SMPA professor critiques the media

Media and public affairs professor Steven Livingston celebrated the release of his most recent book, “When Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina,” with a book-signing session at Busboys and Poets restaurant last week.

Over the span of his career as a reporter and a scholar, Livingston has focused on the relationship between media and public policy.

“What we know and what we think we know about the world comes to us through things we hear about or see in media,” he said. “This is true of both elite policymakers and everyday citizens.”

Livingston’s research has taken him around the world, including war zones in Africa, the Middle East, Bosnia and Northern Ireland. In 1994, while studying the lack of media attention on the Sudanese crisis, Livingston received an opportunity to explore and write about the Rwandan genocide.

His most recent book researches the struggles American media faces in effectively monitoring and reevaluating the “empirical claims” made by the current administration following Sept. 11.

Livingston critiqued the media’s tendency “to peg its opinions on official voices.” He noted that in the debate over the war in Iraq, Democrats generally agreed with Republicans and offered little opposition. In turn, the media failed to examine the rationale for going to war.

The media also did not adequately examine the connection between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein, nor the claims of U.N. chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix about the lack of WMD in Iraq.

Livingston said he believes that to solve the problem, the press needs to reinvent itself in several ways. First, it should realize who constitutes a legitimate voice in the news and second, the media must be able to hold power accountable, sustaining criticisms during crises at hand.

“I hope that news executives hold in higher esteem the values of public good, rather than the corporate bottom line,” he said.

In a classroom environment, Livingston teaches his students about the effect of media on both the individual and U.S. policies in the nation and abroad.

“I have the true luxury of having my research informing my classroom and my classroom informing my research,” he said.

Livingston is intent on letting his students explore the issue outside the classroom. Next year, he and a group of participants in the two-year dean’s seminar program on globalization will travel to Chile and Peru to study the role of media and nongovernmental organizations in world affairs. Their experience will be incorporated in Livingston’s next book.

This will not be the first time Livingston took a class to travel to another continent to learn about media and society. In 2006, he and Kimberly Easson took a group of six GW students to Rwanda to gain a greater understanding of the genocide of 800,000 Tutsis by Hutu extremists during 1994.

Livingston has collaborated on and written a number of monographs and books based on his research and experiences, including, “The Terrorism Spectacle: The Politics of Terrorism and the News Media,” “Humanitarian Crisis: Meeting the Challenges” and “Beyond the CNN Effect: An Examination of Media Effects According to Type of Intervention.”

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