As co-host of NPR’s "On the Media," radio veteran Gladstone must have gotten a change-of-pace kick out of a project so dependent on visuals in general and her own caricature in particular. She finds an ideal collaborator in artist Neufeld, whose A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge (2009) could be categorized as graphic journalism. While the current technological revolution has many claiming that journalism has reached a state of crisis, if not obsolescence, the author takes a longer view, emphasizing not only that “we’ve been here before,” but that “Everything we hate about media today was present at its creation.” Instead of wringing her hands over manipulation and distortion, as well as the pesky impossibility of objectivity, Gladstone focuses more of her attention on biases that are institutional rather than ideological. Among them: commercial bias toward “conflict and momentum” (the narrative momentum that attracts readership), the access bias that results in self-censorship, the fairness bias that makes it seem like two sides have equal weight (when there could be many sides). The author also shows how every president eventually considers the press an adversary, and why war reporting tends to be particularly problematic (“Every media bias shows up in war reporting, in spades.”) Ultimately, she urges a democracy that relies on media to share responsibility “by playing an active role in our media consumption.”
While some may see a sign of bias in the author’s own media affiliation, this historical analysis of how and why media and society shape each other should prove illuminating for general readers and media practitioners alike.