Saturday, June 10, 2006

Ruth's Public Radio Report

Ruth: During my vacation, I spent a great deal of time thinking about the public radio report. That included weighing the advice from Rebecca and others. So there are a few changes. Iraq has always been an issue at this site and I will probably be focusing more on it when noting programming.

Rebecca's post that spoke of her grandmother's scrapbook of clippings from the local paper about WWII, while it was ongoing, reminded me of how little news we are getting on Iraq when you consider that this is an ongoing war that has now lasted three years, is headed for the fourth, possibly the fifth, the sixth . . . The press is not treating it seriously.

In future reports, I will probably be far more likely to highlight discussions of the war than anything else.

For this report, Iraq is a topic I will be noting; however, I am also going to note the issue of female guests. As a longterm feminist, I remember the joys of finally seeing women break through in many fields. It mattered then and it still matters today.

But some make themselves useless. For feminism, that is not a bad thing. It serves to remind us all that a woman can be everything a man can be. Commanding, on top of their game, brilliant -- to be sure. But the list also includes "useless."

Ruth Conniff cast herself in that role Friday. Ms. Conniff appeared on Kris Welch's Living Room on KPFA Friday. Ms. Welch specifically asked Ms. Conniff about the 2004 election results. Ms. Conniff did not to respond to the question. I have no use for that. I have no use for people who cannot speak up. If Ms. Conniff feels the election was not stolen, that is her right and I would have listened to her reasoning. Instead, she spoke of everything but the 2004 election results. Possibly she misheard the question?

With too much too cover, I will not waste my time, or any member's time, by recording lengthy statements from those who, for whatever reason, cannot address an issue put to them.

On Iraq, Robert Parry, another guest, spoke of what he was saw around the country, what he heard. Ms. Conniff spoke in generalities about the war ("professionalized military . . ."). It was as though it was being spit out by a machine. Our time is too valuable to waste with robotics.

The question was about the war and how it had not made the top ten of's poll. There is a reason for that. It has been covered most recently in John Walsh's "MoveOn Rigs Its Own Vote; Betrays Its Membership" (CounterPunch). has a history of silencing the war issue. That includes the March 2005 protests, the second anniversary of the illegal invasion, where, under pressure, they suddenly hooked up at the last minute with Sojouner's to do something, anything.

Mr. Parry spoke of what he saw in this country and how it was innaccurate to claim that the war was not an issue to people. Ms. Conniff's answer would not offend since it gave them every excuse and plenty of cover to hide behind. It had nothing to do with reality or people (represented as "the people," far removed). Ms. Conniff mentioned only one actual person, a neighbor. Goddess of the hearth at this late date? Sounding like a cross between a Bronte shut-in and June Cleaver, Ms. Conniff, after dispensing with her coffee clatch, went on to provide dull remarks. If that is what I enjoyed hearing, I would be doing Ruth's Meet the Press Report.

I have no time or interest in noting her superficial remarks on Al Gore (with giggles) that did not address the press attacks on him in 2000 but did endorse them. She honestly struck me as the sort of pundit that Bob Somerby rails against regularly.

Former Vice-President Gore is not above criticism. But silly giggles and remarks that follow what Mr. Somerby has dubbed the "script" are of no use to me. Being a woman, and a Ruth, I was sad to find that Ruth Conniff was of no use to me. That was, however, the reality.

I made a million excuses as I listened. Possibly if Andrea Lewis was interviewing her one on one . . .? If the other two guest had not been males then . . .? Maybe she was nervous?

She was on the air with Ms. Welch who is not a shy broadcaster. People do not need to choose their words carefully with Ms. Welch -- who can handle a lively debate. Ms. Conniff is responsible for her own remarks and her own presentation. There was nothing of value and nothing that went beyond the "script."

That was true of her comments on Al Gore, that was true of her answers to what Democrats need to do. Softly nudging Jeffery Golberg on the shoulder, Ms. Conniff did so in a recent column which she discussed on the program, may have seemed the height of radicalism to Ms. Conniff, but to me, it was just one more person desperate to be an insider, determined to ruffle no feathers in the silly world of Punditville.

A soft nudge was also what she gave Newsweek. Elaine noted that of Ms. Conniff's column. It was true of her remarks on the program as well. Newsweek has still not owned up to what they did. If Ms. Conniff elects to write a column about it and to address it on radio, it is incumbent upon her to note reality. Accepting that a correction has been issued when so much was left uncorrected is "pleasing." It is not, however, reality.

When a male journalist or pundit goes out of his way to be "pleasing," we generally assume that he is doing so because he thinks it will provide him access/status. When a woman does the same it may be for that reason and/or/more it may be because it has been ingrained in her psyche that her existance is based upon pleasing others. If that is the case with Ms. Conniff, as one a few decades older than Ms. Conniff, let me note that there is no destination to happiness at the end of Pleasing Road. Judging by Cokie Roberts, there is a lot of bitterness, a lot of hatred and a very soggy mind.

Just to cover the show, along with Ms. Welch, Ms. Conniff and Mr. Parry, John Nichols was on, briefly, as a guest. Mr. Nichols had a bad phone connection and another engagement so he was only on at the start of the discussion. This was a real shame because Mr. Nichols had things of value to discuss.

I have heard the frustration in the voices of Dalia Hashad, Michael Ratner, Michael Smith and Heidi Boghosian on Law and Disorder as they have tackled serious issues week after week. Just this week, Ms. Hashad said, "We have got to wake up in America." Ms. Conniff would probably reply, "Oh, hit the snooze alarm, I'm not done whipping up my blueberry pancakes from scratch and it's such a lovely day." The willingness of the hosts of Law and Disorder to share their level of frustration has not only made for wonderful broadcasting, it has illuminated the situations. Floating on a cloud, above it all, tossing off pseudo-inspiritational bits that have no bearing on reality may have a place and may be enjoyed by some attending a "How I Got My Man" or "How I Kept My Man" seminar. It offers nothing to the political conversation.

To those who yearn for shallow scripts, I would urge you to check out Ms. Conniff's comments. I, however, am an old woman and do not need some guru passing out platitudes.

A woman who wants to be a motivational speaker has every right to be that. I just do not need my critiques and analysis from them. Ms. Conniff was once on television quite often. She may still be. I can remember her from before the rise of the blonde right-wingers. She, and a few other women, would smile serenely and take pains to couch every argument. I had forgotten that until I heard her speaking to Ms. Welch. Suddenly, I remembered every soft-spoken, female guru dispensing love and goodness while a George Will or Tucker Carlson detonated a verbal bomb or while a Chris Matthews shouted over everything. It was useless.

Gloria Steinem is not someone I ever remember shouting a guest or interviewer down. But she is also not someone who fails to register human emotion. She has always been effective. Molly Ivins is another woman I have never failed to be impressed with. But for every Ivins and Steinem there were multiple women who saw their role as the help-mate to the nation, the nation's spiritual and moral advisor, and themselves as some sort of quasi-Miss Manners.

As political analysts or offering critiques of our times, motivational speakers serve no purpose. They are to politics what Petulia Clark was to sixties rock music. Playing the "good girl" may please whomever they cast in the role of "Daddy," but it does not serves the public conversation or understanding. Soft and gauzey "Women We Love" plays in Esquire but it is not of use to me.

Women I love? Women who are not afraid to speak their minds. Women who are themselves. That might mean loud, that might mean weary, that might mean funny, but it never, ever, means a robot. My generation rebelled against the role of the robatic wife who had no opinion to express that might go against accepted social norms and mores.

Women do not have to be Natalie Wood in Rebel Without a Cause, standing on the sidelines, rooting on the drag race. That road led to unhappiness and spiritual destruction. I have always considered Ms. Wood's Deanie in Splendor in the Grass to be the natural outcome for Judy in Rebel.

This is not about the nature of the voice itself or about caring. Sister Helen and Jane Goodall always come off as two caring individuals. Neither woman, however, sticks to scripts or betrays her own platform.

Ms. Conniff was a guest for an hour, for the hour. I heard nothing but dime-store analysis dressed up in a motivational talk. Helpmate of the party isn't a role that interests me. If this house is on fire, you scream, "Fire!" You do not say, "I'll get the marshmellows." Like a Stepford Wife with a hobby, Ms. Conniff batted the Democratic Party with a tissue while Mr. Parry, feet firmly in the real world, spoke of real issues.

She not only found hope in the man Rebecca has christened Evan Blah, she felt the need to share that she had found hope. It was as though she was breathlessly exclaiming, "Did you see the clean hands on our mugger? Wasn't that delightful?" Having cast herself in the role of the party's helpmate, she is now left to explain away the bruises, cuts and other injuries that would have any thinking woman running to a women's shelter. Instead, Mr. Conniff asks only that when she next gets battered, her "man" not hit her in the face.

Where the blame lies for this inability to question those in power is anyone's guess but when it comes from a woman, there is an additional layer of questions.

As anyone who listens to Ms. Welch, even semi-regularly, knows, electronic voting is a big issue on her show. It is a big issue with her, with her guests and with her callers. To be asked point blank about voting and to non-respond by issuing a statement on grassroots and party's efforts to win the next election was not only bland, it was stupid. Ms. Welch had noted that the League of Women Voters in Florida will no longer register voters in that state due to the oppressive laws passed by the Republican legislature to surpress voter turnout. The issue of the outcome for 2004 was not, giggles from Ms. Conniff aside, about Senator John Kerry's effectiveness or lack of it in communicating.

There were no giggles regarding the Bully Boy. In fact, I do not even remember Ms. Conniff naming him. That is a script Bob Somerby's addressed quite often. For those unfamiliar with that script it boils down to: the press mocks, sneers and smears the Democratic candidate while never judging the Republican candidate by the same standard. An example I believe he has cited quite often is that Al Gore could be judged a liar via "clowning" but Bully Boy could do or say whatever he wanted and not face the same consquences. On this week's CounterSpin, Steve Rendall addressed how Jim Lehren of PBS' NewsHour does not feel it is his job to note when the Bully Boy lies. Somehow, however, it is the job of the press to create the myth of "Al Gore: The Great Liar."

In a giggling fit, Ms. Conniff actually offered one specific opinion during the hour program: Al Gore should not run for president because he is no candidate. Al Gore the candidate was a source of much mirth to Ms. Conniff. It probably keeps the laughs coming when you never challenge your peers but instead add to the nonsense, year after year, and fail to highlight very real issues. Here is one for Ms. Conniff, Al Gore got more votes in 2000.

Did the laughter stop? Good. I do not consider the attacks on women, the illegal war, the warrantless spying on Americans, Guantanamo Bay or other issues "laughing matters." Ms. Conniff's mistake may have been in thinking that she was on a Beltway program where easy answers could be dressed up with "my neighbor, who's serving in Iraq" bits of gossip from the neighborhood, but that was not the case. She would do better for others and herself by getting out into the real world. For instance, it would probably be a good idea to be able to talk about the Tuesday election in California when you are brought on a show whose topic includes that election. She had no insight to offer. Apparently the actual realities of the California election, which were addressed by Mr. Nichols and Mr. Parry in their own responses, are far removed from the Beltway and her own neighborhood.

At one point, Mr. Nichols stated, "If you want to be serious about politics, you have to be serious about where the new ideas are coming from." Though he was not addressing Ms. Conniff's contributions, he might just as well have been. What might this election tell us about the November general elections? To answer that question, you would have to know something about the results. (Andrea Lewis and Philip Maldari discussed this at length on Wednesday's The Morning Show.) The fact that Ms. Conniff appears to feel knowledge of an election is unnecessary when offering her predictions may go a long way in explaining why she finds the thought of former Vice-President Al Gore so humorous.

On Tuesday, Danny Schechter was on KPFA's The Morning Show. With Philip Maldari he addressed the way the media santizes war crimes -- the topic of a recent article written by Mr. Schechter. Mr. Schechter noted the "risk adverse" nature of the media and how, at a Peabody awards ceremony, Brian Williams stated that our government failed us with regards to Hurricane Katrina. While there is safety in making that claim, the media refuses to speak the same truth about the illegal war despite the fact that the people are more and more aware of it. Mr. Malderi addressed the issue of embedded journalists identifying with the troops and being unable to address the realities of what goes on whether it is Haditha or Falluja. Mr. Schechter referred to this as media crimes. Mr Schechter discussed how power has shifted from the government "into the corporate world with globalization, with corporations dominating everthing" and the media is a part of that, the face of it.

John F. Burns, of the New York Times, was discussed and how controlled what he sees is. "His coverage has spun into a need to accept the war for removing Saddam," Mr. Schechter noted following Mr. Maldari's comments about how limited Mr. Burns' access and mobility is in Iraq. Mr. Schechter addressed the covert operations, the outsourcing of the war and a great deal more including the issue of traction for a news story noting that, "a story only rises to the level of everybody knows about when a lot of people pile on it."

In a half-hour interview, in any two minutes of the half-hour interview, Mr. Schechter offered more reality than Ms. Conniff managed to. I do not believe Mr. Schechter was attempting to inspire, I do believe he was attempting to inform -- which he did consistently. He has a new documentary that will be out shortly entitled In Debt We Trust focusing on the credit squeeze in America.

WBAI's Law and Disorder offered a discussion with Anthony Arnove, author of IRAQ: The Logic of Withdrawal, for the last half of the hour long show. Topics discussed included the illegal occupation as the root cause of chaos and violence in Iraq, the need to combat empire, the need to link civil rights to the movement, the need to address the administration's plans for Iran, the counter-recruiting movement . . . Strangely enough, despite the fact that the hosts are no fans of the Clinton administration, they did not make time to giggle over Al Gore as a candidate. Possibly, having real issues and real priorites prevented them from having the need or desire to embarrass themselves?

That allowed them to offer real contributions to the discussion of the war -- something far removed from "Well, golly, people aren't effected by it and we have a professional military and, what else is on the check list all the pundits check off, oh, yes! Also . . ." Instead we got real moments that mattered such as this exchange between Ms. Hashad and Mr. Arnove.

Ms. Hashad: Several weeks ago we were out at an anti-torture protest in Portland, Oregon . . . and we spoke to this woman who was there, who had just quit her job to protest full time against the war in Iraq. She said, "My brother is over there now and, if he dies, I'll just lose my mind. This is the moment. This is the time. If I don't quit my job and devote myself to this fully, I will never have the opportunity to go back and correct that mistake."

Mr. Arnove: That's very powerful. I think a lot of people are sensing that this is the moment. The thing is, I think we just need to find ways of effectively channeling that.

Possibly, Ms. Conniff felt that giggling over Al Gore and avoiding the issue of the war, while justifying the avoidance of it by the elected Democrats -- sharing how it is not hitting home (that's a very interesting neighborhood she lives in) -- is what she sees as an effective way to channel this moment? I do not and I do not have time for those who do.

Please check Kat's "Guns and Butter, Betty's latest chapter and more" for coverage of Guns and Butter, Mike's "Law and Disorder and more" and Cedric's "Law and Disorder on Ahmed Omar Abu Ali" for coverage of Law and Disorder, Elaine's "Rare morning post" for coverage of WBAI's Cat Radio Cafe, and Rebecca's covered KPFA's Flashpoints all week.

Coming up on KPFA:

Sunday Salon
Sunday, June 11th, 09:00a.m.
Hour 1: The controversial California High School Exit Exam;
Hour 2: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East

Act One Radio Drama
Sunday, June 11th, 7:30p.m.
Aliens in America, written by contemporary satirist Sandra Tsing Loh.

Against the Grain
Monday, June 12th, 12:00p.m.
Aaron Glantz, author of "How America Lost Iraq," talks about the massacre by US troops of Iraqi civilians in Haditha.

[Elaine note: Typo corrected by Elaine per Ruth.]