Ira Grupper’s View from Memphis

I wasn’t the only Louisvillian writing about the National Media Reform Conference in Memphis. I really enjoyed meeting Ira Grupper, who wrote the following column for a labor-focused newspaper published by the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

LABOR PAEANS—February 2007

by Ira Grupper

(Published by FORsooth, newspaper of Louisville, Kentucky chapter of F.O.R. [Fellowship of Reconciliation])

The Media Is The Message—But For Whom?

A sea of people, over 3,500 strong, converged on the Convention Center in Memphis, Tennessee on January 12 for the National Conference for Media Reform. The hotels, even the Beale Street tourist area (“home of the blues”) were festooned with placards welcoming us, and our disposable incomes.

Your humble scribe gets majorly frustrated at the vapid, vacuous, regurgitated national news via the public relations whores of General Electric (owner of the NBC network), billionaire Rupert Murdoch (FOX), Viacom (CBS), Disney (ABC), Time-Warner (CNN) ad nauseum.

Local Louisville TV news consists of human interest tidbits, traffic accidents, robberies and rapes (horrible crimes, to be sure), and a wee bit of information on economics, politics and social services relevant to the huddled masses and the middle class–just as it is in the rest of the country. What if they eliminated the inane banter, had a lot of info on economics, politics and social services, and a wee bit about robberies and rapes?

Almost nothing is broadcast about the economic and political rape of the Louisville working class by the business elite, of the battles of organized labor, women, minorities, lesbians and gays, disabled, older folk, etc.. Our one major newspaper, the Gannett (USA Today)-owned Courier-Journal, has no Labor section. What they do cover on labor is to be found in the Business section.

The National Conference on Media Reform, a much-needed antidote, assembled journalists, some small business people, labor union officials, bloggers, alternative radio and other activists, technocrats and intellectuals.

There was a smorgasbord of speakers: Bill Moyers, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Danny Glover and Jane Fonda were informed and nuanced plenary keynoters, serenading us with the possibilities for public control of the airwaves, and challenging us to take action against the media mogul Macbeths-who-doth-murder-sleep.

Danny Glover reminded us: “Our compelling task is (figuring out) how to organize our struggles into…power.” Jane Fonda, whom I had not heard speak on matters other than exercising for many years, was politically brilliant, and funny as well: “Why, I even had big media right in my very own bedroom,” she said, referring to her ex-husband, then head of CNN. You can see the entire conference on streaming video at .

There were a few socialist and anarchist groups present, hawking publications and t-shirts. But conspicuous in their absence from the dais, or most panels, were folk from groups like the Black Commentator or Portside, of analysts like Michael Parenti, folk who see the corporatization of media not as an aberration or mis-ordering of priorities, but rather as the effort of an economic system in decay trying to hide its malignancy.

The number of African Americans present—200–was praised by Malkia Cyril, of the Youth Media Council (Oakland, California), yet it should have been higher. There was not enough Latino/Latina representation.

About twenty people attended the conference from here in Louisville, representing Louisville Media Reform, Jefferson County Teachers Association (part of the National Education Association), Jobs With Justice, Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and the Kentucky Foundation for Women. A reporter from alternative-paper LEO was also present.

There were almost one hundred panels and workshops at the conference, running concurrently maybe ten panels at a time. Miyoung-Joon Kim, an activist from South Korea, spoke on a panel entitled “Beyond Rights and Reform: Imagining a Global Movement for Media Justice Featuring You.” He said: “U.S. activists (need to learn from) experiences of other countries.” And then he explained neo-liberalism, free trade agreements, and the need for general access to broadband, all struggles in which South Korean activists are invested.

Janvieve Williams spoke in behalf of the U.S. Human Rights Network, representing 250 organizations. They produce a program, “This week in Peoples’ History.” One show talked about how a woman died after abortions were banned in Nicaragua.

Another panel your correspondent attended, “Quality Journalists Equals Quality Journalism,” featured speakers from The Newspaper Guild, the Communication Workers of America (CWA), a reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and a journalist/union officer from the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. The report of the struggle at the Commercial-Appeal, where workers have not had a raise in years, was wrenching.

Linda Foley, president of The Newspaper Guild, pointed out that, since 2001, 40,000 journalists have lost their jobs, 36,000 of them in newspapers alone. Some job loss estimates go as high as 70,000.

She went on to describe bloggers: “42% of bloggers don’t verify facts; 59%, when wrong, don’t publish corrections.” Your humble correspondent arose to point out that in addition to bloggers publishing “crap,” so do “trained journalists,” the latter because they are often the stenographers for big business and have no choice if they want that paycheck. The focus should not be on “qualifications,” but rather unity. Amen.

The conference was invigorating, if focused on an overabundance of issues. There has been talk of gathering together the Louisville attendees, from the various groups, to discuss it further.

Lucinda Marshall, representing the Kentucky Foundation for Women at the conference, recently reported on Sarah Olson, a reporter for Truthout: She is the reporter who is being subpoenaed to testify in the case of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada (the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq—I.G.). This case has the potential of having a chilling impact on journalism and free speech.

“As I read about her case, what really struck me is (sic) that this could so easily happen to any of those of us who regularly interview people and because of that, this feels very personal.”

Olson explains why she will not testify: “It is stunningly ironic that the Army seeks my testimony–the testimony of a journalist–in a case against free speech itself. What could be more hostile to the idea of a free press than a journalist participating in the suppression of newsworthy speech?”

Olson continues: “It seems clear that the U.S. Army is attempting to redefine the parameters of acceptable speech and to classify dissent as a punishable offense. Subpoenaing journalists in this case unequivocally sends the message that dissent is neither tolerated nor permitted…”

Part of the reason for this malicious threat of prosecution has to do with the changed international view, one that is now overt in its criticism of U.S. aggression and atrocity in Iraq. Over 3,000 U.S. citizens, mostly soldiers, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, mostly civilians, have died, and now more are dying, even after our reasons for invading Iraq to begin with have been shown to be pure lies.

But the times, indeed, they are a-changin’. What we’ve done to Iraq is related to what we’ve done at Guantanamo. Writes Alexia Garamfalvi in a dispatch 12.25.06: No one thinks that Donald Rumsfeld will end his days in a German prison. Or that there is any real chance he will have to face trial in Germany over allegations that he authorized policies leading to the torture of prisoners at U.S. detention facilities in Iraq and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

“But that doesn’t mean that a complaint filed in Germany last month won’t have some ripple effects. The complaint asks a federal prosecutor there to begin an investigation, and ultimately a criminal prosecution, of the former secretary of defense (Donald Rumsfeld) and other U.S. officials for their roles in the abuses.

“ ‘Rumsfeld is no longer untouchable,’ says Wolfgang Kaleck, the German lawyer who filed the complaint along with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the International Federation for Human Rights. ‘He is now deeply connected with claims of abuses and torture. We have taken the first step to begin the legal discussion on his accountability.’ ”

Just as two parts of the world, Iran and Nicaragua, came to haunt the U.S. in the 1980’s as the Iran-Contra Affair, so now the Abu Ghraib tortures and the crimes committed at Guantánamo are also being linked via this CCR suit.

Well, now, it’s yours truly’s comeuppance time, from my picky, if faithful, readers. One of the listservs that carries this column is from Chicago. Dennis Dixon wrote in with reference to the December-January Labor Paeans, wherein your columnist wrote: “Nor must we forget that the Republican far-right (is this an oxymoron?) still rules the executive roost.” Brother Dixon comments: “In this case you mean ‘redundancy’—not oxymoron.. It’s like the term ‘corporate greed’–which is a redundancy since ‘greed’ is the entire raison d’etre of corporations in the first place. In this case, the Republican party has now become synonymous with ‘reactionary’—which was not always true.” Your contrite columnist stands corrected.

Jim Clifford of San Diego CA, a former Louisvillian, writes: “i assume u mean supported rather than opposed in ‘Nor have the Democrats opposed as a whole the U.S. troop withdrawal in Iraq.’ “

He then repeats Dixon’s criticism, above, and ends with a hyphen-correction: “i assume u meant non filthy-rich rather than non-filthy rich in ‘For every 51 votes Yarmuth got, Northup

got 48, which included many many non-filthy rich folk.’ “

Dennis and Jim: I appreciate your punctiliousness. Just don’t go to sleep with both eyes closed, you hear?

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