Sunday, January 30, 2005

Interview with Rebecca Winters of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude: "Think about what matters to you and speak about it. Be authentic."

Rebecca Winters blogs on Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude. We'd like to highlight a number of bloggers but we're starting with an interview with her because when you visit her blog you never doubt where she stands or have to wonder what she's saying. Rebecca lays it out firmly and clearly without qualifiers and we'd urge everyone to visit her blog. This interview was conducted during two phone calls. The first was on Wednesday with three of us and the second was on Thursday with the two who weren't able to participate on Wednesday.

Third Estate Sunday Review: Since we're all Common Ills community members, the first question seems obvious.

Rebecca: Why a blog? Well I was seeing others sharing there and I started sparking off their comments.

Sparking off?

A quote or something would spark a new idea or further thought. And the fact that CI doesn't try to act like an "expert" helped.

Or a Cokie Roberts.

Exactly. There was this huge do-it-yourself quality to The Common Ills. For example, I was one of the ones e-mailing to remove to option for posting comments because these two assholes were basically defending Zell Miller. And the response in e-mails and on the blog wasn't "As soon as I get a chance" but "I'm not sure how to do that so let me play with it and try to figure it out." It was very do-it-yourself.

And it still is. There's been a problem with CI e-mailing in posts and they might show up or not but if they did hit the blog, they could vanish in a few hours. CI doesn't try to act the expert on that but confesses to being as confused as we are.
And it was "Here Comes the Madmen" that kept me reading. I do like Carly Simon's music but just tying that into what was going on with our attack on Falluja that was going on at the time really impressed me. I have surfed blogs and I hear a lot of "I object to the war and it is wrong but we have to support the troops" nonsense. Why?
Why does anyone have to say that? I doubt anyone in this country cheers news of American casualty but we're not supporting the war and that this "support the troops" public relations slogan has entered our everyday conversation bothers me because it shuts down all discussion.

The Simpsons did an episode where Bart was selling t-shirts with things like "eat my shorts" on them and Marge said she preferred t-shirts with a funny message on it like "support the troops."

I didn't see that but I heard about it from friends. I thought that was very to the point. The administration doesn't support the troops and hasn't. But the left is constantly allowing themselves to be put in the position of having to say "we support the troops."

Like Rachel Maddow on Air America's Unfiltered?
Exactly. Big Brain gets on my nerves when she starts spitting out that catch phrase every ten seconds.

You've nicknamed her Big Brain but you don't have a nickname for [co-host] Lizz Winstead?

I'm working on one. I always think of the Carly Simon song "Dishonest Modesty" when I think of Lizz. Not just because of the line about, "Now you're over forty and under weight, though you call yourself petite . . ." But that really does sum up Lizz, "Dishonest Modesty." The chorus is "I don't expect humility but how about some good old dishonest modesty?" And when Lizz is once again being praised for creating The Daily Show or Big Brain's directing us to a Comedy Central site to vote for Lizz . . .

Lizz Winstead did create The Daily Show.

Yes, she did. The Craig Kilborne version of The Daily Show. The one no one really watched. The one that didn't win a host of awards or get attention for their hard hitting commentary.
Jon Stewart and his people came on and revamped that show. They made it funnier and sharper and solid political commentary. Everytime someone pipes in with "Lizz created The Daily Show" I feel like someone else should respond, "And Jon Stewart recreated it and gave it the deeper meaning." Craig's Daily Show and Jon's are so completely different.

Some people we know that read you think you hate Lizz & Rachel but then you defended them this week.

I defended them about making a mistake. Those can happen and will happen and they corrected it. But they did make the fact that they corrected and corrections in general the bulk of the segment and ended up skirting over what Jack Reed did.

You wrote about that but explain it for anyone who hasn't read your entry on that?

Harry Reid voted in favor of confirming Condisleeza Rice as secretary of state, Jack Reed voted against confirming. Lizz & Big Brain were talking about the vote and got it wrong repeatedly as they kept talking about Harry Reid showing he had a spine. Then they did a skit saluting the Senators with spines and included Harry Reid on the list. Big Brain even said, during the skit, "Reid of Nevada."
So Harry Reid got all this attention and praise in that entire segment, they go to commercial break, they come back and it's "Oh, that was Jack Reed not Harry Reid!" But instead of then telling us about Jack Reed, we're off on a discussion of corrections. Since they'd praised and praised Harry Reid prior, the very least they should have done was made an effort to discuss Jack Reed.

"The Bad & Ugly and Hot-Hot-Hot Good" --

My first blog entry.

Your first blog entry, you addressed Winstead and Maddow in that.

Oh good God, I was so mad at them. I was already thinking, thanks to Common Ills, along the lines of "hey, I could do a blog" but when they attacked a friend of mine who'd posted on their blog, that was when I e-mailed CI and asked how I went about signing up for a blog site.

You use blogger (as do we).

Yes, I'm not a techie and I was worried that I'd be unable to do the things I needed to do to post. I've had few problems with blogger. When I have, I've e-mailed CI and gotten a reply on what to do. I did figure out how to post photos on my own after CI e-mailed back that they had no idea how to do that other than copying it into an e-mail entry and then e-mailing it into your web site. That wouldn't work for me because I didn't want a photo the size of a postage stamp if I was talking about Michael Phelps sexy butt cleavage or the hottie Markus Rogan or my Corn Husker John Turek.

Which brings up the issue of sex.

Yeah, that's bothered a few people. I don't mean someone clucking good naturedly in an e-mail, "Becky, you're so naughty!" But there are quite a few people who are offended by the idea that males might be held to the same sexual gaze that women have always been held to.

Tell us about Mr. Big Britches.

Sexist pig who e-mailed in telling me what I needed to blog on. He had a suggestion that I sign up at Blogpac where I could get daily talking points and wouldn't end up writing about sex.
I don't need talking points and I'm embarrassed that anyone does. I also don't need framing, thank you very much. I write about what I'm interested in. If someone else isn't interested, they don't need to visit the site.
I am who I am and the visitors I get enjoy that.
The people who want to work from the same sort of talking points are just creating an echo chamber and I think the left doesn't care for that. I know if I went to three blogs in a row all working from the same talking points, I'd be bored and stop going to those blogs.
But by writing about what I'm interested in, hopefully some people will be interested as well.
Are you joining blogpac or working on framing?

No, we agree completely with your comments that it seems like marching orders and that a plain spoken voice will work far better than framing.

I think a lot of people can tell when someone's speaking authentically and when they're taking marching orders. Framing may work for those in elected office who've been too scared to call Bully Boy a liar or note that the war is immoral, but I worry that it will lead to them finding another way to speak plainly. If they'd spoken from the heart to begin with, they wouldn't need a framing doctor to come in now.

Common Ills said the media was the problem last week.

Exactly. You can frame as pretty as you want but it won't matter if your comments don't get on the air or in print. Look what the media did to Barbara Boxer last week, playing Condi all innocent asking that her integrity not be questioned but failing to allow Boxer's examples into most coverage. Boxer is plain spoken, she doesn't need framing. She does need media coverage and framing isn't able to address that. To me, framing is like conditioner on a bad perm. It might make the perm look less frizzy and your hair less burned but the real answer is to stop getting bad perms.

Let's go back to your first blog entry, you felt your friend was attacked.

Right. Attacked and ignored. Every Tuesday, Lizz and Big Brain do their "Ask a Vet" segment. But for sometime now listeners have been asking for another type of weekly segment where you recognized activists in the peace movement. Unfiltered has demonstrated no interest in that.
Now if I blogged that today on the Unfiltered blog, Lizz would probably screech, "We just had Medea Benjamin on last Friday!"
She was on because she was news. She should have been on and she should be on more often. That's not the issue. The issue is every week on Tuesday the show highlights veterans and their needs and the work they are doing.
Where's the weekly highlight on the work and needs of the peace movement?
I don't doubt that Lizz is a feminist, I don't doubt that she's more radical than many at Air America. But you don't get that on the show anymore. I mean at the Democratic Conventions, she went to the protest pen to make sure that was covered so she obviously cares about real issues. But where is that same care today?
Instead we get the "Ask a Vet" which means Big Brains going to pipe up several times that she supports the troops. And they've accepted the mainstream's frame that the voices that matter are the military "experts." That's what Amy Goodman was pointing out repeatedly in the last years and in her book [Exceptions to the Rulers], that the mainstream media would bring on the military to present a point of view but wouldn't bring on peace activists. Ted Koppel and Aaron Brown both gave "reasons" for that which were bullshit.
To see Unfiltered fallling into the same trap is really irritating. And it's a mistake they've made that's been repeatedly pointed out to them on their blog. But they've done nothing to address it. I doubt anyone's blogged, "Drop the 'Ask a Vet' weekly segment!'" All that's happened is that listeners have asked, "Hey, in addition to 'Ask a Vet' could we have 'Ask a Peace Advocate?'" And Unfiltered's refused to address that.
They need that segment unless they want to be a mirror of the mainstream media on what is an acceptable source and what is worthy of coverage.

And Winstead attacked your friend?

Yes and no. See Lizz doesn't handle criticism well and tends to fly off the handle on the blog and on air when talking about the blog. She starts screeching. That day, on the blog, she trashed this woman for saying what my friend said. She got the wrong woman. Because even the slightest criticism enrages her.
And I'm sorry but the vet they had on was telling listeners about how he should be a hero and how he'd gone to Iraq to protect us from Saddam while drawing the 9-11 connection that Bully Boy drew. And he's getting away with it and they aren't questioning it. And he starts saying he's done what he's done for Americans and my friend blogged something like: don't say you did this in my name or for me.
That's what enraged La Lizz.
I want to be clear that the man had problems. He was not a good speaker. And they fussed over him like they had Rain Man on the show. But what they actually may have had was a man who spoke about violence towards his wife in other mediums. Of course, Unfiltered didn't want to address that. Not even feminist Lizz.
It was just so irritating to hear. Big Brain spitting out "support the troops!" over and over. And apparently support wife beaters as well?
It was disgraceful. And then the next day they have to pat themselves on the back and claim that they got tons of positive feedback on that interview.
It wasn't an interview. Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez had interviewed the same man but when he started rambling they'd go to another guest. It was really, really bad on Unfiltered and they both, Lizz and Big Brain, lack the skills that Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez have. There was no attempt to shape the interview or provide context.
I don't know if the man was shell shocked or had thought difficulties before he signed up but I don't think treating him like he's Rain Man and precious is anything to be proud of. Forget his speaking elsewhere about violence towards his wife, forget that Lizz and Big Brain won't challenge him when he repeats the Bully Boy's talking points, they did nothing to shape the interview. They just let him babble and ramble and Rachel would pipe in every now and then while Lizz was busy blogging for everybody to back off because he's had a really tough experience.
Yeah, well so have Iraqis. And when they had Tariq Ali on this week, Lizz had no problem stating, after he was gone, that she didn't agree with everything he said.
But this guy who has spoken of violence towards his wife gets a pass and is brought back on a Friday to weigh in some more.
It's disgusting.
Or when they rush to quash dissent on Hillary Clinton as they did this week. Big Brain should never weigh in on what's printed in a paper to begin with because she's usually wrong on when it was printed. For instance, on Monday's she's talking about a story in that morning's NYT that was actually in the Sunday edition of NYT.
But I especially loved this Monday when Big Brain rushed to explain to us over and over that she was going to make things simple regarding Iraq so we could understand what was going on.
Sorry, Big Brain, but listeners don't like to be talked to like their small children and I honestly think everyone has a better understanding of what happens then do you.
I don't expect much from Big Brain because she's so self-infatuated with her i.q. that she's basically a bore.
But Lizz is a feminist and she is someone who cares about issues so it is distressing to hear some of the crap that makes it onto Unfiltered.
And it's funny because I've started reading Clamor because of Common Ills and there's been an ad in the last two issues that says "Radical Talk Radio Now!" and lists these people including Lizz Winstead. Radical talk? From Lizz who won't fight to get a weekly segment for peace advocates? From Lizz who's offended that Hillary Clinton's position on abortion is questioned?
Forget that people are trying to push the Democratic party to the right, all that you have to know is that Hill is against late-term abortions as long as there is an exemption for the mother's health. From her comments she's against late-term abortions in all other circumstances and she calls them "partial birth abortions." She needs to be held accountable but the "Radical Talk" from Lizz won't let her be.
I think Lizz is probably far more of an independent thinker off air but on air she's practically a DNC crony and it's disgusting.
Laura Flanders, okay, she's a true voice of the left on the air. She'll talk about how our attack on Afghanistan wasn't a noble deed. She'll put on peace activists and she'll question anyone. She's not a Clinton cheerleader. It's distressing to see Lizz turn into that.

How do you rate the other Air America personalities?

I think that's a good word, personalities, because most of them are not experienced when it comes to the news. And the constant refrain of "I'm just a comedian" when they're criticized is really getting old.
Randi Rhodes is someone to the right of me but she's consistent and authentic so I can listen to her show and enjoy it. She'll always defend the Clintons and you know that going in. By contrast, Lizz and Big Brain are ripping apart critics of Hillary, critics on the left, and moments later Lizz is sharing her opinions on abortion and they're exactly the same as the critics she just tore apart. It makes no sense and sounds hypocritical. Randi never sounds hypocritical because she's working from a solid base. She's thought things through and is consistent. She's also a radio veteran and you can hear that when you listen. She knows how to do radio.
Mike Malloy always makes me laugh. He actually reminds me of my uncle Lloyd. He also has radio experience and it shows.
Janeane Garofalo is new to radio and I don't think that's hurt her. She's probably the left-ist host during the week. My problem with The Majority Report is that Sam Seder won't shut up. When he was gone, Janeane got pretty deep in the interviews. When he's around, he's got to interrupt a story to crack a joke or ask a question that starts off with his state-of-the-world address.
He also has a real bad tendency to interrupt guests, but only female guests. He doesn't cut off the male guests. They did an interview with Naomi Klein and her husband and Naomi hardly got to speak at all and when she would speak, Sam was interrupting her.
My other problem with the show is that women are not on in large numbers and when Janeane was gone, we saw two women substitute for her, one day each. And the rest of the two week period we got male after male sitting in with Sam and, on a good day, we might get one female guest. It was male posturing and it was boring. Since Janeane's come back from vacation, they seem to be working on including more female guests. But the next time she goes on vacation, they really need to make a point to include female guests and female co-hosts. And unless I'm forgetting something, with a mimimum of three bloggers a week, they've only managed to include one female blogger as a guest since the show started in April. That's really shameful.
Al Franken? I don't take him seriously. If I listen, I listen to laugh. He can't handle outrage because he tends to get choked up. And when he has on someone like Jeremy Glick he keeps telling us that unlike Bill O'Reilly, he'll let Glick talk. But when Glick tries to talk about blowback, Al shuts him up too. He doesn't scream, "Shut up! Shut up!" at him. He just steers the conversation somewhere else. So, in fact, Glick still doesn't get to talk. A similar thing happened during the ridiculous lead up to Reagan's funeral when Franken evicted Greg Palast from his show for daring to question the hype surrounding Reagan.
The death sqauds in Latin America are a part of the Reagan legacy and they need to be noted. But Al's always quick to rush to the center and it's at the expense of an honest discussion. I'll also note that he has people from the American Enterprise Institute on and always assures us that the person is one of the good guys. Neoliberals and neoconservatives are in the same club
and either Al's too dense to get that or he's part of that crowd.
I don't listen to Morning Sedition since they dumped the British co-host.
As for the weekends, I think they're all wonderful and stronger than many of the programs you hear during the week. Laura Flanders is a stand out and probably the best thing about Air America. But Ring of Fire and Eco Talk are hard hitting and Kyle Jason and Steve Earl provide a nice compliment to the weekends. Marty Kaplan is great and I miss hearing him during the week.
I feel like I just went off on everyone at Air America except for the weekend hosts, Randi, Mike and Janeane.

I guess that means you won't be asked to appear?

Fine by me. Things would get ugly if I was on The Majority Report and Sam treated me the way he does Katrina vanden Heuvel. They pair her up with a blogger (Kos, Atrios or Bill Scher of the Liberal Oasis) and the guy can go on and on but Katrina's always getting cut off when she's in the middle of a point and she actually knows what she's talking about.
They'd have to bleep out most of my remarks because I'd start out with, "Shut the fuck up, Sam! Why the hell am I being cut off when the guy in the same segment gets to finish every thought!"
I think it's because Sam doesn't think a woman is interesting. It's why he cuts off Janeane all the time. It's an old story and one that seventies feminists noted. A woman is telling a story and a man has to rush in because without him "saving" the moment, people will get bored. That's a sexist notion. Hold on a minute.
Okay, I wanted to grab a Jane Fonda quote that's really to the point on this issue. This is from the early seventies. Quote: "I was becoming sensitized at that particular time to the way men treat women, things I never noticed before -- a lack of respect, a glossing over. Like when a woman starts telling a story, the men interrupt and finish it because they assume that no one will really understand or find amusing or interesting the way a woman tells it. And so the man has to take over and tell it in his own way."
That's what it sounds like when Sam repeatedly cuts off women but will let a man (Simon Rosenberg, for example) go on and on without interruption.

What's your advice to anyone reading this or visiting your blog?

Think about what matters to you and speak about it. Be authentic. And if you're thinking "I should start a blog" then you probably should.
But don't do it to sound like every other blogger that's out there. What I like about The Third Estate is that it covers the media and questions it. And provides some good entertainment reporting in the process. I really loved the Anne Sexton cutting. What I like about The Common Ills is that there's a committment to social justice. That's the framework for CI. Whether it's taking on NYT or someone failing to live up to their role as a reporter or watchdog or whatever, it's addressing social justice. And truly reminding us all of how we are not alone or the only ones outraged morally by what's going on in Iraq or elsewhere. And it's highlighting nonmainstream media which is really important because we don't need to ever again be silenced the way we were after 9-11. So you have to be authentic. I'm going to go back to Randi Rhodes.
I don't agree with her on every position but she's authentic and I can listen to her because I know she's meaning every word she says and she's not flip-flopping.
I enjoy A Winding Road because they weigh in on the hypocrisy of some Senate Democrats. They highlight who's doing their job to serve democracy and who's not doing it. I get the feeling that Folding Star is strongly interested in the Senate and it shows in the blog.
So speak in your own voice because we do need more voices and more discussion. If you're not going to do that, maybe you shouldn't start a blog. There was 1 guy who was posting on Common Ills back when you could post and he was always going about his local NPR. He had strong opinions and that's what makes a good blog. He's someone who should consider doing their own blog.
I'd also urge ethinic and racial minorities and all women to blog. We're really being left behind in this. The mainstream media seems to think there's Wonkette and the rest of the women are off knitting or something. We need to make sure that our voices are being heard. Not by posting replies, but by starting our own blogs. We need to start controlling our content, not providing it as a footnote to some white guy that's getting the credit for points we are making.

How would you describe Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude to someone who hasn't ever visited it?

Well the title says it all. I'll talk about sex and politics and I'll go off into a screed or a rant with attitude because otherwise what's the point of me weighing in? If I don't care about something, should I really be wasting my time and your time by writing about it?
When I started it, I had no idea that Mr. Big Britches and other guys would find it so offensive. I really thought we had passed that point a long time ago. So that was a learning experience and I think the blog serves as a learning experience in its own way because I'm not trying to come off like a passive woman who teases about sex. There are some guys, and not all of them have been offended, who really don't seem to have enountered a woman who speaks like I do. I guess they've lived very sheltered lives and don't get out much.
But I am not all women and I do try to make that point. I'm speaking the way I do to my friends (female and male) and I'm being authentic. But I'm not all women.
Nor do I want to be. All of us, women, men, children, are coming at issues and life from various viewpoints and we need to be heard, especially on the left.
One man wrote me Tuesday that I was an embarrassment to the left and all the work he does.
Good. If he's to the right of me, the fact that I exist means he can't be portrayed as the radical left. I'm not too sure I'm the radical left but part of the reason some idiot from The New Republic can get on TV and be labeled "the left" (or mainstream journalists for that matter) is because we've consricted and silenced the left.
Moderates can certainly be moderate if they want. And they can criticize me and I can criticize them. But they aren't left and shouldn't have to be labeld as such. So if my voice pushes the public notion of the left over a little that's great.
But again, we all should be weighing in and making ourselves heard. The center has moved to the right not because the Republicans are in power but because the left hasn't been heard. Whether you loved him or hated him or didn't care one way or another about him, Bill Clinton was not left. That doesn't mean he was a bad president or a good president. But when you hear some right winger piping off that Hillary Clinton is a radical feminist/socialist, it demonstrates how the left has been made invisible.
The American Taliban gets on TV in the form of James Dobson, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. The American left isn't invited on Larry King or PBS's the NewsHour. The Brookings institute is centrist, not leftist. Mark Shields does not speak for the left, he speaks for the center. Both he and Brookings can be as center as they want to be. But when people worry that America's moved to the center, it's because the left hasn't been heard from. So start your own blogs and start getting your own viewpoint out there. Especially if you're a woman who's more sexual than I am because, judging by some of my e-mail, there are people who think I'm the equivalent of Heidi Fleiss. I can take the heat but I'm far from the most sexual woman in the country and the fact that several men seem to think I am underscores how important it is that others weigh in.

You'll keep addressing men's body?

Hell yeah. And I'm hearing from men who enjoy that. Some are gay and some are bisexual but there are also straight men who are enjoying it. I had one guy e-mail in after I wrote about crackatoa and how if Simon Rosenberg has it, he needs to fix that immediately. This guy that wrote in said he never thought about it but got worried reading and asked his best friend who told him, "No one wants to walk behind you." I mean, I'm surprised the guy didn't know he had butt odor but think of it as a public service. Note that I'm laughing right now.

And another guy had decided that his razor was a weed wacker and gone to town on his body until I posted about manscaping and how not every woman was into it. He stopped doing it and as soon as some hairs started to grow out, his wife asked him what was going on. When he told her he'd decided to leave his pit hairs alone, she said thank God because she'd been having a hell of a time trying to match up her shaving schedule with his. I meant what I said about when guys finally decide to take grooming seriously they grow obsessive about it. And for me and a number of my friends, that's not endearing. It makes us feel like we're in a competition and losing because between make up and all the other things that get pushed off on us (which we need to stop accepting and start pushing back onto others in our life), we don't always have the time to grab a razor the first moment a hair pops up from the skin on our legs.

But I get a lot of e-mail from women and men who enjoy my drooling over guys. Over the cornhusk of John Turek or the hairy chest of Markus Rogan or the butt crack of Mikey Phelps.
And the butt crack has become the new cleavage even if others don't want to admit that or address it.

The only time I worry is when I think about the lesbians who read my site because I don't want them to feel unvitied but the feedback has been that they wouldn't drool over what I drool over but they enjoy my sexual frankness. So yes, I'll keep writing from a hormonal point of view. Note that I'm laughing.

Last words?

Speak your mind. Don't let anyone tell you that a comment's not allowed or that you need to be appropriate. Talk about what you care about. Others will respond to your passion if your not your topic.

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