I've been AWOL from The Bloomington Alternative during the month of August. I haven't been a total slacker, mind you. Aside from getting ready for the new school year and putting the finishing touches on a book manuscript, I've been keeping tabs on the media and politics by way of my blog.
Here are a few select items gleaned from my blog posts in recent weeks -- with a few additions and revisions for good measure.
First, the good news.
Power to the people
Curious the sort of popular protests that make the news these days. Some months ago it was the Tea Baggers. Lately it's been so-called Birthers and the anti-health care reformers who have captured the limelight.
"Corporate media act as cheerleaders for those "grassroots" efforts to derail health care reform, while single-payer advocates and others can't even get a mention on the nightly news."
Indeed, the mainstream media can't get enough of the populist outrage over "Obamacare." What's most striking about all the press these groups get is the paucity of coverage progressive political action receives in the mainstream media (MSM).
It's not as if progressives don't know a thing or two about rallies, protests and exercising their rights of freedom of assembly and expression. Still, the media silence surrounding actions by groups such as Code Pink, Iraq Veterans Against the War and the Single Payer Action is deafening.
That's why it's important to look beyond MSM and look to alternative and independent journalism for success stories from the progressive left. For example, from AlterNet comes word of the “Roadblock to Recovery,” a workers' direct action campaign launched by Jobs with Justice and the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) union, aimed at Wells Fargo for its refusal "to extend credit to struggling businesses after receiving federal bailout money."
This is but the latest in a series of sorely underreported stories about successful direct action campaigns that are currently underway across the country. But you didn't hear about it on NBC, NPR or CNN.
The same is true for the campaign launched by Color of Change to urge advertisers to withdraw their support for FOX Television's Glenn Beck. Color of Change took exception to Beck's race baiting rhetoric and has effectively organized a consumer boycott aimed at FOX's bottom line.
Among others, insurance companies such as Progressive and GEICO have pulled their ad sales from Beck's program -- all thanks to citizens' action. According to AlterNet, as of Sept. 2, upwards of 50 advertisers have responded to the Color of Change boycott and dropped their advertising support for Beck's program.
So there's good news tonight. People have the power.
But don't expect to hear truly inspirational stories like these from the likes of the establishment press (NYT, WAPO, ABC) let alone from the 24/7 rolling news channels (MSNBC, CNN, FOX).
Activism on both the left and right should be subject to critical reporting. Instead, corporate media act as cheerleaders for those "grassroots" efforts to derail health care reform, while single-payer advocates and others can't even get a mention on the nightly news.
More good news
It was heartening to learn that the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University will present the 2009 I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence to Jon Alpert.
"The July 29 broadcast of NPR's Morning Edition featured not one but three reports on health care reform ... with nothing said about single-payer."
Bloomington Alternative readers may be familiar with Alpert's work, which has appeared on NBC, PBS and, more recently, HBO. According to a story appearing on Media Channel, Alpert is being recognized for a distinguished career as an investigative journalist, technological innovator and media educator.
I had the pleasure of spending the summer of 2000 at Downtown Community Television (DCTV) -- the community media center Alpert and his wife, videographer Keiko Tsuno, established in New York City's Chinatown in 1972 -- while I was conducting research for my book Community Media: People, Places, and Communication Technologies.
Alpert's work is unique in many respects, not least for his uncanny ability to stay rooted in the local community one minute and go out globe trotting the next. His work addresses a host of timely issues including: urban culture (Third Ave.) criminal justice (Lock-up), healthcare (Your Money or Your Life), war and peace (Baghdad ER, Section 60), drug addiction (High on Crack Street), women's college basketball (A Cinderella Season), and immigration (Chinatown). What's more, Alpert, Tsuno and the entire DCTV crew are a generous and fun-loving bunch.
I recall my time at the historic firehouse in lower Manhattan, not far from the site where the World Trade Center once stood, with great fondness and admiration for the fine work coming out of DCTV.
Now the bad news
I think it was David Barsamian, the host and producer of Alternative Radio, who coined the phrase "National Propaganda Radio" to describe the way NPR covers crucial public policy issues.
Case in point: The July 29 broadcast of NPR's Morning Edition featured not one but three reports on health care reform. Neither a studio interview with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) nor Adam Hochberg's report from Appalachia on local reaction to Obama's plan to "overhaul" the nation's health care system strayed very far from the health industry's party line. And a story on public opinion focused on opposition to the president's plan -- with nothing said about single-payer.
"NPR's reporting repeats an awful lot of misinformation and echoes all sorts of wild claims from health reform opponents without question or even a hint of skepticism."
Not surprisingly, "people on the street" interviews in Appalachia featured locals singing the praises of the U.S. health care system: "the best in the world." And almost to a person, interviewees expressed skepticism toward Obama's reform initiative. The fear of a government-run health care system runs deep in Appalachia -- or so NPR would like us to believe.
One of the main functions of the press is to filter out truth from lies. And yet, NPR's reporting repeats an awful lot of misinformation and echoes all sorts of wild claims from health reform opponents without question or even a hint of skepticism.
Another function of the press is to provide a forum for diverse opinion and thoughtful analysis. But a recent segment on PBS's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer fell far short of the mark. On Monday, August 31, NewsHour correspondent Jeffrey Brown led a roundtable discussion on press coverage of the healthcare reform "debate" featuring Trudy Lieberman, contributing editor at the Columbia Journalism Review, Roger Sergel, managing editor of medical coverage at ABC News, and Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. This segment soon degenerated into yet another shallow discussion of the impact that the town hall meetings have had on the terms and tenor of the debate.
Not one of these media "experts" called attention to the role that industry lobbyists and Astroturf groups have played in these "spontaneous" expressions of public outrage over the so-called public option.
And once again, the grassroots movement that supports substantive, healthcare reform, like single-payer, didn't get a mention. By ignoring popular support for affordable, high quality universal healthcare, the NewsHour segment did not contribute to the public debate -- instead it muddied the water and ignored the growing demand for a healthcare system that puts people before profits.
Lopsided reporting of this sort undermines public broadcasting's credibility. At a time when American journalism is in a state of crisis, we can't afford to have a dysfunctional public media system.
Kevin Howley is associate professor of media studies at DePauw University. He is editor of the forthcoming Understanding Community Media and writes regularly on media, culture and politics at e-chreia. He can be reached at email@example.com.