Media Focus: Truth vs. Propaganda

The Shirley Sherrod story turns a spotlight on big problems in the quality of our national information flow. We ask what’s news, what’s propaganda?

A display at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., featuring the Bloomberg Internet, TV and Radio Gallery. (Credit:

Through the battlefield smoke of the Wikileaks reports and the fresh news out of federal court in Arizona, a story from last week keeps ringing through the news business. The misrepresentation of Shirley Sherrod as a racist – and her sudden firing, then rehabilitation – has put the media, the news media itself, on trial. What has happened to the quality of this country’s national information flow? Is it poisoned? Is it now, really, propaganda? And whose?

This hour On Point: charges of propaganda in the news.


Charles Madigan, presidential writer in residence at Roosevelt University in Chicago where he teaches classes focused on journalism and politics. For forty years, he was a reporter, editor and columnist at the Chicago Tribune and a foreign and domestic correspondent for UPI.

David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union, the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots conservative lobbying organization. He served as Special Assistant to Vice President Spiro Agnew. Southern Regional Political Director for George Bush’s 1980 presidential race. Senior Advisor to former senator Bob Dole in 1988 and advisor to Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign.

E. J. Dionne, syndicated columnist for the Washington Post Writers’ Group and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. On Monday, the Washington Post published a column of his titled, “Enough Right-Wing Propaganda.”

Closing segment:

On Friday, NPR senior news analyst and journalistic legend Daniel Schorr passed away. He was 93. In remembrance of Schorr, we’re re-airing comments excerpted from a speech he gave on the present state of journalism when he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002. You can read NPR’s story on Schorr’s life, read the transcript of his Academy of Arts and Sciences speech, and see a slideshow about his career in broadcast.

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