political Behavior of the American Electorate. A former radio/television news reporter and anchor, Wagner is an award-winning teacher and adviser. He is the current Forum Editor for the journal Political Communication and a regular guest host on the local radio program, “A Public Affair.”


Photo courtesy of Al Tompkins

Moderator: Kathleen Bartzen Culver, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics.

Kathleen Bartzen Culver is an assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism & Mass Communication and director of the Center for Journalism Ethics. Long interested in the implications of digital media on journalism and public interest communication, Culver focuses on the ethical dimensions of social tools, technological advances and networked information. She combines these interests with a background in law and free expression. She also serves as visiting faculty for the Poynter Institute  and education curator for MediaShift.

Gargantuan heels and face planets: Portraying women of power in media

At first glance, this month’s TIME cover featuring a woman’s leg in a pantsuit may appear like a just another generic cover photo.

However, a more careful look at the royal blue, pantsuit-clad back leg in full stride, as if it’s almost walking off the cover, while a small male figure in a suit desperately hangs from the gargantuan black-but-modest heel, may prompt a few questions.

The first: What is going on here, exactly?

TIME cover - Hillary Clinton

The cover, headlined “Can Anyone Stop Hillary?” sparked a vigorous online conversation about media’s portrayal of females and the consequences of using stereotypes to depict women of power.

Amanda Hess, writing for Slate, acknowledged TIME‘s nod to Clinton’s potential Presidential competition as a group of “comparatively powerless men.” However, she warns against depicting female political ambition as just another stereotype.

Clinton’s presumptive bid to become the first female president does position her as a powerhouse poised to stomp through the patriarchal status quo. But when publications like Time frame that feminist pursuit with images of women in pointy heels that leave feminized male “victims” in their wake, they undermine the female politician’s power even as they attempt to acknowledge it.

Read the entire article here.

The NYT Magazine recently presented another side of Clinton–her face. The former Secretary of State’s smiling face appeared as a planet at the center of an exploding red and blue cosmos on the recent cover.

NYT Magazine cover - HillaryClintonSamantha Grossman of TIME, which had already published the faceless Clinton cover, described The NYT Magazine’s depiction of Clinton as “bizarre.”

This week’s New York Times Magazine cover focuses on the “gravitational pull” of           Hillary Clinton’s possible 2016 campaign. And indeed, it portrays that concept in a pretty literal way by envisioning the former Secretary of State … as a planet. Just           her disembodied head fashioned into a fleshy planet.

Read the entire article here.

The Internet responded to the extraterrestrial Clinton with a barrage of mocking memes, often negating the cover’s intent to convey Clinton’s immense political power and possibly reiterating Hess’s argument that as media brings attention to Clinton’s political success, it in turn undermines her political power by primarily portraying her through the lens of female stereotypes.

Read the TIME’s cover article here and the NYT Magazine cover article here.