Sunday, February 12, 2006

Ruth notes FAIR's 20 years of watchdogging

In her newly rechristened Ruth's Public Radio Report, Ruth salutes FAIR's 20th anniversary. We join Ruth in congratulating them on 20 years of outstanding work. Some watchdogs can bite and bark, as FAIR does. (Others? Wait for the new content to start going up and you'll hear about that.)

Ruth's Public Radio Report

Ruth: Marci e-mailed me wondering if I'd have a report this week since Law & Disorder did not air? No, I do not. So have a great weekend everyone, see you next Saturday.

Pacifica's in fundraising mode currently. That is not a reason not to listen. On WBAI, they broadcast a debate between Noam Chomsky and someone whose name I will not bother to mention. That was quite interesting, on the issue of Palestine and Israel, while Professor Chomsky was speaking. Then the other person, portrayed by Ron Silver in film, had to start being shrill and spouting nonsense such as "on Planet Chomsky." Possibly, it was all a put on from a man who seems determined to cast himself in the role of Bozo the Clown? Otherwise, his insisting that the media never ignores a story indicates not only has he never heard of the Downing Street Memos, he is also ignorant of the history of the press in this country.

Are you? Or do you suspect you might be? If that is the case, this report may offer something of value for you. I have no problem with fundraising by Pacifica, they need funds to continue to broadcasting because they are not taking monies from Wal-Mart or whatever larger corporation NPR repeatedly notes that "this program" was brought to you by. Funny thing, I always thought public radio was brought to you by the public. I thought the "generous grant" was, in fact, the large monies that Congress allocated each cycle on behalf of the public.

But in the last fundraising cycle, a few members e-mailed about problems that they had with the archives while they tried to locate something I had highlighted. Along with Professor Chomsky, you heard Alice Walker interviewed by Amy Goodman and you heard Ms. Walker read a wonderful poem. WBAI's First Voices Indigenous Radio broadcast the documentary on Leonard Peltier that Michael Apted directed and Robert Redford produced. [C.I. note: Incident at Oglala: The Leonard Peltier Story which is also narrated by Robert Redford.] KPFA's Guns and Butter offered David Ray Griffith speaking on the problems with the official 9/11 narrative. There was much to listen to and no reason to tune out when Pacifica goes into fundraising. (There is reason to donate and I hope members who listen and who have the money to spare do make a point to support community radio.)

However, remembering the e-mails from last time, I called C.I. mid-week and offered that I might highlight some of the segments on Democracy Now! this week. It is an idea I may go with next week but C.I. was planning an entry and offered it to me if I wanted it. One of my favorite programs is CounterSpin which is produced by the people at FAIR. They also produce the magazine Extra! and the February 2006 issue is devoted to "Celebrating 20 years of FAIR."

I had the issue and enjoyed reading it but had not considered making it the focus of a report until C.I. suggested it.

The following is Jim Naureckas' "Editor's Note: Democracy vs. Information Control" in full:

For a magazine put out by and for an advocay group, Extra! doesn't spend a lot of time talking about FAIR. We'd generally rather devote the space to doing our job, which is analyzing media bias.
That doesn't mean that we aren't proud of our group -- far from it. We think the work we do is vitally important, and that we've had tremendous success in getting our ideas out to activists, journalists and the broader public. (We've managed to do this with relativelly little exposure in the mainstream media, which is only to be expected; any media crtique that media are eager to amplify is probably wrong.)
In preparing this special issue on the 20th anniversary of FAIR, I've given a lot of thought to those ideas, and I believe they can be boiled down to this: A society's media tends to reflect the views of its most powerful institutions. Why? Control of information is so crucial to control of a society that a ruling elit that fails to dominate media will not be in power for long.
The corollary is that any effort in a society to distribute power more equitably needs to figure out how to distribute media power more fairly. In other words, media reform and democratization go hand in hand.
This is not a new idea, of course -- it's the concept behind the First Amendment, which insulated the press from government control so that it could serve as a check on government power. What FAIR has been saying for the past 20 years -- joined by an increasing number of organizations, activists and ordinary citizens -- is that concentrated economic control of the means of communication is just as grave a threat to democracy.
We haven't seen a major improvement in mainstream media over the past 20 years, but that's not how we measure our success. Instead, our victory is in the increasingly critical attitude the public takes toward the media powers that be. When they no longer have the ability to define reality for the ordinary citizen, their power will be gone. And that's when real democracy can begin to flourish.

The editor's note really summarizes not only the purpose behind FAIR, Extra! and CounterSpin but also the latest issue of the magazine -- as well and the issues facing the nation. In this issue of the magazine, they look foward and backward.

In terms of looking backward, Robin Andersen's "On the Shoulders of Giants" pays tribute to past media critics such as George Seldes, A.J. Liebling and I.F. Stone while also proving the point that the situation of the press today did not begin with the "war on Al Gore" in 2000. From that article, I will offer a quote:

I now realize that we were told nothing . . . that we were shown nothing of the realities of the war, that we were, in short, merely part of the great . . . propaganda machine whose purpose was to sustain morale at all costs and help drag unwillingly America into the slaughter.

Pretty apt description on the coverage of the Iraq war. Reading it, one might think the writer is describing the 'reporting' of Dexter Filkins; however, that's George Seldes writing on the press coverage of WWI. The problems we face today are historical ones and our success or failure in combatting them will depend upon the goals we set. Will we deal with the systematic issues or focus our energies upon setting a up a few to be included in the favored circle of pundits the mainstream media will offer under prolonged and intense pressure?

FAIR's looking at the long range struggle. In celebrating the twenty years of the organization, Steve Rendall, Peter Hart and Julie Hollar contribute "20 Stories That Made a Difference" -- "that had a major impact on our society -- for good or ill" since 1986. Redlining is a topic that Tracey's mother has been following of late and there have been many conversations at the table about it; however, Tracey confessed to me that she had no idea what redlining was until she read about it in this article, it is number three of the twenty. That should be reason enough to recommend the article but I also started thinking about how that is probably the case with the other stories as well. Iran-Contra is discussed and I thought of how Amy Goodman, on Friday's Democracy Now!, asked Mary Mapes to explain that after Ms. Mapes brought it up. Ms. Goodman, unlike myself and other adults seated at my dining table, is very good about grasping that just because you may know about something does not mean that everyone listening does. For those who have followed issues in the last twenty year, "20 Stories That Made a Difference" will be a trip down memory lane, jogging old memories and, hopefully, providing you with some insights that you may have missed in real time. However, it is also a wonderful primer for those who missed out on these important stories.

From page four, I will not two items from "Sound Bites." The first is from Susan Faludi who wrote the wonderful Backlash which, as Beth recently wrote in her ombudsperson column, will probably be the most mentioned book in 2006 at this site as it was in 2005. Let me do my part to make Beth's predicition come true. Here is Ms. Faludi:

It is so important that we have an organization like FAIR: to challenge the crippling social myths that the right promulgates so sucessfully, to question the 'values' of an infotainment media, to expose the shoddy treatment that women and minorities receive in the press, and to appeal for a diverse and intelligent media that we all deserve and desperately need.

While Ms. Faludi "gets" it, as we used to say, Jim Lehrer of the PBS NewsHour and a generation prior to my own, does not "get" it:

A left-wing group with the phony name of FAIR . . . . shoddy, unprofessional, unfair.

His quote is headed "Note the Use of Irony." Robert W. McChensey focuses on the future and the work needed in "A Cornerstone of the Media Reform Movement." Mr. McChesney writes:

FAIR never operated under the belief that the problem with our news media was that we had lazy or incompetent journalists, or that we had particularly malicious owners. The problem with our news media was that the system made it rational for even our best journalists to produce biased and propagandistic work, and for owners to encourage such work. FAIR always understood that, in the end, the solution to the problem facing journalism in the United States was structural. We needed to create a media system that made good journalism the rational expectation of its operation.

Jessica Wakeman details the "The Secret Origins of FAIR: How police spies and media moles helped launch a movement." FAIR first achieved intense media exposure as a result of the ABC miniseries Amerika which Jeff Cohen was passed a script of. Information from the Los Angeles Times in 1977 also helped FAIR. It provided some of the money that Mr. Cohen would use to create the watchdog. How? An article about a protester revealed that Connie Millazo was undercover LAPD. Ms. Millazo had been spying on the Campaign for Democratic Freedoms which Cohen and others belonged to. With the ACLU, Mr. Cohen, Linda Valentino and others brought suite against the LAPD in 1978 which the LAPD settled as the 1984 summer Olympics, to be held in Los Angeles, approached. Mr. Cohen traveled to Europe and there found a more lively media as well as England's Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom. Returning to the United States, Mr. Cohen began work on creating FAIR.

Those are only some of the articles in the February edition of Extra! and, I should note, the issue also contains some reproductions of past covers. I enjoyed the illustration of the February 1989 cover story "Are You On The Nighlightine Guest List?" featuring Ted Koppel and Henry Kissinger, among others.

If these topics interest you, Extra! is available at most bookstores and you can subscribe online, via telephone (800-847-3993), or by mailing a check for $21 (in the United States, other countries should add ten dollars to that amount) to:

Subscription Service
P.O. Box 170
Congers, NY 10920-9930

Before we close the discussion of the latest issue of the bimonthly, I would like to note Janine Jackson's "Media Reform For What?" which states the purpose of FAIR/CounterSpin/Extra! quite clearly:

Media reform is not an academic excercise. Bad media hurts real people. Better media would help real people. Media reform means gaining the power to speak and be heard, and that means taking some of that power from those who have it now. Media reform is dangerous, done right.
[. . .]
Media reform is not a merely theoretical issue; it is a crucial issue for our time. Asking ourselves, "Media reform for what?" will help us keep our eyes on the long-term goals we hope to achieve and will remind us to acknowledge and celebrate the real, concrete successes we will no doubt achieve on our way to those bigger goals.

Jess and Eddie both have stated they enjoy heads up to programming so let me note Sunday Salon with Larry Bensky airing on KPFA at six a.m. eastern time, seven a.m. central and nine a.m. pacific time:

9:00 am
Sunday Salon
A special three hour program ...
In hour one...
On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about the Bush Administration's warrantless surveillance activities. KPFA devoted that day to special coverage. We'll recap, play highlights and have commentary by Elizabeth de la Vega, former assistant US attorney, and Clarence Lusane, professor of political science at American University in Washington.
In hour two
...Michael Parenti joins us to talk about his new book, The Culture Struggle.
In hour three...
A look at the current state of KPFA/Pacifica with historian Matthew Lasar, author of Uneasy Listening: Pacifica Radio's Civil War.

Remember that if you read this after the program airs, you can access the KPFA archives, as well as Sunday Salon's site, to listen. For instance, if you missed Radio Chronicles last Sunday when they aired the Pacifica documentary on the government spying of a previous era, you can listen to that via the archives.

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