Sunday, May 22, 2005

Media Roundtable IV

Ava: Another sunday, another roundtable.

Ty: And ain't no Meet the Press going up in the house!

Ava: Since we present this as a transcript, readers have e-mailed requesting that we identify the participants at the start. I'm Ava with The Third Estate Sunday Review. Also with The Third Estate Sunday Review are Ty, whom you just heard, Jim, Jess and Dona. Joining us are Betty of the blog Thomas Friedman is a Great Man, Rebecca of the blog Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, and C.I. of community The Common Ills. We have a number of topics to address and the one that readers wanted address most was the issue of books. Veronica of San Diego e-mails to say she's glad that there will be more at this site on reading but she wonders how committed we are to reading?

Jim: Well, I mean, we're reading. We're reading online, we're reading newspapers, we're reading magazines, we're reading books for classes.

Dona: Jim's less inclined to pick up a book for himself because he's been taking a literature survey class which had a heavy reading load. Since Ava's the moderator, she rarely gets to weigh in so, as her roommate, I'll note that Ava's always reading a book on pyschology or feminism. What was the Cassandra thing you were reading this week?

Ava: Cassandra's Daughter: A History of Pscychoanalysis.

Dona: Me, I'm more apt to be a supermarket reader. If it's a book that's not being required for a class, I'm the type of reader who's going in for a bag of Tostitos and stopping by the book racks to grab a paperback.

Jess: Paperback reader!

Ava: Jess sang that to the tune of the Beatles' "Paperback Writer."

Dona: That's what I am. I'll grab three to four paperbacks at the grocery store a month. I'm reading Ann Patchett's Truth & Beauty right now. I'll check out books from the library and sometimes join Ava on her trip to a favorite indpendent bookstore. But I'm more likely to, not impulse buy, but associate reading with a basic staple like food. So when I'm running to the store for something we ran out of, I'm always stopping by the book racks.

Jess: I rarely buy books. My folks are big supporters of indendent publishers and once a month they send me a box of books. They know I'll pass some on because with studying I don't have the time to read a boxful of books each month. But I am reading from the box of books they sent. The best one this past semester was probably As'Ad Abukhalil's book entitled The Battle for Saudi Arabia: Royalty, Fundamentalism and Global Power.

Rebecca: I'm more likely to be reading The Nation, Ms., The Progressive, Harper's or In These Times than a book. That's not all the magazines I read, but that's is a list of the ones I never miss. Veronica would probably be very disappointed in my reading habits because I'm not reading a book a month even. Amy Goodman's book with her brother David, Exception to the Rulers, and Jane Fonda's My Life So Far, which I only recently started, are two of the few books I've actually felt the need to purchase.

Betty: I'm reading children's books. Martin Waldman's Tough Princess is a book my kids really enjoy. My mother had read that one to me when I was growing up. I knew it was one I'd have to read to my kids because of the message of empowerment. Of course it was long gone. I finally found a copy used at a bookstore but we read it so much that by this summer, August, it had fallen apart. I found a new edition available online. If you've got children, boys or girls, it's one I'd recommend you make a part of their library. I also read To Hell With Dying by Alice Walker to them a great deal. My sister loves that children's book and loves Alice Walker. I was surprised by how much the kids enjoyed it. The third favorite is Harla Kuskin's City Noise which they really enjoy. Besides that, it's Curious George and some others. I read Amy Goodman's book and Jane Fonda's and enjoyed them but, before that, the last book I'd read for me was Kitty Kelley's The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty.

Rebecca: I read that and even posted on it. Did anyone else read that? Show of hands?

Ava: That's everyone except Jim raising his hand.

Dona: Jim read parts of my copy.

C.I.: I like Veronica's question but wish it was coming a few months back. I feel like I'm always running way behind in reading these days. Besides the books we'll be reviewing in this edition, I'm reading the CodePink book Stop the Next War Now. I finished Goldie Hawn's book recently --

Rebecca: I read that. It was a gift.

C.I.: Early birthday gift? Rebecca has a birthday coming up.

Rebecca: Yes, it was. And I really enjoyed parts of it. I felt Goldie was trying to increase people's ways of thinking from the increasingly narrow way that we seem stuck in. I enjoyed the entire book but parts of it especially made me think. A Lotus Grows in the Mud. And I'm enjoying CodePink's book too. But I wrote this evening, and the roundtable was late starting because I was finishing that. I thought it would be a quick entry taking fifteen minutes but it ended up taking a great deal longer. But I wrote this evening about you, C.I., and Betty. And how Betty has these demands on her like family and work --

Betty: I didn't see it and I checked this evening.

Rebecca: It just went up, I mean just went up, right before I joined everyone on this conference call. But I was talking about the various demands and how blogging isn't anything any of us are paid for. And here's my point in terms of the topic, I'm reading e-mails for about an hour a day. And I know C.I. gets way more than I do so I'm surprised that any reading is going on.

C.I.: With me? Well, I'm multi-tasking. If I'm on a stepper, I'm reading. If I'm cooking in the kitchen, I'm reading. The e-mails are coming in and if I'm going through them, for instance, during a weekday morning while I'm trying to pull together something for the community, I'm reading more than I'm citing. Sometimes, I'm not feeling good in the morning and that results in "link-fests" --

Rebecca: I used your term in the entry.

C.I.: It's the only term for it. And I have no problem with it. That's what I'd planned to do originally, just present the stories in the New York Times, for instance, without any commentary from me. But members like Gina wanted more opinion. Now if I'm tired or feeling sick, I fall back on Kat's "It is what it is." But there are mornings when I'm on my way to work and it hits me that I offered nothing other than links. Hopefully a member had a comment to share and that's up there but if not, it feels like an entry that was phoned in. But, and we're way off topic here, I've usually run that morning, I've come in, showered, gotten ready for the day, and then I'm reading over the print edition of the Times quickly and logging on to Blogger and the e-mail account and flipping back and forth. If I've made breakfest, it's usually not touched and I shove it in the fridge before I leave for the morning.

Rebecca: And it is off topic in some ways but I think it goes to the topic. I noted that Ava and C.I. are really firm in their opinions that every e-mail should be read. I don't get anything like the volume of e-mails C.I. does but I was noting that I can't reply to every e-mail and also post to the blog. There's just not enough time. I think Veronica's question gets to that because if we're reading e-mails that's cutting into time for other reading.

Jess: So are you arguing that e-mails shouldn't be read?

Rebecca: No. But I do have a problem with the attitude that it's my responsibility to reply to each and everyone. At some point, something has to give.

Ava: I understand what you're saying but I know that if we didn't read the e-mails, we wouldn't know, for instance, Veronica's question.

Rebecca: And I agree with that. But I'm saying that, to me, this is the way to address it. Veronica wrote in and instead of long reply answering her question, mention it in an entry. If she's a regular reader, she'll see it. She'll also get more credit for asking the question than she would in a personal e-mail.

C.I.: Obviously, I'm not responding to every e-mail. But I do read everyone because it does go to what we need to be talking about at The Common Ills and that might mean something we're missing, or I'm missing, or something that we've noted but that needs more attention. I understand what you're saying, Rebecca, and agree with it but I do feel guilty if I haven't read every e-mail.

Rebecca: I wrote that in my piece.

Jim: And I agree with Rebecca. I think everyone gets her point. But I really firmly believe that we're, at this site, putting something out. That's the goal. That should be the focus. On my day, I might reply to two people who've written, my day to go through the e-mails.

Ty: On a good day you might reply to two.

Jim: Right. And I'm more likely to reply, because I like debate, to someone who's really unhappy about something that went up. Not because I'm trying to get them to come over to my side but because I like the back and forth. But we've got an automated reply and that's more than enough in my opinion. If we had someone who's sole responsibility was to reply to the e-mails, that would be one thing. But we're all contributing to the edition each week and we're living lives.

Jess: "We used to lead. Chasing down the love we need. Somewhere in the night."

C.I.: Jackson Browne's "Tender Is the Night." Off the Lawyers in Love album. I let the Beatles ref pass without the album because everyone should track it down but if I let that pass, I'll get e-mails asking what was the song Jess quoted.

Rebecca: And you'll answer them. And that's my point. Use a search engine if you don't know the song. Jess gave you three lines. Put them in quotes, google them and you'll find the song. I answer e-mails about Otis Redding because he's one of my favorites but I get e-mails on groups I've never heard of, let alone discussed, and they aren't, "Hey Becky, check this out." They're e-mails asking me about these groups or do I know what CD would be a good one to buy by this group I've never heard of.

Jim: And that's why I see Rebecca's point. We get people writing in all the time asking what their major should be. I don't know what your major should be because I don't know you. I can give a smart ass reply and if you're okay with that, great. But I'm not a forecaster of the economy so if your goal is something that's highly marketable, I'm not able to help you. If you're wanting to do something with your life that's really important to you, you should do it and you don't need me offering validation.

Ava: I agree with the points being made but I do feel that if someone writes in on my day to go through the e-mails, they deserve some sort of reply.

Ty: And I agree with that. Something beyond the automated reply.

Jess: That seems the appropriate thing to do. But I'm thinking about C.I.'s plan for this week and I know it didn't come off.

C.I.: To highlight a chapter of one book each day?

Jess: Yeah.

C.I.: I'm hopeful that I'll be able to do it next week.

Jess: But I know the Daniel Okrent post resulted in the members commenting on Okrent and I know that other things went up because of input. And I guess I'm wondering how often that's the case.

C.I.: I'm not Okrent. It's not "what I want to write about." The Common Ills is a community.
The book thing will go up because I believe firmly in the importance of it. But, and I've noted this at the site, there's never a day that starts out with my thinking, "Here's something important that can be addressed today" and it ends up being addressed because another issue or two comes up. That's the nature of a community and it's really silly, to me, to complain about it. It's a community and it's shaped by input. What's bothering me is that, because of the huge numbers of e-mails, things don't automatically go up anymore. When we were smaller, one person could e-mail about one item and it made it up there. Now that's not always the case. If I've got hundreds of link highlights each day, I'm going with what's mentioned more than once or what, by my understanding of the community, is something that they'll respond to and want to know about. Point, there's now editing going on that didn't go on in the past. If Dona e-mailed to highlight something, it went up. And honestly, that's still the case more often than not for members who've been with the community for some time. But we get a lot of visitors and a lot of e-mail. I'd be doing nothing but posting, and quitting my job, if I noted every link that came in.

Betty: I read one day a week, the e-mails. I thanked Luke of wotisitgood4 here and I hope he saw it but my plans to reply were cut short by calls of "Mommy!" and that's more often the case than not. What's the dead shark joke?

Jess: A shark has to keep moving or it's dead?

Ty: Oh that was funny, Jess!

Jess: (laughing) Well I know what she's talking about, I don't know the joke. It's in Annie Hall.

Betty: Well I have to keep moving. I've got a house to clean, kids to bathe and feed, and that's my priority. I had to go to a recital Wendesday and never had time to blog about Thomas Friedman's column that day.

Rebecca: I noted that because it goes to heart of issue of where do you commit the time.

Ava: So to get back to the topic, Veronica's question was about reading and Rebecca's saying that e-mails interfere with reading.

C.I.: And there's two points there that I'd like to make. First of all, I don't have time to surf the net unless I'm doing research for something. So when members e-mail something in, they're helping not hurting. There are days when I don't have time to go to The Daily Howler. And Dallas or a member will e-mail that in. So that's a plus. They'll find something that I would otherwise miss. The second point, and this is where I have stronger agreement with Rebecca, is that often times due to links or e-mails, I feel I'm too focused on the day's events. Responding or commenting on what just happened in terms of isolation. These things have connections and one of the things that bothers me is that I feel those don't get noted, by me, too often.

Ty: Which is a huge problem if you think about it since Bully Boy's m.o. is distraction. Toss out this or that and get everyone focused on that. There is so much bullshit and I'll find someone coming up to me discussing some non-event and I'll be thinking, even saying, you're talking about one thing. It's much bigger than that. Like someone wants to focus on two victims when there's a nation of victims and that's left unsaid.

Jess: Clean these panties!

Ty: Right. There's not a community in America that hasn't been effected by the Patriot Act. The war on dissent and the war on Arabs in this country goes far beyond two girls. And the reaction of "two little girls!" to me was not unlike the reaction of "Oh no, another white girl's been kidnapped! And isn't she adorable." Highlight the issue but put it in perspective. Instead of being about the issue it becomes this paternalistic bullshit that treats the situation as though it has only to do with two little girls. I'm just as worried about adult Arabs who are being silenced or deported. And that's something you're not going to get out if you're just focusing on two girls.

C.I.: Well in fariness, if you're writing about something, you have to find an entry point. And so do the people who are reading. I have no idea what happened with that but presumably it went beyond the two individuals at some point. And no, that's not a request for e-mails and no, my statements need no clarification.

Rebecca: Agreed. But Ty's right because the issue goes to the abuses of the Patriot Act and, this is me speaking so take it up with me Panty Cleaners, when neither wants to address the Patriot Act and one wants to mock it and other serious issues but then wants to have a snit fit that the whole world didn't turn out to Clean These Panties! there's a problem. It is paternalistic. And there are other issues at play.

C.I.: Moving back to the topic intentionally, on my end, I feel like there's more value in The Nation than in the New York Times, for instance. Not merely because I agree politically with The Nation but also because there's a perspective there and in the Times they're running down events. Of the day. That's the nature of a newspaper versus a magazine. And The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, Clamor, Left Turn, Ms. or what have you can address an issue from a broad vista. Two weekends ago, or three, Laura Flanders was getting at the need to pull the camera back, away from the close up. I think that's a very important point and I think I'm as guilty as anyone else of going for the close up.

Jim: But your piece on Willie Searcy, you focused on the events of that case and you put them into perspective with comments of this is what happens when you have a judge who rules against people and in favor of corporations. That was on May 3rd and it's becoming an issue.

C.I.: That was based on an important story in Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose's Bushwhacked. The entire entry, so give them credit. But it's also true that I wouldn't have learned of it from the daily paper. And there are things that are missed when the focus is on daily events. As a poli sci student, we were encouraged not to get too bogged down, and I think this is what Ty's speaking of, in the daily event or spin.

Ty: Exactly. Here's today's talking points is what I hear too much when I listen to radio. That's why I listen to Democracy Now! and not a lot else, it provides the connections. Laura Flanders demonstrates the connections. Janeane Garofalo's usually attempting to but she gets cut off too much. And a lot of times I'm bothered by the rhetoric. I think Robert Novak did a hideous thing but when I hear "traitor!" I just recoil because that's a charge that, if convicted, comes with the death penalty which I don't support. And by all accounts Valerie Plame was a nice person and she was outed for political reasons. I find that sad and objectionable. But as an African-American male, I'm not going to start screaming "Traitor!" because someone outed a C.I.A. agent. I don't think you're going to find many African-Americans who are going to weep over the outing. They'll say it's wrong. They'll also say that a lot more outings need to take place with the C.I.A. I'm not going to join in the chorus of "traitor" and have it turned back on me when some new war against African-Americans is exposed and the right wants to call some journalist a traitor. Call him a hack, say he did it for no reason other than politics, talk about his teeth even but I do not think the word "traitor" is appropriate.

Jim: And that's a good point. That will come back to bite the left in the butt. Plame was outed for the wrong reason but I don't subscribe to the belief that it is wrong for a journalist to to out a CIA agent. Now Bully Boy's daddy does subscribe to that belief but I don't. There needs to be more sunshine on the CIA, not less. I think it was misjudgement and wrong of Novak to do it. I think he's a creep and needs to get those teeth fixed. But I'm not going to go "Traitor! Traitor!"
If tomorrow Robert Parry wants to out a CIA agent that's doing damage to the country, the right will scream "Traitor!" and then call the left hypocrites for not joining in.

Dona: Well, I think we need to make a distinction here because there's the left and there's partisans on either side. I think Novak should be forced to address his reasoning for the outing. I don't think there's a justification for it. But he should have to address it. And if he were of the left or even a mainstream journalist, look at Gary Webb, he'd have the right coming down on him and lose his job. But at a time when reporters, some good ones, some bad ones, are under attack, and we discussed this in class last month, for their actual reporting, I don't want to join in on the "traitor" screams. Hack, disgusting and con artist more than describe the way I feel regarding Robert Novak.

Ava: So the connections are left out in running down the daily events too often?

Ty: Yeah, I feel they are. I think, and I read Veronica's e-mail and she was clear she didn't just mean read fiction, that a lot of times there are bigger issues than what gets discussed.

Rebecca: Right. Dexter Filkins, to offer an example, I know from my e-mail that there are people who just can't believe that C.I. would question Dexter's reporting on Falluja. "He's won a prize!"

C.I.: He just won another one.

Rebecca: My e-mailers haven't heard of that yet. But the reality is that if you move beyond the daily drama of the doemestic papers, if you read Christian Parenti's book or if you read Dahr Jamail's writings or hear him speak, you're exposed to a lot more than what you're getting. I really can't believe some of the reactions to C.I.'s statements re: Dexter. The piece, the award winning piece, is total fluff. People who've read it appear to have read nothing more. He provides no context.

Jim: It's a disgusting piece of writing. There are innocents being killed around him and he didn't go into that. He didn't go into the fact that people, males of all ages, who attempted to leave Falluja were forced back into the city. It was a seige. A Robert Fisk would attempt to give you a total picture, Filkins just wanted to play cheerleader. What went down in Falluja was horrorific and when you're chasing down the daily events as reported by the mainstream, you may not ever find that out.

Ava: Dallas is on i.m. and hunting down links as I give him references, Common Ills community member Dallas, and he's hunting down links for everything so that we have links. He's got a ton from The Common Ills and the statements that were made here in a roundtable. C.I., do you have a preference?

C.I.: Go with the comments here. It's one link and it's a summary of comments that had already appeared at The Common Ills and that continue to appear there. And I want Dallas' NCR entry highlighted because he does do a great deal of link hunting.

Ava: Agreed, typing it in now. And I'll note that because Dallas helps us so often, we have extended an offer to participate in roundtables but he's stated he's more comfortable being our unofficial researcher.

Jess: I'm surprised that there's been criticism about C.I.'s call on Filkens. Have we gotten e-mail here on it?

Ava: Only in agreement.

Rebecca: "Sex" is in my blog title and that tends to attract a lot of right wingers. In fact, I've backed off some recent sexually frank entries I've been wanting to do just because the trolls are getting on my nerves.

Jess: My parents are old lefties, but the only thing surprising to them about C.I.'s comments on Filkens was that others weren't making them. They've really become huge TCI fans, my Dad even plans to write you.

C.I.: He did and he got a personal reply Friday. And that's, to return to e-mails, is another thing that I would miss out on if I wasn't reading the e-mails. I don't mean Jess' father's comments but a lot of e-mails are from people upset that something's not being addressed. I don't worry about blowing any "credibility." I'm not trying to set myself up in any line of work. But we should be able to address issues within the community that might cause others to back off because they may not be the current popular statement or position. Iraq was one of the main issues to start up The Common Ills and we're not giving to Filkins a pass just because he's being treated like an actual reporter and winning awards. My "credibility" is less important to me than saying, "There's something wrong with this reporting."

Jess: My parents feel like the peace movement is too often being dismised and silenced. Not just by the mainstream and conservatives but by the left.

Ty: Or those centerists passing themselves off as the left.

C.I.: I would agree with that completely. When CodePink's attacked for doing a rally, there's a problem. If someone on the left doesn't want to attend, don't. But to start playing God and saying, "They shouldn't do this!" or, after, "They shouldn't have done this!" is just nonsense.
Focus on what you can do if you don't like what they're doing but stop attempting to muzzle one of the most important activists groups we've seen in sometime.

Ava: We lost Betty for part of this but we have her back on the line so I'm going to go to Betty since she wasn't able to comment for most of this conversation.

Betty: I came in on Filkens so if this has already been covered, I'm sorry for repeating. I read his report. I'm a Common Ills member and C.I. questioned that the day it ran. I clicked on it that day and read it. That is' winning awards doesn't mean that it's good. By that logic, no black woman gave an Academy award worthing performance in a lead role into Halle Berry. Awards don't indicate quality. They indicate word of mouth. Filkins did a one-sided report that treated the destruction of Falluja like a video game. I agree that history will not be kind to Filkins. I've heard it discussed here and at The Common Ills and somewhere else --

C.I.: Ron, of Why Are We Back In Iraq?, blogged on it.

Betty: But otherwise there seems to be a lot of silence. When he's being applauded still for that report I think there should be more criticism. He didn't write reality and while there is silence, he gets to act as though he's the brave reporter.

Jim: Reporting from the Green Zone.

Dona: Exactly.

Jess: My parents feel like Judith Miller is known as someone they shouldn't trust but that a lot of other reporters are getting a huge pass.

C.I.: But the criticism of Miller didn't originate in the mainstream. For a long time, it came largely from the socialist newspapers. I wish I could tell you which ones but I don't know. I have a friend who went to school with Miller and spent forever defending her. So when the criticism started to mount, prior to the invasion, I would hear about it. It gained traction and I think the same thing will happen with Filkins. Though Bill Keller's annoyed by "arm chair media critics," the reality is no one blinks today when Miller's reporting is questioned. Even my friend who went to school with her no longer bothers to mount a defense. I think Filkins will find the same fate awaits him. The prizes only put him in the spotlight and vulnerable to more criticism.

Betty: After the initial story ran, or at least right after the first award, you were silent on it for a bit.

C.I.: Right. I held my tongue. And noted during that initial period that I was holding my tongue. I'd already addressed the report and I could be wrong. My attitude was, since I could be wrong, let him enjoy his moment for the bit. He was back in this country for the first time in forever. But I kept reading that story and reading it and what was coming out, months later, demonstrated, to me, that it was even more false. That's my opinion. I could be wrong. I can always be wrong. I don't think I am on this. I've talked to two reporters in that area and to three more who've been in the Green Zone. I've read up on it which means mainly Dahr Jamail.
I could be wrong but I don't think I am. I believe very firmly that he wrote a great pitch for a screenplay but a lousy version of reality. Since there was a lenthy delay on the time of the events and when it actually made the paper, something like six days, I won't give him a pass for having to meet a deadline. The story was constructed and he's stood by it while accepting awards. He'll have to stand by it when history examines it and I don't think history will applaud it. One more time, I could be wrong.

Jess: My parents clipped that article. They didn't know about The Common Ills then but when they read the article, they felt the same way so I don't think you're wrong. They have a folder they call "war pornogarphy" and they felt Filkens more than earned a right to be included in that folder. I'm sure that's an honor he wouldn't be pleased with. But my Mom says that people like that usually get off. That someone like Judith Miller becomes the lightening rod and the sacrificial lamb while the others who participated will suddenly do a 180 as criticism of the war mounts and that's what they'll get remembered for, not their own part in disinformation and cheerleading.

Betty: And there's so much war pornography. There's so much being shoved at us, overload, that it is hard to address what's actually important. But if everyone's following their own voices and their own leads, then maybe the result says something? I have no idea what I'm trying to say. Until the middle of it, I knew just where I was headed.

C.I.: Okay, well, let's say Rebecca notes The New Republic's cheerleading for war --

Rebecca: Which they did.

C.I.: And you note Thomas Friedman. And Atrios notes someone else and Kos and the diarists there note several people, that the total picture reveals something. Is that what you're getting at?

Betty: Right. It's the total picture and each segment, maybe adds to it.

Ty: Which is why I go to Bob Somerby's site. I don't have to agree with every word up there and disagreed about Lawrence Summers but The Daily Howler is about monitoring the media and holding people accountable. If there's one area I wish he'd touch that he doesn't it would be the mainstream reporting coming out of Iraq. He's more focused on D.C. and that's his voice, so fine, but I'd really love to see him or someone with his instincts bear down on what's passing for reporting.

Ava: And Ty's will be the last word because we swore we'd do only an hour and we've gone way over that. Thanks to Veronica for the question and hopefully she enjoyed our free association as we used her question for a jumping off point. We'll also say thanks to Dallas who's still hunting down links.

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