Friday, September 22, 2006

That one-note, wall to wall summer

[This was written Thursday night as part of the "And the war drags on . . . " but Jim, reading over my shoulder, argued it was a stand alone entry.]

In answer to Bonnie's question, when someone participating in the roundtable for the latest gina & krista round-robin launched into a harsh critique of independent media, I (a) wasn't being kind because it came from a friend or (b) wasn't being kind because it was important to let others have their say (mainstream media). I (c) completely agreed with everything that was said. If independent media wants to be taken seriously, then they might need to act serious. We don't see serious in the dropping of Iraq. We don't see serious when someone can't even get the numbers that the UN reported right (in what, I'm guessing, passed for their total contribution to the discussion of Iraq on International Peace Day -- judging from the e-mails that was it, that tidbit). I'd heard those criticism before (both from the person speaking and from others in mainstream media) so I wasn't surprised by them (Gina asked the question, remember, and that's how the topic came up). But, no, I didn't disagree with any point of the critique. And I've stated here before that mainstream media has done a better job covering Iraq then has independent media. It's no contest. You can't win a race you don't run.

On the subject of we're-supposed-to-feel-so-honored-that-____-manged-to-drop-in-a-tidbit-on-Iraq-today, at least 33 members wrote in to complain about the tidbit and how even the dollop couldn't get it right. I really don't have anything to say that members aren't already saying. A number is a number. You can put "estimate" or "approximate" (or some other form or word) in front of it but a number is a number. You can doubt it and note that. But when you say X is the number then X had better be the number. It's one in a long line of mistakes and calls into question something. The committment to Iraq? The committment to the facts? The committment to anything other than self-promotion?

Maybe it calls in all that and more. I have no idea but that figure was reported on Wednesday (and we noted in the snapshot on Wednesday) it was reported by many (if not all) papers in the US today. So not being able to get a widely reported figure right in your ___ seconds of Iraq coverage invites questions. It's exactly that kind of crap, both getting the number wrong and treating such an important story as something to be dispensed with in a few seconds, that leads to the type of criticism of independent media that you read in the round-robin. (If you didn't check your inboxes yet, Friday's round-robin started going out before midnight Thursday. There were nonstop computer problems all day and, due to that, it was decided the round-robin would go out as soon as it was completed, while there were no computer problems.)

I agree with the critique. I wish I didn't. I wish there were all these examples I could use to rebutt it but there aren't examples. There are exceptions. And that's the sorry state of independent media which, a few years back, was breaking their neck to report and to hold the mainstream accountable. I am very glad the view was shared and invited the person into the roundtable (with Krista and Gina's permission) knowing the critique would come up if the topic was brought up by either Gina or Krista.

I think it's important for those critiques to be made (and independent media certainly critiques mainstream media) and you can read it and decide whether you agree or not. There will be someone in the roundtable we do Friday night for Saturday's round-robin who wants to offer a critique from the mainstream perspective as well. If the current critique offered strikes any as specific (or too specific), get ready because, after tonight's roundtable, Gina asked me to check if any upcoming guests would like to offer a critique of independent media as well? One does, the other will probably speak in general terms.

If it's shocking (I don't think Bonnie was shocked when she read it -- in her e-mail, she was commenting on the fact that I only made brief statements and that was due to the fact that other than piping up "Yeah!" every few seconds, there really wasn't much to say, it was covered and then some without me) it may be because the mainstream doesn't critique independent media (they can, and too often, denouce it, but in terms of a critique that goes beyond generic broadsides, you don't see that) and the watchdogs are perfectly willing to look the other way (when not playing favorites -- as was noted tonight). But rest assured, if the mainstream media had taken the summer off from Iraq and independent media had in any way covered it, we'd be getting commentaries galore about how "mainstream media failed!"

"They failed!," we'd be told over and over.

Independent media can (and has) acted on a check on the mainstream. But that requires work and, obviously, when someone can't even get a widely reported figure correct in their sole bit of Iraq coverage, then they're not up to the work required. At this site, I've been able in the past to note "For a better look at this, see . . ." or words to that effect. I haven't been able to do that in months (with few exceptions) and that's because independent media has no focus. It's not "diverse," it's scattered. It's a travelogue, speaking in terms of geography and topic.

As though when we see today's broadcast or magazine issue, we're all supposed to care about this or that intensely and next go-round it's something else with no connection to what came before and no follow up. (What Folding Star has rightly dubbed "Issue of the month" coverage.)

Problems abound all over the world. But you do need to have follow ups and there's very little follow up these days. It's as thought 100 items made the big list and, bit by bit, each will be covered in a scattershot manner. If you're a domestic magazine or program (and don't push that crap about international because you broadcast in Australia because Australian community members or more critical of a program that broadcasts there than are members from any other country -- it has to do with the ignoring of the Jake Kovco story -- in fact, let me leave parentheticals for that.)

If you live in Australia, and you're led to believe that a program covers the world, you may wonder "What world?" Australian members can not believe that the supposed world program never covered Jake Kovco. He was their first Iraq fatality. His coffin made it home before his body did. The Defence Minister (Brendan Nelson) issued one press briefing after another (even though he was warned from the start that the facts were not known). Two people were in the room when he died and both claim not to have seen anything. Soldier 14 (Steve Carr) tried to explain away the fact that his DNA was on Kovco's gun (the gun that killed Jake Kovco) with a 'guess' that was shot down by an expert witness. No procedures were followed, not the apparently mythical buddy-system, not the preserving of evidence (the room was cleaned, Kovco's clothes were destroyed, statements were not taken, go down the list).

This was, and is, a big story in Australia. So if you're covering the 'world' and glad to have an Australian audience, you might need to have covered that topic. The hearing took testimony (and went shooting on a firing range) for three months while Australian community members waited and waited for someone to go where the silences are. They waited in vain. In the meantime, they e-mailed to note Italy, England, pick any country, being covered by said program and the fact that Jake Kovco never got covered. As Skip pointed out, since "____ regularly mentions that it's broadcast in Australia, how could they miss the country's biggest story on the war?"

No idea. In terms of this site, Australian members madeus all aware of the story at the start happened and it was covered for that reason. We'll note the report and anything that Judy and Martin Kovco (his parents) or Ben Kovco (his step-brother) says to the press. His widow held a news conference to ask for her privacy so we'll avoid that aspect. (We also may do a post on Jake Kovco regardless of whether there are any developments. If I don't do it here, I'll take it to the round-robin for a column.)

But members drive what gets noted here. This isn't top-down or, Daneil Okrent-like, "What I wanted to talk about . . ." And that does relate to independent media's summer vacation because, as the polls indicated, what America wanted to talk about was the Iraq war. Independent media did cover some worthy topics this summer. But it dropped the war. You can't do that. You can cover anything (region or topic) and do so without offending your audience provided you remember to cover your basics as well. That didn't happen.

So I do agree, very strongly, with the critique offered and expect the critique in the next roundtable to be even more blistering. Bonnie also noted a member's column on why they were not renewing their subscription to The Nation and wondered if I felt the same? I feel that ___ needs to do what he thinks is right for him. The Nation is not speaking to him and he's sad about that after subscribing for so long. It's an expensive magazine. If it's not speaking to you, you shouldn't subscribe. Not every voice speaks to everyone. In fact, most of them don't. It's sad when you realize that something you valued no longer has the same value. I came to that conclusion over another magzine that I let lapse last year (Teen Politics -- it's new name in spirit). Myself, I'll keep subscribing to The Nation and feel it did some of the better print coverage of Iraq. (Though I will agree that it and others took a summer vacation. I don't believe that it was the worst offender or even in the top ten.) There are many things in the magazine that speak to me. But I do understand where ___ is coming from. I see his point and, even if I didn't, when someone feels that strongly they shouldn't be spending money on something that has no value to them.

This summer was so bad that there are things (people, sites, etc.) that I doubt we can ever note here again because their performance was so poor that it outraged too many members. The community comes before ___ or ___. There's a program I continue to follow when I have the time but I won't note it here because members appear to be done with it. But in some form, in some degree, that's true of many.

Which is the really sad fact about this summer. Independent media didn't just blow it on Iraq, they blew it for themselves. They'd done some outstanding work and were really building to an even larger audience. But then they wanted to lecture instead of inform and they wanted to cover every topic but the ones that their audience/readership wanted covered. They knew better than their audience. It was a case of, "I don't care that you wanted carrots! I served squash today, yesterday, all last week, and I'll serve it again tomorrow!"

In this case, "squash" would be Israel's actions which turned many members off of public radio because, to focus on KPFA which I listen to, you got it in Democracy Now, you got it in The Morning Show, you got it in an afternoon program, then came Flashpoints, then (following the evening news), several hours of live coverage on . . . Israel. Only Flashpoints has bragging rights on the topic. Only they seriously devote time to the topic day in and day out. It's their beat. But, if you listened to KPFA, you could get an hour of it on Democracy Now (which truly didn't seeme to grasp that there were other stories), followed by a half hour segment (or two) on The Morning Show, followed by Democracy Now being repeated (I agree with Kat, that's now created a hole in the schedule and should be pulled for one airing a day only) and, in fact, your only break from the non-stop topic (it was worse than cable glomming on one story) would be the music programming (though some music programming in the evening was interrupted because of the live coverage of Israel's actions).

This community was outraged by the Israeli government's actions. But in terms of independent media, most stopped listening because who needs round-the-clock, wall-to-wall on one and only one subject for five to six weeks? You heard the same guests going show to show on the same topic, day after day. (And we'll again note, Dennis Bernstein and Nora Barrows Friedman, who should be seen as Pacifica's in-house experts on the topic because they cover the topic, it's their beat, weren't among those guests. Nora Barrows Friedman was in and out of the occupied territories throughout the summer but, for some reason, no one seemed to think to ask her to be guest.) Kat dubbed it Look What Israel's Done Now, Mike wondered if he still lived in Boston or had moved to Beruit without knowing it (which is a WBAI critique, that's what he listened to -- what he listened to, past tense). To listen to the wall-to-wall, we were supposed to believe that there was no other story anywhere else, that apparently things had ceased to occur in Iraq or Afghanistan, that the peace movement (outside of those demonstrating against Israel) had, like independent media, taken the summer off.

Backlashes emerged. Not one, but several. There was, in this community, a backlash regarding the one-note quality of it all (where it was the sole story). Outside the community, there was a backlash from those inclined to look the other way and support the Israeli government regardless. And there was the backlash (which included Kara and Brad in this community) from the fact that the coverage 'took off' only when Lebanon was involved. The 'catch up' nature of noting (often as an aside) the destruction in the occupied territories that actually was phase one of the conflict reminded some of the fact that yet again anything can happen in Palestine and it's not deemed important enough to cover (and the apology offered on air to one guest speaking for Israel is something that host may never live down -- and maybe shouldn't if that host wants to self-present as a journalist).

So it wasn't a proud moment for independent media. And it's no real surprise that in the wall-to-wall, Cindy Sheehan and Camp Casey were ignored, Troops Home Fast was ignored, the trip to Jordan was ignored, the Article 32 hearing in Iraq into the death of Abeer and her family (and the rape of Abeer) was ignored, the Article 32 hearing of Ehren Watada was ignored, CODEPINK's action in Austin regarding Karl Rove was ignored, the June discovery that the US military was keeping count of Iraqis who died, . . . Go down the list. It's a long, long list just focusing on Iraq.

Headlines at the top of hour don't show a dedication to coverage. What you emphasize (as indies have slammed the Times rightly for, "matter of emphasis") sends a message. And the message that was sent was "Watch us glom on one topic and only one topic, day after day, week after week."

It got to the point that the burn out was so severe that they probably turned off many people who had started off agreeing with the coverage. It probably didn't help that when they briefly moved from their only main topic it was to do something as foolish as offer "cook for your man!" and "get and keep a man!" which they tried to pass off as feminism. But it was one glaring failure after another. So if someone from the mainstream wants to participate in a roundtable for the round-robin and offer critiques of independent media, you can read my limited responses during the roundtable as agreement with the points they're making.

In terms of the mainstream media, we'll note that the Times pulled Sabrina Tavernise and others out of Iraq to cover the topic de jour. But it's also true that Paul von Zielbaur and Damien Cave remained covering the beat for the paper (sometimes did so quite well, sometimes didn't, but they were covering it and that's more than can be said for independent media) and you could usually count on an article from James Glanz or Edward Wong every couple of days as well.

Independent media did wall-to-wall on Israel and it became a case of "You will eat this squash."
A child and parent power struggle doesn't usually end well but grown adults won't usually engage in one with their media outlets. When the mainstream elected to play dumb and cheerlead the illegal war in Iraq, people sought out alternative media. This summer demonstrated the need for an alternative to alternative media.

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