Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ruth's Report

Ruth (of Ruth's Report): Last Monday, Megan Tady carried the torch for the never-ending campaign in "Tell Congress to Save Public Broadcasting" (Free Press). Sadly, all last week Ms. Tady was undermined by public broadcasting to the point that many may feel there really is no point.

There was spin, there was shame and there was a violation.

I am going to start with the violation and it took place on WBAI. This is the law:

"Non-profit 501(c)(3) corporations may not endorse candidates. A staff member, whether management or non-management, may not endorse candidates on the air or on the station's website, or in any other way that appears to be a station endorsement. A guest may speak in favor of a candidate on the air."

That is actually the law and a legal opinion forwarded to me.

Tuesday morning on the last hour of Wakeup Call Radio, at the very end of the hour, Bernard White, program director of WBAI who gives himself a lot of air time, brought on a musical group to sing what I will call "Obama" because if there was a title to their 'song,' I missed it. That was unneeded and unnecessary, but if you grimaced, you might have been able to make your way through it while wondering if they intended to do the same free advertising passed off as 'information' with the other candidates?

What you could not ignore, and what the law should not ignore, was what Mr. White elected to do after. In ominous tones, he spoke of the election and how it would send a message about the heart of America's character. Mr. White's 'logic' was that if Barack Obama were not elected president, America would be revealing something nasty. As program director, it is not really Mr. White's job to endorse candidates on air and, as the legal opinion demonstrates, it is also not legal. From his bad attempts at melodrama and the segment that proceeded it, I think the average listener understood what Mr. White was stating to be: "If Mr. Obama loses, America is racist."

Is that the game plan? To blackmail people into voting for Mr. Obama? To tell them that not doing so will reveal an ugly side to the nation's character?

Hate to break it to simple-minded Mr. White but the Iraq War reveals an ugly side to the nation's character every ongoing day. On a smaller scale, you can visit any city, town, suburb on any given day and find something that reveals the nation's character: the ugly sides and the good sides. That is because (a) the country is made up of individuals, not clones; (b) we are humans, primates, part of the evolutionary chain -- we are not a nation of angels; and (c) individually and collectively, we have no fixed response but veer from one degree to the other.

So those are my thoughts on the nation's character as a woman who has lived a long, long life. I would imagine that could be argued of all countries but I will confine my theorizing to the United States and leave it for citizens of other countries to offer their own.

In terms of an election, this fear mongering needs to stop. I do not care whether it comes from the right, the left, the center, what have you. An election is just an election. It is not a national referendum on the past or on the future. I am having a very difficult time thinking of a Democratic Party presidential nominee since Adlai Stevenson who ran a campaign based on issues. I am old enough to remember Tricky Dick's sweaty mug during his debate with J.F.K. and what a turning moment that was.

The campaigns, in my lifetime, have gotten more and more personality base and less and less about the actual issues. Even so, Mr. Obama's campaign takes the cake with his message of "Vote for me and feel good!" Mr. White revealed the dark side of that message Tuesday, "Don't vote for Barack and you are evil!"

The reality is that elections come and go and ceremonial leaders get installed. Change only comes from the people. The United States will still be the United States in December 2008, a month after the election, regardless of whether the president is Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, Bob Barr, John McCain or Barack Obama.

There is a great deal of talk that the ever increasing pool of non-voters (eligible voters who choose not to vote) are disenchanted and the usual suspects are trotted out with politicians who do not keep their promises usually second to the catch-all "Watergate." But maybe it is time for the focus on the disenchantment to be expanded? When every election is treated as life or death, who needs it?

Seriously. I do have some Republican neighbors. A small number, true, but I do have them in my largely Jewish neighborhood. By Mr. White's 'logic', am I to do a victory dance on their lawns if Mr. Obama wins? Should Mr. McCain win, do I take to their yards with a bullhorn and picket signs? (Mr. White's 'logic' does not allow for anyone else to win -- strange for a program director of what is billed as 'free speech radio.')

If the number of people disenchanted with voting is growing, maybe it is time for people like Mr. White and, certainly, Katrina vanden Heuvel to take a hard look at their own actions as they up the rhetoric and sew division within the country?

It is an election. I have been to sports matches for my children and grandchildren that showed more civility than what the likes of Mr. White and Ms. vanden Heuvel regularly churn out.

And a point for the Obama campaign to consider: You cannot continue to use your echo chamber and not call it out on this. You are the 'uniter' and, when your surrogates turn an election into the end of the world if your Republican opponent should win, they are only creating further divisions in an already divided country. When you refuse to call it out, you go along with their message.

Throughout my lifetime, I have heard "He's a liar!" and "He's a crook!" said about every presidential nominee. (Had the D.N.C. followed the popular vote and made Senator Hillary Clinton the nominee, I am sure I would have heard "She's a liar!" and "She's a crook!" as well.) And back in 1972, believe me, we had a lot of verbal ammo for Tricky Dick. But this simplistic notion that an election is the be-all, end-all and that is a life threatening matter is a turn-off and a sign of the increased immaturity among the commentary set. Again, Mr. White and Ms. vanden Heuvel deserve to be noted far ahead of many others and someone needs to encourage them to tone it down. I have seen cases made for candidates and I have seen candidates ripped apart for many reasons. But this idea that an election is a cataclysmic event, a summer disaster movie, is going to leave people feeling even more cheated than when they left a showing of Armageddon.

On Thursday, KPFA originated what was billed as a national broadcast and I am sure it was carried by Pacifica stations and community stations around the country as well as being streamed online. I wish I could say that was a good thing.

Larry Benksy hosted which was probably was not a good idea after he hosted an 'analysis' of the Texas debate between Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton that featured a host of guests who had all endorsed Mr. Obama but that fact was something that Mr. Bensky and the guests felt the audience did not need to be informed of. Disclosure was needed. More importantly, a fair panel was needed. It was an audio version of the Salem Witch Trials.

Could Mr. Bensky oversee anything worse? Thursday, he demonstrated that he could at least try to. What do the women at KPFA, especially those in management, think of a multi-hour special that features men non-stop? The broadcast was a House Judiciary Committee hearing live with commentary from Mr. Bensky and guests. Women were better represented on the Congressional committee than they were on air and I wonder how KPFA reconciles that with their own mission statement? Or maybe they intend to hail it as a 'victory' for the country and pretend that there are just so many Congress women today that the House managed to out staff them? It was offensive and appeared (I bailed after three hours of the nonsense) to be like Mr. Bensky's embarrassing broadcast in Februrary where no one wondered if one woman offering 'analysis' paired with multiple men and a male host was in any way 'representative' or 'progressive.'

I have been where Ms. Tady of Free Press is before, but after just those two incidents, I have to wonder what is so wonderful or important about public broadcasting that means I should work to save it?

Friday brought the so-called FAIR's CounterSpin to a variety of stations across the nation. I caught the song-and-dance on WBAI Friday morning. A meandering look at recent press on the part of Janine Jackson had me snoozing. I have no idea what her point was and she seemed to be constructing her thoughts mid-sentence but I probably needed the quick nap so I will just say, "Thank you, Ms. Jackson."

What I did not need, what the country does not need, what public broadcasting does not need is lying. That Mr. Obama said he would utilize public financing were he the Democratic Party's presidential nominee is not in doubt, is not in question. He stated it. Offering a lengthy segment with a guest brought on to lie and utilize revisionary tactics helped inform no one and only further cheapened FAIR's image. The New York Times and The Washington Post get things wrong all the time. They do so deliberately and accidentally. Their history of doing so is very long. But you weaken your case when both outlets stuck to the facts but you allow your guest to lie and distort. Mr. Obama broke his pledge. He would do so again when it was time to address illegal spying on American citizens. He has also broken his promise on Iraq, telling CNN June 5th that nothing he has said is fixed in stone and he will decide what to do when he enters the White House. Mr. Obama has a serious problem and lies will not conceal that. Again, the entire segment was an embarrassment which further cheapened FAIR's image.

Ms. Tady wants us to enlist in saving public broadcasting. I have issued the cry before myself. I will not today but knowing how hard it can be to try to rally on an unpopular cause, I will close by noting Friday also saw Pacifica broadcast Executive Director Nicole Sawaya's report to the listeners. She only had an hour which was too bad. She did take phone calls and I did attempt to call in to ask exactly when any Pacifica station might grasp that there is an ongoing, illegal war that has lasted over five years and still does not have a single program whose focus is the Iraq War? I will assume many people were attempting to phone in on many topics. Ms. Sawaya came off open and serious. Hopefully, some of the issues raised will be addressed but, due to the current construct of the Pacifica 'network,' most likely they will not be. Still, for one hour, the Executive Director was on air, explaining her hopes and regrets and listening to feedback from listeners as well as provided some responses. If Pacifica provided a reason to yet again mount the effort to save public broadcasting last week, it was Ms. Sawaya's report.

bernard white
katrina vanden heuvel
megan tady
larry bensky
pacfica radio
nicole sawaya