Sunday, December 25, 2005

Roundtable on 2005

Jim: We're here. It's Christmas and we've got new content. We felt we'd do an informal roundtable. We are The Third Estate Sunday Review's Jess and me, Jim,
C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review, Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix, Mike of Mikey Likes It!, Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz, and Ruth of Ruth's Morning Edition Report. Our topic is a loose, grab all, the year 2005. Ruth, since it's rare that we're able to have you participating, how about we start with you? What stood out to you in 2005?

Ruth: Hmm. Okay, let me note some positives. The anti-war movement came alive. Awareness has been raised on independent media in a way that may not have been true at this period during Bully Boy's first term. I think we're smarter and more aware. That's a great thing because it makes it that much harder to fool us.

Jess: I would agree with you on the issue of the peace movement. On all of it, in fact, but especially the peace movement. I think there's an energy and, like you pointed out, an awareness that wasn't there after the election. I remember you wrote something, and no link from Dallas, we're glad to have his help but we don't want to overtax him, you wrote something Ruth, and you made a similar point here, about the realities of the sixties and seventies.

Ruth: You're speaking of the peace movement?

Jess: Yes, ma'am.

Ruth: Well, there's a tendency to look back on it and think we, people of my generation, participated in one rally or one series of rallies and the war ended. That's not reality. It was a very long struggle. It began before I was even aware of it and I started protesting and signing petitions probably around 1967.

Mike: The summer of love.

Ruth: Yes, and surprised that you know that. But the peace movement had already made significant strides prior to that. And it would continue to do so throughout the sixties and well into the seventies. What the point I was trying to make was is that it didn't happen over night, the movement. It picked up steam and it gathered participants constantly but it wasn't as though one day a large portion of Americans woke up and suddenly decided they were opposed to our actions in Vietnam.

Elaine: Which is an important point. Clarify that to be sure everyone gets it.

Ruth: What we saw in the last half of the year, beginning in the "summer of protest," was the movement against the war making huge strides in terms of awareness. That's the immediate goal. Or one of them, should be one of them. And people of my generation and older, [laughing] there are a few older than I am, need to make sure that point is made because there seems to be a judgment made by some in the press that the movement isn't large enough or isn't this or isn't that. The mainstream media made a point to dismiss the activists back then as well. We benefitted from a number of things including the size of my generation but also things such as competative media. Every station wasn't a part of three or four large companies. So you'd have a station that couldn't pull an audience, a radio station for instance, that would realize that providing an alternative view on the war could attract the listeners that weren't listening to them currently as they attempted to ape the other radio stations. In terms of the landscape today, I think there have been amazing strides made. And I think, to give a hopeful but needed point, that's important to grasp.

Elaine: I would agree with that. It's easy to be discouraged these days, with all the news from the last two weeks alone, it's easy to be discouraged. So we do need to note that there have been accomplishments.

Jim: Which would include the fact that the issue of withdrawal is no longer something that can be ignored. It can be, and is, mocked by the mainstream. But they're no longer in the position they were in a few months back where they wouldn't even address the possibility. Cedric, what stood out to you in 2005?

Cedric: Well touching on an issue that hasn't been touched on, I'd say race. I'd note the silence that greeted John H. Johnson, founder and publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines, when he passed and compare it to the nonstop coverage of Peter Jennings who passed away at the same time. And, of course, with the impact of Hurricane Katrina, we saw race, at least briefly, become an issue that even the mainstream media couldn't ignore. There seems to be less interest in race right now but for a little bit in 2005, there was an interest.

Mike: Where do you think that goes now?

Cedric: Honestly, I think it fades. I hope I'm wrong, but when people saw the different impacts in New Orleans, that were based on income and happened to impact many people of color more than it did Whites, it was an issue.

Mike: A point Juan Gonzalez made on Democracy Now! this week was how the transit strike resulted in some very racist portrayals in the media of workers.

C.I.: Okay, we've got a quote on that, there may be others. This is from Thursday's Democracy Now!:

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, we just have 30 seconds, but on the issue of the viciousness of this, how unusual is it?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I think that it’s -- this always happens when there are major labor strikes, that the press unites with the city officials or corporate figures to do everything possible to portray workers in the worst possible light. Unfortunately, the problem is that the labor movement today is so weak in many respects that it’s not mounting as effective a counterattack as it can. But I think that this is par for the course. It’s especially difficult this time, because the workers are 70% minority, and there is an under-the-surface reality of racial tension, and it’s the New Orleans factor all over again here in the transit workers strike of 2005.

Jim: And you did see that, just a really ugly effort to demonize in the NYC press. The New York Post to be sure but there were others who took part as well. Elaine, what was your take on it?

Elaine: That it was an important story and that I wish it had come at another time because I don't feel that it got, from me anyway, that it got the attention it needed. I think we'll see more actions, similar ones, in 2006. This is an issue that's no going away.

Jim: C.I., you were enraged by an editorial in the New York Times.

C.I.: Rebecca wrote of that. We'd had a phone conversation. She wondered why I took a pass on the Times' coverage of the strike that first day. It was due to the editorial which was shameful. I wonder how many readers were aware of the Times' own problems with their pension because there was certainly no disclosure of that in the editorial. My response to that was that they weren't getting any links to their coverage of the strike. The paper had spoken, the editorials do speak for the paper, not the op-eds, not the special editorials that are signed, the editorials themselves represent the view of the paper. They made their view very clear.

Jess: Were you surprised by it?

C.I.: I wasn't surprised that they were opposed to the strike. That's in keeping with their pro-business legacy and present. But the lack of disclosure regarding their own pension problems and the language of the editorial . . . Hold on, I've pulled my copy of that paper. "The New Yorkers who took to the streets yesterday . . . deserved better"; "There was no impasse" which of course was flat out not true and disproven in the Times own reporting; on the hike for new hires in the amount they'd have to contribute to the pensions the Times, "An Unnecessary Transit Strike" whcih ran on Monday, December 21st, "That's a deal many riders . . . would gladly take." Okay, well how did the Times' employees "take" the news of their own pension problems? Back to the editorial, Roger Toussaint was the person who "should not have the ability to hold the city hostage." It was just the biggest piece of nonsense. An editorial totally contradicted by reporting, including the paper's own reporting, that saw the person reacting as the person solely responsible. I found it disgusting, not surprising, but disgusting. I agree with Elaine, this will be an issue in 2006 as others begin to take a serious look at their own work situations.

Jim: And what stands out to you about 2006?

C.I.: Well the war goes on. Bully Boy hasn't been impeached. The press appears to have woken up for New Orleans and now for the issue of the NSA spying, but note that they're not overly concerned, judging by the lack of follow up coverage, to the Pentagon spying on American citizens. But we're still dealing with the press that could avoid Michael Smith's reports on the Downing Street Memos. A press that could ignore the memos period.

Cedric: That's just amazing to me still. That they would close ranks and declare a government document that spoke of fixing intelligence as not a news story worth covering. It makes you wonder what it takes for them to cover something? What exactly makes the cut as news other than another missing White woman?

Jess: Truly. And I spoke with Ava after you two, Ava and C.I., had done your commentary on Friday night, the TV commentary, and that was a point she was making.

C.I.: Right. We take a look this edition at the coverage, TV coverage. News coverage. And we couldn't work ourselves into a happy state. The Downing Street Memos were important and the dismissal of them, in keeping with the mainstream media, results in a number of problems that we have to this day.

Jim: Such as?

C.I.: The lie that "we were all wrong" spoken by pundits, the press and appointed and elected officials. We weren't all wrong. Covering the Downing Street Memos would have required the press seriously address the issue of fixing intel. So they took a pass. Which is why Colin Powell can whine about his "blot" and make false claims that it was all bad intel when, in fact, the administration fixed the intel. The always useless Michael Kinsley offered that the Downing Street Memos weren't news because everyone knew it already. Were that only true. But had they been covered by the mainstream press false claims by the likes of Colin Powell's or Bully Boy's claim last weekend that the intel was wrong would be greeted with the sneering derision such false claims deserve.

Ruth: And one thing to remember on that is that, once again, the people are ahead of the curve there. A large portion.

Elaine: But memory can be a tricky thing and what we know today, countered with false repetition, can weaken that. I can think of any number of issues from the Reagan administration that the public was aware of at the time but has now largely forgotten.

Jess: Or take the Church Committe or the Pike Committee. Revisionist history can and does render many facts invisible.

Mike: I'll jump in and plug Democracy Now!'s upcoming broadcast this Monday which will feature readings of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.

Cedric: I did not know about that. I've been out of it this past week due to practicing for our church program and also caroling with the group. But that's going to be something worth listening to. Howard Zinn is someone who rescues history as opposed to rewriting it.

Jim: Ruth, your thoughts on Howard Zinn?

Ruth: Amazed he's still around. He was a brave voice and an important one in the sixties. It's wonderful that we're still able to benefit from his continued work. It distresses me that so many voices, Zinn, Gloria Steinem and others, haven't necessarily been joined in the ranks by others. My granddaughter Tracey shocked me last spring when she was excited that Gore Vidal was going to be on the TV show Jack & Bobby. I was surprised, pleasantly, that she knew who he was. New brave voices have emerged like Naomi Klein and Arundhati Roy but I'm surprised by how many voices who add so little are embraced today.

Jim: Mike, list some voices that speak to you, and no links to hunt for Dallas, this is a casual roundtable.

Mike: Klein and Roy, to be sure. Dahr Jamail, Katrina vanden Heuvel who my mother loves.

Ruth: Tracey loves her too.

Cedric: And don't forget Robert Parry, Rebecca's not here and she'd never forgive us if we didn't note Robert Parry.

Mike: That's true. And Amy Goodman, absolutely, and, of course, Juan Gonzalez who really gave everything he had to covering the transit strike. Medea Benjamin. Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive. Danny Schechter. Margaret Kimberly. Dave Zirin is a really important voice to me personally and Wally likes his work too. He's focusing on sports and activisim and I think he's someone that could really inspire a lot of people. His book, What's My Name Fool?, was probably my favorite book of the year. But I understand what Ruth's saying because it's a point that my father makes. He points to people like Zinn or Studs Terkel and wonders what's going to happen to our world when these long term voices are gone? C.I.?

C.I.: Well I'm not going to list anyone because I'd get too many e-mails on that. But I'm surprised that, one citation, Nancy Chang is not given more of a platform. And certainly, as Ruth would point out, we have the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Ruth: I was so pleased to be able to hear Michael Ratner on three programs last week. And I am hopeful that this time next year, more voices will be given larger platforms.

Jim: Elaine, your pick for an important development this year?

Elaine: Well, first I'll note someone else, another strong voice that's highlighted at community sites, Kim Gandy. Most recently, Cedric made a point to note NOW.

Cedric: Right because it's a group that's concerned with a huge range of issues. They were there, NOW, for the victims of Katrina, they were there to speak out against the Patriot Act. They have weighed in on the war. Pick an issue and they've used their voice which comes from the organization itself and the strong leadership of Kim Gandy.

Elaine: And one of the issues they've been strong on is reproductive rights. I understand NARAL was under attack from the likes of the so-called --

C.I.: Jumping in because a friend asked me to work in a phrase,

Elaine: I like that. But attack or not, NARAL backed down when they did have the support of membership. I'm not sure that sort of response helps anyone. With NOW, you don't get the sense, historically not just right now, that they're going to be forced into abandoning a position.

Jess: I'd agree with that and add CODEPINK as well.

Elaine: Good pick. But one issue that came up over and over in 2005 was the attack on reproductive rights. They, the right-wing, were even willing to use Terry Schiavo, a comatose woman, as a pawn in their efforts to remake the landscape. We're not supposed to question the Bully Boy's nominees on reproductive rights because that's apparently a "specialized" issue and not a "universal" one despite the fact that women's health has a huge impact on the nation. We're in the work force and we have some insurance plans that recognize a much smaller range of health options for us than they do for men. Certainly as the ones who give birth, our health impacts children. Equally certain is that with the number of working mothers, health isn't just an health issue for the nation, it's an economic one that incomes both families headed back single parents and those headed by parents where at least one is female and she works. The assault includes an attack not only on abortion rights but also on birth control and upon our right to know about our options. The Justice Department no longer includes information on emergency contraceptives in the information given to rape victims. So this was one of the important issues in 2005 as the right turned up the attacks on reproductive rights and the press largely tended to treat each attack as unconnected when there is a pattern and a framework to these attacks.

Ruth: I'll add to that my own disappointment because I'm old enough to remember Roe v. Wade becoming law and how monumental that day seemed. Now it seems that the organized efforts on the part of a few to overturn it will come to fruition. It's very depressing. Mike, did you offer a story that you felt was important in 2005?

Mike: Not yet. I know we're all trying to pick different topics, so I'll pick Katrina which Cedric's mentioned in terms of racism and how it impacted the lower income people, predominaely people of color, far worse than it did others. But I'd also note, because I know Wally would and we noted it in an editorial here, that it revealed how unprepared our country was to deal with a national emergency, either a natural one or an attack. All the money poured into Homeland Security seems to have gone to sweet heart deals and the basic infrastructure that was in place to protect us has been greatly weakened. When you look at Florida and how many, like Wally's grandfather, went a month or more without electricity and how the same problems, a lack of awareness of how people dependent upon public transportation would be impacted, you realize that nothing was done to fix the problems we supposedly became aware of after Hurricane Katrina.

Cedric: Which leaves Jim to weigh in. Everyone else has discussed at least one of the big issues of 2006. Jim?

Jim: Well, I'll go with the press itself like C.I. did but I'll emphasize the sorry state not just of the system but of certain star reporters such as Judith Miller and Bob Woodward. I'll also note that James Risen could have revealed the NSA spying on American citizens. The claim of the paper is that they sat on the story because Bully Boy asked them to do which is sad in it's own right. But what about Risen? He couldn't do an op-ed on the issue or an article on it for another publication? Since it's the focus of his book due out next month, it's not as though he was acting under a gag order. Like with Woody, you see a desire to personally profit from explosive information that the public has a right to know at the expense of informing the public. I think that's very sorry and an indication of how sad the state of the mainstream press is today. We've seen reporters report spin as fact, cover for an administration that outed a CIA agent and at the same time we've seen reporters willing to put on their author's hats and figure out a way to profit from what they should be reporting in real time. Seymour Hersh had a book come out but he didn't save the Abu Ghraib scandal for the book. He reported it. Too few other "reporters" seem to act out of the same desire to inform the public and that's one of the saddest developments for the press in 2006. And that will close the roundtable. We thank everyone who participated but especially Ruth who volunteered as soon as she learned that we'd have less people contributing to this edition.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }