Saturday, March 12, 2005

Community Members thoughts on Air America

Martha: Thank you for linking to the Lizz Winstead petition. I would think that in the so-called age of online activism that petition would be all over the net. The fact that it's not troubles me and makes me wonder if we haven't set up our own gatekeepers as we've attempted to get past the Cokies [Roberts].

The petition is "To Air America Bring Back Lizz Winstead:"
Bring back Lizz! Rachel and Lizz were great together and we got alot of friends listening to Air America because of THEIR show. Air America has lost more than a few listeners now. When the news is so grim, it certainly is nice to swallow it with some humor. The way Liz and Rachel played off each other was great and it kept us tuning in. Unfiltered had a brilliant formula,of sucking the listeners in with humor and getting in plenty of important information too. Lizz was the most fun person to listen to at Air America. The back and forth between Rachel and Liz was relaxed, playful, and entertaining. Unfiltered was fun. Was. Past tense. We the listeners demand: Bring Lizz Back NOW!
The Undersigned

Rob & Kara: We're having a huge problem with Al Franken and want to share it with the community.
* Neoliberals coming on the show makes us gag but what's worse is when they aren't identified as such or when Al feels the needs to give them the stamp of approval. Here's a hint, if you're with the AEI, you probably shouldn't be on Air America.
* As noted by another member, the "We Will Brock You" theme that is played when David Brock [Media Matters] comes on is insulting to Brock and needs to be replaced.
* Franken's need to repeatedly spit upon a dead man speaks of his own issues; however, it should be noted his continuous remarks about Arafat (how good it is that he's dead) are neither funny nor worth hearing. For someone who gave a pass to Ronald Reagan, it's strange that a small fish like Arafat (by comparison to Reagan) would be someone Franken would continue to obsess over. The fact that he does calls into question all remarks he makes about Palestinians.
* Randi Rhodes has been sorely missed and we look forward to her return on Monday.

Maria: I signed the petition, thank you for linking to it. Unfiltered is unlistenable without Lizz Winstead. Rachel Maddow alone emphasizes all her worst qualities and her good qualities (banter, ease) are lost.

A number of you noted that Rebecca is covering the Unfiltered issue over at Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude and you've wondered why there is nothing on it here.

When I posted a week ago on it, I said that's all I intended to say on the issue but that you were welcome to share your own comments.

Some of you have in private.

I'm not sure of how much continued interest Air America will be to the community at this point (even those who didn't care for Lizz Winstead have noted that the manner in which Air America has handled her departure has damaged your faith in the radio network).

We'll do an entry here with me pulling from some people who wanted to be quoted and also with me raising some issues that you've wanted raised from private e-mails.

In the last long entry, we noted the importance of independent voices. [Note: This is the entry I fell asleep while working on last night. "The last long entry" refers to this entry.] A number of you feel that Air America has failed in that regard.

We're speaking of the network as a whole. Most of you who e-mailed on the subject of Air America this week have at least one show you continue to listen to.

With Danny Goldberg new to the network, it might be a good time to air some concerns and hopefully he or someone will address them.

The e-mail to this site on the Unfiltered issue is consistent in the opinion that Unfiltered needs Lizz Winstead or it needs to be pulled.

A lot of you use words like "betrayed" to describe how you feel regarding the way her departure was handled. The second most popular term is "ignored."

Air America would be wise to address this and deal with it.

Francisco: I want Lizz back. I won't listen to Unfiltered until she's back on the air. If she's not, they need to pull the show. And if they do that, they might want to consider why it is that there are only two colors on the network -- white and black. Obviously, I wonder where the Latinos are as a Hispanic male. But I also wonder where the Asians and others are. And two African-American males (one of whom is only a semi-regular) co-hosts and one African-American woman who reads the headlines does not cut it as inclusive.

Gina: I'm wondering where the serious debate is? That's not knocking the comedy segments. I appreciate them. But it seems like too often they look to see what the Democrats in the Senate want and then run with that. I think the network has suffered tremendously while Randi [Rhodes] has been out because she's not begging for talking points, she creates her own issues and addresses them with or without the approval of Democratic leadership. Laura Flanders can be counted on to do the same. But that's two voices out of how many?

Brad: Sam Seder's continued tendancy to cut off Janeane and women who appear as guests is irritating. If he thinks it comes off as flirtatious, I can't judge that because as a straight male, I have no interest in Seder. But I can tell you it is off putting to hear it over and over in interviews. He needs to work on it because it is an issue and it only happens with regard to the women. I can tell you that my girlfriend turns off the show, and she loves Janeane [Garofalo] when Sam starts in on that.

Margot: Lizz's disappearence has made me worry that no one is safe. And I'm really worried that having dumped Lizz, they'll now go after the other strong voices on the air: Janeane Garofalo, Laura Flanders, Mike Malloy and Randi Rhodes. The way this has been handled has made it very difficult for me to enjoy listening because I'm always wondering if the next time I turn the radio on, someone else that I trust will just be "missing."

Ruby: I can't take Al when he's nasty. I don't mean dirty. I mean when he gets really mean spirited and petty and that seems to be happening a lot more lately. I like him and I like the show but lately he comes off as bitchy, not funny.

Jimmy e-mailed this to Danny Goldberg and copied it to this site. He's given permission for it to be posted here:

Bring back Lizz!
Lizz Winstead made the show.
It's not Unfiltered anymore.
It's not funny.
It's not worth listening to.
Bring back Lizz!

Lori: What bothers me about Rachel is that she has to act like she knows everything . . . as she talks about a story I read a day or two ago. She's acting like she's just discovered the cure for polio and has to break it down for us simpletons. We're usually ahead of her. (And someone needs to write on cue cards in bold print when the article was printed. I'm tired of her bringing up on a Tuesday a story that appeared in the New York Times Sunday as something that's in "this morning's New York Times.") She makes too many mistakes. When Lizz was on, if one made a mistake, the other would catch it. Now it's just Rachel and no one catches the mistakes and they go uncorrected. It's a very poor use of a show that's supposed to inform. After the way they handled the firing or quitting of Lizz Winstead, they should never again do a segment called "Burying the lead." They've lost the right to do that segment because they've lost their credibility.

Tori: I can't take Al. He's a sexest who never stops whining. Aging, overweight men with bad hair cuts need to do a reality check before mistaking themselves as God's gift to women. His piece for Mother Jones was uninformed and sexist. The show has little to appeal to this woman and when he alternates mean-spirited with sobbing, he just comes off sounding ridiculous. The show needs to be a lot tighter.
This section from Al's Mother Jones's article sums up all that is wrong with his attitude:
This Hope-style bit never failed to get huge laughs and giant cheers. Each time the soldier kissed Karri, it was as if every soldier had kissed her. Sex, in general, seemed a safe bet as a subject for sure laughs. By and large, these are men and women in their early 20s, a time of life when I recall thinking about sex almost constantly.
I saw a lot of attractive women in uniform. I particularly liked an M.P. in Kuwait named Davis who was just a little mean. And who knows, maybe it was the uniform. Mark Wills' guitarist said he was picking up some desert fatigues for his wife.

Really, Al? Everytime you kissed her it was as if every soldier had kissed her? Everyone?
And isn't it nice to know that when not onstage doing a sexist bit with a JAG actress, he has time to note our women in the military - provided that they are "attractive."
Or how about this:
The girls do a bump-and-grind dance in their tearaway burkas, then peel them off and continue in their Redskins cheerleader outfits as the guys go nuts.
Worked like a charm every time.
Yeah, those tits and ass shows must be something to be proud about, Al. By the way, when do male entertainers expose a little skin? Not you. Please, we don't want to make anyone sick.
But when do the women serving over there get a plate of scantily clad eye candy?
The best thing about his most recent USO tour was that we got Joe Conason substituting and the show was actually entertaining and informative when Al wasn't on the line from various locations.

Ben: Has Tom Hayden been banned from Air America? I'm sorry but I'll trust him over Al's friend Norm or any of the Newsweek cronies. In their rush to prove their patriotism, the network fails to address serious issues. They continue to give a stamp of approval to the occupation (with a few exceptions such as Laura Flanders and Sam Seder & Janeane Garofalo)
by repeatedly playing their "support" card. It is fine to humanize the tragedy that Americans are over there. It is another thing to glorify it. Al Franken comes off like a war monger. Rachel Maddow seems hell bent to prove looney Ann Coulter right that we're all sniffing the jocks of the G.I.s. The network needs to demonstrate a real committment to peace and a strong opposition to occupation or they're just as bad as every elected official who refuses to speak out. I also think it's rude for a guest to be on and as soon as he or she leaves (Kitty Kelley, Tariq Ali) have a host say, "Now I don't disagree with them." If that's the case, bring it up when they're on so it can be discussed. I wasn't aware that Tariq or Kitty were "controversial" figures in the eyes of some hosts until after the two had left the studio. That seems rather cowardly on the part of hosts.

Elaine: Why is it that a former soldier on Democracy Now! is expected to abide by the same rules as any other guest but on Air America they get talked up like they're heroes? Why is it that a man who admitted to abusing his wife in other formats was presented as a loveable Rain Man on Air America? I find it disgusting.

Roy: As a Gulf War vet, I find Al's "thank you for your service" line offensive. Al has not served in the military as he himself admits. If I hosted a show and said it, I would be speaking as one military person to another. When Al says it, it's like he's wet dreaming over guys in uniform.
Maybe Al feels his life has been pointless. And maybe it has. But until he's ready to say "thank you for your service" to every teacher, educator, activist, parent, etc. that comes on the show, he needs to drop that line because it makes him look like the dweeb rushing after the BMOC trying to kiss ass. It also sends the message that there is one and only one form of service to one's country. During the war I served in, many people spoke out. I remember Susan Sarandon did. When I got back, the first thing I wanted to do was go see a movie, sit in the dark, cool theater with a tub of popcorn and big Coke and just relax. My best friend, who didn't sign up, went with me. I don't remember what the movie was, maybe Thelma & Louise, maybe Bob Roberts. But my friend who hadn't served in the Gulf had a fit when we were in line. Started blubbering about how I didn't know it because I was over there but Susan Sarandon had spoken out agains the war! And we couldn't see her movie now! I told him to shut up. Susan Sarandon served her country by using her right to free speech and making her opinion heard. I get really sick of seeing and hearing people who think the only way you can serve is in uniform. Especially when that kind of talk comes from people who never wore a uniform. I came back to this country unsure about a lot of things. But I still knew what democracy was about and that it takes a lot of guts to stand up and speak out when everyone else is saying "shut up!" I expect a little more from a progressive network. Al had on Meg Ryan recently and I was really excited because I've always thought she was funny and hot. I hated that show because Al had to keep going on about how Meg had done things privately for John Kerry and that's how it should be done. The message seemed to be, don't be a Jane Fonda or keep your opinion private. I disagree with either premise. Every American needs to be willing to speak out publicly for what they believe in. Whether they are from Hollywood or some cushy boardroom. As for Jane Fonda, who nows how much longer we'd have stayed in Vietnam if it weren't for people willing to risk the attacks that come with speaking out? I watched the trailer to Monster In Law and I'll be there the weekend it opens. I also hope her book will be discussed here. I agree with her on most things. And I respect her because she didn't take the easy road or try to prove her patriotism by hiding behind somebody in a uniform. Free speech is the first amendment. Anyone using that right is serving their country. Al doesn't seem to get it.

Brenda: Al's like the little boy who was never any good at sports but grows up to make movies where all life's lessons are learned on the baseball field. By the same token, I have no problem with Randi Rhodes speaking of military life because she actually served. When Al gets misty-eyed over a military guest (or Rachel [Maddow]) it's irritating.

Joan: I want to know where the guests are? I would have thought the network would combat the mainstream media by making strong efforts to book (repeatedly) voices shut out of the mainstream. Instead they offer far too many mainstream guests and far too little progressives.

On Joan's note about progressives, I've never heard Matthew Rothschild (editor of The Progressive) or Ruth Conniff on the network.

Malcolm: Do you have buy air time on the network to get on? Where are the guests from In These Times or The Progressive?

Here's a list of people cited in e-mails who should be on (or on more):

Tom Hayden
Greg Palast
September 11th Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow
Kim Gandy (president of NOW)
Juan Gonzalez
Amy Goodman

Julian Bond
Nancy Chang
Dahr Jamail
Elaine Cassel
Benjamin Barber
Alice Walker
"Green Party member" (Chuck)
Matthew Rothschild

Barbara Ehrenreich
Gloria Steinem
Bob Somerby
Susan Faludi

Barbara Kingsolver
Eve Ensler
Julian Epstein

Theda Skocpol
Liza Feathersone
Jim Hightower

Maxine Hong Kingston
Chisun Lee
Jann Wenner
Janeane Jackson
Carl Bernstein
Code Pink ("with an action alert at least once a week")
Alexander Cockburn
Robert W. McChesney
Frances Moore Lappe
Arundhati Roy
Elisabeth OuYang
Jeremy Scahill
Andrea Zumach
Robin Morgan

Saying, "Oh we've had Medea Benjamin on X times" doesn't count. Not when you give an AEI spokesperson a weekly spot on the network.

When the network was about to start, an exec at Air America Radio bragged to New York Times' Sunday Magazine that they weren't going to be left, they were going to be middle of the road. If that's what they're (still) aiming for, then maybe Danny Goldberg will be happy with the middle of the road (I can't see that personally).

Fears of media consolidation come through in private e-mails as well. I'm not dismissing those, I just don't know how to address them other than suggesting that people work within their communities to purchase a station for community radio. (I don't claim to have all or even most of the answers. Someone out there with suggestions to share with the community is welcome to e-mail the site at

But there's a reality in the south that some people don't grasp. Maybe it's from commuting on trains and subways? In the south and in rural areas everywhere, public transportation is either non-existant or laughable. (Rita e-mailed Thursday that she wanted to do her part for the environment and thought she'd start taking the bus. Turns out it could carry her to work in the morning but it couldn't bring her home in the evening because she got off at seven p.m. and the buses have already stopped running.) People are in their cars. They're listening to radio. If they want some sort of news, they're aren't a lot of choices.

I'll give AAR credit for its expansion (especially if they continue to build southern markets) because your average person driving to work in the southern states doesn't have sattelite radio in their car and they're listening to what's offered. Picking up even a small percent of those listeners will make a difference.

A very good friend shared a horror story with me in October. Her friend, a new age hippie, was voting for the Bully Boy. Anti-death penalty, anti-corporate welfare, go down the list, this woman, four years ago, was strong left. What happened? She moved to Colorado. She lives in a remote area. She has to drive an hour to take her child to school, an hour to bring her child home from school. That's four hours (hour there, hour back, hour there, hour back) each day.
She didn't care for the music played. She'd stopped buying CDs (in her area there's really not anywhere to buy them anyway). So she would get in the car and listen to the radio.

She couldn't take Rush, et al. But she found "caring" Christians on the radio who spoke of God's love and the need not to vote for Kerry. I don't think most people realize the kind of garbage that so-called Christian radio is pushing on the air waves. And I'm not talking about a Pat Robertson type, I'm talking about much lower level, less famous personalities.

You turn on the radio and there's this gentle voice saying "God loves you." You don't want to listen to Rush or Hannity or whomever and you can be lulled into thinking this is a compassionate person. So by the time they're telling you that Teresa Heinz Kerry is pushing legalized heroin (a claim my friend's friend insisted was truth "or they couldn't have said it on air!") or some other nonsense, you've already bought into their scheme of things.

Nationally known fright-wing radio hosts are something people on the coasts and the north can roll their eyes over. But there's another reality on the air that many people never hear or know of.

So if Air America can get into those areas, good for them and more power to them.

But they've damaged themselves with the way they've handled Lizz Winstead's departure. And they've hurt themselves by providing regular slots for the likes of AEI spokespersons and Peter Beinart or Simon Rosenberg for that matter.

If they're goal is to be NPR with skits, they're on the correct road. If they're wanting something more than that, they need to tighten up the way things are going. They also need to make sure their hosts are more informed about what others are doing on their shows.

As predicted by members last Sunday, Rachel Maddow would destroy all the hard work done by Laura Flanders on the previous weekend. Maddow didn't know anything her own network had done on the story of Giuliana Sgrena. It was embarrassing to hear Maddow repeat all the spin from "mainstream media" as though it were fact while revealing that she was completely ignorant of the reporting done on her own network.

There is no excuse for that. Not "I was off this weekend!" not "I didn't know!"

When your network is breaking news, you should know about before you attempt to address the same topic. We'd criticize it if Diane Sawyer did that on some story Peter Jennings had broken and we'll criticize it here. Maddow needs to be better informed according to many members.
But she certainly needs to know about the big stories others are covering at her own network.
(Something that Winstead could -- and usually did -- interject on when she co-hosted Unfiltered.)

They are individuals and they don't need to work from the same list of talking points, that's agreed. But as Brad points out in his e-mail:

The firing of Lizz was the last straw for me with regard to that network. And I put up with a lot. I put up with Randi Rhodes and Laura Flanders and Mike Malloy being the only ones focusing on Ohio right after the election. I think Janeane [Garofalo] brought it up a few times but guests and Sam shot her down on that. You had Al shooting it down and mocking it. Unfiltered didn't seem to know from one day to the next whether it was a story and where they stood on it. Marc and Mark seemed equally lost. This was a big issue to the base. If Al wasn't interested in it, he should have shut his damn mouth instead of making 'tin foil' jokes about it.
It was embarrassing to listen to. I didn't see it as freedom of speech and "all opinions are welcome here." I saw it as open war among certain personalities. I saw it as attacking Randi or Laura by Al and I saw it as a lot of other people sticking their finger up in the air to determine which way the wind was blowing. When I want deep coverage of the Senate, I know to go A Winding Road. When I want the scoop on Gannon and Talon, I know to go Why Are We Back In Iraq? When I want to laugh and chuckle at the idiots who think they're left, I know to go to Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude. And I never come here and find you tearing down the work they're doing. If it's something you or a member is interested in, it'll be addressed here. If not, it's left unstated. That's the way Air America shows should be. It should not be Al mocking the work done by Laura and Randi. It should not be Rachel not knowing what Laura's spent the weekend tracking and adding to. After the firing of Lizz, only the most idiotic listener will ever again buy the nonsense that "we're a family." But that doesn't mean that you can't work like a team. And Al needs to be told to shut up already. More often than not lately, he's not funny, he's just mean. And he needs to quit dragging on all those right wing guests and panting over some guy who served as Nixon's whatever. It's disgusting and it's embarrassing. Until Lizz was fired, Air America played nonstop every day at my work. And we'd all roll our eyes and groan when Al was on air. We were hoping he'd run for the Senate just so he'd be off Air America. One co-worker who is gay tore into Al one day when Al basically presented the "they can do whatever they want, I just don't want to know about it!" pose. That position, render people invisible, has no place at a radio network aspiring towards being progressive.

These are the comments that come in here. They're the opinions of members. Air America would do well to decide what exactly they stand for. As a weak-ass version of the left, they'll still get some sort of message across. But if they truly believe in being progressive, they need to work a lot harder.

Joan: I don't always agree with Randi Rhodes because I'm way to the left of her but I do listen to her and respect the fact that she knows her sh*t. She can cite this and that and this and that and she knows what she's talking about. Too often I hear Al or Rachel or Sam stumbling around on air trying to think of the correct attribution for a reference and they finally tag it something but it's not correct. If you're going to discuss a story or an article, you should have it front of you. Take Naomi Klein's "Baghdad Year Zero." How many times did Sam reference that article and get it wrong repeatedly. It didn't appear in The Atlantic. It appeared in Harper's. Once, okay, you're nervous on air and thinking on your feet. Over and over, before you have her on as a guest, when you have her on as a guest, when you have her on as a co-host, after you've had her on as a co-host, to keep making the same mistake repeatedly demonstrates a real problem and a carelessness towards your job. And the woman's name is "Nay-oh-me." Not "Nigh-oh-me." But Sam can't even get that right. And don't tell me that's got to do with the way people pronounce things. It's her name, it should be pronounced correctly.

When this community started, I said of Air America, if something doesn't speak to you, don't listen. I avoided mentioning Al Franken because he doesn't speak to me. I mentioned Unfiltered because it did speak to me. (It doesn't without Lizz.) We'll continue to highlight voices and programs that speak to us on that network. But the way Lizz Winstead was "disappeared" is an issue and it's upset many members. Since some members wanted to be quoted, it was important that we address the issue of the radio network. Other members had expressed concerns but didn't want to be named so I attempted to cover their concerns here.
With Danny Goldberg now taking the helm, this seems the appropriate time to discuss what's not working. (We've discussed what works for months.) This isn't criticism from members who've never listened, this is criticism from members who've logged a great many hours with Air America and are feeling disappointed with the results.

I'll also offer my own personal view here at the end (only the strong survived to read this far).
AAR's greatest accomplishment could be in giving powerful voices too often ignored by the mainstream media regular recognition. This would mean that the mainstream media might be forced to start recognizing them. I think Katrina vanden Heuvel's regular Thursday appearences on The Majority Report have aided her in being recognized by the mainstream media. They could make a point to do that with other voices. They could also regularly include voices like Tom Hayden or Robin Morgan or other established voices that are still around but largely ignored by the mainstream media. This would serve the purpose of creating a community of voices. I used to wonder if Matthew Rothschild was just press shy. While he does The Progressive Point of View (which Air America doesn't carry) and his own half hour radio show on weekends, perhaps he wasn't up to being interviewed. Then he pops up with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! and that theory floats right out the window. (January 25, 2005 discussing the Biblical subtext in the Bully Boy's inauguration speech.) That the network is approaching the one year mark and hasn't provided him as a regular guest is puzzling.

[Note, the bulk of this post was written before falling asleep Friday night/Saturday morning. If you sense a change of tone or direction, that's probably where I picked up tonight. We will be posting Gina's Women History Month note but for those wondering, yes, I am assisting the Third Estate Sunday Review tonight. When I broke away to come finish this and post, Rebecca said to pass on that she will have a late entry up in a few hours that will be brief but she will be posting.] [Rebecca is also assisting Third Estate Sunday Review.]