Friday, May 06, 2005

Noting The Nation

As promised last night, here are some stories from the latest issue of The Nation. (Check out their new online look.)

Let's start with one that Ruth should enjoy, Scott Sherman's "Good, Gray NPR:"

In its journalism and its financial structure, NPR has indeed evolved into a somewhat different entity from what its founders envisioned. On May 3, 1971, it went on the air with the first broadcast of All Things Considered. The program began with a kaleidoscopic account of a major antiwar rally in Washington, DC, at which more than 6,000 people were arrested. "Excuse me," NPR's reporter asked a police sergeant attempting to quell the protests, "Is that a technique? Where the men actually try to drive the motorcycles right into the demonstrators?" Three decades later, rough-edged, in-your-face reportage has largely been supplanted by conventional punditry from the likes of Cokie Roberts, Daniel Schorr and David Brooks, and by consciously mainstream news reporting by correspondents whose voices are often indistinguishable from one another.
To some extent, financial and political pressures help to explain NPR's turn toward mainstream respectability and high-minded professionalism: NPR's founders had every expectation that public funds would cover the budget, but Republican hostility to public broadcasting thwarted those early hopes and dreams. Three decades after its creation, NPR now draws a significant portion of its funding from corporations such as Wal-Mart, Sodexho and Archer Daniels Midland. Likewise, NPR had sound journalistic reasons for turning away from its edgy, countercultural roots. Over the past decade, as media conglomerates dumped public-affairs programming in favor of "infotainment" and tabloid trash, NPR recognized the void and moved to fill it with high-quality news reporting. That news-oriented model, by drawing in listeners hungry for substantial coverage of politics and public affairs, has enabled NPR to thrive: Today, it continues to add correspondents and bureaus at a time when most other major news organizations are trimming them. A fair-minded evaluation must conclude that if NPR has turned its back on some of the values enshrined in its original mission statement, it has also, in other ways and despite enormous political pressure from its detractors, remained true to them as well.
But a price was paid on the road to respectability. With growth and stability has come stodginess, predictability and excessive caution. NPR was founded as an antidote to the mainstream media. Its founders had a unique journalistic and cultural vision that contrasted sharply with the values of establishment publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post. As NPR began its transformation into a middle-of-the-road, "hard news" entity in the mid-1970s, some of the founders warned that the experiment could end badly, with NPR sounding like an aural equivalent of The Congressional Record. That didn't happen, but today's NPR does, at times, seem quite empty and soulless, very much like the eminent daily newspapers its executives venerate.

Some NPR veterans are acutely aware of what has been lost since NPR's birth in 1971. "Over the years, we've become much more sober," says Susan Stamberg, who was an early co-host of All Things Considered, and who remains a lively and mischievous presence at NPR today. "We've become the good, gray Times. They've put color on their front page"--Stamberg pauses for her trademark cackle--"but we're upholding the gray. We're not nearly as quirky as we used to be. And I miss it."

The article is worth reading and a good history of NPR.

Also worth reading is Rep. Dennis Kucinich's "An Open Letter to Howard Dean:"

Perhaps you now believe that an electoral victory for Democrats in 2006 and beyond requires sweeping this war under the rug. If so, you are only the latest in a long line of recent Democratic leaders who chose a strategy of letting "no light show" between Democrats and the President on the war. Emphasize the economy, instead, they advised, in 2002 and again in 2004.
Following this advice has kept us in the minority. During the 2002 election cycle, when Democrats felt they had historical precedent on their side (the President's party always loses seats in the midterm election), the Democratic leadership in Congress cut a deal with the President to bring the war resolution to a vote, and appeared with him in a Rose Garden ceremony. The "no light" strategy yielded a historic result: For the first time since Franklin Roosevelt, a President increased his majorities in both houses of Congress during a recession.

Members would be advised to avoid the cover story. There's no mention of Laura Flanders, Mike Papantonio and Bobby Kennedy, Marty Kaplin, Mike Malloy . . . Janeane Garofalo is "chanced" upon while doing a bit (and the writer uses a word that not only would we not put on this site but is also a word that Garofalo didn't use on the radio -- maybe he's got Bumillie fever?). That's it. She's reduced to a bit and I know the e-mails will come in on that. Randi Rhodes is noted largely for the Ralph Nadar phone call on her first show. What? She's only done one show?

They cover Democracy Radio by apparently not mentioning Stephanie Miller.

Maybe it's a behind the scenes look? (The story on Al Gore's new network was, a point that Candy Perfume Boy missed over at his site. They interviewed investors and people involved with the project. Or rather, Ari Berman interviewed them. I thought it was a strong article, but, hey, at least CJR Daily finally discussed a cover story by The Nation, right?)

I wasn't impressed with the article. Others may be. If it wanted to be behind the scenes, it should have been. Instead it (my opinion) goes for some blend it never achieves. (And no, Lizz Winstead and Chuck D aren't mentioned. Jerry Springer is mentioned but there's no story about the pulling of Unfiltered -- which is a story and if you're going to write about Air America Radio today, seems to me you need to include it. Martha noted in an e-mail this week that it was still a topic popping up on the AAR boards.)

I gave it a quick read. I'd planned to pull something on Janeane Garofalo because she is very popular with members. Maybe a comment on Laura Flanders (who has contributed articles to The Nation) or other favorites. But they aren't in the story or they're mentioned in passing.

Sorry to be negative on The Nation but members will want to skip the story. (And those who don't, I'm sure, will e-mail. If that happens, we'll post a reply this weekend.)

Instead check out Lizzy Ratner's article on Amy Goodman, "Amy Goodman's 'Empire:'"

Amy Goodman didn't know if anyone was listening.
It was the morning of September 11, 2001, and the host of the muckraking radio news program Democracy Now! was broadcasting from her studio in a converted firehouse just blocks from the World Trade Center. She was hunched over her microphone, intent on painting an audio portrait of the "horrific scene of explosions and fires," but the truth was she didn't know if anyone could hear her. The phone lines were dead or temporarily blocked, and she had already overshot her slated hourlong broadcast time. More serious, she had recently been banished from her professional home at Pacifica Radio after a hostile internal shake-up, and she was only being aired by twenty or so affiliate stations.
Still, as the neighboring businesses evacuated into the streets, Goodman decided to go on talking. She kept the lines open and the microphones hot, throwing her voice into the radio murk in case any stations chose to pick up the feed. "We are not going to draw any conclusions at this point, just reporting the information of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center buildings, the plane crashing into the Pentagon, a fire at the Pentagon right now," Goodman said in her grainy alto, at the beginning of what would become an eight-hour marathon broadcast that was eventually picked up by KPFA, the one Pacifica station still airing her broadcasts. And then, shortly after 10 am, she announced: "It looks like the south tower of the World Trade Center has collapsed..."

There are many good articles in the issue so please check out the web site to see the magazine's new look. The cover story is a clunker to me but maybe I'm focused too much on picturing the e-mails that might come in over this if a warning wasn't given? Regardless, you have been warned.

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