Four Decades of Activism
“Quick quiz: What do Viet Nam, civil rights, CIA files, apartheid, and Bosnia have in common? No, not fucked up US domestic and foreign policy. The correct answer is Danny Schechter. He’s been a member of the radical press since his student days in the early ‘60s. And like Tom Petty, he won’t back down.
Schechter is the mosquito buzzing in America’s ear. The terrier that won’t let go of our communal pant leg. You can swat at it, smack it, but you still hear it, feel it. Buzzing, growling, it’s all the same.
The News Dissector, a compilation of Schechter’s raves, is a compelling look at what went wrong over the last 40-odd years. And, fortunately, some of the things that turned out right.
In the beginning, for Schechter, it was the civil rights movement. From there he progressed to the Viet Nam era, through the CIA, on to Africa, and, following a seemingly natural path, he takes on the media. The book covers it all. Schechter, unlike many of his contemporaries, emerges “from the alternative media of the ‘60s and ‘70s with his politics intact.”
Danny Schechter began his ascent toward insurgent journalism while covering New York student protest press conferences. As he says, “Their stories shocked me and touched me. Spurred on by their challenge, I got involved.” And involved he’s stayed. Working for a decade as a radio newscaster, moving on to television as a reporter and producer, eventually becoming part of the “establishment” of networks and media conglomerates. But he’s never shut up.
Often emotional, occasionally self-congratulatory, Schechter’s essays remind us of the slights, the miscarriages of justice, inflicted upon the world by governments, corporations, and military forces. He’s our conscience, that niggling voice in the back of our heads that tells us what we have may be good, but what others have ain’t so great.
From CNN to ABC’s 20/20, the man’s been a real worker bee. He’s executive producer of Globalvision, producing independent films for public television. On all fronts, Schechter has found a way to make his voice heard. Now his voice cries out on the Internet. He’s the executive editor of MEDIAchannel.org, a global media watchdog crying out for truth in journalism. Cyberculture allows for the formation of a collective intelligence, which in turn creates a response, a reaction to destructive forces. Through online watchdogs like MEDIAchannel.org, Schechter joins forces with other sites reacting to the geopolitical environment.
In The News Dissector, Schechter dissects the American media. Commenting upon the “practices and prejudices of the news media” he proposes detailed corrective action.
We need less reporting about the machinations of the powerful in this new world disorder and more attention paid to human rights activists and innovative agenda setters.
An influential proponent of cooperative news programming, on an international scale, Schechter further comments:
The issues we face are increasingly complex. So are the solutions. Superficial sound bite journalism doesn’t really inform us. We need contextual multicultural reporting as part of popular, regularly scheduled programming to outline problems and explore options for change.
This is not a book for the faint hearted. It can be downright depressing, reading page after page of what’s wrong. Who fucked up and where. It left me feeling vaguely unsettled, ashamed in a way, because I’m not out there in the trenches rallying against the daily injustices raging across the current geopolitical landscape. These are times when many of us are just trying to make it to tomorrow. Trying to make sure our own families are safe and attempting to quiet that mosquito buzzing in our heads each night as we try to fall asleep. The screaming mosquito, the one repeating “The World Trade Towers are gone. And you, as an individual American citizen, can’t do shit about it.” Since Schechter tells us not to trust the government, not to rely on network news, suspect all information, reading this book in December 2001 may not be the best remedy for our current fears and emotional illnesses. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe a healthy level of skepticism should be nurtured and maintained by the American thinking public. And blind obedience to governmental policy is as abhorrent as terrorism.
I started writing at the time of the “New Frontier,” when a youthful president, John F. Kennedy, appeared to represent the hopes for change that many younger people yearned for. This book is coming out as the Dubya presidency begins under a cloud of illegitimacy, in a country where politics is mortgaged to special interests, and corporate journalism is too often a handmaiden.
But then again, for those of you who are strong of heart, resolute of purpose, Danny Schechter may well be your standard bearer. And as your flag, long may he wave. If it will help with the fight for truth and justice, know that Schechter’s book is worth the money.