Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Independent Media in a Time of War

Last evening a group of us went to see Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now! speak at the River Oaks Theater here. Over 500 people were in attendance; the event was sold out and it was SRO in the back of the theater. Also speaking was Javier Couso, brother of Jose Couso, the Spanish cameraman killed when a US military tank fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad nearly two years ago, who is in the United States to call for an independent investigation into the death of his brother and the prosecution of those responsible. Amy was also preceded by a short documentary with the title above, and the film consists of one of her speeches illustrated with US media coverage of the Iraq war, and occasionally juxtaposed with some rarely-seen footage from independent and foreign reporters in-country. You can see it here if you have RealPlayer and a broadband connection. It's about 30 minutes. There's also a transcript here, along with a link to the video for those on dialup.

I'd like to summarize my thoughts from last night, but it's difficult to do so. You see, things are much, much worse than I thought.

Now most of you reading this are fully aware that the corporate media (sometimes referred to as the MSM, though there's barely anything mainstream remaining about it) has gone bad. In fact it's soured. Curdled. No, come to think of it, it's worse even than that. It's growing black, moldy, fuzzy lily pads. It's gone so bad that it's almost completely worthless. Oh there's a few things worth saving, but we'll talk about those later. For now, we're going to focus on the negative.

And some of you reading this have started to curl your upper lip into a sneer. That's OK; if you can make it to the end of this post it means your mind is still open to the possibility that something has gone seriously wrong in this country, and it's actually not all the fault of the neoconservatives currently in control of all branches of our government. Keep reading, please.

In the documentary, Amy asked the question (in reference to the coverage of the Iraq war): "If there was a state-run media in this country, what would be the difference?"

And after watching Sheperd Smith say "Stay brave, stay aware, and stay with FOX", and Paula Zahn say "We're savoring these pictures" as bombs explode in downtown Baghdad on the first night of 'shock and awe', and a parade of retired generals talk about "rolling up the Republican Guard" and "We're coming, and there's nothing you can do to stop us" as pictures of warplanes and battleships and missles flying into their targets in grainy black-and-white video play, and breathless embedded reporters say, "It's just like a video game"...

... I have to answer, "yes, what would be the difference?"

Javier Cuoso revealed data relating to the attack on the Palestine Hotel, where his brother and hundreds of other journalists -- unimbedded -- were staying (this information being well known to US and coalition forces). For example, I was not aware that there are very specific rules of engagement associated with firing on a known and obvious civilian facility, even if the soldiers perceive a threat. There are high level chain-of command authorizations which must be secured in advance of any action. The military will prosecute harshly breaches in those rules of engagement and breakdowns in the chain-of command.


Cuoso said (through an interpreter):

"The recent attack on the Italian journalist shows yet again that the US military has decided that journalists are fair game in Iraq. The Bush administration agreed to a full investigation of the attack on Giuliana Sgrena, so we believe that a full, independent investigation is long overdue into the attack which killed my brother. Then, those responsible should be brought to justice."

Wasn't Eason Jordan fired for saying something like that? Oh that's right, he resigned.

And Amy Goodman spoke for about 45 minutes, keeping the crowd hushed with the story of her experience in East Timor at a protest and subsequent mass execution of the protestors by the Indonesian army in 1998. But she also mentioned the experience of Phil Donahue, whose MSNBC program was cancelled at a time when it was one of the channel's highest rated programs, on March 19, 2003 -- the eve of the Iraqi invasion. (Of course you already knew that MSNBC's parent company, GE, is one of this country's largest defense contractors, right?)

Donahue, one of the few anti-war broadcast voices prior to the beginning of the war, has kept silent about the dismissal for the past two years, but no longer. He related to Amy the gist of the memo he received at the termination of his program two years ago: essentially it said that since the US was going to move ahead with the invasion, that it was important to 'speak with one voice in support of the country'.

If we had state-run media in this country, what would be the difference?

Aaron Brown was asked, in an interview aired on Democracy Now!, why the pictures of the blown-to-bits Iraqis weren't being shown by CNN; his answer was, "They're tasteless." Well, war is tasteless, said Ms. Goodman, in reply. No response from Brown.

Wolf Blitzer, when asked by Jon Stewart if he had any regrets about how the runup to the war was vetted by his network, said: "Haven't you ever made a mistake?"

At one of her speeches in New York, Amy related that al-Jazeera regularly showed pictures and video of Iraqi casualties, and a German journalist approached her afterwards and said, "It's not just al-Jazeera that's showing these. All over Europe we see them day and night. It's just here in the United States that you don't see them."

You see, it's much worse than we thought.

Then again, some people actually like buttermilk. It's simply unhealthy, of course, to drink it every day.

Update: Lyn at the Houston Democrats blog has a take, including pictures.


Traveller said...

Thanks for posting details on Goodman visit. Will get back to read it carefully later and comment and will link to it right away. However, I wanted to get this to you, see what you think.

Traveller said...

"...something has gone seriously wrong in this country, and it's actually not all the fault of the neoconservatives currently in control of all branches of our government."

Yup. But you know, from chat rooms and elsewhere, that this is not the news we liberals want to hear. Makes me want to bang my head against the wall. But we need to keep our heads in good shape if we're gonna stay honest and fight.

Love that description... Love that show.

PDiddie said...

When I say it's not ALL their fault, I of course mean that they are just doing what any tight-knit gaggle of religiously insane megalomaniacs would do, given every single rein of power.

"DeLay will go out Scarface-style." Perhaps. But the people he takes down with him will likely be fellow Republicans.

Anonymous said...

PDittie, wow. I was in the room and felt exactly what you've so eloquently expressed. Thank you.

PDiddie said...

It was delightful to meet you, C, and I hope we see you again at a DU Meetup or something else very soon.