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Understanding the Corporate Press and American Democracy

Under the Microscope
by Glynn Wilson

A couple of weeks ago, when not one single Republican took up our new President Barrack Obama’s call for “bipartisanship” to vote for his stimulus package to aid the faltering economy — a measure backed by virtually every economist in the land as a needed step to avert a far worse economic collapse — a reader on an e-mail list asked: “Why is cable media spinning this as a failure for Obama?”

My answer?

“Because they are the corporate media,” I wrote. “That’s why we are building a replacement here at the Locust Fork News-Journal.”

Obviously, more of an explanation is in order.

In one of his blog columns this week, Tommy Stevenson at The Tuscaloosa News picked up on a recent episode of the Bill Moyer’s show on PBS, which Moyer’s set up by asking: Is the old media sustaining the old politics?

Guests chosen for the show to discuss this issue were New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen, who later had this blog post on the subject under this statement: pundits and reporters as an establishment institution.

Also on the show was attorney and Salon.com columnist Glenn Greenwald, who also wrote more about it later in this post, summarized by this statement: The mentality of the Beltway journalist.

Before I get to the criticism, let me applaud all these commentators for getting a discussion going on these issues. It has been reported that the Moyers show got more comments than anything they have done to date.

This is just one demonstration of the public upheaval that has been building for several years against the establishment media in this country, sometimes referred to, and not as a compliment, as “the mainstream media.”

The blogging revolution started in part as a place to vent this backlash against the press and the media, the TV punditry, mainly for not doing its job in the run up to the Iraq war or for holding the Bush administration accountable on all kinds of issues.

There is no doubt the establishment or corporate press as I call it was complicit in allowing the Bush administration to get away with murder, literally, as well as torture, warrantless domestic spying, and turning the justice department into just another political wing of the Bush White House’s perpetual campaign operation.

With all due respect to Tommy Stevenson, Bill Moyers, Jay Rosen and Glenn Greenwald, none of them have ever chased major stories for the national desk of the New York Times. None of them have ever worked a major city bureau for a top 10 circulation newspaper like The Dallas Morning News out of New Orleans. None of them have ever had the experience of making democracy work like I did working for a chain of weeklies on the Gulf Coast, where for nearly four years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, thanks in part to my reporting, we won every environmental battle that came down the pike.

To read the full essay, go to our sister site, The Locust Fork News-Journal

Damn the Pride of Men

Under the Microscope
by Glynn Wilson

The history of the Civil War has never really interested me that much compared to the American Revolution. Neither has the Great Man theory of history interested me nearly as much as the study of science and nature.

But just like in life we can’t ultimately escape death or taxes, I can’t seem to get through life as an American or a Southerner without facing the baggage left over from the Civil War — and the man-centric view of history.

I would rather be camping out in the Great Smoky Mountains photographing birds in the wild.

But since Birmingham Congressman Artur Davis has thrust this race for governor upon us a year and a half ahead of time, like a lot of men before him whose ambitions drove the agendas of their state or nation, it is impossible NOT to spend some time thinking about these things.

To read the full column, visit our sister blog, The Locust Fork News-Journal.

Obama Takes Oath as 44th President of the United States

President Barack Obama

Barack Obama took the oath of office as the 44th president of the United States today and pledged to “begin again the work of remaking America.”

Addressing a throng of about 2 million people on The Washington Mall and millions of others watching on television around the world, Obama recognized the multiple crises now afflicting the nation at a time of war abroad and economic turmoil at home. But he sought to rally Americans to a “new era of responsibility” and the promise of a brighter future.

He cited a profound “sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.” The challenges are real, serious and many, and “they will not be met easily or in a short span of time,” he said.

“But know this, America — they will be met. On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

“Starting today,” he said, with the local crowd totally silent in respect of the historic moment and the words almost as powerful watching on the screen from afar, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”

For the full story, photos, videos and the text of the speech and comments, check our sister blog The Locust Fork News Journal.

We May Not Have Bush to Kick Around Anymore

But we do have much more work to do building the Web Press…

Connecting the Dots
by Glynn Wilson

We aren’t going to have George W. Bush to kick around anymore after Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009. So what’s a liberal-tarian blogger to do?

In our case, that’s an easy question to answer. We will be right here continuing to develop the next evolution in the Web Press and building the infrastructure to replace newspapers as the primary information source for a democratic nation.

To read the full column, go to our sister blog, The Locust Fork Journal.

Here’s To A Happy New Year in 2009

It’s the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 75th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Under the Microscope
by Glynn Wilson

I can’t wait for 2009.

When the ball drops and the calendar changes at one minute after midnight this Wednesday evening, Thursday morning, I’ve got a feeling the world is going to take a dramatic turn in a better direction. I could be wrong, but I say change is good.

If what I’m thinking turns out to come true, 2009 may be the year the human species turns it all around and starts living up to a smarter, more positive destiny. Maybe we can begin to escape the yoke of ignorance and religious dogma once and for all.

Glynn Wilson
I captured the legendary blue mist of the Smoky Mountains on film one day in 2000. This is not just fog. It emanates from the pine trees there and is the reason the Cherokee people called it “the land of the blue mist.” European settlers came up with the translation “the Smoky Mountains.”

For starters, there will be a massive celebration among intellectuals on January 20, the day when George W. Bush boards that presidential helicopter with his dog Barney and leaves the White House lawn forever to head back to that fake ranch in Crawford, Texas.

On the same day, of course, Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. He will arrive in Washington, D.C., on a train, after riding a two-year campaign of “hope.” We will be drinking more than one toast to his victory on this New Year’s Eve, full of hope that he will be able to fulfill his promises.

The mainstream, corporate news media will treat every proposal he offers with a fake skepticism, questioning whether he can really make a difference. But here in Webland, we are going to reserve judgment and keep hope alive.

In addition to coverage of the new world under Obama, we will be spending a good bit of time and space in 2009 celebrating a couple of noteworthy anniversaries.

You will not be able to escape coverage of these events, so you may as well learn about them here first, since few American news organizations have turned the page to these issues, yet.

For the next year, it will be hard to turn on the TV and not see something about the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. The year 2009 also marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of his myth-shattering book, On the Origin of the Species.

A column in the British newspaper The Guardian has the first story we’ve seen on this yet, and even acknowledges a fact you won’t see reported by any American news organization, since the religious backlash to Darwin is still powerful after 150 years.

According to the British author, it is reported that Darwin “is one of the three great intellectuals of the 19th century who shaped modernity, along with Marx and Freud.”

That would be Karl Marx, the social theorist who is attacked by the ignorant on a daily basis in the U.S. because of his association with Socialism, and Sigmund Freud, who pioneered explorations of the mind known as psychoanalysis.

All three of these men had a profound impact on the 20th century, as much for their influence on other thinkers as for the ideas they published themselves. That’s what the uneducated masses and the anti-intellectual news media don’t get.

I spent a good deal of time in Tennessee in the late 1990s studying Darwin myself in a science communications doctoral program, so you can bet we will be following these stories all year with a great deal of relish.

And speaking of Tennessee, the year 2009 will also mark the 75th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which means, of course, that several camping trips will be in order this year to one of my favorite places on Earth.

Read more: Here’s To A Happy New Year in 2009

Fighting the Final Battles of the Civil War

America Just Elected Its First Black President

Are the people of Alabama ready for an African-American governor?

by Glynn Wilson

ATLANTA, Ga. — Some historians say the final battle of the Civil War was fought at Sayler’s Creek, southwest of Petersburg, Virginia, on April 6, 1865. Try bringing that up in a political bar like Manuel’s Tavern in downtown Atlanta, however, and see how fast you can start an argument.

While everyone knows that Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, at the Appomattox Court House, effectively ending the war, many an expert would argue that the old, lingering causes of the war survived in people’s attitudes long after the fighting on the bloody battle fields came to a gentlemanly end.

Ask the leaders of the Civil Rights movement, those who had to fight those battles all over again in the 1950s and ’60s.

Then there are thinkers and writers who will tell you, if you give them half a chance over a few shots of whiskey or a few pints of dark beer, that the election of George W. Bush in 2000 effectively erased the Union’s victory in the war and was finally, at long last, a victory for the old Confederacy. Putting aside the issue of election theft and the Supreme Court, ponder the idea that Bush came into office in large measure by the hands of mostly white voters from the old Confederate states of the Deep South, with some help from middle America and parts of the West.

Since Obama’s election even the TV pundits will tell you the only base left for the national Republican Party lies in the old states of the Confederacy, thanks in part to the scorched earth strategies of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, whose marches to Washington and Baghdad with Bush scarred the national character almost as much as General William Tecumseh Sherman’s fiery “March to the Sea.”

Then consider that while Bush’s campaign coffers may not have been filled by the profits from cotton, hand-picked on plantations worked by slaves, the mega corporations that mostly supported his candidacy were interested in keeping wages low and gutting the rights of juries in courtrooms to punish corporate crimes against working people, humanity and the earth. Bush got most of his money to run in 2000 from oil and other energy companies, including Exxon Mobile and Southern Company, as well as insurance companies and the pharmaceutical giants. He came into office — in the world prior to 9/11 — with the prime objective to pass national “tort reform,” the watchword for stopping juries from rendering multi-million dollar judgments against multi-national corporations.

Rove had already accomplished that feat in Alabama — once known as the top state in the country for large jury awards against corporate malfeasance — by helping the Republican Party orchestrate a political takeover of the state Supreme Court.

If you ask just about any academic expert who studies the demographic numbers from public opinion polls and election results, you could say Americans finally fought the final battle of the Civil War on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. Symbolically, it took another Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, to put together enough of a national coalition to defeat Confederate attitudes once and for all.

Glynn Wilson
Rep. Artur Davis in Birmingham recently…

Jim Gundlach, a retired Auburn Sociology professor, harbors a special fascination for the “age” variable in public opinion research, mainly for the story it tells on an issue like public attitudes on race and the chances of electing African-American candidates to national and statewide office.

He ran the model on Obama’s candidacy before the election and predicted that the best he could possibly do in a national race was to win by about 7 percent, if he ran a flawless campaign and the other side stumbled (can you say Sarah Palin?). And Obama hit the number almost right on the dot, winning by about 7 percent nationally in the popular vote.

If you run the same model in a state like Alabama, where Birmingham Congressman Artur Davis is making noises about running for governor, what you find is that the state is at least a decade away from fighting the final battle of the Civil War. It will take that long, according to the numbers, for the younger and more progressive population to overtake the older diehards on the race issue, who will finally die off in substantial enough numbers for a black man to have a chance of moving into the governor’s mansion in Montgomery, in the city where the Confederacy was launched in 1861.

“People do not change their minds on core issues in their lifetimes,” Gundlach says. “That’s a fact.”

To read the full investigative news feature, go to our sister blog, The Locust Fork News-Journal

Explosive New Story Lends Credence to Siegelman Appeal

New Reporting May Show Bush Was ‘In the Loop’

Glynn Wilson
Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman in front of the federal courthouse in Montgomery, with Sephira Bailey Shuttlesworth, wife of Birmingham Civil Rights icon Fred Shuttlesworth, in the background.

by Glynn Wilson

Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy will get another day in court Dec. 9 in Atlanta, when a three-judge appeals court panel will hear oral arguments in a rare hearing that is likely to result in the case being thrown out, perhaps by Christmas.

We are working on a longer news feature about the case as an advance on the hearing, and will go into some detail about the arguments before the court.

But an explosive new story in Time magazine confirms what we have been reporting all along, and reveals critical and startling new evidence about the political, unethical, and, if true, illegal activities on the part of the Bush-appointed U.S. attorneys and career prosecutors in Montgomery.

The Time lede:

Next month in Atlanta, a federal court will hear the high-profile appeal of former Alabama governor Don E. Siegelman, whose conviction on corruption charges in 2006 became one of the most publicly debated cases to emerge from eight years of controversy at the Bush Justice Department. Now new documents highlight alleged misconduct by the Bush-appointed U.S. attorney and other prosecutors in the case, including what appears to be extensive and unusual contact between the prosecution and the jury.

For more on this breaking story, see the piece in our sister blog, The Locust Fork News Journal.

A Green Future is Our Only Real Hope

Under the Microscope
by Glynn Wilson

In a world of hurt and bad news as the global economy implodes, there is some good news to report this Sunday morning as the late October air finally begins to cool off the brick walls of The Bunker.

The best news is that the presidential election of 2008 is almost over. One more week of negative TV ads and lying robo-calls and then we can all breathe a sigh of relief and get on with trying to turn this country in a better direction after eight years of black Bush anti-rule.

That is if the Democrats win and we don’t have to spend another four years fighting the idiotic conservative policies of the angry John McCain and his right-wing nut running mate Sarah Palin.

The other good news is that with one week and two days to go, the aggregated polling at Pollster.com shows the Democratic Party ticket winning in a landslide on Nov. 4. Let’s just hope the lead holds up for a few more days so that Karl Rove’s hackers cannot steal another election.

While the not-so-liberal New York Times issued it’s reasoned endorsement of the ticket of Barack Obama for president this week, our wildly conservative Republican hometown newspaper just had to extend its losing streak with this hilariously misleading endorsement of McCain.

We are still waiting on the apology from that editorial staff for their two-time endorsement of the dufus president-prince George W. Bush. It’s a wonder the racist “pro-life” newspaper sells any papers at all in a city full of liberals and African-American voters. I guess it’s safe to say they sell more newspapers in the white-flight suburbs than the city itself. The financial calculation had to be that an endorsement of Obama would have finished off the paper that has lost a significant portion of its staff of late to early retirement packages.

If only they knew how to produce a Website readers could use, they might have a chance of surviving in this new online world. There are a number of us out here who will never forgive them for their role in killing the one Scripps paper in Alabama, The Birmingham Post-Herald, which might have been able to provide the kind of Web journalism this state needs. Other Scripps papers around the country are doing some amazing work, including the Rocky Mountain News in Colorado and the Knoxville News-Sentinel in east Tennessee.

But that’s OK, because we have a long-term plan to continue providing a viable alternative to the people of this state who want a FREE free online news source without all the bureaucratic baggage of a conservative chain newspaper where corporate profits rule the editorial roost.

Since we already endorsed the Democratic Party’s pick in this race, there’s no reason to re-endorse the Obama-Biden ticket. Our recommendation is for voters to check the Big D and vote a straight Democratic Party ticket on the Nov. 4 ballot, not so much as an endorsement of “the man,” but to throw the Republican bums out who have screwed up just about everything they can in this country for the past eight years.

It is really hard to understand how anyone can vote for another Republican with the economy in the worst shape since the Great Depression, along with the debacle of the Iraq war, the failures associated with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and the complete loss of trust of the United States by people the world over.

We are concerned with some of Barack Obama’s suggested moderate policies, such as his hedge to the private sector on national health insurance. And we were not happy with his vote this summer for Bush’s spying bill that gutted the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

But we believe he is an educated man with an even-keel personality who can negotiate our way back into the hearts and minds of people around the world. And that should be our number one priority right now. We are going to need the good will of the world to right the wrongs and reverse the bad policies of the Bush-Cheney years.

Our first priority has to be an energy plan that begins to reduce our dependence on oil from the Middle East, a policy that also begins to address the top problem facing the world right now: climate change due to global warming. Even the Bush CIA and Senator John McCain realize that’s the world’s top problem, although that news gets buried in an election year when, in American elections, no one wants to be labeled a “liberal environmentalist.”

Once this election is over next Tuesday, that will be our focus. We will be working to influence the new administration in dealing with our energy and environmental problems, as well as figuring out how to provide health care to every American citizen. While the conservatives will continue to scream about “big government,” it’s going to take a pretty big government in the U.S. to tackle these problems.

And the fact is, it’s going to take a pretty big government, as well, to provide the leadership and incentive structure to fix the shattered economy. Our vision is that the only real future we have is a green future. We can grow our way out of this mess with green technology. That is our only real hope.

Troubled Actor Brad Renfro Dies at 25

We do not cover a lot of celebrity, tabloid-style news on this Web Press, but it’s different if we know someone who pops up in the news, especially when that someone dies tragically and unexpectedly.

Brad Renfro, the young actor from Knoxville, Tennessee who broke into the movies from a DARE theater program for troubled kids in the 1990s with a major role in “The Client,” based on John Grisham’s novel, was found dead Tuesday morning in Los Angeles. He was 25.

The cause of death was not immediately determined, according to sources, but an autopsy was planned. Renfro had reportedly been partying with friends the night before, which is not surprising, since that’s how he spent a lot of his time based on my experience knowing him in Knoxville from 1996-2000.

He was a nice, soft spoken and even shy young man. As well as showing some talent as an actor, he was a decent guitar player who showed up for the Wednesday night weekly blues jam at Sassy Ann’s on a regular basis. I played the drums several times in the same ad hoc combination, and partied with him a number of times, but never really got close to him. He came from a relatively poor and troubled home and could be quite distant when asked questions about himself and his family.

I tried several times to do a formal interview with him but he always declined.

Renfro’s lawyer, Richard Kaplan, told the Associated Press he was on the road to recovery from addiction.

“He was working hard on his sobriety,” Kaplan said. “He was doing well. He was a nice person.”

Renfro recently completed a role in “The Informers,” a film adaptation of a Bret Easton Ellis novel that stars Winona Ryder, Brandon Routh and Billy Bob Thornton, according to the AP.

“Brad was an exceptionally talented young actor and our time spent with him was thoroughly enjoyable,” Marco Weber, president of the film’s production house, Senator Entertainment, said in a statement.

Renfro had his share of run-ins with the law over the years. He served 10 days in jail in May 2006 after pleading no contest to driving while intoxicated and guilty to attempted possession of heroin after being arrested on Skid Row while attempting to buy heroin from an undercover agent in 2005. He was placed on probation in January 2001 and ordered to pay $4,000 for repairs to a 45-foot yacht he and a friend tried to steal in Florida in August 2000, the month I left Knoxville for New Orleans.

I was told a wave of crack addictions hit Knoxville about that time and destroyed the lives of a number of talented musicians from East Tennessee.

He was arrested again in May 2001 and charged with underage drinking, violating the terms of his probation, and was ordered into alcohol rehabilitation the following March.

In 1998, Renfro was charged with possession of cocaine and marijuana. He avoided jail time in that case due to a plea deal, aided in part by his sponsors in the DARE program and in Hollywood.

His other movie credits included “Sleepers” and “Deuces Wild,” as well as “Apt Pupil” and “The Jacket.”

AP: Troubled Actor Brad Renfro Dies at 25