US: Watching big media "light ants on fire," or movements building their own media?
The Field, Al Giordano
Today is Election Day in the United States and all activities should properly begin with a G and be followed by O, T and V. You know that already.
And between phone calls, door knocks, and shuttling people to the polls, and especially in those hours between polls closing and when the results come in, I wanted to give y’all something to think and talk about that - no matter what the election results will be - is going to fast become a long overdue national (and international) public conversation.
As Jon Stewart put it so well on Saturday, the real threat to democracy stands naked before us all: It’s the media.
There is nothing threatening about a free press, which is a wonderful thing, always. But the bought-and-paid-for “news organizations,” an entire system of them, the ones with that permanent “for rent” sign pasted to their foreheads - including the ones that claim to be on our side - now must be identified as Public Enemy number one, and dispensed with as such.
Elections come and go every couple or few years, depending on your country of residence, and entire industries are devoted to what Pat Cadell presciently labeled in 1976 as The Permanent Campaign. In fact, the considerable booty received by political consultants, pollsters, staffers, party bureaucrats and others in that genre is dwarfed by the financial rewards each election brings to the commercial media (and, sorry, bloggers that depend on advertising are also part of the commercial media, let’s end the charade right here and now). Most of the money raised for political candidates is spent on TV, radio, newspaper and Internet ads, as well as putting on the free show that media organizations can produce as “news” and use to rent your attention to advertisers.
Which is why I was, before it happened, skeptical about Saturday’s “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” on the Washington Mall produced by Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. I enjoy both those guys and their TV shows well enough when I get the chance to see them. But after a couple years in which the so called “alternative media” – from “liberal” MSNBC hosts to “netroots” bloggers to the Huffington Post to state-run media that claim to be leftist or socialist or whatever in parts of Latin America and the world – have proved themselves to be as ugly and snarling and petty (and reckless with the truth) as Fox News, in that context, I was bracing myself for a huge disappointment with Stewart and Colbert’s rally.
Truth is, I had forgotten the Stewart-Colbert event was going to happen – it wasn’t that much on my mind - and had planned on spending a beautiful sunny Saturday away from the screen. Then I made the mistake of checking email Saturday morning and clicking a link and there it was, live streaming on C-Span, with Colbert playing the spastic Dean Martin role to Stewart’s Frank Sinatra.
I had already heard complaints from democracy’s best (maybe only) friends, community and field organizers, that Comedy Central’s scheduling of the rally would pull many attendees off the phone banks and door-to-door canvasses to get out the vote today. But what the hell, it must be good for a few laughs, and there I was, sucked, like so many others, into its vortex, another spectator among millions.
After all, I thought, Tuesday’s US elections might well go as badly as the media keeps telling us they will, so might as well look for something to laugh rather than cry about. And the Colbert-Stewart schtick on the Washington Mall was entertaining enough, and it was nice to be made to feel that folks like us are the real mainstream, and they got in some clever zingers exposing the hypocrisy not just of Fox News but of the wolves in sheep’s clothing that are the New York Times and National Public Radio. Hooray! But I still felt kind of empty about it, and annoyed with its timing, until at the end when Jon Stewart delivered “the speech.”
Stewart’s speech was a really important moment, and here is why I think so.
Now, I was just a kid when Sinatra premiered the Claude Francois, Jaques Revaux and Paul Anka-penned “My Way,” but I imagine that for the millions of us who watched Jon Stewart get serious and sincere on live TV on Saturday that it was probably, for many of us, a moment like that of a previous generation hearing the “I did it my way” anthem for the first time. It was historic, and it came by surprise from a stage that we did not expect it to come from.
In a few brief minutes, Stewart defined the real problem with politics, identified it as the neighborhood bully in the global village, and delivered a staggering left hook to its jaw. And the bully’s apologists and wannabes are still quite concussed and off balance. “Jon Stewart has met the enemy, and it’s the media,” fretted our fine feathered friends at Politico. And the hen house has been clucking ever since.
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