#NEWSFAIL, by Jamie Kilstein and Allison Kilkenny, is a lot of things: a blistering critique of mainstream media, a focused and direct analysis of major political issues, and a history of alternative media’s relatively recent rise. It’s also fun, and one hell of a great ad for Citizen Radio.
And it’s inspiring, too. That’s because #NEWSFAIL is also a memoir of sorts, tracing the journey of two bookstore employees who created a massively successful alternative media source that has been praised by many major political thinkers figures, like Jeremy Scahill, Amy Goodman, and even Noam Chomsky, all of whom they’ve gotten to interview at one time or another and are now fans of the show.
What’s also inspiring is that Jamie Kilstein and Allison Kilkenny come off as normal people. If either of them is reading this, first, hi, and thanks for reading my blog! And second, this isn’t to say what they had to do to get from the bookstore to Citizen Radio was easy or what they do now is easy. Not at all. In fact, if you read this book, you’ll likely admire their grit and determination as much as I do.
But they don’t present themselves as geniuses who readers should be in awe of – rather, they present themselves as normal, everyday people.
They present themselves as us, which means any of us could do what they do, and that is truly inspiring.
But this is far more than just a fun memoir involving problematic (for lack of a better word) Conan O’Brien show stand-up shows, living a Jack Kerouac-esque life, and interviewing Ralph Nader while in the bathtub. There’s so much packed into this book that it’s probably best just to go chapter by chapter.
- Jon Stewart and the Rally to Restore Sanity: The authors do a great job analyzing Jon Stewart’s unique role as the most trusted source of news for Americans and making sense – and arguing against – of a rally that many found either confusing or downright unhelpful in terms of its message, which seemed to boil down to it not being cool to care about politics (to paraphrase the authors).
- Occupy Wallstreet – Kilstein and Kilkenny show how the media (including supposedly leftist media) failed spectacularly to fairly cover a major event in terms of public engagement with politics or even engage with the concerns about income inequality the movement was centered on.
- Climate Change – One of the most important chapters of the book, the authors demonstrate yet another instance of “#newsfail” which also happens to be a failure to properly explain the most significant issue affecting the planet today (#newscatastrophe?).
- Feminism/Reproductive Justice – Reproductive justice is about more than just abortion, as Kilstein and Kilkenny make abundantly clear, in this chapter which feels particularly relevant today.
- LGBTQ Rights – The authors continue to express radical ideas as they argue that, maybe, all human beings should be treated equally.
- Gun Control/Massacre Prevention – My favorite thing about this chapter is how they show that “gun control” really isn’t a good enough term for what is almost undoubtedly the greatest crisis facing the country just in terms of sheer deaths, a crisis made all the worse because it’s tangled up in other crises, including the influence of the NRA/lobbyists in general and how we deal with mental health. They also attack common arguments against gun control – for instance, they point out that, while a knife could kill someone just like a machine gun, one of them can kill a lot more people a lot quicker, and one of them isn’t something everyday citizens need lying around the house.
- The Drug War – Yet another timely topic, this chapter demonstrates the myriad ways the drug war has been a failure, which is a view that more and more are coming around to, though they may not fully appreciate the scale or significance of that failure, or how the drug war has always had a direct relation to systemic racism and classism.
- Drone Warfare – Kilstein and Kilkenny show how, shockingly, flying death robots might not be the best solution to the every-increasing crises we face or create or at exacerbate in the Middle East (actually, is there any crisis a flying death robot would solve, aside from maybe fighting another flying death robot?).
- Net Neutrality – This is perhaps the most prescient chapter of all. This book came out in 2014 and nails the stakes in a fight that has only become more heated and more important since.
Overall, while this book clearly touches on a number of issues – some of which any reader must have strong opinions on – I want to again stress this is a fun book, because I’m pretty sure Kilstein and Kilkenny would be pretty disappointed if you didn’t read this book because you thought it was too heady, too political, or too wonky.
If nothing else, #NEWSFAIL demonstrates that one of the media’s gravest errors has been a lack of clarity.
Citizen Radio on the other hand? Pretty damn clear.
So go read it. Now.
Note: Since finishing the book I found out there was some controversy last year regarding one of the hosts, who is no longer with Citizen Radio. Since this book was written years ago, I’ve chosen to ignore recent events and focus solely on the book’s contents, since the arguments presented aren’t made any less important, interesting, or urgent by recent events.