Saturday, March 15, 2014

Amy Goodman at the Lensic, March 14, 2014

Amy Goodman is really an amazing raconteur. I give her mad props for that.

Of course, she's been on this tour for a while now, and she's been to Santa Fe once or twice a year for who knows how long (she indicated quite a few times...) so none of this is new to her. Nevertheless, she was able to weave together so many disparate-seeming threads in her... talk (it wasn't a speech or a lecture) that ran a little over an hour, that the effect was extraordinary. From the KKK repeatedly blowing up the Pacifica Radio transmitter tower in Houston, to the Fukushima story which ran recently on DN! -- and which I thought was superb -- to the Troy Davis vigil in Georgia,  to visiting the graves of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony in Rochester the midst of a snow storm (did that ever bring back memories for me!) and missing her plane to Denver because of it, to the nuclear issue in New Mexico, to Donald Rumsfeld's Eastern Shore estate in Maryland which was the plantation called "Mt Misery" where the rebellious Frederick Douglass had been taken to be broken, tortured into compliance as a slave, ironically next door to the Cheney estate, to the 2011 uprisings in Tahrir, in Madison, and in Manhattan and to all the other uprisings that grew from them (as Frida Barrington says, "little insurrections"), to the RNC convention in St. Paul (she didn't mention her detention, I wonder why), and on and on; I'm sure more will come to me.

The theme, not surprisingly, was alternative, public and independent media -- and how essential they are to anything like a functioning democracy. While she touted her own experiences, the message was that all the media players outside the contracting shrinking corporate media sector are essential and are essentially working together on this project called "truth" -- truth to power, truth about power, truth without power beyond the true voices of the people themselves.

So I asked her afterwards what she thought the future of alternative, public and independent media would be now that all these billionaires were entering the field, buying up not only programs (as on PBS and CPB) and the news itself (as on NewsHour) but so many of the very voices of the field (ie: First Look/Pierre).

She shot me a look as if I had just farted in her face, as if to say, "Couldn't you please ask me about something else?"  and I didn't think she was going to answer at all. Then she sort of looked up and said, "Mmmm, I dunno.... we'll have to see. As long as the work is good, that's the important thing. I don't have much else to say about it... for now."  I rather curtly responded, "How... diplomatic of you," and she shot me that look again.

Clearly it is a topic that makes her uncomfortable. The stories about the corruption of PBS and CPB by billionaires who fund programs that promote their political agendas have gotten a surprising amount of traction, given where they originated (ie: Pando, a Billionaire Boy's Club arm's length investment -- ahem)  and  the whole First Look Thing has got a lot of people scratching their heads over what it might lead to -- and no, Glenn, the questioning isn't over what "Pierre" tells you to write, it's about what you and all the rest don't write about -- so as not to displease your check-writer, boss, and host. M-kay?

I've never known who funds "Democracy Now! Democracy Now! dot org. The War and Peace Report" though I understand it's quite an expensive enterprise and they get big-bucks foundation grants (so I would ask, what stories don't they tell because of who funds them?) But I am somewhat familiar with what happened at Pacifica when pleasing corporate/foundation interest became more important than anything else among the Pacifica board and management -- under the guise of "professionalizing," triggering a revolt (not the whole story, but some of it, from a particular point of view) and a good deal of public blood letting took place over what was going on. It was ugly. No, it was really ugly. Amy reported on it, as I recall, or tried to, and was taken off the air. I haven't read the link to refresh my memory, but if I recall correctly, and it's been a while, her plug was pulled in the midst of a broadcast. For sometime thereafter, Pacifica ran archived shows. During the time this was going on, KPFA was on my car radio, and was practically unlistenable.

All media is going through a somewhat painful phase, which she alluded to in her talk. As the General Manager of New Mexico PBS, Franz Joaquim, said in his intro, "It's the best of times. It's the worst of times." (or maybe it was Dave Marash, KSFR's news director who said it, the intros are something of a fog at this point). I get that. At the same time, if media -- all media with a substantial audience -- is going to fall under the wing of some foundation or billionaire benefactor or corporate boardroom or it isn't going to exist, then the media as an institution has failed. Badly. The myth of the Free Press is then what it's long been held to be: "The press is free enough -- so long as you can afford to buy one."

During the uprisings of 2011, we got a taste of what a modern real independent people powered media can look like. Livestreamers were everywhere, many Occupys had print publications, too, and online news directly from the scenes and sources exploded (not solely via Twitter and Facebook, but mainly so). Getting a rope around all that became an obvious state objective, but there was also an internal effort through the various Occupys to control the news. Livestreamers found themselves in a bind when what they were showing was not what certain factions wanted seen. Some were attacked, several quit.  It sometimes was or became a donnybrook. But it was much closer to what real "independent media" looks like than even Democracy Now! or First Look or anything else that claims the title of "independent" or "alternative" media. In that context, PBS and NPR don't even factor. They are the equivalent of "corporate-state" media.

What the future of American media holds is still very much up in the air. Amy said that the People have to take back their media, and while it's an appealing phrase, God knows, the truth of the matter is that the People never had a media to "take back." There were signs in 2011 and 2012 (as there have been before) that an actual "People's Media" might develop. Certainly the tools are available at practically no financial cost. The basic infrastructure for genuine "People's Media" is in place. But making it so is still fraughtful, and efforts so far have been halting or halted due to conflicting interests and demands.

The traditional media seems to be in only slightly better shape.

Stay tuned.

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