Sunday, December 17, 2006

Danny Schechter's The Death of the Media

One-hundred and seventy-three pages, smaller (in shape) than a greeting card, but packing a punch you may not expect, Danny Schechter's The Death of Media is a must-read. We discussed the book back in February. Instead of discussing it, let's utilize it.

Schecter surveys the landscape today and notes what's dying and what's coming to life. He also notes the efforts to curb and control new life. Mainly, he puts the 'you' front and center.

We think that's the biggest problem with media today -- All Things Media, Big & Small. There is no "you." There's a great deal of 'officials.' There's a lot of hiding, there's a lot of sneering at the people. Take the Susan Seaforth Hayes of independent media who opens the latest junk-fest declaring, "According to a July poll conducted by Scripps News Service, one-third of Americans think the government either carried out the 9/11 attacks or intentionally allowed them to happen in order to provide a pretext for war in the Middle East. This is at once alarming and unsuprising."

Woah, Nellie!

Before you sound the alarms, this is reality. The percentage is what people think. Though Susan Seaforth Hayes will sneer at what people think ("If only they were as smart as me!" you can practically hear him whine), it's reality. In one form or another, on topic after topic, there's a we-know-best attitude that only gets dropped when it's time to hide behind a governmental official (current or past). The little 'peons' are either scorned or otherwise unremarked upon.

We don't think that cuts it. Thanksgiving weekend, a friend of C.I.'s was reading the book and called to say there was "a strong thread of Howard Zinn" in the book. That wasn't an insult or an attempt to say, "He ripped off Zinn!" That was acknowledging that The Death of Media is about what the press could and should be if we the people actually mattered.

There are many examples throughout the book but we'll zoom in on the 'decision makers' who decide that the people/peons just aren't interested in international coverage because the world doesn't interest them. The reality is that polls demonstrate otherwise. But this we-know-best-because-they-aren't-as-educated-as-us attitude is on display in that decision and in far too many media outlets -- big and small.

'People don't care about the war.' 'Truth' most infamously pushed that on her laughable radio appearance where, unlike Robert Parry, she hadn't done her homework on any issue and attempted to gas bag her way throughout. Gas baggery was all that laughable claim was. People don't care? Well election polling demonstrates otherwise.

But that's been the cry of the media, big and small, for some time. Last Friday, Reuters did an article on how students don't care about the war and won't unless there's a draft. They trotted out an old fogey for that piece of if-we-keep-repeating-this-conventional-spin-it-will-be-accepted-as-fact.

But it's a nice little cop out that allows the media to avoid covering the war, the peace movement, war resistance and, oh, so much more. Why? "People don't care."

Before the next gas baggery is done, try leaving the desk. Try getting out onto a campus. Now if you're of the crew that can't find student activism unless you stumble across some Eisenhower Democrats, don't expect to hear from students. They don't trust you, they're sick of you and they're tired of your attacks on them.

But if the media covered things as if they mattered, as opposed to rushing to assure us nothing is happening, then where might the student activism be, where might the peace movement be?
Desk jockeys rarely show up at teach-ins or rallies but damned if they don't feel they know enough (if not all) to write about students.

We've said it before and we'll say it again, the coverage has been poor. 2006 is one of the worst years in recent time. And guess what, we're talking small media.

We're talking small media to you, baby, small, small media. (Nod to Teena Marie.)

If you don't get that you're being lied to, go to a campus yourself. If you're not able to, let's note this from the AP (from "National Briefing," New York Times, A13, December 16, 2006):

GALLAUDET WILL PROCEED WITH ACTION AGAINST PROTESTORS Gallaudet University will proceed with disciplinary actions against student demonstrators who forced the ouster of the university's president, trustees said. The trustees' decision, made after a one-month suspension to review amnesty pleas, may mean academic penalties for the 125 students who helped shut down the campus in October to prevent the appointment of Jane K. Fernandes as president. The decision threatens renewed turmoil on cmapus in Washington, D.C., less than a week after the university named Robert R. Davila, a former Education Department official, as its interim president.

Gallaudet? Well we covered it. Outside of Democracy Now!, where was independent media? Where were any of the gas bags who repeatedly whined/bemoaned that nothing was happening over and over? The protests didn't start in October. They had been going ongoing for months and months.

How do you render the students of Gallaudet invisible? Is it that they're 'different'? Are you uncomfortable if you have to address someone who's not just like you? Did the idea of signing (or learning to sign) frighten you?

Or did you just decide to ignore the longest running student protest of 2006?

Give it up for the students of Gallaudet. Not only did their actions send someone who would destroy what their university stood for packing, their actions also ran off the so-called Straight Talker John McCain (he resigned from the board following the student's hard won victory).

We would never call Robert Parry a gas bag. But in case anyone's confused, Robert Parry hasn't been desk jockeying over how "kids today" just don't care. He keeps his nose down and focuses on the administration (which is the focus of Consortium News). We're also not talking about bloggers. They're not paid, they should write about whatever they want. We are talking about our independent print magazines.

There was time to devote an issue to food and one to books, but there was no time to cover Gallaudet. Excuse us, but we think The Nation, like our nation, should be made up of all people regardless of gender, physical abilities, sexuality, you name it. Maybe if Galluadet had tacked "Vote Democratic!" onto their efforts to save their unviersity, they could have passed for the well funded Eisnhower Democrats who so love to put on those suits and go hob-nobbing with politicians?

It's really interesting that our print media (independent division) can travelogue on a thousand issues but when they had a huge, long lasting protest they weren't interested. Was it a disinterest in people with disabilities or challenges? Seriously, was that it?

Is there a willful blindness when it comes to people who are different?

Or was it just easier to tell people what you didn't see but what you wanted to be true?

We the people were not honored in the silence on Gallaudet.

It'll be interesting to see which, if any, independent print magazines decides it's worth covering the attempts to punish the students. We'll also note that educators were part of the activism as well. Are they going to be punished?

We don't think anyone should be. We think the students of Gallaudet did what any citizen should and then some.

We think that in an environment where we the people actually mattered, everyone would know their story. They didn't sit back and let history happen to them, they made history.

In other ways, people do that around the nation, around the world, day after day. The networks make the decision that they won't cover international news as much and claim that's due to the interests of their viewers. What's the claim for the lack of coverage of Gallaudet from independent media?

What would our world be like if the news was covered as if people mattered? That's the thread running through Schechter's book, the thread that resulted in the comparison to Howard Zinn. What would independent print media be like if Howard Zinn (or Danny Schechter -- though he'd probably prefer to work in broadcast) were the editor?

After 2006, we're honestly not expecting a great deal from independent media. We're honestly concerned that all the open-mouthed kissing of centrist Dems may have left them with mono. (Or worse.)

We think independent magazines and their writers should be booed (loudly) the next time they want to lecture about 'kids today' when they either were ignorant of or chose to ignore Gallaudet.

Schechter's addressing what media should be and how it can get there.

It's about owning your power, in the end. It's about educating yourself and getting active. Nothing is given freely.

Since discussing Schechter's book again over the Thanksgiving weekend, we've come to many conclusions.

The chief one is no more passes. If the non-stop, continual finanical train-wreck that is Air America Radio has taught the left (which has never been their target audiences -- in aim or programming) anything, it's that silence out of fear you'll lose something doesn't help anyone.

CounterPunch has been willing to seriously address the problems with AAR. Others? The Progressive tossed Baby Cries A Lot on the cover -- in the interview where he admitted, no surprise, he's not that left. The Nation? They tossed him on the cover as well and 'criticism' appeared to be offense as the term 'ass baby' or 'butt baby' or whatever so alarmed the writer.

OMG! Did Janeane Garofalo say that???? Shocking!!!!

What was the point she was making when she (a professional comedian) used the term? You couldn't tell from the article which laid out the praise for the not-so-left Baby Cries A Lot. Whether you agreed with CounterPunch's attempt to seriously analyze the network (we largely did with the exception of Rachel Maddow as a troops-home-now-er), they were addressing it. Everyone else? Writing the equivalent of episode summaries for TV Guide. (A similar piece is running in the current issue of The Nation, focusing on a cable show.) Can you think? Can you form an opinion? Or do you need to others for that?

Air America Radio did not benefit the left, did not benefit the peace movement and, as Michael Moore warned on it's first day, did not succeed. It's still on the air and still struggeling and this notion that being silent on the very real problems was somehow helping the left because 'we' had an outlet damaged everyone. Middle-of-the-road (what most of the daytime programs are) hasn't landed a huge audience. No surprise there.

But the left shouldn't have to be silent and they shouldn't have settle. So when The Nation refuses to cover the peace movment (we're referring to the magazine -- as we've noted before, their blog did cover the peace movement -- one post -- long enough to slam it), we're not going to be silent.

The first time we ever criticized The Nation we got three e-mails about our 'war' with the magazine. You know what? You call it whatever you want.

On our end, if the magazine wants to blow what they built up in 2003 (and they are blowing it as circulation figures will demonstrate when they're disclosed), they can do so. That's their decision. But we won't be silent. That's our decision.

The point we're at, as Schechter notes, is the opportunity to remake the media. Whatever we do or do not do, that's how media's going to be for some time to come. It's very rare that these moments come along. Right now, big media's in a panic. They know they have to make changes to survive. How far they'll go or not go is a window of opportunity that hasn't been seen in some time. In addition, the new forms of media can have an impact.

But that's only going to happen by people trying. It's not going to happen in silence and it's not going to happen as a result of everyone only saying nice things.

2006 was a lousy year for independent media. For most of the year, criticism of the Iraq war translated as, "Did you hear what Judith Miller did in 2002?" When Dexter Filkins was exposed as the US military's go-to-guy (exposed in The Washington Post), independent media was quick to look the other way. Norman Solomon's been hitting very hard on Michael Gordon's war pornogrpahy in recent weeks. Hopefully, others will follow his lead because, NEWSFLASH, Judith Miller left The New York Times some time ago.

Mommy's Pantyhose apparently shocked some with the CNN appearence. You can thank a lazy media for that and don't go running to big media because they didn't give him print space, they didn't turn over a weekly segment to him on one of their programs.

We want to end the war. We're not going to waste our power by staying silent. When the people turned against the war in the sixties, media actually (briefly) woke up and responded. That could be happening today (and to some degree is) but it's not going to happen with independent media playing travelogue and ignoring the obvious (repeatedly).

Some always e-mail to say that independent media (print) can't 'just cover the war'. Well, they can't cover the war -- they've demonstrated that repeatedly in 2006. But we get the point that's attempted to be made: There are many issues. No question. And what happened to Lynne Stewart this year was another issue that was ignored. The failure to confront the NSA, illegal, warrantless spying was another example. Or maybe you think Wired magazine covering it makes up for the refusal to connect the dots (let alone open the archives) to an earlier time?

Guantanamo? The New York Times announced yesterday that it was now 'get tough' time on the prisoners. If this has been soft-and-easy previously, we should all worry. But that's another story print media largely dropped (independent).

Now maybe you're an anal sort and had a freak-fest over the cold, lifeless writing that was the book issue not all that long ago. Us, we're still left wondering whether they think Cliff Notes builds excitement? (They must since the only critic they have who knows how to let loose is Richard Goldstein and he's under utilized.)

Right now as the Congressional health scare continues, independent media (print) should take a hard look at itself. It turned 2006 into being all about The Elector. Didn't have significant results and anyone who doubts that need only register the panic of "The Senate Hangs In The Balance!" All that space could have, and should have, been better utilized.

We don't think silence improves things. We don't think settling improves things. We're beginning to ask, of the majority of periodicals we subscribe to, whether doing so makes us part of the problem?
We do know this, the Middle Aged White Desk Jockey Centrist is well represented in the mainstream, we shouldn't have to pay for his contributions in independent magazines. We shouldn't be able to flip through The Nation and note, "Look, here's a piece by the guy who makes fun of Alexander Cockburn, here's one by the guy who slammed Naomi Klein, oh look, the guy who trashes Robert Fisk . . ." on and on. But thumbing through an issue of The Nation these days, we're very likely to see all those usual suspects and wonder how the hell they've been added in the last few years with so little objection.

Fix big media? That's aiming far too low.
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