By Stevi Carroll
January 20, 2007
When one runs a marathon, she knows she will train for months before and thus have the endurance for those 26 miles. The Free
Press Media Reform Conference was a marathon of ideas. Janice and I crossed the finish line, panting and filled with enthusiasm. One of the benefits of Internet superhighway is that you too can experience this conference by going to freepress.net. I highly recommend many of the speeches: Bill Moyers "Life on the Plantation, " Jesse Jackson and Bernie Sanders top my list of the list.
When Bill Moyers took the stage with his "Life on the Plantation" speech, he set the tone for the weekend. At least half a dozen times, his meticulous use of language and the ideas he shared brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. My favorite quote: "They [the Bush administration] have even managed to turn the escalation of a failed war into a 'surge' - as if it were a current of electricity charging through a wire, instead of blood spurting from a soldier's ruptured veins." This was one of his examples of the Orwellian use of language than now passes as political discourse. Moyers' announcement that Bill Moyers Journal returns to PBS this spring brought riotous applause. Check your local listing for date and time, for sure!
On a practical and sustaining side, Moyers reminded us that we are not alone in our desire for the airwaves of America to be used to tell the truth. For one thing, over 3,000 people filled the ballroom, and as all good activists know, one person on the street corner with a sign, or one phone call or letter to an elected official, or one letter to the editor represents many people in solidarity.
Jesse Jackson also emphasized we are not alone in our work to shine lights of truth on the spin given to news today. He additionally brought attention to ways in which the media stereotype the voices of the people. The example he gave is how he is asked his opinion in the Duke Lacrosse case but not his opinion on the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. And as we might remember, Jackson did run for president once; he does follow international politics and have opinions on what is happening.
Bernie Sanders is the grandfather we all would love to have. His passion for common, hardworking people is so strong I could almost hear Aaron Copeland's Fanfare for the Common Man playing behind his speech. He continued the theme of the co-opting of language when he discussed the use of the term "moral values." Moral values in our country have been boiled down to abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research. For Sanders, moral values should include health care, the loss of well-paying jobs for the working class of America, and the loss of the middle class. He said by limiting the discussion, the real things that impact people's lives are not seen on television or discussed on the radio. (As an aside, I just saw Chris Hedges discuss his new book, American Fascism: The Christian Right and The War on America. He says until we as a nation can address the gross inequity in our country - the top 1% of the population controls more wealth than the bottom 90% - oligarchy is the word being used for what is happening here - people will be drawn to the Dominionists, the term Hedges uses for the branch of the Christian right he discusses.) When people who have lost their jobs to outsourcing never see this discussed in depth, they begin to lose hope and to believe they are the only ones losing their livelihoods, homes, and often identities. Sanders speech is well worth seeing at the website.
With the wide variety of workshops available in each time slot, Janice and I were not able to attend everything we wanted. Since I'm a big fan of NOW, David Brancaccio's name jumped out of the program and slid into my 'must see' file. Well, that was until I saw the speakers' list for the presentation above his. That icon of the Washington Press Corps, Helen Thomas, was going to be on the stage on the panel in the ballroom during the same time. Sorry, David. Granted you sat at the side of the master of thoughtfulness, Bill Moyers, and have continued in the same spirit, but come on, man. Helen Thomas, the rock star of questioning U.S Presidents for decades had to win the moment. Did this 86-year-old woman disappoint the crowd? Hardly! First on a personal note, what I realized listening to her is that even though I may be, according to all those black birthday balloons, over the hill and sliding toward becoming one with the vast carbon count in the dirt, given Helen Thomas's example, I can agitate until some carries my corpse to the crematorium. Thomas expressed grave disappointment with the press corps for letting this administration hoodwink the public, and the Congress, into Iraq. What I noticed also was her deep attention to the other speakers on her panel. When Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Sarah Olson - a free lance journalist who was subpoenaed by the prosecution in the court martial trial of Erhan Watada, or Liz Wolf whose blogger/journalist son Josh has been in prison for months now spoke, Thomas was obviously moved by what they said. If you go to whitehouse.gov and click on press briefing (1/18/07 close to the bottom), you can read some of the exchanges Thomas has with Tony Snow.
The most important message of the weekend as far as media goes was how
influential multiple platforms are, and we're not talking her about those
shoes popular in the 1970's that almost guaranteed a sprained ankle, either.
Media, of course, include newspapers and magazines, television - network,
public, satellite, and cable, and radio - AM and FM. Added to these are
low-frequency radio (see Prometheus
Radio Project -
for more information on a David and Goliath battle) and, drum roll here, the
Internet. For a newsmagazine like Press For Democracy, the Internet allows
us to stream from our website (coming soon!) and post on sites such as YouTube.
As it is now, if we want our programs shown on other cable access stations,
we have to have a local person willing to hand carry the DVD to the station
and request for it to be shown. With something like YouTube, our programs
can be available at that site as well as at ours. Many groups, authors,
or other alternative media sources post links at their sites. We can do that
for others and they can for us too. The Internet with all of its possibilities
can allow our programs to be seen by far more people than those who watch
public access television.
Now with that said about the joys of the Internet, the discussion about the validity of 'blogs' has begun. Chris Nolan of Spot-On.com said she and her organization have an online newsmagazine, not a blog. She requires that her writers are trained as journalists and use the 'who, what, when' to get to the 'why' in their reporting. As the Internet becomes ever more influential, yes Hilary Clinton did announce the formation of her study group for running for president on the Internet, accountability also must be present. For Nolan and many people, the integrity of what one posts on one's website, or blog, will come under more scrutiny.
All in all, Janice and I came away from this conference with many new ideas, some content for shows of our own, and leads to follow up on. This conference was energizing for us both, even as we came home dog-tired. With deep gratitude we thank all of you who supported us through good wishes and donations. We are hopeful we will be able to put into practice what we learned.