Saturday, February 24, 2007

Ruth's Report

Ruth: Ty just phoned to say that if I was having trouble addressing an issue this week, not to worry about. I told him thank you for that but thank you even more for waking me up. I meant to start writing the report two hours ago. I was organizing my thoughts while I was listening to some of my late husband's vinyl record collection and ended up falling asleep on the couch, carried off to dreamland on wonderful memories.

So time to get started. Last time, I discussed Steve Rendall's discussion with Peter Hart on CounterSpin about Air America Radio. He mentioned, in the discussion, that he had an article on this topic in the new issue of FAIR's Extra! and I had noted that it was not available online. As of yesterday, it still was not available. But I have the new issue and the discussion was actually based on two articles by Mr. Rendall. The first is "Rough Road to Liberal Talk Success" which runs on pages eleven and twelve. This is about the historical roots of talk radio and I would suggest you read it because he is going into greater depth about how the Fairness Doctrine had little to do with talk radio and "not one Fairness Doctrine decision issued by the FCC ever concerned itself with talkshows." Mr. Rendall points out how the Fairness Doctrine's demise is repeatedly and wrongly cited by some as the cause for right-wing talk radio taking off and that is just not reality.

"The Trials of Air America" is what I am really going to focus on and I am using it to address a number of things. I need to note, right off the bat, that Mr. Rendall credits Randi Rhodes as one of the "liberals and progressives" on Air America Radio. On air with Peter Hart, he did not. I will assume that was due to the fact that a large topic was reduced to one segment. But I did question his failure to cite her so I want to be clear that in his article he does.

The article is not long enough. Like the discussion, it is just not long enough. In two pages, you cannot address issues of advertising, business models, hosts and content. But it is hard to address it seriously and honestly so maybe two pages was all Extra! was up to?

I will note that he speaks of their business model in one section and it is very disappointing. C.I.'s noted that there were actually three business models possible. Mr. Rendall covers the for profit, corporate model and the listener-sponsored model which both air over the broadcast airwaves. Mr. Rendall misses the model that Air America Radio found success with early on, the model that got them media attention. As C.I. has noted, that was their success online where they broke records for online listenership. Considering that CounterSpin can be podcast now and that the year is 2007, it is disappointing that there is no discussion, or even a nod to, what could have happened if it had used its web-based success to continue to build word of mouth and to attract interest from radio stations as opposed to spending so much money to get airtime on traditional airwaves.

That model is actually the one of interest today with all the changes, all that talk of podcasts and downloads and, by refusing to note it, Mr. Rendall comes off more out of it than this old grandmother.

Four paragraphs is really all that is given to Iraq and that is really disappointing because Iraq is a large part of the story of Air America. I took offense to this passage "besides a few of the network's lower-profile shows (such as Flanders' Radio Nation), it hasn't been a reliable place to turn for anti-war experts or views." I am really getting tired of hearing these explanations that, while I can understand where the speaker or writer is coming from, are insulting to Laura Flanders' program. I am assuming Mr. Rendall is referring to the lack of promotion Ms. Flanders receives compared to, for instance, Sam Seder. But "lower-profile" and similar terms seem to me to resign Ms. Flanders to some ghetto. She is the most high profile host at Air America Radio at this site. That did not start last year or the year before. Go to the very start of this site and you will find members and C.I. mentioning Ms. Flanders. In my Friday discussion group on Iraq, her show is the one that comes up the most. I think Mr. Rendall means that she has not gotten the promotion she deserves, which I agree with, but I do feel that, despite promotion, she has taken off and continues to do so. So when I read "lower-profile," at this point, it bothers me. Mr. Seder has a higher profile, for instance, and he is the butt of many jokes in my Friday discussion group.

I should also note that Ms. Flanders' show is not "Radio Nation." It is RadioNation with Laura Flanders with "RadioNation" being one word. Earlier, it was The Laura Flanders Show and aired in the same time slot it currently does, seven p.m. to ten p.m. EST each Saturday and Sunday. Ms. Flanders worked on CounterSpin and with FAIR earlier in her career and I do not think Mr. Rendall has any thoughts about her other than kind ones. But I think the use of "lower-profile" at this point is mistaken and sends a message, an unfair one, that the show has a smaller audience or a less devoted one. I also think when you write about shows, you do need to get their titles correct. "The Rachel Maddow Show" is Ms. Maddow's latest shot at airtime, not "the Rachel Maddow Show."

I am going to stay on Ms. Maddow for a few paragraphs. She is not progressive. She is not liberal. Mr. Rendall either does not know enough to write about that or he has taken a pass on it. He notes Air America Radio hosts, in general, relying on the "Democratic Party line" and that activists have been absent on most programs. He is correct. Ms. Maddow is now helming her fourth show on the network. I think she deserves quite a bit of criticism, criticism she has more than earned.

Mr. Rendall bemoans the fact that activists are not on Air America more? Mr. Rendall, may I introduce you to our own Elaine? Your point comes long after Elaine made it and made it on Ms. Maddow's Unfiltered's blog. In fact, when Elaine made that point, Lizz Winstead and Ms. Maddow went into a meltdown mode with Ms. Winstead screaming at a man on air because she was not able to read the show's own blog correctly. She thought a man had made the point Elaine had. Elaine notes that Ms. Winstead did eventually apologize on air to the man for wrongly assuming he had made the point.

What was the point Elaine made that had Ms. Maddow and Ms. Winstead in meltdown mode?
She asked, as they got ready for yet another "Ask A Vet" weekly segment, why the show could not provide any anti-war vets or an "Ask An Activist" weekly segment?

Mr. Rendall's point in 2007 was made by our own Elaine repeatedly on the Unfiltered blog. What probably bothered Ms. Maddow and Ms. Winstead the last time was that Elaine was known on the show's blog and that she got tremendous support when she raised that issue. She got even more support when Ms. Winstead and Ms. Maddow attempted to play dumb and act like they had no idea why anyone would ask such a question.

Elaine laughed it off in real time, feeling that screaming, on air, reaction to her question on the blog demonstrated how serious the problem was. Rebecca was less high minded and began her site, Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, on that day, January 11, 2005. Welcome to the party, Mr. Rendall, and what did you bring?

From Rebecca's first post:

i finally had it with lizz today when she apparently attempted to attack my best friend elaine. elaine is one of the nicest people in the world. and she schedules her patients around unfiltered so that she can hear some of the show each day. elaine does great work and the majority of it she doesn't charge for because she's committed to helping everyone. she's also dedicated herself to peace.
for some time now, every tuesday elaine's asked why the show doesn't offer a weekly segment called 'ask the peace advocate.' see every tuesday we get 'ask a vet.' if you've read amy goodman's excellent book exception to the rulers you realize the mainstream media relies on the military as well (current members and those who have left the service) and shuts out the voices of advocates for peace. so you might be shocked to know that on the liberal air america network we get 'ask a vet' every tuesday with rachel screeching 'support the troops' repeatedly and lizz spellbound by whomever is speaking.
this is a liberal radio station. so you'd think they be interested in peace. whiney & mellow would probably screech, "we have had medea benjamin on!" and they have. she was on during the democratic convention. maybe during the republican one and right after.
yeah, they've tossed out medea. but do they know about code pink? is it too much expect that with all the peace organizations and peace activists they might be able to build a weekly segment around having one on?
that's been elaine's issue. and she's brought that up repeatedly each tuesday.

Mr. Rendall, as usual, women had the made point better before a man got around to it. Ms. Maddow used, and repeated, the false Pottery Barn analogy to justify U.S. troops staying in Iraq and she did so repeatedly.

Right now, I am listening to Ms. Flanders' program as I usually do on the weekends, there is a commercial for Ms. Maddow's latest failed attempt at a radio program where Ms. Maddow is saying, "the whole country has come around to where liberals have been all along on George Bush and the war." By her statement in the commercial, she is not a liberal because she is one of the silent ones who needed the American people to shift against the war and for the shift to stay before she could stop condeming those calling for the withdrawal of US troops. She was not there "all along."

If Ms. Maddow now calls for a withdrawal, good for her. But rewriting history to present her as a progressive voice when she attempted to play that the only "grown up" option was to continue the war is not reality.

Iraq is very much a part of the story of Air America because the hosts largely did not call for withdrawal. Another praised voice by Mr. Rendall, Mike Papantonio, or "The Pap Smear" as Ms. Winsted once called him on air, was also loudly against withdrawal and made a real point to put down the peace movement every chance he had. That does not surprise me considering that he is Joe Scarborgough's law partner which, for the record, I learned of via FAIR when they were still comfortable with calling Mr. Papantonio out.

Who loudly and clearly supported withdrawal from the start at Air America? Laura Flanders and Janaene Garofalo. Mike Malloy, when he joined the network in the summer of 2004, would become another strong voice. Ms. Rhodes would begin advocating that strongly long before the first Camp Casey.

But hosts after host, not just Al Franken, would tell listeners who called in that withdrawal was not reasonable and cite the false analogy of "You break it, you bought it." That was a huge clampdown on the peace movement and, coming from the supposed left radio network, that was very damaging. Mr. Rendall, intentionally or not, providing cover for some of the pro-war voices does not enlighten readers of Extra!

Ms. Garofalo not only does not receive her proper credit, she is taken to task for something that I really do not see as her fault. Before this community, the show I knew was The Majority Report because it was my granddaughter Tracey's favorite show. We would listen together and I would also listen on my own to discuss it with her. Mr. Rendall tells you that the show "featured Janeane Garafalo and Sam Seder, both staunch liberals who opposed the Iraq war." First off, Ms. Garofalo's last name is "Garofalo." Second of all, Mr. Seder probably did oppose the Iraq war before it began. On air, he was sometimes for withdrawal but, more often, not. When Ms. Garofalo was at her most vocal on the show, he would generally pipe down but he also advocated the continuation of the illegal war.

Mr. Rendall takes both to task for using bloggers as guests. He is referring to three men, not named. One man, I cannot stand. The other two were not people I would say, as Rendall does, "were often newcomers to politics". Since Mr. Seder is the one who had a relationship with the bloggers and since one blog helped fuel attacks on Ms. Garofalo when Mr. Seder wanted the entire show to himself, including misrepresenting Mr. Seder's on air walk-out that came right before Ms. Garofalo left the program, I do not support taking Ms. Garofalo to task for Mr. Seder's "buddies." When Ms. Garofalo was soloing, the mix was an interesting blend. When Mr. Seder soloed, it was White male. You could listen for an entire week and count yourself lucky to have heard even one female guest in fifteen hours of The Majority Report. Mr. Rendall mentions the push for Paul Hackett and how that came from "liberal bloggers." I will assume he means the three Mr. Seder had on each week as guests because no blogger in this community supported Mr. Hackett. (The Common Ills is not a "blog." Other community sites are.) As I remember it, Ms. Garofalo was off the show, filming The West Wing, so perhaps Mr. Rendall should focus on Mr. Seder and not attempt to redistribute the blame?

I could go further into The Majority Report but I honestly hope C.I. will address that at some point in the future. (C.I. has addressed it very strongly in the gina & krista round-robin.) I will note that Mr. Rendall writes: "Seder's and Majority Report's preference for bloggers, who were often newcomers to politics, over experienced progressive experts and activists detracted from the show's seriousnees and impact."

I believe it was in the first months of this site that C.I. made the comment that the head of Cokie Roberts had been cut off and a whole host of new (male) Cokies had sprung up. That does include bloggers. That also includes "experts and activists." Some bloggers make very strong guests. Some do not.

Some "experts" are a waste of time. Which brings us to an issue that Ty, Betty, and Cedric asked me to address. It fits perfectly with this discussion. Each weekday at Rebecca's, she, her husband, my grandson and I listen to the radio and to music. On Fridays, we generally listen to CounterSpin on WBAI. But we were in the mood for Andrea Lewis, co-host of KPFA's The Morning Show, Friday and listened to that instead. One guest was an "expert" and as soon as Rebecca and I heard her name, we started laughing because we both remember her belabored appearance on The Majority Report. Mr. Rendall apparently missed that. If he had heard it, he would know that some "experts" should never go on radio.

The woman in question is Columbia law professor Patricia J. Williams who writes wonderful essays for The Nation but mistakes radio appearances for symposiums. Her comments were offensive but, to be honest, Rebecca and I were too busy laughing at her stumbling answers as we waited and waited for her to answer the most simple question. With thirty seconds to go before the segment was over and the news break about to begin, Ms. Lewis made the mistake of asking a very simple question that could have and should have been answered quicky. We timed it at two minutes and thirty seconds for Ms. Williams wandering answer. At one point, Ms. Lewis attempted to jump in and wrap up the segment that had already gone late but Ms. Williams was clueless and continued to drone on. She put the entire show off and those who were disappointed at the ending of the last interview, with a Black Panther, which was cut off because they were out of time, can blame Ms. Williams who felt that she was in her classroom and could continue talking even though the bell had rung and the listeners, not students, were more than ready to move on.

Ms. Williams writes beautiful essays, she is a lousy radio guest. I am sure she spends many hours on those essays. Radio segments do not provide the time for the same hesistation and searching.

Ms. Williams had hopped on board the Obama train and was bound and determined to ride it all the way home. The ride meant that she cut off a caller with a "correction" that was not a correction. The caller felt that Senator Barack Obama had not taken a strong enough stand against the current war with Iraq or the propsective war with Iran. As the caller spoke, very emotionally, Professor Williams thought she was in her classrom and in control, so she snapped, "He did not vote for the war!" Well, no, he did not vote for the authorization because he was not in Congress in 2002. He has yet to complete his first term in Congress. But he has voted for the continued funding of it. The woman, the caller, was making some very important points and, whether it was because she could be heard as "foreigner" or because she was not a professor, Professor Williams had no problem stepping all over her. Something, by the way, that I strongly encourage Ms. Lewis to do the next time, in a single answer, Ms. Williams hits her third long pause and twelth "uh" in a row.

What was most offensive to Betty, Cedric and Ty was that Ms. Williams was either sorely uninformed or an outright liar. When Ms. Lewis attempted to address the fact that Senator Obama was biracial, Ms. Williams had a snit fit and stated that the issue of his 'Blackness' was only something Fox 'News' and their ilk brought up. It was a point she repeated later on.

Apparently, Ms. Williams does not feel being informed is a requirement for weighing in. Black Agenda Report, to name but one, is not Fox "News." They have addressed the issue of the Black community and what can be seen as Senator Obama standing apart from it intentionally.
Now in the classroom, a professor may be able to browbeat students into believing lies, but radio is not a classroom and, I would argue, most listeners lost interest in Ms. Williams before the half-way mark of the overly long segment. So before she takes to the airwaves again, she would do well to know that Black Agenda Report and, for the matter, The Progressive are not Fox "News" and her insisting a falsehood is true does not make it so. Glen Ford recently wrote a piece that was posted online Wednesday but he could have written it as a reply to Ms. Williams:

In other words, Black people's "debt" to the Clintons - as if such ever existed - has been paid, and now it's time to herd Black voters behind Obama, like so many cattle. Jones' brand of politics holds that Black people don't have interests or political ideals, only obligations to one politician or the other. In Jones' world, African Americans are constantly indebted, but nobody owes them anything - certainly not Obama, "our son."

Substitute "Williams" for "Jones" and you have the rebuttal to the professor. Ty and Cedric both called me on Friday about the interview and expressed their concerns regarding Ms. Williams' statements. They also passed on Betty's. I wanted to touch base with her, however, to be sure I covered what needed to be said. Let me echo Kat, I have never heard Betty so upset. I thank her for sharing it with me because I know it was not easy for her. The three asked me to address it in the first place because they are so offended that they do not believe it would be "pretty" if they handled it. Ty did want it noted that Ms. Williams, who writes so little about the Black community in her columns where she muses about England and America and what Bully Boy has done the legal system, etc., was "suddenly" determined to present herself as "the" authentic voice of the Black community and "I found that hilarious that only when it was time to play rally around Obama does she bother to present herself that way."

Betty and I actually saw something in addition to that. We heard Ms. Williams demonstrate, repeatedly, the same elitism that Ralph Nader called out in the magazine only the week prior on Kris Welch's Living Room. I did not doubt Mr. Nader's call in the least but, for any who did, you need only listen to Ms. Williams.

In her need to build up Senator Obama, Ms. Williams felt it necessary to tear down the accomplishments of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. I found it interesting that she had nothing to say about Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun, or other Black women but maybe she has never heard of them?

Unlike Rev. Jackson, Ms. Williams informed us, Senator Obama appeals beyond Black voters. I am not a TV watcher and tend to get my news from the radio and newspapers. I was under the impression that the Rainbow Coalition was a diverse group but, as I listened to NPR at that time, maybe I was given the wrong information? Ms. Williams appears to think I was.

Ms. Williams also appears to think that the Senator 'beats' those who came before because he is just so diverse. Which, as Betty said on the phone, could easily be read as the point she has long made, the mainstream media loves their "Blacks" when they can be seen as "less than." To repeat, Senator Obama is biracial. Betty has already made that point at length but Ms. Williams seems averse to it or maybe it just was not in this week's talking point?

She did not mention Columbia but I would not be surprised to learn she is aware he attended the university she now teaches at. She was too busy going on endlessly about Harvard and could not stop repeating that he was the first Black president of the Harvard Law Review. She presented this as his accomplishment which apparently means that the work laid by others, including Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sharpton, meant nothing to her. It is a nice little myth of the hearty individual but it is shocking to hear a woman alternate between attempting to sell the Senator as a part of a community at one point and then really hard sell him as an exception at other points.

She could not let this point go and how important it was and how rare it was and how he is not just some Average Joe. Because, apparently, the last thing America needs is someone who is like the average voter. That is where the elitism came across the strongest. Ms. Williams felt that having held that position alone qualified one to be president which was especially hilarous after she had dismissed concerns about his weak stands on the illegal war by insisting she is not a single issue voter.

Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia was once the "Notes Editor" of the Harvard Law Review. Perhaps Ms. Williams could trumpet him as second on an Obama ticket?

Ms. Williams either has no clue about the real concerns of some in the Black community regarding Senator Obama's relationship to it or she chooses to ignore them. Considering how rudely she interrupted the caller who attempted to address the reality of the Senator's war like nature, I will assume she just does not care. Her real selling point is that Senator Barack Obama was once president of the Harvard Law Review and, for her, that is all that matters because it is the exceptions and the elites who should be ruling over all.

Some would consider Ms. Williams an "expert." I would argue that she more than disproved Mr. Rendall's point that "experts" and not "bloggers" make better guests. I would also echo the point that Margaret Kimberley and other voices who do not pick up Black issues only when they have a candidate to promote should be invited on KPFA's The Morning Show because there is reality and then there is what Ms. Williams stumbled around attempting to present.

Ms. Williams, curiously enough, was fine with dismissing the war by stating she was not a single issue voter but it was more than a bit sad to realize, after the segment was over, that she had nothing to offer about the illegal war. A law professor with no opinon to express on the war? Well, she does write for The Nation.