Friday, January 01, 2010

Ruth's Report

Ruth: If I could boil down the message of radio in 2009, it would be: "How to drive away listeners." How else to explain regularly insulting the listeners either by playing down to them or by being offensive?

Offensive can cover a lot of categories including sexism, racism and, yes, insulting. Somehow Terry Gross managed to cover all those bases and many more. As the year drew to a close this week and she offered more canned Not-So-Fresh Air (repeats), her desire to ignore women really stood out. Roseanne Cash managed to be a guest for a full hour by . . . talking about her father. The interview aired on Christmas Day -- when a number of people believe the Father's Son was born. So factor that in as well. (I do not believe that, I am Jewish.) And that was really it.

Some might point to the rebroadcast of Jane Lynch's interview but I would point out that Ms. Lynch got fifteen minutes while all the other rebroadcasts got at least a half hour. Which allowed Ms. Gross to explore the 'arts' . . . if you consider Ted Danson's time on the TV show Cheers to be arts or if you consider Jon Bon Jovi capable of making "art." My youngest son was just finishing high school when Slippery When Wet came out and his girlfriend at the time loved the album. My son dismissed it as "hair metal light." So it was really something to see Ms. Gross rave on about the album and, yes, realize that Terry Gross gives radio a bad name. Since there really is not any art to be found in Mr. Bon Jovi's songs, Ms. Gross spent a huge amount of time discussing Mr. Bon Jovi's hair and whether or not his father being a hair stylist had anything to do with Mr. Bon Jovi's once long tresses?

Though that was much preferred to Ms. Gross' interview with director Quentin Tarantino. Here is a question for NPR? Why air the sound to film clips you know you will be bleeping every other word of? Here is another question, why air clips that many will find racist -- bleeped words or not -- to begin with? Mr. Tarantino is one of those 'enlightened' White males who believes he can get away with anything. Which is why he was insisting King Kong was the story of the Black man. And Ms. Gross was not objecting. I do believe that in 2009 a comic that some believed insinuated bi-racial Barack Obama was a monkey was insulting. But Mr. Tarantino -- a man whose scripts seem to be in a race to figure out how many times characters can say the n-word before the end credits appear -- was allowed to make these insulting -- and yes, racist -- comparisons, to whine that the recent remake of the film did not include this 'message' he saw in the original -- and to have Ms. Gross come off spellbound by the motor mouth. I wonder if Ms. Gross were an African-American woman, would she have stopped Mr. Tarantino at any point and said, "I think some listeners might find your remarks offensive?"

Probably not because Ms. Gross is a woman and that has never made her realize that women should be at least half the guests. Besides, she love racial stereotypes as evidenced by her interview with Tracy Morgan who himself is a stereotype -- a bundle of high pitched emotions, high pitched voice, prone to begin wailing at any moment, and demonstrating through his remarks that not only did he not learn grammar in school, twenty-two years after graduation he has never felt the need to learn it. Any single one of those factors could be written off as unique to Mr. Morgan and part of what has made him a minor TV star. However, when all those 'options' are 'bundled,' it is really hard not to think of the White actors playing Amos & Andy all those years ago and the outrageous and offensive stereotypes of African-Americans that those actors presented 'for laughs.'

I also have to wonder about Ms. Gross' husband. If you find that topic off limits, you have never listened to Ms. Gross who is obsessed with all things sexual and, when interviewing an out-gay guest, struggles and struggles to come to the point. But I wonder about Ms. Gross' husband and my chief question there would be: "Is he effeminate?"

I hope so. Because Ms. Gross shifts into highly sexual mode whenever an effeminate male starts talking about 'beat downs' or fighting or whatever. So this week, listeners got to marvel over Terry Gross going lusty while Mr. Tarantino and Mr. Morgan tried to act butch. That actually may have made for comic radio.

It was certainly funnier than her interview with British comedian Russell Brand whose every remark seemed to be prefaced with, "Well back then, Terry, I was a crack addict and on heroin." And, no, he was not joking. Mr. Brand was especially noting his drug addiction when Ms. Gross decided to drop back to September 12, 2001. He cut her off repeatedly. She wanted to talk about what made him do a skit, the day after 9-11, as Osama bin Laden. He must have trotted out drug addiction three times in less than one minute. He also stated that it was like you knew about a band and then the band became really popular and you wanted to say, 'I knew about them first!' That, you understand, is why he dressed up as Osama bin Laden and did a sketch on British television -- that offended a record number of viewers -- delivering a pep talk to terrorists.

But why, Terry Gross wanted to know, long after Mr. Brand had answered the question. He gave her another lengthy answer that can be boiled down as: Crack users are not the best judge of funny. That was not good enough for Ms. Gross. When it appeared Ms. Gross had finally found closure, she was, in fact, just getting started. Having talked the issue to death, she now wanted to play the clip.

Someone might want to inform Ms. Gross that, the way it works, you play the clip, then you discuss the skit. There was no point to it. And, to be honest, I found the skit offensive. I found it offensive and I did not -- and do not -- care that he was operating on crack. It was offensive. I am appalled that it aired on British television (he was fired from his job due to the reaction to the skit) and even more appalled that it aired on NPR with Ms. Gross giggling about it. Then, possibly realizing she had gone too far, she tried to walk it back and talk about it being shocking.

The clip of that skit never should have been aired on NPR and certainly not during what Ms. Gross repeatedly billed as her holiday week of special interviews. So grasp that not only did it air this week, but that was a repeat of an April 6th broadcast. NPR listeners were expected to suffer through this twice just so a pampered, middle-aged White woman could make a bad attempt at being 'edgy.'

I mentioned Ms. Gross repeatedly billing the broadcasts as special interviews for the holiday week. I found it equally eye-rolling that she had a taped message to all the people who have "a loved one serving in Iraq or Afghanistan." It is not as though Ms. Gross has demonstrated in 2009 that she is overly concerned about either war -- or, for that matter, even aware of them.

Ms. Gross epitomized the worst of NPR. So we can move on over to Pacifica Radio, created by Lewis Hill to be a refuge for free speech. And if that means airing racism, than KPFA certainly lived up to 'free speech.' It was really appalling to hear a White man referring to an African-American man in snide and angry tones while using the term "entitled."

That happened on KPFA's The Morning Show when Aimee Allison (who, as Elaine pointed out, could not stop laughing/caterwauling) interviewed Dave Zirin about sports December 22nd. Kobe Bryant, we quickly learned, is not someone that Mr. Zirin, aka The Hairy Backed Hobbit, enjoys. Apparently, that allows Mr. Zirin to insist that Mr. Bryant acts "entitled."

I am reminded of all the bad columns Mr. Zirin has written flogging this person or that for their "racist" or racist remarks. Had Dave Zirin The Writer heard Dave Zirin The Pompous (and, yes, Girlish) Guest on KPFA, I would assume a call for a KPFA boycott would have immediately been launched by him.

Girlish? Mr. Zirin made time to refer to all but one female tennis player as "girls." Every professional tennis player. Every adult woman, professional, tennis player. If you are unfamiliar with Mr. Zirin's writing, he is concerned with sexism from time to time -- when he can get it on the side with a plate of racism. Mr. Zirin can defend any woman (or man posing as a woman) from sexism provided he can find the "racism" angle. Sexism only concerns him as an additional charge.

Time to move over to KPFK which apparently is courting legal fines from the F.E.C. if not a revocation of their broadcasting license from the F.C.C. What am I talking about?

Lila Garrett, host of Connect The Dots with Lila Garrett, and her close and personal friendship off air with Marcy Winograd. Marcy Winograd, for those who do not know, is a failed candidate for public office. Repeatedly. Ms. Winograd is a "Progressive Democrat of America." One who, as C.I., Elaine, and I have noted many times, wants voters to send her to D.C. so she can "support Barack Obama." (Direct quote.) Only something as pathetic as P.D.A. would assume that President Obama's proposals were "progressive." Only something as pathetic as P.D.A. would assume that the way to run for the U.S. Congress was to say, "Send me to D.C. so I can be a mindless, knee-jerk minion."

Every two years, Marcy Winograd runs in the Democratic Party primary against U.S. House Representative Jane Harman . . . and loses. Ms. Winograd is running again for the 2010 race and, apparently to give her very good friend all the help she can, Ms. Garrett books Ms. Winograd at least once a month and allows her to blather on for 15 or 20 minutes about how she will do something in D.C. (it is never defined other than standing with Mr. Obama -- which apparently means she would not have fought for single-payer if she were in the current Congress) and allows her to trash Ms. Harman. Ms. Harman is called every name in the book including a tool of the Jewish, Zionist lobby. Ms. Harman may be all of those insults. I do not know. She is not my Congress member.

But what I do know is that no radio station is supposed to promote one candidate over another. What I do know is that there used to be a thing called "equal time." What I do know is that giving one candidate, and only one candidate, a platform to repeatedly rip apart someone they are running against is not sound radio.

Ms. Harman is not allowed to respond, nor is any representative of Ms. Harman's, no Republican candidates for the same slot are invited on either. It is Ms. Garrett promoting her close friend Marcy Winograd's campaign. Ethics fly out the window at Pacifica.

"Ruth! Ruth! It is not just Democrats and Republicans! There are Greens too!" There are many parties.

But here is a clue if you vote in what is currently Ms. Harman's Congressional district in California: DO NOT VOTE FOR THE GREEN CANDIDATE.


Those may seem like harsh words. And you may wonder who I am attacking. Currently, there is no one selected. But I have been passed on various internal e-mails from the Los Angeles Green Party chapter documenting a recent frenzy after they received a complaint about Ms. Garrett's non-stop booking of Ms. Winograd and, here is what caused the frenzy, responded to a 'civilian' in e-mail form, outlining their plans. The Green Party intends to support Ms. Winograd, she is 'one of them' as conveyed in the e-mails. (They also do not believe she is really a Democrat. Whether that is due to some of Ms. Winograd's own actions or the general rumor or smear that P.D.A. is really a Socialist group, I do not know.) When someone complained, they sent out an e-mail and apparently they should not have sent out that reply. They are in a panic because, it is felt, the Green Party should not have praised Ms. Winograd or any Democratic candidate. It is further felt that they should not have announced that they would support Ms. Winograd in the primary and, if she won the nomination, in the general election. That implies, as one e-mail states, that any candidate they (the Green Party) put forward, is not a serious candidate. Implies or reveals? You tell me.

And someone explain to me exactly what Ms. Garrett thinks she is doing? Beginning each week's broadcast with a monologue where she preaches accountability and then inviting on all her miserable guests (most of whom are P.D.A.) to urge you to vote Democrat? Ms. Garrett will lacerate the Democratic Party for various actions in her monologues (and I agree with her in most of those opening commentaries) but then it is time to listen to Jeff Cohen or Ms. Winograd or Norman Solomon or someone else explain that we have to, have to, really, really have to vote for Democrats. The idea of going third party, the idea of lodging a protest vote, or the idea of protesting by refusing to vote are not options on Connect the Dots with Lila Garrett. The only option ever permitted is: Vote Democrat.

Time to travel down to Houston where KPFT broadcasts. They have their own unique blend and most of it requires no comment from me. However, they also air the very bad program entitled The Monitor. Pacifica's new big push appears to be, "Use a man with a British accent and no one will ever notice the sexism." Which is how the very bad BBC refugee on KPFK is also on WBAI (for those who have forgotten, he is the one who mocked and made fun of Cynthia McKinney as soon as she was off the line). And it is how Mark Bebawi manages to get away with booking so few women -- a Pacifica-wide practice, actually -- and how he manages to book male guests who only mention a woman to ridicule her. So not only do you rarely hear a woman's voice on the show, when a woman's name is brought up, it is time to chuckle.

This week The Monitor again demonstrated why it should just be taken off the air. After last week's bad show, you might not think it could get worse. If that is what you think, you did not hear Mr. Bebawi this week explain he had been sick and busy so, this week, they would just play last week's broadcast again.


Well, hey, Pacifica's got some serious financial problems, so how about that becomes the new cost-cutting move. Just tape one show and broadcast it over and over forever. (Kind of like WBAI's perverse desire to continue broadcasting Al Lewis' programs.)

If you do not have time to do a new show, you really should not have the slot, you should give it to someone else. But if you want to air a repeat, you do not re-air the program from the previous week. That is ridiculous.

So is the war on KPFA's Flashpoints Radio. They have lost a technician, Nora Barrows-Friedman's hours have been cut in half (to twenty) and Robert Knight was fired. Those are pretty huge cuts. Some might argue, "Well it is an hour long daily show, Monday through Friday, so it just seems like big cuts. They are being spread around." Where? The Morning Show still has two hosts -- two bad hosts -- and they have the dreadful Aileen Alfandary reading Associated Press copy that she passes off as her own. With the addition of the 'giggly' Aimee Allison, that show has become even more like Good Morning America and other 'entertainment' morning shows. It is not news. It is not public affairs. It is time to pull the plug. Cost-cutting measures would mean reducing the show to one host. Since Ms. Alfandary rarely has any news that was not in the news cycle the previous night, the first hour headlines could be recycled from what used to be called The KPFA Evening News. Just put in eight minutes of that at the top of each half-hour. The Letters To Washington nonsense is a program that just needs to be killed. Through July, it existed solely as an audio fan club bulletin for and by The Cult of St. Barack. With the Afghanistan escalation and Mr. Obama's refusal to address health care, let alone provide universal health care, the bloom is off the rose and they do a lot of bemoaning now -- usually while handing a hall pass to Mr. Obama and finger pointing at someone else.

Letters To Washington -- or, as I like to think of it, Son Of Larry Bensky -- has not only sucked up a ton of Pacifica money, it has also driven down ratings. That is true of all Pacifica stations broadcasting the program and true of whether it has replaced a public affairs program or a music program. Very few people bother to listen. (The new substitute host probably will not change that.) It is part of the reason Pacifica Radio currently has such a bad name. Just as real liberals, progressives, and radicals ridiculed The New York Times for those Elisabeth Bumiller White House columns during the Bush years, hearing Mitch Jeserich extol the virtues of Barry O did not make for riveting or informative radio. It did go very far in portraying Pacifica Radio as little more than a suck-up to the Democratic Party.

Did they do anything right this year?

WBAI has made some important steps towards improving the entire station and it has also been testing out various new programs. Women's Media Center airs each Monday at 10:00 a.m. EST between Law & Disorder and Out-FM which makes for a powerful three hours. WMC is a radio program from the women at the WMC website. It began airing at the start of December. It got off to a shaky start but, each week, made huge strides and now is a tight and professional radio program.

Some things I will agree with, some I will argue back to the radio over but it is an hour that will make you think and will have you coming back the next week. And, right now, you can. The test show will continue airing this month. It is the best addition to any Pacifica Radio station in years and I hope it will stay on the air. Joy Of Resistance remains my personal favorite (it airs on WBAI, alternating Thursdays at 11:00 a.m.) because it is more hard hitting. But WMC is still new. The pilot program, if any one wants my opinion, has been a success for WMC and it should become a regular series.

In addition to the huge improvements that the program has made on a weekly basis, there is also the fact that two women host and that guests are women. If you do not get why that is an issue, you not only do not listen to Pacifica Radio, you do not read my writing, Elaine's writing, or Ava and C.I.'s. For a so-called left outlet, women are so invisible. You can listen to a full hour of programming and often not even hear one female guest. Why is that?

When John Nichols is on as an expert, it is on any topic (he has even been an 'expert' on KFPA in December to 'address' sexism). When a woman is on most Pacifica Radio programs, she is on to discuss feminism (in which case, she is barely on), children, and little else. I would not be at all surprised to hear Aimee Allison 'address' breast feeding with John Nichols (The Morning Show is one of the worst offenders when it comes to not booking women as guests) but I will not hold my breath waiting for them to utilize a woman as an expert on the issue of war. (Phyllis Bennis is not an 'expert' on war. She is an advocate for Gaza and often a strong and powerful one. But she lacks the focus to be considered an 'expert' on the Afghanistan and/or Iraq War.) Nor will I hold out hope that Playboy magazine will stop being treated as a 'respected source' by the likes of anti-woman Amy Goodman.

WMC has offered some intense discussions and managed to do that with female guests. Though it is apparently news to Pacifica, women have brains and use them. I do worry about the radio show, because of its website origin, that it will turn into "Isn't Barry groovy?" If that happens, I will loudly call it out. (In other words, do not book the air head Naomi Wolf.) But thus far, they have kept the focus on women.

But that is only one program. And between the bad, bad programs, the attacks on programs that actually are worth listening to, the sexism, the racism, and insulting the intelligence of listeners, public radio seemed determined to run off listeners all year long and then surprised, when the donations were tallied, to learn that listeners had taken them up on their offer to go elsewhere.