Sunday, June 22, 2008

TV: Breaking what?

Getting your news from Amy Goodman is a bit like learning about sex from the nuns: something's always missing and the pieces never fit together. We realized that last week as we watched one appalling moment after another.

Take Tuesday when Goody decided to break the self-imposed barrier of "No More War Resisters" and spoke to one for the first time since 2006. The war resister is Matthis Chiroux who was honorably discharged and getting on with his life when the military decided to recall him. May 15th, Chiroux announced that he would be not reporting to deploy to Iraq. June 15th was the day he was due to report and, instead, he made a public statement in DC explaining why he wasn't reporting.

Two days later, he's on Democracy Now! and Goody asks him, "When did you go to Iraq?" Chiroux' reply began with, "I've never been to Iraq, ma'am." And whatever followed that, we have no idea. We were too shocked that so little preparation went into an interview. Actually, we were shocked to grasp just how out of it Goody is because Chiroux has been speaking publicly since May 15th and given many interviews to independent media as well as a two-part interview to Courage to Resist. How do you miss that basic point? If you're not doing your own prep work, shouldn't who ever is doing it know where your guest served and where he didn't?

But when someone's publicly announcing that they are refusing to participate in the illegal war and you're interviewing them, don't you think to ask them how they arrived at their decision?

We're not questioning Matthis' decision, we support it. But Goody took the interview in several directions and none of them were (a) productive or (b) informative. None explored why someone would decide to resist. Judging by her questions, she was more interested in a bacteria story in Afghanistan than the stand Matthis Chiroux had taken.

If we were bothered by that 'interview' on Tuesday, the next one had us rolling on the floor laughing. Goody brought on Mike Gravel. For those who have forgotten or never knew, Gravel was in the Democratic Party presidential primary for a few seconds. After he was shut out of the debates by the networks and cable, he announced he was now running for the presidential nomination of a third party, the Libertarian Party. Bob Barr got that nomination.

You were clued in that it was loony time just in the introduction, where Goody referred to Lori Van Auken as "one of the so-called 'Jersey Girls'." So-called? Hey, remember when Diana Ross was one of the 'so-called' Supremes?

Gravel was plugging a host of issues -- and doing it better than Vincent Bugliosi who'd been on the previous week and began his segment whining that he'd been promised more time to plug his book. But it appeared Gravel was mainly on to sneer at women -- getting in his pot shots at Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi. He somehow managed to sing the praises of assorted males but sneered at women throughout. At one point, the topic of impeachment was raised and, strangely, he made time to sneer at Pelosi. No question that she deserves it but John Conyers is an adult and if he wanted to start impeachment proceedings, he could do it without Pelosi's say so. It's not like Steny Hoyer ever listens to Pelosi or, for that matter, gives a damn what she says.

Conyers chairs the House Judiciary Committee which is where impeachment would start. Conyers entered Congress in January 1965 -- forty-three years ago. If impeachment (which we support but don't see happening) is as popular as polls indicate, he'd have nothing to lose by announcing impeachment hearings. The popularity would prevent any attempts to remove him as the committee chair and -- regardless of the outcome -- initiating impeachment would make him so popular with rank-and-file Democrats that he'd be untouchable by Pelosi or anyone else in House leadership. Pelosi may have taken impeachment "off the table," but, if Conyers wanted to, he could put it back on the table at any minute.

But Gravel had no harsh words for Conyers. Instead he offered up nonsense about how he was kept out of the Democratic debates because he "challenged" Hillary Clinton in the debates. Yes, Crazy Gravel, the media was on Hillary's side. You can tell that by the soft-gloves approach they gave her. What's that? They used non-stop sexism to destroy her? Oh, yeah, that is reality and Gravel orbits it but never touches down. Ground control to Major Mike.

Gravel's supporting Barack Obama. Considering that he raised the Iran resolution to Goodman, someone might want to inform Senator Nut Job that Barack didn't vote against it. He skipped the vote. He skipped the vote and lied that he didn't know it was taking place. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office corrected the public record by explaining Barack had been informed of the vote. More importantly, someone should inform Senator Muy Loco that, in April of 2007, Barack cosponsored the "Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007."

Don't ever count on Amy Goodman supplying that bit of news, she's never mentioned that bill in the fourteen months since it was proposed.

Gravel was calling the Democratic Party and the Republican Party war parties and insisting that the Libertarian and the Green Party were not. Since neither's had control of Congress or seated anyone in the Oval Office, we'd argue you just don't know. But Gravel stated he wasn't part of a war party -- which begs the question when did he finally realize the Democratic Party's close affiliation with war?

As someone who helped read the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional record, one would have thought he'd be well aware of the Democratic Party's affinity for war. But that might be expecting him to make sense and that's never going to happen with someone who wanted to be the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee mere months ago but was insisting on Democracy Now! last week that voting for Ralph Nader was nothing but "a good place to put a protest vote if you want to put it."

The next day (June 18th), Goody brought on Ralph Nader. It was pretty frightening. Repeatedly, Goody asked Nader to critique someone else: Tim Russert, Chuck Hagel, Barack Obama, John McCain . . . We waited and waited for Goody to ever ask Ralph about his own proposals, about what he would do as president. What's the big criticism of all press coverage of elections? The focus on the money race, the fundraising. That Goody could be counted on to ask about: "How is your fundraising going? Have you reached that goal?"

In what surely has to be the worst question of the interview, Goody asked, "Who do you think would be more likely to bomb Iran, to attack Iran, or have a surrogate do it: John McCain or Barack Obama?" Ralph's answer surprised her ("I don't know."). But what was that question to begin with, her version of Barbara Walters? Possibly. Or just another effort for her to push Barack for presidency with the hopes that Ralph would respond, "McCain of course!"

Then she asked him to respond to Mattew Rothschild's column -- the one where he insults Nader by writing, "Hardly any of the tiny few who may vote for Nader would otherwise go to the Democrats in the fall, anyway." Nader responded by noting that with no media coverage he and Matt Gonzalez (his running mate) are polling at 6%. That question, along with the earlier one and what followed pushed the narrative that Nader being in the race could rob the Democrats (or maybe just rob Barack) of the presidency as Goodman continued, "Well let me ask you something. Are you, Ralph Nader, freaked out at the possibility that a Republican would win?" Freaked out? The last time we can remember that on a screen was the film Bird On Wire (1989) when Goldie Hawn and Mel Gibson were playing former hippies. Sadly, Goody appeared serious.

But she was playing and we'd advise third party candidates invited on her show in the future (probably in September or October if Goody's record holds) to be aware of that. Goodman wasn't an interviewer, she was a prosecutor. She wasn't working for the state unless there's a State of Barack. (As far as we know, that's only a delusion and not yet a physical state at this point.) Her questions, her position, repeatedly advanced the myth that Barack owns votes and anyone running, other than the GOP nominee, will be stealing from Barack. That was especially clear when she kind-of, sort-of noted that Barack's not about ending the illegal war: "For those who want to vote for Barack Obama but are very discouraged about the lack of a strong stance that he has taken or laying out his position, for example, on withdrawal from Iraq, what do you think they should do?"

Was Ralph Nader really brought on to defend his own run? Because that's certainly how it played out. And while you might expect that on network and cable shows, you don't expect that from 'independent' media. You don't expect a candidate for president to never be asked a question about his or her stands on the issues, you don't expect him or her to never be asked what they would do if elected, you don't expect them to not be asked of what, for example, they have planned for their first hundred days in office.

But that's what Goody did. She presented a presidential candidate as though he were a media critic and alternated that with making him defend his decision to run for the presidency. (She also repeated a flat-out lie that he corrected her on -- one that should never have been repeated by her and we'll have the decency not to repeat it here.)

How do you do that? How do you invite any candidate on and make the thrust of the interview their defending their right to run? In a democracy, anyone who wants to run office can. But there was Goody, before the DNC can even stage an August coronation for Barack, acting as if any run (any run from the left) for the presidency should be viewed as a threat to what she sees as the needed crowning of Barack.

She really wants him crowned and we've long noted that (here, here and here -- among other examples). She's slanted her show to him for some time (long before 2008) and either avoided mentioning unpleasant truths or else buried them. For example, last weekend's headlines.

Headlines is where Goody likes to do her intense damage. She doesn't have to worry that a guest may run off on an aside and she can present whatever she wants however she wants. So, on April 22nd, she declared, "Senator Clinton also ratcheted up her rhetoric toward Iran on Monday. During an interview that will air today on ABC News, Clinton said she would 'totally obliterate' Iran if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons." No, Clinton didn't say that. She did say Iran would be attacked. "Totally obliterate"? She stated Iran needed to know that the US had the power to do that. It's a jump from noting the power to do that to declaring that Clinton threatened she would do that as president if Israel was attacked. But Goody's always happy to make a leap of bad faith with anyone other than Barack.

With Barack, it's emphasize what she likes -- which is how Chris Dodd's endorsement of Barack was in headlines one day and led the headlines the following day. Of course, considering Dodd's subprime scandal, Goody wouldn't feature his endorsement as a headline if it happened today.

Friday, she 'covered' Barack's decision to reject public financing in the presidential election and she buried it deep in the headlines:

In campaign news, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has announced he is opting out of the federal public financing system in the general election. By turning down $84 million in federal money, Obama will be allowed to raise and spend an unlimited amount during the election. Obama is the first major party candidate to reject public funds since the system started in 1976. The decision marks a reversal for Obama. Last year he had pledged to accept public financing if his opponent did as well. McCain confirmed he will stay in the public financing system. McCain spokesperson Jill Hazelbaker said, "Obama's decision will have far-reaching and extraordinary consequences that will weaken and undermine the public financing system."

No mention of Watergate. No exploration of the effects this would have except to quote someone from the McCain camp (whom DN! consumers are taught to boo and hiss). She might as well have quoted Judith Miller on the subject for all the weight that carried.

Miller's former paper, The New York Times, took the issue more seriously than Goody did, editorializing in Friday's paper that Barack's decision put "Public Funding on the Ropes." The paper would run Leslie Wayne's "Obama's Decision Threatens Public Financing System" on the same day. For those unaware, public financing of elections is supposed to be a core left belief. But to crown Barack, beliefs are tossed aside quicker than a 98 Degrees CD. Mike pulled together a number of quotes from left voices at left outlets on public financing and, as he notes, except for the late Molly Ivins, none of them have an excuse for not calling out Barack's decision (or worse, for applauding it as Christopher Hayes did last week online at The Nation).

As the use of homophobia went unchecked by Barack, as sexism ran rampant across the media spectrum (including from the mouths of 'lefties' like Tom Hayden, Robert Scheer and Robert Parry) and was encouraged by Barack, as Barack told CNN at the start of the month that he had no set plan for what to do (or not do) about Iraq but would decide what to do after he was elected, we saw the same pattern: The left and 'left' refuse to call him out. They make excuses (Allan Nairn is probably still the most laughable with the excuse he gave to Goodman back in January that Barack only took money from Big Business because he was afraid they wouldn't trust him otherwise) or they stay silent. You see it over and over again. Sometimes, to shake things up, they'll minimize. But there is no sense at all that our left outlets are remotely interested in demanding that Barack stand for anything or propose anything. They've become nothing but a cheering section. It's really pathetic and it may well represent the destruction of Panhandle Media.

Contrary to popular folklore, Panhandle Media was neither that important in the last fifty years nor that 'independent.' During Vietnam, the alternative weeklies (we do not mean The Nation or The New Republic -- though the latter focused more on Vietnam, the peace movement and ending that illegal war than did The Nation) had some impact. So did FM radio which existed then as something more than spinning the same top twenty hits. But by the Fall of Nixon, Panhandle Media was really over. Or at least back to its planned uselessness. They built up Jimmy Carter as a man of peace, as a saint. They avoided calling him out. They did a lot of 'strong' editorials using words like 'hope' -- as in they 'hoped' he would do whatever. Then they got on board and cheerleaded Bill Clinton. (Some grabbed the pom-poms a little later than others.) They largely only grew critical in the second term, something that might surprise many considering all the Bill Clinton criticisms they rushed out to attack Hillary with in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

It's important that you know that because, for all the occasional lip service about third parties, they always fall in line behind the Democrats. Some of their attacks on Hillary can be viewed as their own self-hatred for having worked so hard to build up Bill. If Barack were elected (and he still doesn't have the nomination), they'd do the same thing. They'd cheerlead him throughout his first administration. If there were a second administration, they'd sharpen their knives. And if his vice president or his wife elected to run for the presidency, they'd do a real number on them, hauling out all the criticism they stifled in real time, when it mattered.

Every four years, Panhandle Media bets on the Democrats and then wants to be seen as "independent." It's probably the longest running joke in history. Consider them the original 527s -- predating MoveOn and all the rest.

If you ever doubted that, you only had to catch Democracy Now! last week. You only had to notice that a man who ran for the presidential nomination of a third party only moments ago was able to say that voting for Ralph Nader was nothing but a "protest vote" and Goody never bothered to ask him, "Well, if that's how you feel, why were you running for a third party nomination?" You saw it when Ralph Nader's entire segment played out like, "What makes you think you have a right to run! Don't you know you could jeopardize the anointing of the Christ-child!" You saw it in how she trivialized money by asking Nader how much he'd raised but reduced Barack's rejection of public financing to a headline that didn't even note anyone calling out Barack's decision (Russ Feingold did, Democracy21 did) and instead slipped in criticism from the one camp that her viewers are taught to snarl at (the McCain campaign).

Democracy Now! is nothing but Democratic Party Now! and that's all it probably ever can be. We don't have a thriving independent media in this country. Should Barack get the nomination and be elected to the White House, that will become really obvious -- as anyone who was paying attention after Carter got elected or Clinton did to his first term can attest. What happens each cycle is that a small faithful continue consuming but a larger portion realizes that they've been had, that beliefs and principles are really not important to 'independent' media except as something to attack the GOP with. They burn off their own audiences.

It's not 'independent media,' it's 'partisan media.' That's not a "left media." Left media would take positions and principles of the left and hold everyone accountable by those cores beliefs. "Partisan media" is just another organ of the Democratic Party. It's why they tone down their Iraq coverage (to the point that it's really non-existent). It's why they ratchet up the fear level as an election approaches.

For real positive change to ever come to the United States, you'd have to have a left media and such a media would make demands and offer blistering critiques. While doing that, they would also use their own power to reshape understandings and the world that they controlled. You don't see that at The Progressive which lost Molly Ivins but, since her death, has found time to add three columnists (two Anglo, one Latino) -- all male. You don't see that at The Nation which featured only 149 bylines of women in 2007 but 491 male bylines. You don't hear it on CounterSpin which can't even see fit to offer a fifty-fifty gender split when booking guests. And you certainly didn't see it last week on Democracy Now! as Goodman offered up 16 male guests and only 4 women.

When they can't change themselves, they can't change the world. And it's this abdication of their own power that does more to explain the rut that the left has been in for the last forty years than anything else. You can't change the world when you re-create the same injustices in your own sphere of influence.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }