The Influencing Machine: Brook Gladsone on the Media; illustrated by Josh Neufeld, Norton, 170 pages ($23.95). "We hunger for objectivity," writes Brooke Gladsone of National Public Radio, "but increasingly swallow 'news' like Jell-O shots in ad hoc cyber-saloons. We marinate in punditry seasoned with only those facts and opinions we can digest without cognitive distress. Sometimes we feel a little queasy about it -- queasiness we project back onto the media. But we really don't get agitated until we encounter the OTHER GUY'S media. Those guys are consuming lies. They are getting juiced up. Their media diet is making them stupid. What if our media choices are making us stupid? What if they're shortening our attention span, exciting our lusts, eroding our values, hobbling our judgment?"
What's a fully-wired journalist/analyst, then, to do if she wants to produce, as Gladstone puts it, "a manifesto masquerading as history" to demonstrate "that there never was a Golden Age of Journalism, that objectivity can undermine reporting, that our current fears about the Internet were also expressed about the printing press, the telegraph, radio and television?"
Especially if she is rather magnificently possessed of wisdom and "edge" in almost equal and glorious proportions? Well, this one turned her "manifesto" into a kind of comic book i.e. a "graphic nonfiction" of which the New York Observer's Leon Neyfakh rather precisely remarked "think Art Spiegelman meets Marshall McLuhan."
In an age in which everyone and her Aunt Pittapat has impassioned things to say about the media Babel Tower we're all living in, here is the mind that may be the wisest, smartest and sanest one around (all adjectives related but, I assure you, all possessed of crucial differences). She's NPR's media commentator and former senior editor for NPR's "All Things Considered" and "Weekend Edition," and the illustrations turn her ideas into comics from Josh Neufeld, a cohort of the late, great comics prodigy, Harvey Pekar. One of the best -- and most unusual -- books about anything of late.
-- Jeff Simon