UPDATED -- 7:34 p.m. CDT with info about Lee Pulitzer agreement
By Bill Densmore
The Media Giraffe Project
A key media reformer invoked the words of Joseph Pulitzer today, the man after whom journalism's most prestigious awards are named, as a conference of more than 2,000 media activists got underway in St. Louis.
It's the city where the major daily newspaper is about to end more than 130 years of Pulitzer-family ownership. But a special agreement between Pulitzer and acquirer Lee Enterprises Inc. specifies the paper will keeps its populist editorial-page motto for at least five years.
"Our republic and its press will rise and fall together," John Nichols quoted Pulitzer as having said in the 19th century after acquiring in 1878 ownership of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. " . . . [A] cynical, mercenary, demographic press will produce in time a people as base at itself."
Said Nichols, a national political columnist and editor at a Madison, Wis., daily: "Joseph Pulitzer would be horrified by what our media has become and what it has done to the American people . . . we come to St. Louis, to Joseph Pulitzer's town, to say 'no more' -- no more do we make a lie to his promise of what he said media ought to be."
Pushing to ensure that U.S. cities and towns can offer community-owned or managed wireless networks was cited as a key initiative in an opening address by Josh Silver, director of FreePress, the Northampton, Mass.-based non-partisan, non-profit group founded by Nichols and Robert W. McChesney which organized the conference.
The entire basis of the media-reform movement, McChesney said in his remarks, "is putting bottom-up heat on the sources of media power around the country."
"Cable and telephone companies are working tirelessly to make it illegal for anyone to offer community wireless other than them," said Silver.
People said the media-reform campaign could never come together, Silver said. The weekend conference -- which is filling the Millenium Hotel's capacity with 2,200 attendees, is proving skeptics wrong, said Silver. He said reformers would not rest until the nation's media "represents all people, holds government accountable, nourishes our children, justice and civil society, not just media corporations."
This is the second media-reform conference organized by FreePress. The first, in Madison, attracted about 1,800 people. Yolanda Hippensteele, a Free Press organizer, said attendees in 2003 commented that there wasn't enough information about specific actions reformers could take. To cure that in 2005, she said, FreePress has scheduled a set of "Sunday morning action clinics."
She also said that Bill Moyers, former host of the Public Broadcasting Service program "NOW with Bill Moyers" had agreed to given a keynote address at 11 a.m. on Sunday to discuss alleged politicization of PBS -- his first detailed comments on the issue.
In his opening talk, McChesney, FreePress founder, said the PBS situation "has outraged the America people" and also created "a moment of danger and extraordinary opportunity" and a "powerful moment" for media reformers. He said: "Right now, we have an explicit attack, which is violating the law . . . [from] the person who is at the head of that organization, engaged in partisan interference."
Media reform is not an academic issue, said speaker Janine Jackson, program director at media-watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in the Media Inc. It used to be that citizens who felt their local media was not meeting their information needs would just turn it off. No more, she said: “That’s a little like saying, you don’t like polluted air, well stay inside.”
Bad media hurts people, Jackson said. “I want truly democratic media because 45 million Americans don’t have health insurance and a lot of them think it’s their fault . . . because public television has just said that a family with lesbian mothers is unfit to be acknowledged on a national network . . .if we had it, tens of thousands, perhaps 100,000 people who have died in Iraq would be alive today. Media reform is not an academic issue. It is a crucial problem for our times.”
Law, history, technology and economics will change America’s media landscape in favor of citizens, said speaker Mark Cooper, research director of the Consumer Federation of America. Court cases involving FCC ownership caps, the “broadcast flag”, file sharing and closed networks have favored opening up the media landscape to greater public control and involvement, he said.
“Free speech and fair use are deeply embedded in American democracy,” said Cooper. But now, he said, cable companies and others are trying to close their digital networks. “The roads over which Paul Revere traveled . . . . were available on a nondiscriminatory basis under British common law.” He said powerful media forces are seeking to retain control of media by doing such things as filing, Cooper said, 10,000 lawsuits against file sharers “without due process.” Those forces will this year seek to control the language of an expected rewrite of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, he said.
Despite these efforts, Cooper said he is optimistic because, unlike in 1996, there are bloggers, “meetups” and “a sense of outrage about the manipulation of the media and the masses.” He added: “Fewer and fewer Americans trust the media – that is why they are taking the job into their own hands.”
Goodman decries "embedding"
In her remarks, the co-anchor of a fast-growing alternative daily newscast, “Democracy NOW!” decried the acceptance of mainstream media of the practice of “embedding” journalists. In his introduction, McChesney noted the “striking emergence” of Democracy NOW!’s Amy Goodman, the co-anchor, as a spokesperson for media which refuses to uncritically report the statements of those in power. He said Goodman's program, available via cable, radio and Internet streaming, “has become mandatory viewing for millions and millions of Americans.”
“It is absolutely critical that we have a media in this country that broadcasts the voices of those at the target end of U.S. foreign and domestic policy,” said Goodman. “What about the Iraq communities and hospitals and the peace movements around the world . . . which illustrate the repercussions of war? What if we saw in this country for one week what people around the world are seeing . . . if we saw for just one week babies dead on the ground, women with their limbs blown off because of cluster bombs . . . [and] U.S. soldiers coming home in body bags.”
Goodman observed that injured U.S. soldiers wounded by the thousands are brought home under cover of night by the U.S. military “precisely so we don’t see them.” She called media reform “a movement for them, too” and for those within the military who are resisting U.S. policy.
Media executives call such images of war’s impact tasteless as a justification for now showing them, said Goodman. “It is war that is tasteless. We are reporters, not entertainers, and it is our job to go to where the silence is . . . we need media in this country which is unembeded.”
While St. Louis media is covering this weekend’s conference, and the Post-Dispatch carried on Friday a thorough Page A5 story teased with a front-page headline, FreePress says little if any national media planned to attend. Craig Aaron, (cell phone: 202-441-9993) a spokesman for the group, said organizationers intentionally avoided meeting in a media center such as New York or Washington, in order to ensure broad-based attendance. The group said attendees are present from all 50 states.
In her remarks, Goodman took note of the lack of main-stream media interest. “This is the beginning of a movement,” she said. “It may not be on the corporate media radar screen. But that may be a very good thing. It is up to you. We have a decision to make in this country. What we want the media to represent? I see it as a huge kitchen table that stretches not along across the country but across the country where we all debate the most important issues of our time . . .. anything less than that is a disserve to a democratic society.”
Other conference blog coverage -- HERE.
Link to STREAMING AUDIO/VIDEO.
Link to Democracy Now! story on community broadband.
Link to Pacifica Foundation's coverage of St. Louis conference.
Link to daily Media Minutes audio reports on the conference -- HERE.
Institute for Public Accuracy links to available media-reform contacts: