Saturday, November 6, 2010


This post has been deleted because the event woven into it has been cancelled by organizers.  and I cannot get 'all caps' to disable.  If anyone has any ideas about that--I'm all ears.!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Damn The Disc Jockeys (and other comedians): Resistance is Newsworthy

Damn The Disc Jockeys (and other comedians): Resistance is Newsworthy.
by Lisa Barr
             The October 5, 2010 New York Times article about the Chicago Tribune fails to link past U.S. news media failures with the crude infidels the Times only recently discovered inhabiting Chicago’s Tribune Tower.  As if the failed economic model of the U.S. mainstream media is something worth mourning.  This is what educators call a teaching moment.  The lesson concerns the need to resist a new spiral of silence regarding the lack of free speech for those resisting the U.S.’ increasingly anti-democratic society.  I speak as a person who ran screaming into the arms of television news for ‘sanity’ and the ability to tell a story with an extra minute’s time. In my defense, it seemed the thing to do after being literally thrown around a Houston newsroom by a wee-hours disc jockey upset that an obit piece featured comments from formerly blacklisted entertainers regarding the then-recently-expired Arthur Godfrey.  (The DJ REALLY liked Mr. Godfrey).  
            Disc jockeys and news being like oil and water is no surprise.  But lest anyone kid themselves--with rare exceptions, U.S. news managers post World War II have almost always shared the same brutish pragmatism regarding the U.S. empire.  It’s why Esquire, Ramparts and the G.I. Resistance newspapers stood out (and prospered) during the Vietnam War.  I believe what the Times article really decries is the lack of elegant expression of support for Pax Americana.
            Michael Moore’s press conference in Montreal two years ago offered more insight into the economics of the rapid decline in jobs.  Moore explained that, unlike European or Japanese newspapers, U.S. news organs relied upon advertising for funding.  Andd, also unlike successful overseas outfits, U.S. media moguls eliminated key beats--a job in which a reporter routinely gets in the face of officialdom and does more than mere stenography.   Moore gave the example of the Baltimore Sun knifing through courts, crime, labor, and poverty beats.  They saved money.  But they ‘slit their own throats’ by eliminating the possibility their news outlet would possess any information vital enough to buy as opposed to ‘steal’ online.   And Moore made his point with a sense of humor:  “I don’t know if you’ve ever BEEN to Baltimore, but, CRIME? POVERTY?” 
            I will assume readers enjoy a rationale without humor.  Here we go.  Academic studies of how U.S. journalists are socialized to news work began in the 1950s.  Beyond examinations of routinized work that led to ‘gatekeeping’ notions of how certain stories are selected, there was little discussion in ‘prestige’ journalism journals until the mid 1980s of how ideology permeates every aspect of narrative production.  One quick example--the use of ‘we’ instead of ‘U.S.’ in news narratives.  That this still occurs 20 years after the The McBride Report of the United Nations--which decried the U.S. ‘top-down’ approach to ‘development work’ in order to mask corporate exploitation--shows a failure to integrate critical media theory into journalism education. 
            McBride’s long-term effect apparently was only good for some professors’ tenure quest.  And Noam Chomsky.  It’s pretty much accepted by serious media scholars that, while U.S. journalists may self-identify as ‘liberal’, their product increasingly favors a military industrial complex status quo.  Critical media scholarship is on the wane, partly due to a stacking of the U.S. journalism academy with those lacking major market journalism experience, advanced degrees in mass media, and any notion that the parameters of debate must be wide in a self-regulating democracy. 
            The doors of debate used to be wider.  I know this from personal experience.  In 1981, after about 5 years on the job, my profession was supposed to end.  Radio news was deemed superfluous under Ronald Reagan’s FCC Commissioner, a Florida product (go Gators!) who said that a television is just another appliance.  Why would you regulate a toaster?  About 5,000 radio news people were ‘on the beach’ I was told by a Boston news director.  Where was my master’s degree?  By then the five years’ experience formerly used for applicant weed-out was passe--so many others had a master’s and 5 years experience.  And then he lost his job.   Because even under Democratic presidencies, the FCC allowed ownership truncation to the point where entire cities’ media outlets can now be pretty much owned by one corporate entity.
            What the U.S. lost was more than KULF’s 9-person newsroom where I worked in Houston.  Journalism lost a sort of safety-in-numbers game.  You could get some of the same stories now only available via radio on Democracy Now! on relatively ‘mainstream’ radio stations in many different markets.  For instance, an ABC-affiliate reporter thanked me for having interviewed a C.I.S.P.E.S. (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) representative who blew into town for an event.  “My news director said that since someone else in town had done it first, it was okay for me to have him on.” 
            A few years later (and with much better makeup and hair) I was called on the carpet at New Orleans’ ABC affiliate for having let a Tulane pre-med student document Boland Amendment violations via news clippings and a terse Sunday morning ‘No comment,’ from Elliot Abrams.   This was a year before the Iran Contra hearings.  “We’re moving you off weekends so we may monitor your work more closely,”  said Gary Luczak, a former Republican congressional aide turned WVUE-TV Assistant News Director.  I smiled and began reorganizing our nearly decertified AFTRA chapter for an eventual facedown against what would become a formidable union-busting firm.  We got our asses kicked--and I decided to enter academe.
             Thus, I know from firsthand experience how difficult it was getting hard facts and different voices exposure on the local level (with an occasional national freelance report done on ‘spec’) in the 1980s.  But it was still possible.  So when last week’s  New York Times piece on the Tribune evoked the image of a more ethical, brave past for U.S. journalism, I blanched.  Things were bad but getting rapidly worse in terms of free speech.  The problem is bigger than the admission of a poorly behaving disc jockey into a newsroom void of newsworkers jettisoned by managerial greed.              
            The pro-military industrial complex domination of media content is akin to what U.S. journalists faced from pro-slavery forces nearly 200 years earlier.  Remember Elijah P. Lovejoy.  After the abolitionist newspaper editor was finally murdered by a pro-slavery mob in 1837, he was blamed for his own misfortune in Boston’s Faneuil Hall by Massachusetts Attorney General James Austin.  A relative unknown at the time, Wendell Phillips spoke in Lovejoy’s defense after Austin sat down:
                        “The gentleman says Lovejoy was presumptuous and             citizen has a right to publish opinions disagreeable to the community!  If any mob             follows such publication, on him rests its guilt!  He must wait, forsooth, til the             people come up to it and agree with him!  This libel on liberty goes on to say that             the want of right to speak as we think is an evil inseparable from republican             institutions!  If this be, what are they worth?  Welcome the despotism of the             Sultan, where one knows what he may publish and what he may not, rather than             the tyranny of this many-headed monster, the mob, where we know not what we             may do or say, till some fellow citizen has tried it, and paid for the lesson with his             life.”
            Lovejoy had moved his press three times prior to its destruction on the night of his murder in Alton, Illinois.  Talk about a free speech nomad. The U.S. radio news diaspora has also moved around a bit. Twenty years ago I tracked down a sample group of my former radio newspeople in a summer’s extra credit graduate course. The supervising professor took little interest in the results.  (That person is now a journalism administrator peppering alums with e-mail invitations to come ‘tailgate’ at football games.)   But the results were stark.  Most of the radio newsrooms closed were at stations that were, as of the mid 1980s, owned by fundamentalist Christian outfits.  Of about 30 people tracked down, 2 had developed alcohol problems, and one unfortunate person had retooled as a pilot for the doomed Eastern Airlines. 
            This is about more than personal career difficulties.  That era of radio journalists interviewed different people and covered different events than we hear today, expanding the parameters of acceptable debate in the process.  To stand out, radio stations’ news people covered events regularly ignored by newspapers and television--stuff you now can usually only hear if there is time in the national/international news budget of Democracy Now!, for instance.  Absent license requirements to keep a newsroom running, commercial radio stations have slit their own throats.  And not many places in the U.S. have a community radio station with a locally staffed newsroom. 
            As a result, public officials are no longer regularly challenged, let alone questioned.  The mere idea seemed merely ‘rude’ prior to 9/11, but now journalists covering the peaceful resistance are treated as potentially violent threats.  So the perception of those who engage in resistance to those in charge is now horribly lacking in detail and nuance.  The portrayal of domestic resistance is skewed to weird notions that those who protest or even discuss the U.S.’ radical past should be treated as bomb-throwers threatening a just or benign status quo.
            Back to the specific example of the Chicago Tribune.  There was little exceptional performance even before its ‘Zell takeover’--an event which ed about a decade after Northwestern University students scooped the paper on the state’s attorney office corruption regarding innocent men on death row.   Forgive also, if you will, the Trib’s belated embrace of Studs Terkel and Elmer Gertz after decades of abusing the respective activist reporter and civil rights lawyer.  But, citizens testifying in 2007 before the FCC hearing on Chicago’s South Side were not forgiving about Chicago media’s failure to cover key stories concerning police brutality, peace actions, or Muslim rights groups.
            This is where geezer journalists like me, today’s Lou Grants, if you will, could come in handy.  Imagine a newsroom inhabited by more than the twenty-somethings I saw during a Tribune Tower field trip two years ago banging out ‘news’ gathered chiefly via computer and telephone.    It’s not that we’d be yelling cliches like ,”There’s no ‘news in the newsroom!” or “If your mother says she loves you check it out!”,  or GOYA KOD! (“Get-Off-Your-Asses-Knock-On-Doors”). 
            Hopefully we wouldn’t yell at all.  Experience is more subtle than that.  The radio news diaspora would know the difference between astroturf (Tea-Bagger/One Nation”) protests and January’s peace coalition protesting outside CIA HQ the Obama Administration’s use of killer drones on Pakistani civilians.  It would see through the fallacy of equating the Oklahoma City bombers with people like Gregory Koger, a videographer who ran afoul of ‘liberals’ tied to Obama administration employees who attend a humanist society in Skokie.  A man arrested, denied bond, and tried by kangaroo court for what he was (a homeless child turned juvenile delinquent) and what he reads (Bob Avakian’s Revolution) and videotapes (Sunsara Taylor, Revolutionary Communist Party member).  Koger’s story is virtually ignored even by elements of Chicago media not controlled by drunken disc jockeys.  
            The police brutality of macing a man already in handcuffs on the floor of a place about to send kiddies to a ‘Golden Rule Sunday School’ should also serve to make that a worthy “Chicagoland” story.  But Koger’s story has a news angle of resistance.  And that makes it a suspected third rail in the post-Vietnam era news climate. 
            I think today’s journalists need to worry less about being labeled ‘radical’ by news managers or even ‘edgy’ Comedy Central ‘News’ hosts.  They need to revisit the abolitionist movement’s brave advocates.   Those people had much more to lose than does any journalist or freelancer today.  Wendell Phillips had the right idea about resistance in times like these:
                        “...(Lovejoy) and his advisers looked out on a community, staggering like a             drunken man, indifferent to their rights and confused in their feelings.  Deaf to             argument, haply they might be stunned into sobriety.  They saw that of which we             cannot judge, the necessity of resistance.  Insulted law called for it.  Public             opinion, fast hastening on the downward course, must be arrested....”

            Any radio news worker laid off in the 1980s who cares to launch a freelance career could perhaps do no better than to chronicle the increasingly ignored, marginalized, and harassed peace movement.  Learn to shoot and edit some video.  Post it.  Because, The New York Times could provide true ‘paper of record’ service to U.S. citizens by leading the way in this regard, despite the appeal of misbehaving disc jockeys.  But, I, for one, am not going to hold my breath waiting for this to happen. 
Journalism stalwarts are surprisingly silent regarding a Michigan legislator’s plan to ‘license’ journalists by having approved peers judge their integrity.  Having seen how ‘mainstream’ journalists treat those who actually speak at length with those involved in peaceful resistance to military violence, I think that’s a bad idea. This video explains why.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


(DATELINE: Washington, Deceit.)  
            The sweltering heat has perhaps blessedly fused memory of the ‘health care‘ fiasco into any remaining ‘hope and change’ ganglia not impacted by Alzheimers.  Those still sentient may read on about renewed license to protest even outside the Obama White House.  
           And thank Cindy Sheehan her co-defendants, and their devoted attorneys.  
           This week we are wisely reminded that Democratic party sellouts to big ‘medicine’ (Congress members) were due at the Obama residence March 20th at 4 p.m..  Cindy Sheehan, Peace of the Action (POTA), Answer Coalition, and others planned to give the overly-insured ones a fitting welcome. If you’d like to know what signs they were carrying, do a FOIA request of Park Police spies.  
          They taped the whole thing--signs, faces, even a socialist newspaper.  
But not from the right angle, turns out.  Had they videotaped Sheehan, or even scoured the web for POTA video, they would found evidence of The Peace Mom’s intent to engage in free expression.  Sheehan, writing in a blog cited by Prosecutor Sarah Branch as evidence she intended to cross that police line admitted the day after her acquittal that she in fact did intend to cross that police line.  
           But it’s a police line which was not needed, and should never have been established. I hope any appeal gets email and radio transmissions regarding what, during brief windows of sanity, is sometimes viewed as abuse of police discretion.  And I would like to see former Lieutenant (now CAPTAIN) Phil Beck‘s bank account records.  He’s no doubt looked at Peace Mom’s, and soon he’ll probably take a gander at mine.  (Journalists’ records have been ‘fair game’ since Reagan--time to level the playing field).   
This week Cindy Sheehan’s intent was on trial.  In an appeal, we may learn the true intent of the police.  And their enablers.
Already it appears obvious these public servants did not want activists ‘interrupting’ a political-message-free ‘tourist zone’ by communicating with their elected leaders.  Or maybe pushing a megaphone into the chest of a menopausal, grieving mother excites them in ways I really hope never to understand.  They injured, jailed for over 2 days, and even threatened and lectured known and emerging protest leaders from 3 generations: Jim Veeder, Cindy Sheehan, Elaine Brower, Jon Gold, Matthis Chiroux, and jubilant bike-rack-jumper LaFlora Cunningham Walsh.  (Watch the video--even irrascible codgers will love that kid.)
           That’s the bad news.  
            The good news is that, it appears even the D.C. establishment is sick of all this post-911 security theatre.  
         I say this not because Cindy Sheehan and others were acquitted.  I say this because a judge admonished the cops to provide a video if they ever again hope to bring such inconsistent testimony and records against protesters.
        I say this because my iPhone and one of the defendants’ accidentally rang in the middle of the hearing and neither of us were arrested nor bounced from the courtroom.  When Sheehan’s buzzed, the judge good naturedly joked, “That wasn’t a protest, was it?”  She cheerfully asserted it wasn’t.  The Federal Marshalls and I discussed the wily ways of the 3GS on recess:  “Unlike the Blackberry, you cannot remove the battery,” and, “If you put it on ‘airplane mode’ it won’t turn itself back on.”  
             Marshalls acting inquisitive, even apologetic?  “I didn’t mean to move you from where you could hear, ma’am,” said one Marshall.  An apology?  From a person with a gun?  This has got to be a sign the security theatre state is abating.  I say this because, until the final arguments of the trial, I and others could aid and abet our aching back muscles by placing a forbidden foot upon a forbidden piece of carpeted knee wall in the gallery.  I even iced a bare, sprained ankle, water dripping on federal carpet.
         The last reason I sense a coming sea change against this military orgy of waste, this 10 year explosion of Jack Webb clones is-- just a hunch.  I sense a rising, silent chant of the protesters’ chorus on that Park Police video.  Was it a chorus of foul-mouthed angels after my own heart?  After the ridiculous 2nd police line--the one imprisoning formerly ‘permitted’ protest leaders onto a stage of pending punishment, the cry of real hope and change arose on Park Police video to an amused courtroom:
Wasn’t that a 6 year mantra from about 1969-1975?  
            Wasn’t that mantra (applied generously) why the U.S. bi-centennial was hyped so hard? Over-compensation, right?  Backlash, right?  Which perhaps also explains how Jimmy Carter could run for office in 1975 with a ‘My Momma spanked me’ ad.  I digress to explain my belief that a similar window is about to open.  It might allow even less fresh air than did the opening after Vietnam--the last failed U.S. empirical aggression.
           Returning from D.C. on Amtrak, I met a person who remembered the ‘window’--a former Department of Justice spy.  This person recounted photography missions to anti-war demonstrations when he/she was a sweet young thing.  “Turns out all my photos were blurry.”  That reminded me of how FBI files on lower interest ‘radical‘ friends were reputedly (during the middle of furtive, instantly confessional late-night celebrations) thrown away by step-parent clericals.  People are again discussing how the Vietnam War was REALLY ended--massive rebellion of soldiers, perhaps inside saboteurs.   
         Which brings us to Obama 08‘s official and unofficial co-opting and silencing of peace groups big and small.  Imagine South African style Truth and Reconciliation hearings about official spying and unofficial agents provocateurs.  We never resolved exactly what happened around Vietnam, let alone after World War II in that regard.  
Which brings us back to Cindy Sheehan, mother of Casey, and why she was forced this week to recount, yet again, her unspeakable loss: the sacrifice of her youngest son for false pretenses.  George Bush never answered her question--the question every newly-minted anti-war mother of a dead soldier is discouraged to ask in a war for empire.  She was banned from the Obama White House sidewalk, still awaiting that answer as the Iraq occupation continued, and as the U.S. expanded: the Afghanistan invasion; torture; rendition, and domestic spying into Presidential sanctioned killings and discussion of an internet ‘cut-off’ switch controlled by the unitary executive.   
So there was defiant Grandma Sheehan--in the dock, on the witness stand--exposing the wound hurling her onto a national treadmill of peace rallies, potlucks, bad air and worse manners.  No national news media coverage of her post-trial self-recrimination for having briefly choked up on the witness stand as she explained how she came to be in D.C. at all.   The prosecutor who disdainfully and triumphantly used the word ‘blog’ to describe Sheehan’s writings does not realize the first class, self-taught journalist she’s become.  So the Washington Post eschewed sending a court reporter.  Does the Post possess a one-word headline writer?  Sheehan coined ‘Slaystation’ for killer drone control panels.  There are journalists who would retire proudly after penning a two-word headline so cogent, so emotive.
Prosecutors read from Sheehan’s online blog how disappointed she was that no one else followed her over that ‘post-permit’ police line. Yet, without a video of the day in question, a kind D.C. judge refused to convict her of possessing the needed intent.  Was Judge Morin really that unschooled of Cindy’s street smarts?  Her will to be heard about genocide?  The beltway media practically ignores her actions.  Perhaps it’s nice to be forgotten.  The next day, there was Peace Mom blogging that Ha! Ha! she’d out-gamed her ‘persecutor’ from D.C..  Sheehan implied that she was guilty as hell.  Of a bullshit charge.  
I think I know why she got away with it.
          The Park Police, uncharged are:  
          GUILTY of suppressing free speech rights;
          GUILTY of openly snooping to the point of harassment upon non-violent First Amendment exercise;
          GUILTY of possibly conspiring to confuse the public record after a ham-handed and needless declaration of a permit-pulling ‘emergency’ situation,
perhaps most importantly:
          GUILTY of Ollie North Fashion Sense (I recall cops dressing suit and tie for court--not wearing full (polyester?) battle rattle of gold-braid trimmed uniform, radio, handgun, mace--oh we get the PICTURE already--you’re a well-shaved killer for pay!).
         Trial transcripts will hopefully show ample grounds for an appeal for Brower, Chiroux, and Cunningham/Walsh.  And if the g-rated chant of “WHO DO YOU PROTECT?”  from the Park Police video ever gets FOIA-ed by ‘real’ journalists, or maybe the Smithsonian, then that post-war-of-empirical-aggression window may remain open long enough to prompt some real change. 
Something we can all believe in. 
And live with.
Sheehan and the defense lawyers speak about the case and its implications in this video:

Sunday, June 6, 2010

NOTE TO U.S. CITIZENS: Replace Your Lunatic and Couch Potato Friends. With New, Immature Ones.

The post 9/11 ‘wisdom’ which C. Wright Mills would undoubtedly call ‘crackpot realism’ holds that even Barack Obama supporters are too ‘sophisticated’ to still harbor childish expectations that every American, let alone any other human, is entitled to Constitutional rights. Or any human rights expressed in international documents for that matter. Unfortunately, most of our liberal journalists, media analysts and entertainers have bought into this thinking. Prior to the Memorial Day weekend massacre of the Gaza aid flotilla by Israel, musician and journalist David Rovics noted, in an April 15th 2010 Counterpunch article headlined:  “BREAKING RANKS: Tea Parties, Espresso Snobs, Freedom and Equality:”
“...If the so-called progressives of this country can’t snap out of their Obama-induced slumber, take to the streets and vocally break ranks with both corrupt parties that are driving this country into the ground - if the left can’t offer a serious, grassroots, anti-elitist alternative to rightwing populism, but insists on maintaining the ridiculous illusion that we live in a democracy, then the future will indeed by
bleak, and ugly, and filled with ‘patriots’...”
Israel’s slaughter, sequestration and crude slander of the Gaza aid flotilla has created a new Maginot Line for progressive US citizen expectations. We just might look back upon the days after Memorial Day 2010 and mark whom and where our friends were: on the sofa; in the streets, or somewhere in between. Before the flotilla protest, it was easy to wonder what would prompt Americans to eschew backyard barbecues, flag-waving and fishing trips for even petition signing levels of opposition. After a few weeks of watching BP befoul the Gulf of Mexico, we were treated to the image of President Obama meeting with grieving family members of dead U.S. soldiers. It was nearly business as usual. Yet, even this atheist paused to reflect upon former Senator Barack Obama (D, BP) canceling a rally due to thunderstorms in Chicago. The sky didn’t just cry.
It wailed.
And so should we all.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Anti-Muslim Memes in Obama 08 Campaign

Lisa Barr
This article is published in Volume 6 of The International Journal of Technology, Knowledge and Society. Its title there is: 
"Contradicting an Internet Rumor via Traditional and Social Media: Campaign Obama’s Anti-Muslim/Pro-Christian Rhetoric"

“Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?
The answer's no, that's not America....”
Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, “Meet the Press,” October 19, 2008
Given the U.S. military attack and occupation of countries with substantial Muslim populations, it seems surprising that only U.S. cinema has been thoroughly analyzed for its anti-Islam content. Jack Shaheen and his book Reel Bad Arabs is the only comprehensive academic treatment this topic has seen. One might ask why the dearth of studies concerning the anti-Islam content in U.S. news media?
This paper attempts to answer that question and advocate for the use of specific mass media performance theories to use in exploring the political news end of this mass media research gap. It focuses narrowly on political news media coverage--specifically upon the failures of U.S. news media to cry foul at overtly ideologically biased, if not outright racist behavior by the successful campaign for president run by and for Barack Obama.

Blinded in the Streets: Journalism's Failure in Pittsburgh

Lisa Barr
This article appeared in the January/February issue of The Humanist. It was titled "Media Watch
Missing Stories from the Streets: Why Weren’t the Pittsburgh G-20 Protests Better Covered?"
When you have a 1500 word limit, some things get edited. Regrets always ensue. I had not found space for Cindy Sheehan's account of her exposure to some sort of chemical agent needlessly inflicted upon people in Pittsburgh. Militarized police on American streets should have been big news. Needless attacks on peaceful demonstrators should have been page one.  This problematic policy needed discussion (and elimination) before it was implemented.  You can watch for updates regarding the lawsuits prompted by the events outlined below at:

"Over 4,000 cops from around the country occupied my hometown,” wrote a Pittsburgh native a week after the September G-20 Summit focusing on the global financial and economic crisis was held in the city, along with expected protests. “They brought a lot of expensive and dangerous cop toys ($20 million worth). I knew they’d find some excuse to use them all, and they did.”
This wasn’t CNN doing the expected, necessary follow-up to the September 24 protests, at which one of their crews was exposed to tear gas on a public street. It was folksinger and activist Anne Feeney, who found it “depressing and distressing” to see a city under martial law.