Saturday, September 24, 2005

Ruth's Morning Edition Report

Ruth: As usual, WBAI's Friday broadcast of CounterSpin was one of the high points of my listening week.

Among the topics addressed were NPR's Morning Edition (which alleged that only terrorists and terrorist sympathizers
drew connections between Great Britain's presence in Iraq and the London bombings), ABC's Good Morning America (which did a long commercial for Disney opening an amusement park in Hong Kong masked as a news story), and John Roberts Jnr.

With guest Elliot Mincberg, they discussed how limited the discussion was and noted that NPR's All Things Considered featured a "debate" between Douglas W. Kmiec and Jeffrey Rosen of The New Republic. The problem with the debate was that, although not revealed to the listeners, both supported Roberts' nomination. [C.I. note: For more on this in text form, check out
this from Media Matters.] Also discussed was the close relationship between reporters and Roberts. It was noted that "a lot of the reporters who cover the Supreme Court have known John Roberts for a while" and that many had his cell phone number. Finally, David Enders discussed Iraq in terms of the problems and dangers of reporting from there (he's almost been kidnapped by the resistance or criminals, he's been shot at by the US military) and the fact that Iraqis want us to leave. Citing a poll done in Iraq prior to last January's elections, Enders noted that "85% of people who said that they were going to vote also said that they wanted to see the US withdraw as quickly as possible."

Friday, I caught Alternative Radio on Pacifica's
KPFK. David Barsamian interviewed Robert McChesney and they discussed how the model for today's media is a problem that goes beyond many other critiques. The discussion was interesting and I felt prepped for it thanks to Dona, among others, addressing the historical topic of partisan media at The Third Estate Sunday Review. Mr. McChesney addressed the ways in which PBS was set up, in terms of funding, has to it's downfall. He addressed how controversial programs would not get funding (and that Charlie Rose could lose Coca Cola as a sponsor), how business programs air repeatedly but there is no effort made by PBS to provide labor reporting, how certain sponsors will support arts programming but there's no thirst for real journalism on PBS. With regard to NPR, Mr. McChesney offered that it was more successful than PBS in serving its purpose because radio programming was less expensive than TV programming. Of special interest to me were the points he made about how the system itself was not "free market" (government subsidies arranged outside the public debate) and how, when people were walked through that, you had the seeds of a movement.

After that, Pocho Hour of Power aired and I will note, as Kyle did in an e-mail, this is another original comedy program created by and for a Pacifica station. It was humerous and reminded me, in every way, of a period when my sons were heavy into their tape recorders and always creating their own programs. There was an excitement in the broadcast as you wondered where they would go next which, I suspect, they did as well. If you enjoy comedy, I do, and have never heard it done live on the radio, you should make a point to check out this weekly show, Fridays on KPFK, 3:00 p.m. Pacific, 5:00 p.m. Central and 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time Zone.

Democracy Now! I always try not to note. That is not because I do not enjoy the show but because I rarely feel that there is much I can add to any discussion other than, "Wasn't it great?" But this week, C.I. and my granddaughter were exchanging e-mails on the Sunday Chat & Chews and Tracey later made a point that led me to browse through the online version of the New York Times. Each week, reporting in their foot slippers and bathrobes, a journalist for the paper will offer a recap of the Sunday Chat & Chews. I was curious as to whether Democracy Now! would be noted.

I certainly think many episodes are worthy of note. But what I was looking for was whether or not the two-part interview done by Amy Goodman, Juan Gonzalez and Margaret Prescod (host of KPFK's
Sojourner Truth) would be noted? It was not.

I enjoyed the interview. But more importantly, here were three journalists interviewing a foreign leader who has been in the headlines, though not interviewed by the Times, for weeks. "
Hugo Chavez: 'If the Imperialist Government of the White House Dares to Invade Venezuela, the War of 100 Years Will be Unleashed in South America'" and "Venezuela's President Chavez Offers Cheap Oil to the Poor...of the United States" were the two parts if you missed it. The Times appears to have missed it.

Each Monday, they feel the need to regurgitate every Republican talking point made on the Sunday Chat & Chews yet somehow Hugo Chavez's comments were not of interest. I do not grasp that. The looney remarks of Pat Roberston, the attempted coup and Venezuela's oil reserves would seem to warrant some interest on the part of the paper of record in what Mr. Chavez had to say. Treva told me that the paper editorialized to applaud the 2002 coup. She says it was left with egg on its face and probably has a short temper and long memory. We also discussed C.I.'s belief that the paper of record gets behind every State Department position of each administration.

It strikes me as strange that the paper of record had no interest in a newsmaker. Whether they, or the State Department, agree with Mr. Chavez or not, he is that: a newsmaker. The New York Times is supposed to be in the news business. Surely readers of the paper who have made due on Associated Press reports within the paper of Mr. Chavez and the occassional piece by the Times' own reporters would also be interested in what Mr. Chavez had to say in a lengthy and exclusive interview?

When I made that statement to Treva, I heard a long sigh and could picture the eye roll that, no doubt, accompanied it.

"Ruthie," she said, "don't you remember All The News That's Fit To Sing?"

What followed was a discussion of the notes on that vinyl album by Phil Ochs, how Phil said he got most of his news from Newsweek and the New York Times but not all because "frankly, there's an awful lot more to his songs than what you'll find in Newsweek, or even the Times."

As Treva said, "So it was, so it is."

NPR? I rarely listened. Mr. McChesney made a point on Alternative Radio regarding declining circulation for papers and declining viewership for news broadcasts that went, and I'm simplifying, when people don't feel that they can make a difference due to the way stories are reported, they aren't interested in following those news sources. That's how I felt about NPR this week. It was the blue pill you swallow if you want to be sedated and wake up pretending everything is normal. (My grandson Levi will groan if I got that wrong. He walks around quoting from The Matrix constantly since his parents finally decided he was old enough to see it.)

Two segments stood out for differing reasons.

The first appeared to be
a corrective for assigning Juan Williams to report on race and poverty with respect to Hurricane Katrina the previous week:

Katrina: Another Example of America's Racial Divide"
by Patricia Elam
Morning Edition, September 22, 2005 · Hurricane Katrina has exposed the hidden issues of race and poverty in the United States. Commentator Patricia Elam says how you see the aftermath of Katrina depends in large part upon who you are.

The second is still in a need of a corrective:

Major Anti-War March Planned in Washington"
by Nancy Marshall Genzer
Morning Edition, September 23, 2005 · Anti-war demonstrators holding a march this weekend in the capital will be comparing the situation in Iraq to the Vietnam era. Supporters of President Bush's policy in the Persian Gulf say the Vietnam comparison is off base, and will stage counter-demonstrations.

In her brief moments, when she was actually allowed to speak, Cindy Sheehan could be heard saying, "We don't want to see the devestation that occurred in Vietnam. We didn't want to see this much devestation and in Vietnam they dawdled and dawled and dawled and finally pulled out. So here why don't we just admit mistakes and get out of there." Those were her remarks in full.

Luckily for NPR, they found Little Willie whom they could give more airtime to speak than they did Cindy Sheehan. Not heard of Little Willie? Not surprising. He is organizing a counter-rally that he has now spent two weeks putting together. The crowd will be much smaller, Little Willie admits. But in the name of "balance," Little Willie's counter-protest is noted not only in the segment but also in Gaskateer Steve's introduction to the segment.

The breakdown is roughly this. Cindy Sheehan, who met with members of Congress in D.C., is given fifteen seconds to speak, Little Willie, who is just now organizing, is given twenty-five seconds.

The segment lasts 4 minutes and 25 seconds. Gaskateer Steve, playing a sound clip of the Bully Boy and explaining this pro-Bully Boy group, which I will call The National League of Men Who Love The Bully Boy, takes up 43 seconds.

That leaves us with 3 minutes and 42 seconds. Historical perspective, with clips from 1967, lasts 26 seconds. That leaves us with 3:16 seconds. the section on Cindy Sheehan herself, as opposed to "Julian Bond says . . .," gets 51 seconds of the report, the section on Little Willie gets 52 seconds.

This is Morning Edition's idea of balance. Reduce Ms. Sheehan's story to one of the press, we are given a sound clip of reporters shouting questions but are not allowed to hear answers, and let her speak for 15 seconds, then devote equal time plus one second to someone organizing what he admits will be a small "rally" which he is rushing to assemble and suddenly the report has "balance."

This is the reason I have lost interest in Morning Edition and an example of why I will not be pledging in my late husband and my name to NPR when it is time to renew the membership. That saddens me. If only because I am used to seeing my husband's and my name on the envelopes that are sent out. I finally changed the phone listing to my name only about six months ago and did so only because I grew tired of telemarketers calling, breathlessly asking to speak to him by his first name. Before Christmas, as the subscriptions to his magazines began lapsing, I did not renew them. But each pledge cycle, I could count on the form letters addressed to the both of us from NPR. It saddens me to let go of that tie to him but I do not see a justification for supporting this kind of "balance."

It was as though Janis Joplin just sold out the Winter Garden and, while reporting on that, NPR decided to "round out" the story on the huge attendence expected for Janis by giving "equal time" to Vikki Carr appearing at a hole in the wall. One is a news, one is a joke.

I was able to finally listen to
WBAI's Wakeup Call, much to my granddaughter's delight. I hope Howard Zinn fans were able to hear him on Wednesday. Jennifer Harbury, whom I have seen on Democracy Now!, was also a strong guest on Wednesday.

As the week began on Sunday, I had no plans to participate in the protests in D.C. I was hopeful that the turnout would be strong but I had not even thought about attending. Then members started e-mailing and my friend Treva phoned to say she would be there. By mid-week, when my granddaughter Tracey had permission from her parents to go if I accompanied her and Tracey had an offer for her and I to stay with C.I. and other members in D.C., it was decided. As my excitement grew, the soothing tunes and "balanced" stories of Morning Edition rarely held my interest. It felt, as Mr. McChesney noted about much of the media in general, as if it were reporting on issues that were beyond me, not issues that effected me.

As Mr. McChesney pointed out, of PBS, they do arts programming fairly well. If you are looking for something to listen to on NPR next week, I will suggest this:

NPR Live Concert Series
The White Stripes Live: September 27" to Web Cast Full Concert, September 6, 2005 · Hear the rock duo The White Stripes in a live, audio webcast from the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD September 27. The full concert will stream on along with opening acts by M. Ward and The Shins. It's the latest in NPR Music's live concert series from All Songs Considered.
Currently on tour to promote their latest album, Get Behind Me Satan, The White Stripes are from Detroit with a minimalist sound built on basic drums (Meg White) and guitar (Jack White). The band's inspired mix of classic rock, blues and punk is stripped bare but intense. It's been a wildly successful formula, earning a legion of fans worldwide and nearly universal praise from critics.
M. Ward writes quiet, introspective folk and sings with a wisp of a voice. His music is often processed to give it a distant, creaky feel, as though it were coming from an old radio in another time. His latest CD is, in fact, called Transistor Radio, a delicate tribute to a forgotten era.
The Shins write smart, catchy pop tunes. They first reached a major audience when their song "Caring is Creepy" was featured in the soundtrack for the film Garden State. The band's most recent album, Chutes Too Narrow, was released in 2003. They're currently at work on new material.

Tracey has been a huge fan of The White Stripes for some time, so much so that I can sing along with every song on Get Behind Me, Satan. "Forever For Her (Is Over For Me)" and "As Ugly As I Seem" are probably my favorited. But now Levi and my other grandchildren have been turned on to The Stripes by Tracey and when I noted the upcoming broadcast of the concert Sunday at lunch, I saw the wild enthusiasm that Dick Clark must have spent two-thirds of his life being greeted with.
Kat had strong praise for The White Stripes' Get Behind Me, Satan so I will assume that others in the community may be interested in the concert as well.