Category: Media

State of the Union: Democracy and the Web Press

Connecting the Dots
by Glynn Wilson

I almost lost my breakfast in my plate as I watched CNN’s John King interview Dick Cheney on his “State of the Union” show this Sunday. It made me want to get rid of my television set, reinforcing an idea that seems to be growing among the American population.

As newspaper circulation continues in free fall and as we begin to acknowledge that broadcast news let us down as well as newspaper reporting over the past eight years, more and more I’m hearing people say they would rather have a high speed Internet connection than a cable TV package or a newspaper subscription any day.

I mean who gives a damn what Cheney has to say at this point? Is he the only guest King could get to assess the state of the nation? What a joke.

More and more young people are getting their view of the world from shows such as the Daily Show on Comedy Central, where this week Jon Daily took on Jim Cramer of CNBC for his failed coverage of the economic meltdown. This is a video series worth watching in case you missed it.

Jim Cramer in Daily Show Showdown

It’s no wonder newspapers are dying. As their circulations fall and they lay off more news workers, they become even less interesting.

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

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

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.

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.

bReAk ThE cUrSe!

For those of you blissfully unaware, the savior of Golden Eagles’ football faces a dilemma of whether to return to the Land of Cheese and pacify both his flock and his folly.

Brett Favre, known in these parts first for taking little ol’ Southern Miss to its first 10-win season in over 35 years, went on to do a few things in that professional league too. Folks up there practically built shrines for the guy who made the Pack relevant again.

Now it seems Mr. Wrangler might want to play (though he denied it) and doesn’t really care if it’s for a new set of worshipers or the old (after all, those Greek gods did all right switchin’ to the Romans, didn’t they?). And all the talking heads are in a twitch.

Well Brett, I’m here to tell ya don’t do it son. Read more: bReAk ThE cUrSe!

Crazy In Alabama?

Under the Microscope
by Glynn Wilson

Have you ever wondered why so many movies depicting the South also contain an underlying crazy theme?

I guess that’s what they think of us in New York and LA.

One of my favorites is Crazy in Alabama, featured on HBO recently. It’s a comedy-drama released in 1999 written by Mark Childress, based on his own 1993 novel of the same name. It stars Melanie Griffith as an abused wife who flees small town life in the South for California to become a movie star – with her dead husband Chester’s head in a hat box.

Meanwhile back in Alabama, her nephew, the story’s narrator, has to contend with a racially-motivated murder involving a corrupt sheriff during the Civil Rights Era.

It’s an interesting model for any would-be Southern writer thinking of trying to get New York editors interested in stories that will also play well on the big screen.

I’ve been mining the movie field of late thinking of stories to tell myself.

One of my favorite books written by a Southern author and then made into a movie is The Prince of Tides, based on a 1986 novel by Pat Conroy.

It tells the story of the narrator’s struggle to overcome the psychological damage inflicted by his dysfunctional childhood in South Carolina and stars Nick Nolte as a football coach and Barbra Streisand as a New York psychiatrist. While changes to the film upset some Conroy purists, it was a box office smash and put Streisand on the map as a director. It was also recently featured on HBO.

Conroy is probably the premier Southern author of the late 20th century whose work has been both financially successful and also acclaimed in literary circles, unlike John Grisham’s work, which is relegated to the legal thriller genre. In spite of the film’s flaws, The Prince of Tides does capture both the character of the South and New York in the introspective times of the 1980s, making it an irresistible tale that will last – like Robert Penn Warren’s All The King’s Men.

But neither of those movies is what draws me to the keyboard tonight.

I doubt if it qualifies for the National Film Registry, but another innocent little tale caught my attention today. Sometimes when the cable offerings are weak, it’s worth stopping on the story of Doc Hollywood, or Dr. Ben Stone, played by Michael J. Fox, not my favorite actor by a long-shot.

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My first column mug shot: Hotter than MJF?

But in this one, which reminds me of a story from my own life, he plays a hotshot young doctor who longs to leave the drudgery of the emergency room and finally leaps at his chance at more money and less work on the West Coast. But along the way he gets off the Interstate and smashes his 1956 Porsche Roadster into a judge’s fence and is forced into community service at the small town of Grady, South Carolina’s general hospital.

There he meets and falls in love with an ambulance driver named Viloula but called “Lou,” sexy and smart and played by Julie Warner, who has in incredible nude scene emerging from one of Grady’s famous fishing lakes. The town is also known for its squash, which the mayor uses to explain a slice of life in his attempt to lure the doc to stay in town – as he bets him $10 that he will not score with Lou.

The story is perhaps just a bit too cute for serious movie critics. But it reminds me of a time when I was 23-years-old and just out of college working in a small town at my first professional newspaper reporting job.

It was 1984. The town was Bay Minette, Alabama. The paper was The Baldwin Times.

Upon graduating from the University of Alabama in Bear Bryant’s last year, I had lofty goals of one day working for a great newspaper like the New York Times. But in those days, the mobility of college students was far more limited than it is today.

I advised students at Loyola New Orleans from 2000-2002 who were able to make the leap to New York, DC and LA. But being poor and from Alabama during Ronald Reagan’s first term as president, and George Wallace’s last term as governor, some of the best opportunities to break into newspapering came working for weeklies in small towns across the South.

The movie about Grady reminds me of those times, not because the stories are totally similar, but because some of the experiences and emotions ring true of being a young person trying to decide whether to make a life in a small town, where the living can be easy but perhaps not so lucrative, or making a break for the big city life and the big time bucks.

I also have to laugh at all the machinations people in small Southern towns will go to trying to lure young professionals to stay. This kind of scene plays out, still, in many towns across the country, as the out migration of the young and educated continues apace today. It is as true of Alabama today as it was in 1984, I’m sure, and can lead to some incredibly funny stories.

There’s not enough space and time here to tell them all. Maybe one day if I get around to writing a memoir.

Let’s just say I had a number of experiences with young women there, like Lou, who either wanted to seduce me to stay in Bay Minette – or to hook up with someone who could get them out.

I’m thinking of one particular young woman now about my age at the time who openly displayed a crush on me. I won’t reveal her name. She may still be there – or maybe she got out.

One night she displayed this crush a little too openly at a Christmas party, held at the Holly Hills Country Club, when, after a few too many glasses of wine, she tripped on the hem of her long dress and fell right into my arms. It was a classic scene of a drunken Southern debutante right out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald or Tom Wolfe novel. As she fell toward me – and I still recall the scene in real-life slow motion, in part probably due to my own inebriation – the top of her bright red dress slipped down off her left breast, fully exposing the nipple for virtually everyone at the party to see.

It bordered on a scandal, since she also happened to be the chamber of commerce president’s daughter, making her the perfect ambassador to try grabbing me for life. Perhaps like Doc Hollywood I should have more actively pursued that road, but there were complications.

Now at 50, do I harbor any regrets about leaving small town life there?

Only one. And it happened many years later.

In 2002, back when it was announced that the Alabama governor’s race results came down to 3,000 votes in Bay Minette, I went back there from New Orleans for The New York Times – to investigate the election.

But when Siegelman conceded, I was pulled out of Bay Minette and sent back to New Orleans.

Knowing what I know now, since the Jill Simpson affidavit came to light, I wish I had stayed and worked my sources. I learned how to cover a courthouse and develop sources there, in that courthouse. It was the best school in the world for getting hands-on experience in that world, in more ways than one. Don’t even ask about the secretaries in those days.

But of course it takes time and money to really work a story like the election, just as it takes time and money to work up a full scale relationship with a fine smart woman – in a small town or anywhere else.

And in the news game, there ain’t never enough time – or money.

Life blogs on…

Now that I think about it, there’s plenty of craziness to go around and write about in this world. And it’s not all in the South.

I’m thinking now of a crazy New York editor, a woman, in part a figment of my imagination.

And I’m also thinking, if I had stayed in Bay Minette, either time, none of this would have ever happened – the good or the bad. Perhaps there is no stopping fate in any event – if there is such a thing.

I’m not convinced.

Life is not like a box of chocolates or cherries. It’s more like a full-blown meal.

How good it turns out to be any given time is complicated and turns on choices and chance, luck and timing.

It can be as scrumptious as the fried green tomatoes in mushroom sauce at Jacquimo’s in New Orleans, or as spare as the BLT at the drugstore in Bay Minette.

And I’m convinced, politics and government do matter – in all kinds of ways many people don’t even seem to fathom, certainly not in a crazy place like Alabama. Maybe you have to be a little crazy to try to break out – or to try making a difference here.

Maybe you have to be a little crazy to try making art – or a living – as a writer in this world, if you didn’t start out in it rich.

I can only wish good luck to the striking writers in New York and LA. I hope they win that fight to get part of the proceeds from sales on the Web Press. One of these days maybe I’ll get a share of my own in that world, after we get rid of George W. Bush.

I understand Childress did it while working a day gig at Southern Living, not exactly a bastion of great journalism.

Long live the movies…

It’s A Black and Tan World

Not Black and White

Under the Microscope
by Glynn Wilson

BIRMINGHAM, Ala., June 10 – There is a famous story about editors at the New York Times I learned while working with the elite of the elite a few years back.

Reporters who make the big leagues of American journalism hear this story and learn to deal with it in their own way.

As the story goes, when an editor calls a reporter in the field in a place like Birmingham, Alabama, and asks: “Is the community torn asunder down there?” The reporter, if he wants to keep his job, is supposed to not only answer, “yes.” You are supposed to provide direct quotations from people in the community who will corroborate the premise of the story, to back up the lede, so to speak.

There have been many situations when my own instincts and the facts on the ground did not support the premise, and in fact, the opposite, counterintuitive truth is often the case.

And since I am in the business of calling it like I see it and telling it like it is, I often reported the truth on the ground and to hell with what a bunch of editors in New York think.

But today, in the story I am about to report, I think it is safe to say that this community is torn asunder. It’s just that in this case, the editors in New York could care less. Why? Because the story does not involve Paris Hilton or the Red State-Blue State, Conservative-Liberal, Democrat-Republican divide.

The story involves a little old man named Clay Blake, 78, who lives right down the street from here.

This past Tuesday afternoon around 1 p.m., in what we like to call “broad daylight,” Mr. Blake was unloading some groceries from his pickup truck. And up walked a mixed up young man – who should never have been in the possession of a hand gun – and held up Mr. Blake. He forced this little old man who never hurt anyone in his life into the house he has lived in for the past 40 years.

Once inside, this young man, of the African-American persuasion, tied little old Mr. Blake up with the power cord from a vacuum cleaner. He then kicked Mr. Blake in the face, rendering him unconscious.

When Mr. Blake came to, he discovered his wallet and a couple of pistols missing, and then made a phone call and had himself checked into the hospital at Medical Center East.

The neighborhood was all abuzz about this dastardly dead after the crime brief hit the Birmingham News on Saturday.

What this mixed up young man who committed this crime does not understand is that his already sad and pathetic life is about to take a drastic turn for the worse. Maybe the money he stole went to purchase some food and bought him another day of life on this planet. Or maybe it just went for some crack cocaine to make him fell better about himself for a few measly minutes.

Either way, this young man is about to be found out and turned in to authorities in ways he will never comprehend. And he will either end up in prison or dead.

Maybe he would be better off dead. Or maybe he should never have been born in the first place, if his mixed up single mama had been told by someone cool that there is a such thing as a condom – and that there is no shame in using one.

Now here is where the politics and sociology of the situation get interesting beyond the basic facts about the crime. If only she had been told that this is a black and tan world, not a black and white world, maybe none of this would ever have happened.

What do I mean by that?

It’s like this. There are some racist, conservative members of this community who would like to hang this little shit up by his toes and torture him to death for his crime. But these are the same Republican voters who oppose birth control – and taxes for prisons. It is just bad public policy to think you can have it both ways.

When the church and the state both advocate unworkable policies and try to tell teenagers to “abstain” from sex, and deny them a real education about sex and intelligent alternatives to unwanted pregnancies and the spiraling down nature of poverty, what kinds of bad decisions can we expect in our communities?

And this is particularly acute in a town like Birmingham, where both races still suffer from the sting and distrust of segregation.

At least in a place like New Orleans, the races lived in relative proximity of one another and in relative harmony for 300 hundred years. It is different in Birmingham, where the clash of the races in the newer, sprawling suburbs comes into specific relief every time an incident like this one is reported.

The African-American community in and around Birmingham will never trust white people, and the whites will keep trying to escape these kinds of crimes by moving further and further out into the country toward Blount and St. Clair Counties.

Meanwhile, nothing is done to try and bring people together and get them to understand the larger facts on the ground. And this serves only the politicians on the right and the left who get themselves elected by using the great divide to scare people and keep them down.

If only people could understand that there is no such thing as a simple, black and white world. There are an abundance of shades of gray out there.

What we need is a government that tackles practical solutions to real problems. One real problem that is leading to the current crime wave is the growing divide between the rich and the poor, fed by a mostly Republican effort to keep wages down so large corporations can make more and higher profits for mostly white stockholders.

This is an unsustainable world where all the problems in society are going to get worse, not better. And for every conservative who listens to talk radio and Fox News who likes to say, “that’s the American way,” here’s a fact for you.

The founding fathers of this democratic republic had in mind an egalitarian society with a large middle class with equal opportunities for all. They DID NOT envision a so-called “Christian” nation modeled after the Monarchies of Europe.

You can say it all day long every day. But that does not make it true.

And what is so Christian anyway about a society that discriminates on the basis of race and class? Nothing.

So show me a Democrat or a Republican politician who understands these things, and he or she will get my vote, black or white.

Now call me a liberal and dismiss what I have to say – you idiot so-called conservative lurkers.

We say there is a two-word phrase for anyone who plays that game. In the perfect, fictional world of Locustforkland, where the river runs cold and true, the great blue herons dance like Elvis and the people like to shoot the breeze (and they are usually right), we like to call you “Alabama dumbasses.”

And of course we are right.