Thursday, December 28, 2006

2006: The Year of Living Dumbly (Year in Review)

Coming off the first Camp Casey and the spark Cindy Sheehan brought back to the peace movement, 2006 should have been the year the media truly led -- instead they didn't even reflect.

All Things Media Big and Small travelogued through 2006 looking for a topic that interested them and never finding one. It was a college travel study: 40 topics in 40 days. Nothing was followed up on, just topics ticked off. Then, summer 2006, they apparently thought they'd taxed themselves so that Iraq fell off the radar for six to eight weeks. Jimmy Breslin, among others, sounded an alarm, but there was no indication that anyone in media was listening.

In one of the most surreal moments of 2006, the media watchdog FAIR issued a report card for PBS' NewsHour. Among the findings was the deplorable fact that, in the six months studied, the NewsHour had not featured one peace activist as a guest. The fact found FAIR in glass houses territory because, during the same period, their weekly half-hour program CounterSpin had also not featured one peace activist as a guest -- a fact they seemed to be unaware of.

That study, more than anything else, crystalized the problems of independent media in 2006. They wanted the mainstream media to be more diverse, to report with follow ups, go down the list, but there was no desire to use their own outlets to change anything.

If you agreed with FAIR that the NewsHour should, for instance, feature more female guests, you might wonder why CounterSpin's ratio of male to female guests was even worse than the NewsHour's? Noting the problems with big media is important but doesn't it come off as more than a bit meaningless when, in your own forums, you don't use the power you have?

A peace activist invited on the NewsHour would have been wonderful -- but it didn't happen. The fact that independent media also took a pass more often than not was an abdication of both power and responsibility.

Here's how bookings largely work -- people see something. They see something covered somewhere and they think, "Hey, maybe we should cover that?" Bravery in bookings rarely exist. So possibly NewsHour bookers read The Nation?

If so, they'd have no reason to book a peace activist because The Nation wasn't interested in Iraq in 2006. You could flip through issue after issue and never find a single story on a rally, an event, an organizer . . . You got a lot of coverage of the same topics big media covered, from a different perspective.

That's called responding, it's not called leading. And The Nation, a weekly, led the way for the worst trend in independent print media for the year: Democratic Party organ.

The parody The Elector pretty much summed up the best known left magazines in 2006. Having editorialized in 2005 that they would not support the campaigns of any candidates who did not call for an end to the illegal war, in 2006, The Nation (and others) couldn't tear themselves from those same candidates. You could find a Hillary Clinton cover, but a candidate for ending the war (Democratic or any other party), who could have actually benefitted from coverage (cover or otherwise), didn't get the build up. By the time they were profiling Harold Ford Jr. in their issue that hit the stores right before the election, they were no longer scraping the bottom of the barrell, they were outside the barrell, face down in the gutter.

A number of visitors have e-mailed an intended highlight, an article in an issue that will arrive to subscribers this week. It will appear in the January 8, 2007 issue. The topic is the Appeal for Redress petition. The article is in a 2007 issue (that most subscribers still haven't received and isn't in the stores yet) and supposedly, to the visitors, that makes up for the fact that in 2006, the magazine could do an entire issue on food but couldn't write one word about the biggest story to emerge in 2006 related to Iraq: resistance within the military.

The petition is a story and it's one worth covering. It's also true that signing a petition is a bit easier than saying "no" to the illegal war. It's a MoveOn type of activism, the same sort of behavior that the "Oy vey, kids today" critics slam in column after column. In media big and small, the usual desk jockey grumps dusted off those old columns (which predate the sixties) and gas bagged about how kids today just aren't active. So while the petition is a story, is newsworthy, that The Nation chooses to make this the first story they do on war resistance in print is rather sad.

The story of 2006?

War resisters. Ehren Watada, Ricky Clousing, Kyle Snyder, Darrell Anderson, Mark Wilkerson, Agustin Aguayo, and Katherine Jashinski should have been covered in 2006 but most of the time, they weren't. They joined Joshua Key, Camilo Meija, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Stephen Funk, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Jeremy Hinzman, Corey Glass, Patrick Hart, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, and Kevin Benderman as members of the military who have said no. From June through September, Watada, Clousing, Snyder, Anderson, Wilkerson and Aguayo all went public and the independent media response was (at best) underwhelming.

Take Ivan Brobeck who returned from Canada and turned himself in on election day. Who noted that? It's called The Full Brobeck. November 6th, on KPFA's Flashpoints, Nora Barrows-Friedman interviewed him and . . . no one else did or bothered to report on him. The web site Common Dreams did run a press release put out by Courage to Resist which was apparently supposed to pass for coverage that Brobeck was returning from his self-check out and returning with an open letter to the Bully Boy.

Rolling Stone and Left Turn managed to run print articles on Watada. Left Turn is a monthly, Rolling Stone is a weekly that focuses more on entertainment. How they managed to cover it when the weekly, political magazine The Nation couldn't is a question people should be asking?

Sign a petition, vote, and call it a "Sweet Victory," apparently.

The Nation, in 2006, was about as political as the Big Brothers and Big Sisters programs across the country. In print, week after week, it seemed to revel in just how useless it could be -- such as the 'philosophical' rant of AlterPunk about how the New York Times shouldn't run unsigned editorials -- which, as dubious a basis for a column at it was, might have carried some (mild) weight were it not for the fact that The Nation runs . . . unsigned editorials.

Among the many useless articles was one by Ruth Conniff in the June 26, 2006 issue of The Nation which was entitled "How to Build a Farm Team" ("Identify candidates. Add money. Watch the numbers grow."). This was one of the many articles that demonstrated The Nation was more concerned with being a party organ for the Democratic Party than in covering the issues that mattered. Or possibly you'd prefer the April 24, 2006 issue which covered the 'issue' of injecting religion into politics to win seats (for Democrats) with Dan Wakefield ("religious progressives are making a comeback"), Frances Kissling (who actually raised issues), and Michael Lerner ("The left's most powerful weapon could be a spiritual vision of the world.").

There was time to chase celebrity ambulances ("Can Schwarzenenegger Be Defeated?" asked on the cover of the June 5, 2006 issue -- all politics are local -- when a celeb's involved, apparently). There was time to visit the world of What If? (the February 6, 2006 issue featured not one but twenty pretend State of the Union addresses). And always, there was time to send how-to lists to the Democratic Party (one example: March 20, 2006 issue contained Fred Block's "A Moral Economy" -- "To seize the political moment, Democrats need a better narrative.")

In what might have been an attempt not to "forget the ladies" (Abigail Adams would be so pleased), the May 22, 2006 cover proclaimed "It's Mother's Day." Now someone at the magazine missed the point that Mother's Day was created for peace so instead you got the classicist "The Motherhood Manifesto" by Joan Blades and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner. (Women without children got no shout outs in 2006, for those wondering.) The insulting article was an adaptation of an insulting book published by . . . Nation's Books.

Well if Simon & Schuster can use 60 Minutes to promote their wares, why not The Nation? The most 'radical' suggestion in the article? Start "a whole new conversation about motherhood". Redbook couldn't have put it better. That article, more than any other, may capture The Nation in 2006 -- three-plus-pages leading up to the start a conversation "answer." (As Trina noted: "It read like a make-work project that was done between luncheons.")

Start a conversation, sign a petition, VOTE, VOTE, VOTE! If it gets any worse in 2007, look for the cover story: "The Revolution Starts With You: Brush After Each Meal!"

When this community (at all the sites) began noting the silence on the peace movement and on war resisters by The Nation, e-mails occassionally came in to correct us.

Let's deal with Christian Parenti first. He did write an article about the peace movement that was available online only. The May 8, 2006 issue did contain a different article by him, "When GI Joe Says No." If you can find one war resister named in the three page article, please e-mail. Find one person who said no to the Iraq war -- one "GI Joe" saying "no" to the current war -- in the article. You can find history about Vietnam soldiers who said no, but there's no war resister in the article. The article Parenti wrote featuring Camilo Mejia, among others, was an online article only.

The other thing that gets pointed out in e-mails is that there were two stories on Ehren Watada. In fact, an e-mail on that came in this weekend. Quote: "You are forgetting the two articles on Ehren Watada." No, I am not. I am talking about the magazine that I pay for and no article on Ehren Watada appeared in print in 2006. The articles visitors (who all claim to read the magazine but apparently just visit the website) refer to were "online exclusives." In fact, the authors of that piece have a new "online exclusive" that went up December 19th and the question that should be asked of the most recent article is why, since they obviously participated in the tele-conference Ehren Watada held in November (when the US military announced their intent to court-martial him -- scheduled for Feb. 5th), they're only now writing about it (and in passing)?

While both Off Our Backs and Ms. devoted whole issues in 2006 to address war and peace , The Nation was more interested in providing their food issue, their green (environmental -- don't think for a moment the Green Party got coverage in The Nation) issue and the non-stop, never ending Hurricane Katrina issues. But the war itself? Four years in and The Nation rarely gave a damn unless it could be worked into a "Vote!" article.

The official slogan was "Nobody owns The Nation" but 2006 played out like the slogan was: "The Nation, tip-sheet for the Democratic Party!" And we can't leave this topic without noting the shameful attempt to draw a line between the magazine and Harry Belafonte. While that piece was written for the Washington Post (and published there) an extended version went up at the website. As shameful in its own way as uninviting Belafonte from speaking at Coretta Scott King's funeral (addressed on Democracy Now!), The Nation really hit a low with that column -- a low in a year of lows.

Another low happened when The Nation, Democracy Now! and about every left and 'left' outlet decided to continue to give a platform to the man they portray as a Cassandra but whom the mainstream media has noted was twice arrested in stings to capture sexual predators. As Chrissie Hynde once sang in "How Much Did You Get For Your Soul," "How much did you, How much did you, How much did you get?" He went around the country with Seymour Hersh slamming the peace movement (and wanting to turn it into the military -- presumably with himself as commander), he ridiculed and mocked Cindy Sheehan in an independent weekly, and despite that, despite the mainstream media's reports of two busts for seeking out sex with underage girls online, he was given a platform repeatedly.

Let's move over to radio. Air America Radio became more of a joke than ever as it lost both Janeane Garofalo and Mike Malloy -- two who could and did pull in audiences -- and replaced them with the second string. In fact, AAR's business model appears to be that of a new-age coach, "Everyone gets to go on the field . . . whether they're qualified or not!" (Randi Rhodes and Laura Flanders remain the strongest reasons to listen to the ever failing and flailing network.) Air America Radio is both commercial radio and listener supported radio -- and it couldn't stay out of the red despite running dual models. In terms of the 'master plan,' it appears to have become "Let's stomp out community radio and shove our national programming off on local areas." Getting into bed with Clear Channel only made that model all the more obvious.

Then there's Pacifica Radio, the nation's oldest public radio network. People like Margaret Prescod, Deepa Fernandez, Dennis Bernstein, Nora Barrows-Friedman, Sonali Kolhatkur, Aaron Glantz and more did actually cover the war and they deserve credit for that but, as Micah pointed out, it's also true that Pacifica offered at least two election programs this year (one national -- weekly program, one on KPFA -- daily program) yet still no program dedicated to covering the Iraq war. The illegal war hits the four year mark in March and there is no program devoted to the topic of it. Flashpoints began as an outlet to cover the first Gulf War. Since Pacifica has cancelled their peace program (Peacewatch, in 2003), the omission becomes more glaring each day.

The response to this year's fundraiser for the Pacifica Archives should have been a wakeup call. In a year when the economy meant many fundraising targets were not met, the Pacifica Archives fundraiser exceeded their target goal. The fact that the theme was "Voices for Peace and Non-Violence" should have been an indication that audiences would welcome this sort of coverage.

Instead, it fell to individual shows and, since none has Iraq as it's focus, the results were frequently disappointing. Flashpoints deserves special credit for their outstanding coverage. Iraq is not their focus but they picked up the slack and then some by interviewing more war resisters than anyone else, by regularly airing reports from Dahr Jamail and others and by, honestly, paying attention to what was going on. In doing that, they didn't lose focus on the occupied territories.

What other Pacifica programs too often featured was tired guests talking about tired topics. Want to buy some New Kids On The Block CDs? No? Didn't think so. But the tired topic of Judith Miller continued to pass for 'media criticism.' That was truly embarrassing, hearing guests drag out Miller over and over in 2006 when she penned not one word for the New York Times in 2006. But they kept heading to the well on that even though the well was dry and then some.

Now Miller wasn't the only one at the Times who sold the war before it started and in its early days, nor was the Times the only mainstream outlet that sold the war. But it's just so much fun to play Bash the Bitch one more time apparently. It's allowed a great many to keep their heads down and not get called out for their own actions. More importantly, in 2006, the war was still being sold and focusing on the departed Miller provided a lot of cover to the Dexter Filkins, Michael Gordons, et al.

What Miller (and others -- including Gordo) did in the run up to the war is important, is historical. But in 2006, if you're going on a radio show to talk about the war and the press or doing so in print, you need to be able to cite something a bit more contemporary than articles that ran in 2002 and 2003. As we've long noted here, if (IF) Judith Miller and her crowd got us over there, it was the Dexter Filkins that kept us there. But, outside of Danny Schechter, name a media critic that addressed Filkins.

The Washington Post outed Dexy as the go-to-guy for the US military when they wanted to plant a story. The reaction to that article? CounterSpin addressed it in headlines for a few seconds before rushing on to the very hot topic of Bill O'Reilly. Bill O'Reilly, a national joke, and Dexter Filkins. CounterSpin was apparently comfortable addressing O'Reilly and apparently scared to address Dexter Filkins. Not scared to address the Times, mind you, because they and their guests were fond of bringing up Judith Miller. They just lacked the spine and the bravery to address Dexter Filkins.

For those who don't know, the slaughter of Falluja was covered by the 'award-winning' Dexy. The lies go straight to the embedded, ditch digging Filkins who had no wall between himself and the military and who reportedly allowed them to vet his 'award-winning' copy before he turned it into the Times (which would explain why his report took DAYS to make it into print).

Though CounterSpin didn't applaud his disclosures in speeches, other outlets did. Those disclosures aren't brave, they're the sort of things you say when you're speaking to an audience made up of people who no longer buy the lies of war. But along with his reporting not being questioned, many rushed to applaud him as brave for noting that the war was lost. Noting that in a speech to a small audience, never in print. By not telling readers the truth, year after year, the likes of Dexy have kept the US military in Iraq as much as any Judith Miller got them over there to begin with. A real independent media, a brave one, would have addressed that a long time ago. Instead it was play dumb . . . all year long.

Which brings us back to the summer of 2006 when the Israeli government went into wack-job mode (or further in) and independent media dropped Iraq (as though it were Afghanistan?) to jump on the non-stop bandwagon, the 24-7 wall-to-wall coverage.

There was no time to cover Ehren Watada's Article 32 hearing in August (when Democracy Now! tried to sneak it into their headlines weeks later they confused at least one indy media writer who wrote that a decision had been reached -- when it hadn't and wouldn't until November -- and he cited DN!'s coverage as the proof). They were all obsessed with this one story (Israel) and no programmer appeared to think, "You know, practically every show is covering this topic, we should cover some of the events related to Iraq or anything else because I honestly doubt anyone wants to hear 24-7, day after day, week after week about one topic." But independent media seemed to have a really hard time supporting war resisters -- as though they were all suffering from Revisionist Rambo damage. (That might also explain the inability to review the brilliant documentary Sir! No Sir!)

Along with Watada's Article 32 hearing, this included the revelations during the August military inquiry into the rape and murder of fourteen-year-old Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, the murder of her parents and the murder of her five-year-old sister. They were murdered by, and Abeer was raped by? The US military. When James P. Barker confessed in court in November "alleged" was no longer an adjective that was needed. But even Barker's confession didn't prompt independent media to cover Abeer. Democracy Now!, The Nation, no one rushed in to cover the war crime. They still haven't. They couldn't cover it in August and they didn't cover it in November when one of the accused confessed and gave his account of what the others (allegedly) involved did. Now nickled and dimed conventional wisdom could gas bag on Hurricane Katrina -- in an attempt at gas bag cute -- and any number of topics. But could she write about Abeer? No, which, if you ask me, qualifies as "a real stab."

Robin Morgan's "Their Bodies as Weapons: Rapes in conflict zones result from the idea that violence is erotic, and it pervades the US military" (The Guardian of London via Common Dreams) is a strong article but it's also true it has had little competition. Other than Off Our Backs, no one else has seen Abeer as a story worth telling in independent media. Maybe it's too embarrassing to admit that while the wall-to-wall was being provided, Abeer was being ignored? Maybe Abeer wasn't seen as 'economic' and, goodness knows, our independent media was all about 'economcis' (so much so, James Carville could have been the editor of many publications). The reality is that "property" was once defined to include women and children as well as slaves and serfs of all ethnicities and races and 'living wages' do not combat and end racism, sexism, homophobia or any other issue. Robin Morgan perfectly captured the various elements at work when adults think they have a 'right' to rape a 14-year-old girl.

Also ignored during that period was CODEPINK's Troops Home Fast, the fast that led to a meeting between activists and Iraqi parliamentarians in Jordan to discuss peace. If you're asking, "What meeting?" -- well, take that up with indepdendent media. (And before a visitor writes, "The Nation had a piece in an issue this summer . . ." No, they didn't. They had an "online exclusive" by Tom Hayden about the trip to Jordan -- a piece that someone decided was worth posting online but not printing.) Or how about the fact that the US military was keeping a body count on Iraqi deaths? Nancy A. Youssef broke that story, that the US military had been doing that for almost a year, in June. That news lost out to elections . . . in Mexico -- what independent media was all geared up to make the summer story until they dropped everything to head off to the Middle East.

How bad was the summer when independent media forgot Iraq? Cindy Sheehan had Camp Casey III in Crawford and where was independent media? Democracy Now! broadcast Mark Wilkerson's announcement that he was turning himself in and that was it -- for them and for all of independent media. When even Camp Casey can't register, you better believe independent media forgot Iraq. Ironically, while Camp Casey III couldn't register, various independent media voices were giving interviews citing their 2005 work on Camp Casey as evidence as the kind of power independent media can have -- while ignoring Camp Casey III.

Sadly though, we're not done. There was also Camp Democracy in D.C. which did take place, day after day, workshop after workshop, it just took place with little to no independent media coverage. John Nichols (who did write about it online), Elizabeth Holtzman, Ann Wright, Antonia Juhasz, Ricky Clousing, and more. What was it? Camp Casey moved to DC to be part of Camp Democracy on Constitution Ave, right there on the Washington Mall. Impeachment, the war, immigration rights, and much more were addressed each day. It began on the fifth of September and was due to close on the 21st but had to be extended because it proved so popular. Along with those already named, others participating included Danny Schechter, Diane Wilson, Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Ray McGovern, Dave Lindorff, Kevin Zeese, Jennifer van Bergen, Howard Zinn, Kim Gandy, Elizabeth de la Vega, Mark Karlin, Raed Jarrar, Robert Greenwald, Jim McGovern . . . The list goes on. Enough people to launch the mastheads of several independent magazines and then some. But you didn't get much coverage of it.

If you're interested in coverage of it, David Swanson's website offers this:

For the holidays this year, give your loved ones some TRUTH:Camp Democracy lasted for 18 days this past fall; 18 days of workshops, press conferences, education, and actions. Some of the highlights have been captured in a 45-minute documentary. You and your friends and family can listen to the wisdom of Howard Zinn, Jeff Cohen, Elizabeth Holtzman, Col. Ann Wright, Ray McGovern, Iraq War vets, Iraq War resisters, Hurricane Katrina survivors, and many more. Watch the Bush Crimes Commission verdict being delivered to the White House and hear a panel of experts lay out the case for impeachment. See Helga Aguayo tell the story of her husband's refusal to serve in Iraq. Camp Democracy can continue to educate and engage those newly awakened to the issues before us; those who were there can remember the lessons learned. Read more about the DVD.
Purchase the DVD. They're $17 each. The cost of shipping and handling is included.

Now they couldn't cover Camp Democracy but, after the election, the same independent media wanted to tell you it was all about Iraq. I personally believe that Iraq did influence the election and think the polling bears that out, but if independent media thinks so, shouldn't the polling have been their wake up call? Shouldn't they have stopped offering their laughable excuses for not covering Iraq ("The public doesn't care . . ." -- or as 'Truth' Conniff 'bragged' on KPFA, no one in her community has been effected by the illegal war), rolled up their sleeves and started addressing Iraq?

Didn't happen. Instead it was time to gasbag about who deserved credit for the 'wins.' And amazingly, though it was the one demographic that could be most easily verified, they managed, in all their hours of gas baggery, to avoid mentioning women were the deciding factor. Reality check for all the bean counters who ignored or forgot the gender gap, in the US women are in the majority. So the next time you schedule your gas baggery, you should do a check to see who you have on, or give print space to, to discuss the way women voted -- in 2006, women's votes weren't discussed which might be expected from the mainstream media, but which is appalling from independent media.

Along with Iraq, Iraq related stories such as war resisters and women, race and youth also lost out. You really wouldn't know it to read the gas baggery (The Progressive was the worst here but no one's hands were clean) on the immigrant rights wave but young people led that. They led it, they fueled it and they moved the nation. The gas bags and the desk jockeys could bemoan the so-called apathy of youth today (in fact, The Nation awarded a prize to the student who wrote about how apthetic her peers were -- in those contests, it always helps to repeat false stereotypes) but to do so, they had to ignore reality. That meant ignoring who led on the immigrant rights demonstrations, that meant ignoring the students across the country who are actively protesting the war and, most of all, that meant ignoring Gallaudet. Months and months of campus protests by students (who won a victory) and they got ignored. It's hard to repeat the (false) line on apathy and cover Gallaudet so maybe that's why our independent media ignored the story? Or maybe it was because hearing impaired and deaf students were just 'too different' from those making decisions in our independent media? Regardless, the students of Galladuet, the students leading the immigration rights movement, the students standing up against the war, deserved credit they never got.

Race? If you missed it, independent media remains largely White. The Ego Of Us All dies and it was time for a non-stop outpouring. Coretta Scott King dies and she's either included as an after thought or ignored. Don't kid that it wasn't about race. Coretta Scott King was more than "the wife of." She was politically active until the end. She spoke out against the illegal war, she spoke out against homophobia. From the moment that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died, she was thrust into the lead role and took it because Dr. King's mission was not to be a footnote in history. Both for his legacy and for the struggle that still needed to be fought, she took on the leadership role and her thanks from (White) independent media was to be ignored or relegated to an aside for 2006. It was racism. And it was sexism. And it was disgusting.

All of the above added up to make 2006, for independent media, The Year of Living Dumbly. I would say that there's no way 2007 could be worse but I'm afraid some would eagerly accept that as a challenge.

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