Broadcasting Bias, Boston College-Style

, Diane R. Macedo, Leave a comment

I walked into the small classroom on that cool September day. It was tucked away so far into Devlin Hall’s darkest corner that I, a senior at this university, couldn’t find it for a solid twenty minutes. Finally, the game of hide and seek was over. I found the narrow hallway hidden by the lockers and the door that resided at its end. I caught a glimpse of the number 112 written at the top of the door, and let out a sigh of relief. At last, I had made it.

The door of Devlin 112 is located in the front of the classroom so that all latecomers are guaranteed to be the center of attention as they walk to their seats. I learned this lesson the hard way. The sea of faces that greeted me at the door that day was not at all inviting. However, the one face at the front of the classroom was extremely warm. With his white hair, Santa-like beard, and resonating voice, Professor Keith shot me a big smile and a cheery hello as he welcomed me into the classroom. I returned his kind greeting and reluctantly turned back to face the class. A familiar face stuck out from the crowd and smiled at me with delight. “Nancy!” I exclaimed with a whisper. I was not expecting to see my roommate in Broadcast Century Issues, but thankfully there she was. I quickly took the seat beside her.

“I remember the first day of class seemed fine,” Nancy recalls, “he was so friendly, we even said to each other that we were gonna like him. If only we’d known.”

“If only we’d known,” is right. I should have taken it as an omen when I couldn’t find the classroom. The description of this course in the Boston College online catalog reads:

The impact of radio and television has been felt around the world. It has altered the way we think and behave. This course is an assessment of the major issues and events that have helped form twentieth century broadcast media. Topics will be examined within the context of their relationship to society and culture.

What it should say is: This course is an excuse for Professor Keith to preach about how conservatives dominate the media.

Professor Keith is a well-versed expert in the field of communications. Having spent over a dozen years working in the field, acquired a PhD, written eighteen acclaimed books, and taught at four different universities, it is beyond question that he certainly knows his stuff. This background combined with his personable, and anecdotal lecture style makes him a great lecturer and allows for class to be a little more interesting than most professors would make it.

Unfortunately, however, his level of expertise combined with his strong political views often prohibits him from separating his opinion from fact. The same way one would dismiss a child who says, “but Johnny says people can fly,” Professor Keith dismisses students that say, “but I heard NPR slants to the left.” In doing so he unintentionally shuts out students like myself who were left with many unanswered questions.

As the semester developed Professor Keith became notorious for starting off his lectures by saying, “I don’t want to stand on my democratic soapbox but…” and then he would do exactly that. As for class discussion, there was none.

An example of this was the McCarthy debate, or lack thereof. After Professor Keith had gone on for twenty minutes about how Joe McCarthy’s investigations were all witch hunts, he was crazy, his blacklists were unbearable, etc., I asked him about a couple of things that I had read regarding McCarthy. “Professor,” I said, “didn’t the Venona Cables and other evidence prove that almost every person Joe McCarthy accused was later proved to be, in fact, a Soviet spy. And I thought the blacklists weren’t his doing. He wasn’t even in office then. Why is he blamed for that?”

Now I’ve only read one book regarding McCarthy and thus am certainly not ready to classify him as any superhero, but I do know that another side to this story exists. Furthermore, I enjoy discussion and wanted to see if the Professor could give me any solid information to enlighten me on the topic. Unfortunately, I had no such luck. Avoiding any eye contact with me, he said in one breath, “Well he was right about some I guess, but still wrong about others.” And with that the conversation was over. Professor Keith went on with his sermon, and I was forced to sit and grit my teeth in silence. From that day forth he never called on me again.

The classroom wasn’t the only place for propaganda either. The class textbook, The Broadcast Century and Beyond, is co-authored by Professor Keith, and complements his lectures, in my opinion, all too well. To go along with the “discussion” on Joe McCarthy we had to read “Broadcasting and Blacklisting: A Decade of Shame.” In short, this chapter consists of thirty-eight pages dedicated to explaining how Joseph McCarthy exploited Americans and used the media to inflict a false Red Scare. This “terror” lasted until the “heroic” Edward R. Murrow exposed “McCarthy’s irresponsible, badgering, bizarre behavior,” (p. 148). There is no mention of even one of McCarthy’s accusations being correct.

The criticism doesn’t end there. Just in case the thirty-eight-page chapter of McCarthy-bashing isn’t enough, there are random jabs placed sporadically throughout the book to ensure the reader gets the point. For example, page 192 contains a paragraph regarding a 1968 event. The passage reads:

The Smothers Brothers continued to inject political and social humor and comments into their programs until the following year, when CBS, still headed by William Paley, abruptly threw them off the air for not being, as the network put it, sufficiently ‘mainstream.’ Was Joe McCarthy laughing in his grave?

Regardless of whether or not McCarthy’s investigations were legitimate, or were in fact “witch hunts” as they are described in the text book, are these constant low blows really necessary? We are talking about something in a completely different chapter of the book that happened eleven years after the man died! This is from the same textbook that criticizes the “unmerciful” media attacks on Bill and Hillary Clinton. I would prefer if Professor Keith would cease his own unmerciful attacks and simply let Joe McCarthy rest in peace.

In reading the Professor Evaluation Profiles (PEPs) of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College, students constantly give Professor Keith high ratings saying things like, “Professor Keith is one of the greatest professors Boston College can offer you. He is an expert in the field of radio and broadcasting history in general.” Many students enjoy his classes. I can understand why. I don’t know that I would go so far as to say the he’s one of the greatest professors at Boston College but I would definitely concede that he is an expert in his field, and tries to make class as interesting as possible. In addition, his class brought me countless rewards.

His semester of rhetoric inspired me to pack three months worth of frustration into my twenty-five-page paper assignment and get an A, my topic of choice being Liberal Bias in Network News. In addition to obtaining a good grade, I also discovered a kind of writing that makes me come alive. As result, I am now putting a collection of writing samples together for submission to publishing resources like Creators Syndicate, as well as organizations like the Heritage Foundation, Accuracy in the Media, and of course, Accuracy in Academia. All this because Professor Keith wouldn’t call on me in class, who would have guessed?

Despite the inspiration, however, I think back on what the class could have been. “With a man this knowledgeable and this personable,” says Tim Arth ‘04, “we should have walked away learning so many interesting facts about broadcasting in the twentieth century. Instead we got the Michael Keith life story.” Tim couldn’t be more right. Professor Keith gets so wrapped up in his own experiences and beliefs, he forgets about the actual subject matter he is there to teach. In giving me a good grade on my paper he may have been demonstrating that he is open-minded. More likely, however, he was just doing what he’d done all semester: avoid confrontation.

I hope in the future Professor Keith learns to be as quick to hear others opinions as he is to voice his own. As for the students lined up to take Broadcast Century Issues next semester, I have one piece of advice: The course description says that radio and television have “altered the way we think and behave;” just be sure you don’t let Professor Keith do the same.

Diane R. Macedo is a 2004 graduate of Boston College.