Media Coverage of the Trump Administration

May 19th, 2017 § Comments Off on Media Coverage of the Trump Administration § permalink

Richard II

February 17th, 2017 § Comments Off on Richard II § permalink

Screen Shot 2017-02-17 at 12.07.57 PMLast weekend I devoted some hours to re-reading one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, Richard II. The story of the deposition of a king was a problematic one for the playwright, given the sensitivity of the issue in his time.

Early in the play, Richard is trying to broker some kind of lessening of tensions between Thomas Mowbray, the Duke of Norfolk, and Henry Bolingbroke, the Earl of Derby. (Ultimately Bolingbroke will drive Richard from the throne and reign as Henry IV.)

Richard has originally decided to have Bolingbroke and Mowbray settle their dispute through armed combat, but then changes his mind and orders both men banished from the kingdom—Bolingbroke for 10 years, Mowbray for life.

Under this sentence, the thing that Mowbray laments is not the loss of property or power, but rather that of his language.

The language I have learnt these forty years,
My native English, now I must forgo,
And now my tongue’s use is to me no more
Than an unstringed viol or a harp,
Or like a cunning instrument cased up—
Or, being open, put into his hands
That knows no touch to tune the harmony.
Within my mouth you have engaoled my tongue
Doubly portcullised with my teeth and lips,
And dull unfeeling barren Ignorance
Is made my gaolor to attend on me.

Those of us whose lives center on the act of communication naturally value language highly, and so Mowbray’s reaction seems highly sympathetic.

Most of the time, of course, we take for granted our ability to express ourselves in our native tongue. In the New York metropolitan area, of course, there are many people who are not native speakers of English, and who have come here to seek better lives, or to flee war and oppression, electing to “engaol” their tongues so that their selves can be free. Mowbray’s speech reminds us of the sacrifices they have made in their quest to become Americans, and should give us all a deeper sense of the promise that this nation has held for people around the world for more than two centuries.

Clearing the Air

September 22nd, 2015 § Comments Off on Clearing the Air § permalink

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 1.57.43 PM

One of the favorite pastimes of journalists and journalism educators is pointing out the flaw of various sorts of news coverage. But today I’d like to offer three cheers for The New York Times, which has superb coverage of the extraordinary Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. (VW has admitted to selling cars with computers that were programmed to sense when they were being tested for their emissions, and turn on the systems to reduce harmful emissions; when not being tested, these systems were left off, and the cars spew between 30 and 40 times the allowable level of nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere.)

Three stories in today’s Times business section explore different aspects of the story. In particular, the article by Bill Vlasic and Aaron M. Kessler about how the VW cheat was discovered is a wonderfully succinct account of how researchers at West Virginia University discovered the deception. Recommended reading.

Here’s a link to the story mentioned.

The Danger of Credulity

April 6th, 2015 § Comments Off on The Danger of Credulity § permalink


Yesterday the Columbia Journalism Review (of which I used to be publisher) posted online the report by the Dean and Academic Dean of Columbia Journalism School (with help from a post-graduate assistant) into the Rolling Stone article alleging a gang rape at the campus of the University of Virginia. It is a disturbing account of basic journalistic standards set aside and warning signs ignored in pursuit of what seemed a damning story about the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses and the factors preventing effective counter-measures.

To me, the biggest point in the report is contained in the following quote:

The problem of confirmation bias – the tendency of people to be trapped by pre-existing assumptions and to select facts that support their own views while overlooking contradictory ones – is a well-established finding of social science. It seems to have been a factor here.

That is, Rolling Stone’s reporter and editorial staff were inclined to believe the allegations made by their source—the alleged victim of the attack, identified only as “Jackie” in the story—and so accepted limits on their reporting (both imposed by the source and, more disturbingly, self-imposed) that contributed to the errors in the report that led the magazine to retract the story following release of the Columbia report.

There’s an old joke in journalism about some stories being too good to check, and that sort of hopeful blindness has contributed to many recent journalistic scandals—one example is the way “60 Minutes II” investigated President George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard. While some have alleged a political bias behind such matters, the fact is that mere journalistic ambition to get a great story may be an adequate (if incomplete) explanation.

But journalism is hardly the only place to fall victim to this culture of credulity. If reporters were too easily swayed by the allegations of Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the Iraq war under George W. Bush, it is in part because the Bush administration had already suspended its own critical faculties.

And this is a long-standing problem that can be found all over the world. I just finished reading a fascinating critical history of the Second World War written by the novelist Len Deighton, and he details some striking examples of the way racial and cultural prejudices misled military leaders on all sides. As Japanese planes demolished Douglas MacArthur’s air forces in the Philippines on December 8, 1941, MacArthur concluded that there must be white pilots in the planes, since they were being piloted with such skill. On the Japanese side, a far abler war leader, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, had reached the conclusion that the destruction of the bulk of the American Pacific fleet could so sap public spirit in the United States that America might make terms rather than fight back.

For those of us who care about journalism, and particularly those of us involved in educating journalists, the lesson is clear—we must take rigorous steps to teach our students to be on guard against their own biases, and to establish clear standards and procedures to insure that reporting is as rigorously conducted and tested as possible. No story is too good to check, and belief cannot substitute for evidence. When we are too easily led in the direction of our own preconceptions, the result—for journalists, presidents, generals, admirals, and all the rest of us—is error.

Hofstra Pride

October 29th, 2014 § Comments Off on Hofstra Pride § permalink


It has been a heady couple of months here at the Herbert School.

In August, The Princeton Review named our radio station, WRHU 88.7 FM, the # 1 college radio station in the country. While we have long taken pride in the station’s high standards and extensive activities—covering news, reporting on local communities, broadcasting Hofstra and professional sports (including being the flagship station for the New York Islanders), offering diverse musical programming, and so forth—we were really delighted when this recognition was bestowed.

Then in September, WRHU received a prestigious Marconi Award as the best noncommercial station in the country from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). We were up against a distinguished list of finalists, and the award was a tremendous boost.


We wondered how things could get any better.  And then in October, LinkedIn published a new set of ratings of universities based on the career outcomes of their graduates in eight major fields of employment. Hofstra University placed second nationally in placing graduates in desirable media positions.

We have long prided ourselves on our faculty, students, curriculum, and facilities, and have made great efforts to build ties between the Herbert School and the many media corporations in New York City and the surrounding area.

This public validation of our successes has filled us all with great satisfaction in the work we are doing and has inspired us to work even harder to build on these successes in the future.

I can’t wait to see what the months ahead bring.

Educating the Next Generation of Journalists

September 18th, 2014 § Comments Off on Educating the Next Generation of Journalists § permalink



Originally Posted: The Ailes Apprentice Program

By Guest Author, Evan Cornog, Dean of The Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University

If you want to understand why diversity remains an issue for news organizations, you might start by examining how newsrooms looked a generation or two ago across the United States.

Mainstream news organizations were, well into the 1960s, overwhelmingly the domain of white men, and although those men were usually dedicated to their profession and eager to present an objective picture of the world around them, the limits of their own life experiences—and the almost locker-room atmosphere of those long-ago newsrooms—shaped news coverage, according  to the Poynter Institute For Media Studies.

At a time when most of the positions of power in the nation were also occupied by white men, the lack of diversity in newsrooms meant less coverage of issues of lesser interest to that audience, writes Dr. Edward Pease, who heads up the journalism department at Utah State University.

A striking example of this lack of coverage was highlighted in an editor’s note in the Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader on July 4, 2004.

“It has come to the editor’s attention that the Herald-Leader neglected to cover the civil-rights movement. We regret the omission.”

According to the Herald-Leader article, that note was triggered by a request from a local historical society for photos of the civil-rights protests in Lexington shot decades earlier by the paper’s photographers. The paper found it had no such pictures, because it had failed to cover the movement. The reason:  papers back in the 1950s and 1960s “catered to the white citizenry, and the white community just prayed that rumors and reports would be swept under the rug and just go away,” a local NAACP leader said.

Those of us who are educating the next generation of journalists take seriously our duty to make sure that we graduate students who will help increase the diversity of newsrooms across the country. We work hard, with our colleagues here at Hofstra, to attract the best candidates from a wide variety of backgrounds, and to provide the sort of financial aid that will enable them to attend. And our faculty and administration also work hard with media organizations in and around New York City to secure the most demanding and rewarding internship experiences for them.

Having partners like the Ailes Apprentice Program greatly enriches what we can offer to our students, and helps keep open the lines of communication between the university and the businesses and organizations that will employ our graduates. That way we can be confident that in the future, no big stories will be just “swept under the rug.”

Evan W. Cornog, PhD, is Dean of The Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University, where students are producing award-winning work and kick-starting their careers as future communications industry leaders. The Fox News Channel University/Ailes Rising Apprentice Scholarship was established at Hofstra in 2011.  Scholarship recipients include Luz Peña ’12, who is now reporting for MundoFOX in Los Angeles, and Claudia Balthazar ’14, who is currently participating in the Carnegie-Knight News21 fellowship program and was recently named Student Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists. Additional information about The Lawrence Herbert School of Communication can be found at

Getting it Right the First Time

March 28th, 2014 § Comments Off on Getting it Right the First Time § permalink

Writer and Professor Jonathan Schell at Occupy Town Square in Tompkins Square Park, in the East Village of Manhattan in New York. Wikimedia Commons.

Writer and Professor Jonathan Schell at Occupy Town Square in Tompkins Square Park, in the East Village of Manhattan. Wikimedia Commons.

The news this week that the reporter Jonathan Schell had passed away at age 70 saddened me. Jonathan was a star writer at The New Yorker when I started there as a fact-checker in the mid-1970s. Already famed for his reporting on the Vietnam War, he was writing regularly about the unfolding Watergate scandal, and soon after the conclusion of that drama he published a remarkable book, The Time of Illusion.

What Schell managed to do in that book was tie together aspects of nuclear deterrence doctrine, the domino theory (the idea that allowing communism to triumph one place—such as Vietnam—would hasten its spread globally), and President Nixon’s obsessive concern with domestic protest and dissent into a single, seething mass. The very unusability of nuclear weapons pumped up the importance of the “credibility” of any threats to use them, and so placed remarkable strains on the way Presidents managed their, and the nation’s, image. Nixon’s dirty tricks and campaign subterfuges were part of a string of causation that could be traced back to the hydrogen bomb. If that sounds implausible, just read the book.

As we approach the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, there is still no book that gets at the essence of that Constitutional crisis as deeply, and as clearly, as Schell’s take on it. Usually contemporary accounts of historical events fade swiftly, as new evidence and new insights recast our understanding of the meaning of a particular event or time. But Schell appears to have got it right the first time.

He is better known these days for his writings against nuclear arms, and for his early Vietnam work. But I think The Time of Illusion is his masterwork, and still repays close attention today. RIP, Jonathan Schell.



Evan W. Cornog, Ph.D., dean of The Lawrence Herbert School of Communication, served as an associate dean at the Columbia University School of Journalism for more than a decade and handled a variety of responsibilities during his tenure there. He led fundraising efforts, coordinated the development of a new curriculum, directed the school’s new Master of Arts program in Journalism and served as publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review. Dr Cornog is also the author of several books on politics and the press – expertise he honed as press secretary to New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch and as a freelance writer and editor whose stories have appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, Slate and the Boston Globe. He also served as director of external relations at Bennington College in Vermont and as special assistant to the President of the New School in Manhattan. Dr. Cornog earned his bachelor’s degree in history and literature from Harvard University, and his master’s and doctorate degrees in history from Columbia. The Art of Making Magazines: On Being an Editor and Other Views from the Industry, edited by Dr. Cornog and Victor S. Navasky, was published in 2012.

The Lawrence Herbert School of Communication

November 1st, 2013 § Comments Off on The Lawrence Herbert School of Communication § permalink

Photographer: Zack Lane, University Photographer

Convocation remarks: October 30, 2013

Thank you, Dr. Berliner.

The Lawrence Herbert School of Communication is only now taking his distinguished name, but it was founded as a school in 1995, and many of its programs have far earlier roots here on campus. So when I was asked to speak today about its mission, the first thing that came to mind was how, over the years, its mission has both remained constant and changed radically.

The constancy comes from the purpose we all share—to examine and explore a wide variety of issues concerning human communication. Some aspects of this are highly practical or technical—what is the best way to light this scene for my movie? How can I get the Police Department to give me the statistics I want for my news story. Others are challenging in different ways—what story do I want to tell, and why? How will my movie (or article, memo, decision) make the world a better place?

The radical change comes from the constant disruption that has beset the world of communication since the school’s founding in 1995. That year the Internet was still a novelty (if that) in the lives of most Americans.

Just to set the scene a bit, in 1995, Apple was still just a computer company, and was near bankruptcy. In the summer of that year, a new Web site appeared selling books online, with the name of It would be three years until Google was founded, and nine years would pass before Facebook appeared. There was no Fox News network, or MSNBC. Tweeting was still something confined to birds.

Today, one could argue that Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook are the most influential corporations on the planet. And they are now all communications companies.

For a School of Communication, that has been both good news and bad news. The good news was, and is, that the subject of communication has become one of the central subjects of modern life. The bad news, at least for a time, has been that some of the industries into which our graduates enter after they leave Hofstra have been undergoing rapid, and disruptive, change.

The upshot has been that the school has become much larger than it was at the time of its founding, as students rightly see the various communications fields we teach as growth areas of the 21st-century economy. But the sorts of jobs that are available, and the skills needed to land those jobs, are constantly evolving.

While the fields we prepare students for are growth areas, the distinctions between communications professions are getting less clear. Public relations professionals now need basically the same skills as “content providers” that journalists have, and journalists are now expected to be much more aware of the economic consequences of their work. Reporters are expected to drive traffic to their news organizations’ web sites, and thus boost ad revenue. As celluloid film continues to decline as a physical medium, the digital technologies that are replacing it are bringing film and TV practices—such as non-linear digital editing—into closer alignment. Yet in spite of this ongoing convergence, for those inside those professions there remain clear distinctions between PR and journalism, and between TV and film.

Many of us at the Herbert School, of course, worked in these industries before coming to academia, and harbor strong emotional and intellectual affinities to certain ways of doing things. My first job was at the New Yorker magazine, where editorial independence from the business side was so pronounced that it when the Surgeon General’s report on smoking’s link to lung cancer was released in1964, the magazine’s editor proclaimed that the magazine would no longer accept cigarette ads—and the magazine’s owners agreed. Those were different days.

My point is that adapting to change is not just a matter of buying new technologies and integrating them into your curriculum. There is the even more daunting task of re-examining the very assumptions behind your work as the ground beneath your feet shifts. In decades past technologies changed, but at a slower pace, and along a more predictable pathways. Now changes happen so swiftly, and alter so much, that everything is up for grabs.

That is one reason why the liberal-arts education remains central to our mission, and why each of our departments has a significant commitment to teaching critical thinking about communication, whether it be through the ancient study of rhetoric, critical and theoretical perspectives on film and television, or scholarly examination of the role of mass media in our society.

Earlier I said that Apple, back in 1995, was still a computer company. Today, even though they still make “computers,” they have become intimately involved in the marketing of various kinds of media content—digitally transmitted songs, books, TV shows, and films. Along the way, they have transformed those businesses, and undercut many traditional power bases (remember when record companies mattered?).

It used to be commonplace to say that the “industrial age” had passed on, and that we were living in the “information age.” This was a commonplace idea in the 1970s and 1980s, and beyond. But today we live in the Age of Communication, one that has been made possible by the digital innovations of the information age, but that has now passed beyond to a new paradigm.

This Age of Communication is what we now have to educate our students to master, to excel in, and to provide leadership for. Fortunately, we have always had a good formula for this in a curriculum that provides strong technical and practical skills while remaining steadfastly committed to a liberal-arts foundation. Together, this combination means that our graduates are ready for the jobs out there today, but also able to adapt to new conditions in the years and decades ahead.

All of which leads me, in the end, to Lawrence Herbert. Today we live in the age of visual communication, and Larry Herbert’s Pantone Color Matching System is part of the fundamental vocabulary of our age. As our graduates seek to convey messages to their various audiences, color is one of the most important tools they work with, whether it is on the set of a film, in the pages of a magazine, or as part of the design of a manufactured product. Decades ago, Mr. Herbert combined a detailed knowledge of the printing business with a vision of what was needed for the future. President Rabinowitz will tell you more about Larry Herbert’s remarkable achievements, but suffice to say that he is one of the founding fathers of the Age of Communication.

The business he built upon his standardization and rationalization of the spectrum has been a great success, and we are grateful that he has shared his success with Hofstra, to the lasting benefit of the students of the School of Communication—the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication. Thank you.

Golden Age

September 30th, 2013 § Comments Off on Golden Age § permalink

Emmy 1

By now, most of us have realized that television’s “golden age” is happening right now. Last weekend’s Emmy Awards (not the awards show itself, but the work nominated) demonstrated how clearly that is the case.

In category after category, there was an embarrassment of riches. Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey, Bryan Cranston, Hugh Bonneville, and Damian Lewis in a category (lead actor, drama) won by Jeff Daniels. Similar wealth of talent, and fine performances, were evident in all the other acting categories.

Whether it was the sustained excellence of shows such as “Breaking Bad” and “Modern Family,” or the one-time excellence of “Behind the Candelabra,” big-time talent and some dazzling risk-taking resulted in an astonishing diversity of first-rate programming.

It used to be fashionable to refer to the TV set as the “idiot box,” but that attitude is anachronistic today for more than one reason. The box is gone, and if the idiocy can still be found there, so can some of the most impressive creative work in the nation today.

My own favorite program of the year was the BBC/HBO adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s “Parade’s End”—screenplay by Tom Stoppard, and with fantastic performances by Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall. The novel—actually four novels—is a great favorite of mine, and adaptations of one’s literary favorites more often disappoint than they please. However, Stoppard’s treatment was so acute, and the performances so compelling, that the miniseries became my personal touchstone for excellence this past year. But when those nominated (Ms. Hall was overlooked in the nominations) did not win, my disappointment was greatly reduced by the sense that so much great work was on display that any selection of a winner had to be a bit conditional. As they say in football, on any given Sunday . . .

In any case, seeing the solid lineup of excellent programs being honored, I was reminded of what a privilege it is to be involved in educating students for careers in TV and other communications fields.

And as we are constantly adapting to new technologies and business practices, we take heart from the ways the rise of new approaches (cable TV, online distribution of shows like Netflix’s “House of Cards,” and so on) open the door for new opportunities for creative folks to entertain, inform, and enlighten us all.

It’s nice to live in a golden age.

Summer of the Shark

August 7th, 2013 § Comments Off on Summer of the Shark § permalink


Today the news is about a dead shark found on a subway car in New York City. Earlier this week, “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel kicked off with a shamelessly concocted “investigation” into whether the prehistoric giant shark, Megalodon, might still be alive. Discovery’s defense, in a statement, is that “with 95 percent of the ocean unexplored, who really knows?”

And of course, a couple of weeks back Twitter was aflame with reactions to the B-movie “Sharknado”, a reaction that earned the laughable film a theatrical release.

All very jolly, except that the real story of sharks is so depressing – they are being aggressively hunted for their fins, prized in some Asian cuisines, and researchers are estimating that perhaps 100 million sharks a year are being removed from the seas — with consequences that are likely to be enormous. Removing large numbers of an apex predator like the shark will have cascading effects throughout marine ecosystems around the world, compounding the problems brought on by climate change, pollution, etc.

And yet stories of “monster sharks” are staples of local news organizations, and shark-fishing “tournaments” are treated as jolly human-interest news items, not pathological misbehavior.

Sharks may not be cuddly, but they are not evil, either. The continuing demonization of them in all sorts of media does a disservice to the planet.