Members of the alternative media are desperate to be heard, but how eager are they to listen?

Neal Justin
Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (MCT)

Bill O'Reilly recently focused his ire on Minneapolis, where more than 3,000 people gathered last weekend for the National Conference for Media Reform, a group the Fox News personality called "real nuts."

Real angry is more like it.

The convention, which drew such luminaries as Arianna Huffington, Dan Rather and Phil Donahue, should have been an exchange of thoughts on how to upgrade journalism in all shapes and sizes. And while those conversations did occur, they were too often drowned out by voices dead set on overturning Rupert Murdoch, George Bush and anyone else who wears a suit to work.

While the event was sponsored by Free Press, a nonprofit organization that describes itself as nonpartisan, it was clear where most attendees' passion and politics lay. Panelists railed about stolen elections, called for the president's impeachment and poked fun at Sen. John McCain.

Many also ripped out a few pages of O'Reilly's playbook by taking molehill moments and turning them into the Andes. Before Rep. Keith Ellison's rousing keynote speech, the crowd was told they were going to see an example of how the mainstream press doesn't play fair. Then CNN talk-show host Glenn Beck was shown asking Ellison, a Muslim, to "prove to me that you are not working with our enemies."

"We cannot be informed if all we have to listen to is that guy," said Ellison in his speech, triggering a mighty round of applause. Uh, gang, seems to me that there are plenty of choices out there beyond CNN Headline News. Beck's interview was not the media's finest minute, to be sure, but it was also an anomaly.

I guess common sense takes a back seat when you're really upset. At no time was that more apparent than when dealing with the subject of the Iraq War. Speaker after speaker was eager to paint the mainstream media as early cheerleaders of the Bush plan and now third-string players who insist on riding the bench instead of exposing everything going wrong in Iraq.

In a heated exchange about the war with an "O'Reilly Factor" producer after a book signing at the conference, Bill Moyers said, "Everybody at Fox follows out Rupert Murdoch's instructions."

Rev. Lennox Yearwood, a Louisiana community activist who co-created the 2004 "Vote or Die" campaign, looked into a Fox News camera during a panel on the war and said that "mainstream media is complicit in the process of the war, complicit in the death of 1 million Iraqis, complicit in the people who are divorcing and leaving their wives, complicit in this madness."

"Corporate media is not a watchdog. It's a lapdog begging for scraps," said Free Press executive director Josh Silver, who pointed out that TV news operations used retired military officers as commentators for war coverage - many of them coached by the administration, it turns out. What Silver didn't point out is that revelation came from a mainstream powerhouse called the New York Times.

That nobody from the Times was on hand to point that out was disappointing. In fact, I had a hard time finding representatives of the mainstream media on any of the conference panels, with the exception of Eric Deggans, TV critic for the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times; Ryan Blethen, a member of the family that owns the Seattle Times, and Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman, who got a last-minute invitation after he wrote a scathing letter to organizers about the lack of newspaper folks on a panel about - you guessed it - the future of newspapers.

The conference could have benefitted by having more guests from the "established" press, folks such as CNN international correspondent Arwa Damon, with whom I spoke by phone last week. She could have told them how frustrating it is to see ratings that prove viewers' interest in the Iraqi War has greatly diminished. She could have told them how difficult it is to cover a story where danger lurks around every corner. She could have told them that, during her five years in Baghdad, her bosses have never instructed her on how to cover a story. Most important, she could have told them about her own efforts to share human stories about Iraq, and given loads of examples of when she's succeeded.

There's no question that the mainstream press can learn a lot from those in the alternative media, but they could also learn a lot from us. An open, balanced, civil exchange between the two approaches would have made for an eye-opening, constructive weekend. Instead, too many attendees were disinterested in hearing from the other side.

In that way, those folks and O'Reilly have something in common.





In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.


Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.


Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.


Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.


Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.


'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.


Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.


From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.


Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.


Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.


Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.


That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.


Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.


Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.


Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.


'Thor: Ragnarok' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.


Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.