Saturday, July 08, 2006

Ruth's Public Radio Report Pt. II

Ruth: This is part two, where I will note the Iraq coverage and also include comments on the coverage of the topic no media, independent or mainstream, seemed to get tired of. [Part one is here.] I thank those who shared their thoughts for doing so and for allowing me to share it here.

This week started strong on Monday with Janet Coleman interviewing women with the Granny Peace Brigade on WBAI's Cat Radio Cafe. If you are not familiar with the group, this is a group of women who are activists to end the war and they are also grandmothers. They have shown so much bravery and grit as they have repeatedly protested at military recruitment centers. The women were in DC gearing up to participate in the fast for peace with, among others, CODEPINK, Gold Star Families for Peace, United for Peace & Justice and Women for Peace. These women know there is a war going on and they want to end it.

C.I.'s written here, two or three times now, wondering does the right-wing want the illegal war to continue more than we want the illegal war to end? That is a good question and one that we need to answer. I will note, because Mike has been upset about this as have my grandchildren Jayson and Tracey, that two Mondays ago, if anyone was paying attention, we saw the United States government exposed again for lying about the war. How so? Hopefully, you did not ask that and are already aware that Nancy A. Youssef broke the news then that the U.S. government, despite repeated claims otherwise, has been keeping a body count on Iraqi civilians. Mike and my grandchildren are young so that might be why they were so shocked that so little was said about it. How little? I did not hear it covered on any Pacifica program. I think it is likely that Free Speech Radio News did cover it because Aaron Glantz, who often reports on that program, did write an article on this story. But the silence on it has been disappointing.

Maybe it is an indication of our failure to connect with the tragedies Iraqis are facing? Maybe it is a case of people not hearing of the story? Is it that we just do not care? I hope not. But listening in vain for any kind of a discussion on this made me wonder how much we, as a country, even care?

I lived through the Vietnam era. I was a college student then. I was out of college before the war ended and when I reminded Mike of that, he is in college currently, he asked about the turning point with the media?

I wish I could give him a concrete answer. I can remember the turning point with the people. But I mainly remember being disgusted with the coverage in real time. There is the Walter Cronkite moment where then President Lyndon B. Johnson famously said that if he had lost Mr. Cronkite, he had lost America so there was no point in running for re-election. I did not see the media change then. It was many years before I saw it change.

Are we on the same trajectory again?

When I was traveling around the country on my road trip with my best friend Treva, we encountered families, individuals, old and young, opposed to the war, wanting it to end. The people have turned against the war and I agree with C.I. that the sentiment is so solid on that, there is not a return to embracing it.

In the last two weeks, we have seen armed agression in Gaza, a very likely fraudelent election in Mexico and a host of other issues. Are they worthy of coverage? They are. So are many other topics. But, in terms of Pacifica and all media, we have also seen less coverage of Iraq. This I do know, from the sixties to the early seventies, Vietnam was covered. Once the media finally started covering it, they did not cover it from the beginning, they continued to. Other stories might grab the opening spots of the evening news, but Vietnam did not disappear.

Iraq is disappearing. We should not kid ourselves otherwise. I have read, seen and heard lousy coverage on the so-called peace plan. Dahr Jamail has been one of the best writers refuting the nonsense and, sadly, he has not been on many programs. C.I. has rightly, and repeatedly, pointed out that hearing "eight groups" are involved from the resistance or "ten" or "twenty" is meaningless because exactly how many groups are there? There is not one group. I would add to that one more point, our information there comes from people in the government chosen by the U.S. During the Vietnam era, there were some serious efforts at a peace plan, not serious on the side of the U.S. administration. It bothers me that such a vague plan as Nouri al-Maliki has presented has become a period at the end of the coverage and I was glad to see that Tom Hayden, who knows more than a few things about peace plans, was also a strong critical voice at a time when a number of other people just went along repeating talking points. [See Hayden's "Breaking Iraq News" and "Shifting Winds on Iraq."] On the radio, I have heard no real discussions on the so-called peace plan for the most part. I have, however, heard a great deal of people repeat "peace plan" and wonder exactly what happened to criticial thinking?

There have been so many brakes put on the current peace movement. You have seen an "anti-war" group spend all of 2004 and most of 2005 claiming that we had to stay there. The group has now caught up with the America people. Only after they slammed CODEPINK for demonstrating at a miliatry base. During Vietnam, the left had a some sense of the Vietnamese. I am not sure we have any sense of the Iraqis. It is not just that during the initial invasion the coverage was so far removed that we saw, as many pointed out, the missiles being launched but not the targets or the people whose lives were forever changed or ended.

Do the Iraqis have a right to exist? I do wonder about where we stand in this country on that sometimes as we all stick to the playbook of focusing on individual Americans but never being overly concerned about individual Iraqis. They largely remain faceless and their stories untold.

One of the exceptions in the coverage has been KPFA's Flashpoints. Flashpoints focuses a great deal on the Middle East, true. But there main emphasis is usually the occupied territories in Israel. It was a surprise, one I was very thankful for, to see that even with the events in Gaza, they still were able to offer some outstanding coverage on Iraq and from Iraq. That was last week and it continued this week.

They managed to cover the Mexico election and the aftermath but they managed to have a balance that most programs did not. I read the special edition of the round-robin that went out Thursday where Gina and Krista allowed Mexican-American members to sound off. I agreed with the sentiment expressed there which I will boil down as "an election does not change anything regardless of which of the two is selected." But I kept thinking of how we have had questionable, I would call them "stolen" elections, in this country and thinking the coverage was stemming from that. Then Friday, while Elijah was down for his nap, I got online to read the latest gina & krista round-robin. When I saw C.I.'s column, with its opening sentence, I was prepared to hear about Mexico. I was surprised because members had been very vocal about their feelings of the coverage of it. But there was the sentence, "I'm going to focus, for this column, on a questionable election." So I was shocked when, in the next sentence, the backdrop was Macednoia and not Mexico. I had no idea that they had held elections in Macedonia.

In addition to the special round-robin, I know from e-mails I got throughout the week that members felt the Zapatistas were being spat upon. Francisco wondered how, after the treatment they received, they will ever again receive any decent coverage?

Maria and I spoke on the phone because I saw Kat's entry and, since Maria had been visiting family in Mexico through the lead up to the election and left shortly after the election, I wanted her opinion. Maria said the election was not the most pressing concern for her family in Mexico. Her family members were not members of the Zapatistas but they were aware of the movement's feelings and they shared it. Contrary to one guest who appeared to blame the Zapatistas for the turnout, they did not pick up that attitude from the group, they had it already. It was interesting to hear all these journalists and professors talking about the average Mexican and their needs. One might think they could not speak for themselves?

Maria said she did not detect a great deal of passion for either candidate and, based on phone calls late in the week, she did not see an overwhelming protest over the returns though she added: "I did feel much of the coverage was trying to create that." She spoke of Vincent Fox and the "massive failure" of his government to address the concerns of the working class and the extreme poor. She spoke of a long process of detachment and a lack of belief in any central solution because the feeling is the president of the country cares about the most prosperous areas and only those few areas. She feels the election and the candidates were "a joke." She spoke of the destruction NAFTA had brought, the many businesses closed as Wal-Mart overtook the country, and mainly of a journalist who had once praised the Zapatistas but now rushed to turn them into Mexico's version of Ralph Nader in 2000. She found that attitude to be elitist and insulting as though the average Mexican was not smart enough to think for his or herself and had been duped.

"I really felt," Maria told me, "that he was saying, 'Stupid Mexicans! They blew their chance to have a great leader!' It wasn't the fact that he was so obviously an advocate of one candidate that bothered me, it was his disdain for the people. I'd like to find something positive to say, Ruth, about this American citizen who was so passionate about Mexico politics but I can't. He was insulting. I think the people sent a message with their lack of enthusiasm for the election. He seemed to feel that they were too stupid to grasp how important the election was to their own lives. I don't think a foreign journalist should cover an area where he has so little respect for the people. They were burned repeatedly by Fox. The lesson wasn't 'free elections,' it was 'empty promises.' They'd had enough of it. I kept waiting for the coverage to address that aspect but it never did. Which is a real shame, in my opinion, because that does have implications for elections in the United States. I also was shocked to hear how 'ugly' this election cycle was which indicated to me that those speaking knew only of press coverage of past elections as opposed to what happened and didn't get covered. But certain people on the left seem to have adopted a psuedo-left candidate and to have been troubled by the results. I would think they'd be dismayed over his slogans which never amounted to a plan. I was honestly shocked when I returned home and heard the coverage because I'd traveled throughout Mexico since I have aunts and uncles and cousins all over. I wasn't in the rich areas and I didn't hear any of the passionate outrage being expressed by anyone. They felt the candidates were jokes and that the election was a joke. They felt that way leading up to it and they felt that way after so it was a tremendous shock to come back here and turn on the radio and catch this coverage. I then caught up on some of the coverage I'd missed and phoned Miguel and Francisco to ask them what was going on. They have family in Mexico and I thought possibly I'd missed the areas where the election was some overriding concern. But they agreed with me. Francisco was even more offended by what I see as the 'stupid Mexicans' coverage, if you can believe that. It was a squabble over resources between elites and most people sensed that. They weren't stupid. Meanwhile, my two oldest kids were asking me if everyone was okay? They'd seen only a small part of the coverage, since we'd gotten back, and were convinced that Mexico was about to go up in flames over this election."

I followed up by calling Francisco and Miguel. Francisco was happy to talk about Mexico, his family there and a number of other topics. On the subject of the American coverage of the elections he had to stop for a minute. I was not sure if he was still there so I called out his name. He responded that he found the coverage so hurtful that he was attempting to choose his words carefully. In the end, he apologized because he said he could not come up with a well worded response, he was too bothered by the portrayals of Mexicans in the coverage. He did offer that if the coverage continued next week we could look forward to well educated elites showing up in the media to protest the election or a story on how "the lazy masses are too stupid to care." He did want to share a lesson he learned from the coverage: "I blamed Ralph Nader for the 2000 election for a long time. Seeing the Zapatistas turned on made me realize that Nader wasn't the problem. On some level, I knew that all along but it made me face it."

Miguel said that at first he was bothered by the coverage but, as the week went on, he learned to just laugh at it.

"That really was the best thing to do unless I wanted to get so ticked off I couldn't focus on anything else," Miguel said. "So I would laugh and say something like, 'Oh poor baby, you did not get your way. Cry some more.' When the New York Times hails a candidate as the great lefty, that's your first clue that he's not very left. If he is left, they ignore him, like they do Noam Chomsky. It's only if he can work within the system and not challenge any of the resources that they even bother to cover him. They'll mock him, the way they do Democrats in this country. But if he's a serious politician with plans for the people, like Dennis Kucinich in 2004, they just ignore him."

I had been off the phone with Miguel for about an hour when Diana called me. Francisco had spoken with her and passed on my number. I knew Diana from some wonderful poetry she had shared in the round-robin and from the entry she wrote here about attending the largest protest ever held in Dallas, Texas -- the one million-plus turnout to show support for immigrant rights. After I has asked some questions about her poetry and we had both discussed our children, and, in my case, my grandchildren, then we discussed the coverage. Like Miguel, she had learned to laugh it.

Diana laughed and said, "Ay-yi-yi, it was that or rip my head off. Awhile back, a publisher from my area was on a program, you may remember, and up in arms about how wrong young, teenage, Mexican-Americans were to take a Mexican flag to a protest. That was somehow hidous and awful. Showing 'dual loyalties.' It was 'wrong.' We weren't supposed to honor our heritage in the protests but now that there's an election in Mexcio, we're supposed to be focused on nothing else. A flag, showing that you are someone in this country who came from somewhere else, is wrong. But being obsessed with elections in another country is 'okay'? A flag honors your heritage, meddling in politics in another country? That's how I saw it, meddling. I felt like I was being encouraged to be outraged. Instructed to be outraged. Maybe I would've been if I wasn't very aware of politics in Mexico. I actually think that might have been the most instructive thing, to talk about the realities of how fixed those elections are, how corrupt. If we could see that in another country, it might help us see it in our own. I think what I found most interesting in the coverage, beside the inclusion of so many Anglo-Americans, was how little present women were. Did you see them or hear from them? I don't know if that means we were smarter and didn't want to join the circus of if it just means we weren't invited? But it was interesting to see the coverage on the right and the left and the supposed center, where all these male blowhards got bent out of shape over which man was going to be chosen. It was like seeing them squabble over the results of a sporting event. I'm working on a poem about my reaction to that and how, at the end of the day, we're still the ones who put the food on the table so we don't get lost in another round of empty promises."

Diana hopes to finish that poem this weekend so check next Friday's round-robin. She read me the first stanza and I think it is now my favorite of all the poems she has shared. I know from Ava and Jess that the sentiments expressed were the overwhelming response from members who e-mailed C.I. this week. If there were members who found the coverage useful, e-mail me and I will note it in my next report. I phoned Maria, Francisco and Miguel because I knew them and had their phone numbers. I was lucky to hear from Diana and even luckier to be able to include her reponse.

I thought the comments about how this could be applied to the United States were very interesting, especially as we get near another presidential election cycle of our own.

How does this apply to Iraq? Ask any member and you will find that this is what was emphasized while Iraq was lost. The playwright and activist Sherry Glaser was interviewed by Dennis Bernstein on Thursday's Flashpoints and she spoke of how we needed to become more bold and more active in our opposition to the war. Breasts Not Bombs is one of the activites she is a part of. I really think that is a wonderful way to approach things, to ask, "How can I get the message out in a different way?"

After the road trip, my opinion of the country was that the mood was there for activism and speaking out. There was, however, a feeling of isolation. Usually, the person I spoke with would talk about how nice it was that they had friends or neighbors who were also against the war. But even so, there was a sense that they were an island in some sea of support. When, not if, when, we wake up to the fact that we are not the minority opinion, I think we will see some real pressure brought upon our leaders to end the war.

We are not there yet. Just as a presumably educated man made a fool out of himself for ranting over the fact that Mexican flags were brought to a protest for immigrant rights, we still have too many people trying to put the brakes on how we respond: We can march with this sign or we can speak about it in this way.

Until the brakes come off the movement, it will continue to struggle. That is why I enjoyed Sherry Glaser as a guest so much. She seems like a very bright woman and, here is the thing, there are many women and men like her. Until they are covered, until the peace movement is covered, we will continue to feel like we are islands in some huge sea. We need more information on Iraq and more reality in the coverage of it. We also need to realize that a peace movement not covered is not a peace movement that grows in leaps and bounds.

There was not one response to Vietnam from a unified peace movement. There were many responses. What spoke to me, did not always speak to my late husband and vice versa. What Treva applauded was not always the event or action that I found touched the most. Tapesty, long before Carole King named an album that, was an overused term of that period, but it was also an accurate one. There was a tapestry of actions. There was also coverage of the actions. The mainstream news might sneer at it but it did get coverage. We also had programs, talk shows, where hosts were not afraid to bring on peace activists. They might feign outrage and ask "What are you hoping to accomplish?" but they allowed them to speak. As this war drags on, the thing that continues to surprise me is how little coverage there is of the peace movement.

As a feminist, I can tell you the importance of sharing stories. I particpated in many 'rap sessions' in my day where the issue was the war. When I first learned of feminism, it was an incredible moment. But I had no idea that it would be that for so many women. The'rap sessions' became consciousness raising and, in sharing our stories, we found strength and understanding. Overnight, it seemed, feminism spread across the nation. That could happen with the peace movement today. I can remember hearing that another college had just done something and thinking, "Okay, well what are we going to do?" Because learning of what another group of women were doing empowered me.

I will wrap up by noting that Friday on KPFA's The Morning Show, Andrea Lewis interviewed Dahr Jamail and Mark Manning about a joint appearance they were making that evening to discuss and show Mr. Manning's documentary about Falluja, Caught in the Crossfire. That is a wonderful documentary but I understand it has been updated so I will assume my DVD from last year is out of date now. I know Goldie showed the film at a house party she and her mother Marlene held to raise awareness about the war and I know a few other members have seen the film as well. You may want to consider purchasing a new copy of Caught in the Crossfire because I believe it has been updated.

Ms. Lewis opened the discussion asking them to offer some context on the recent allegations of rape and murder committed by U.S. troops in Iraq. Mr. Jamail spoke of how these events, though not covered by the domestic media, were not uncommon and were "happening on a regular type basis in Iraq" citing reports he received of rapes during house raids. Mr. Manning agreed and noted that "a lot of women in Iraq [are] stating that they have been raped." He pinned some of the blame on the immunity for the military and contractors in Iraq. As a result of this immunity, he noted that "no investigations are happening."

He spoke of what it would be like in this country, the reaction to a large number of women reporting rapes, and the police and judicial systems not following up on it.

On the subject of the future of Iraq, Mr. Jamail sited a poll of Iraqis which found that 82-percent of them "wanted an immediate pullout" while less than one-percent of those polled "felt that their presence was improved by the U.S. being in Iraq."

They also spoke of how Falluja was not covered by the mainstream media in this country. They spoke of the huge number of people killed there, the November 2004 destruction of the city, the fact that, all this time later, nothing has been done for the people there. Mr. Manning spoke of how "the media fialed to report" what he saw with his own eyes and how he doubted that Americans would be indifferent to the news that destruction was brought on this city, the equivalent of Hurricane Katrina in many ways, and there has still been no real efforts at providing relief.

Mr. Jamail compared what was going currently in Ramadi, a topic I heard addressed only twice this week outside of news programs, to the events in April of 2004 in Falluja. He spoke of the ongoing air bombings, of the fact that the "U.S. has bulldozed three blocks of the city downtown" to create a mini-Green Zone similar to what exists in Baghdad. My comment here, possibly that is why the vile Dexter Filkins of the New York Times feels so comfortable leaving his usual Green Zone and 'reporting' from Ramadi?

So the week started strong with Janet Coleman and ended strong with Andrea Lewis. During the week itself, you were lucky to catch Dennis Bernstein or Nora Barrows-Friedman, otherwise, Iraq really was not on the radar. Thursday on WBAI following the broadcast of First Voices Indigenous Radio, there were two thirty minute broadcasts of Pacifica's From the Vault series.
If you missed it, Dallas advises me it is not listed as "From the Vault." To listen, pull up the eleven a.m. hour from Thursday at the archives. Both half-hour documentaries focused on Vietnam. The first was providing you with a look at some of the G.I. protests of that war. I enjoyed this half-hour the most. I also found it interesting to listen to Senator John F. Kerry's famous speech about how do you ask someone to be the last to die in Vietnam. What I noticed this time was how easy it was to substitute "terrorist" for "communist." The second half-hour was devoted to an interview with someone from the military and I am sure you can hear it better at the archives but I was listening over the airwaves and the sound would go in and out.
What both made me wonder is when the From the Vault project intends to start putting together documentaries on Iraq?

We have passed the three year mark. Certainly Amy Goodman alone has provided enough interviews and reports on the G.I. resistance to fill several hours. From the Vault is dedicated to preserving the historical tapes of Pacifica Radio broadcasts and history is now. Bernard White, introducing the second half-hour, noted that it had also run on July Fourth. It is very important to cover Vietnam, I am always surprised by what Tracey or Jayson picks up from that coverage and applies to today. But I would assume a documentary aired on a holiday about Iraq would be as useful. I think hours could be spent pulling some together or, if they wanted to do something quickly, they could just pull from the Iraq coverage Democracy Now! notes in the year end episodes each year.

The people have reached their turning point. The media has not. Instead, we end up chasing this story down or that story down and Iraq is repeatedly put on the back burner. I love what Mike and his friends have started on Fridays, the group, the very large group, that gets together to discuss Iraq. I have made Saturday afternoons my time to emulate Mike. Since we, C.I. and I, were attempting to find a way to break up this report into two parts, I was able to "add one more thing." I always picture C.I. cringing at those words while thinking, "Jeez, is this report ever going to be finished?"

I do not watch TV anymore. I listen to news and public affairs programming mainly and, in the evenings, also surf the web. For this meet up, I prepared a list of questions to ask my friends who do get their news from TV coverage. I mainly went with what had been covered in the daily "Iraq snapshot." "Someone was kidnapped!" was the reply to the first question asking what they heard of the targeting of Sunnis serving in the Iraq parliament. Going down the list of questions, I was repeatedly surprised by the number of women who are attempting to follow news from Iraq but, despite showing up believing they were informed, were getting very little news of Iraq.

The coverage is not there. For two weeks now, I do not believe it has really been there on the radio programs that I listen to. I am saddened that there has not been coverage of the fact that the U.S. government is keeping a body count, that the government has been caught in another lie, of Iraqi civilians. Until the coverage improves, I think C.I.'s question is one we should all ponder: Does the right-wing want the war to continue more than the left wants it to stop?

One woman in the group forced herself to watch Fox "News" for eight hours one day. She noted how many times Iraq popped up on various programs. It did not get that much coverage in the mainstream or in the radio programs that I listened to this week.

So the responsibility still falls on us to be our own media and get the word out.