[iDC] full report, media reform conference Memphis jan 12-14

Megan Boler megan.boler at gmail.com
Wed Jan 17 14:52:20 EST 2007

[hi idc folks, trebor asked me to report, so here it is in full--i posted
day one
last weekend, but if you scroll you will also find notes on Day Two
with good summaries of state of activist/journalist thinking about
press in times of war, and other hilites as noted at beginning below]

What: Report on the Media Reform conference in Memphis TN, organized by
FreePress, Jan 12-14 2007

Reported by Megan Boler (University of Toronto) live from Memphis Jan 12-13
2007 Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday weekend

Who: 3000 in attendance; Fashions: from policy wonk to funk and punk, new
generation activists, media makers to journalists like NY Times veteran
Helen Thomas to old liberals to FCC commissioners speakers wildly
celebrated; 2000 allegedly watching bits online

Where: downtrodden urban core in Memphis just blocks from the Lorraine Motel
where MLK was shot down, now the site of amazing Civil Rights Museum.

Telling Quote from organizer Robert McChesney (at Saturday Night event
featuring amazing Bush Impersonator which is a MUST SEE laugh!  Check out
freepress.net/conference). Anyway, McChesney poses the question to this huge
vast auditorium of 3000 with allegedly 2000 watching online: "How can we be
progressive and non-partisan?"  And notes that this is the key, the fact
that they are being able to do this through the media reform movement.

Shortcoming of conference: almost no discussion of open source, creative
commons, pirate media

Keynote sessions include (Friday) Bill Moyers, Jesse Jackson, and on
Saturday a line-up of 9 speakers, hilarious [MUST SEE] Bush Impersonator
[Podus?] and MUST SEE Deepa Fernandez of WBAI pacifica (another must see
from an unscheduled fab panel is Sam Husseini's amazing tactics, see
Thewashingtonstakeout.com.)  These keynotes are some of the sessions being
streamed by FreePress.net, so check it out.

Feel: revival meeting

Worries: that it is quintessentially liberal, reformist, not radical in

Pleasant surprise: While big liberal non-profit dollars give a place and
space for policy guys, journalists, media justice workers and media
watchdogs and critics to meet and network and share amazing wealth of
resources and information directed towards action.

Notes on Day One

FRIDAY Jan 12 morning
3000 reported in attendance at this 3rd Media Reform conference (2200
attended in St. Louis 2005). Big energy!  People are psyched that this
represents a major social movement.  Last night kicked off with a Save the
Internet party on downtown Memphis.

Major energy for media reform; most panels are journalists or activists.
Very few academics speaking or present.

Amy Goodman from Democracy now! a big presence.  She is making many
appearances; and Pacifica is broadcasting many of the talks and speakers.

Keynotes kickoff conference--both Bill Moyers and Jesse Jackson "preached,"
energizing the packed auditorium of progressives and liberals from across
the U.S. (audience: mostly white, a small representation of African
Americans and other folks of color.  Women underrepresented on panels and
plenaries.)   Audience cheering and applauding the sermons about the need to
fight, the battle we face against corporations, etc. "We have to tell the
story ourselves" is the recurring theme.

Plenary with Reverend Jesse Jackson, in honor of MLKing, spoke of King's
struggles, need for economic justice in U.S., and MS media as limiting our
world and views.  Jackson drew attention to whiteness the media reform
movement, of 3000 in room.  Both Jackson and Moyers invoked need for hope
and sense of not feeling alone at the end of their talks.

bill moyers' theme: media has a "plantation mentality" (tho he never really
talks about slavery or race)—press functions as mouthpiece for officials,
lockstep.  Moyers is working on a new video, "buying the war" about press
leadup to invasion of Iraq.  Towards beginning, he quotes Michael Schudson
to the point that "print media" is the only press that really counts in the
end (with which I strongly disagree). He concludes saying that digital
revolution is our hope (without many details). "Digital media makes every
citizen a Tom Paine," Moyers concludes. "Not a top down story anymore.
Moyers said he almost didn't give a speech and instead was tempted to read
aloud the recent book Digital Destiny by Jeff Chester which immediately sold
out at book fair.
NADIA:  moyers gives some good quotes for your book concept on what is
central is what has been forcibly forgotten, hidden, and omitted by press

Again, I note contradiction between the reform/policy approach to
challenging big rich media, and the reality of grassroots, local, pirate,
tactical web-based interventions.  THERE IS NOT ENOUGH ATTENTION TO what I
call DIGITAL DISSENT in these analyses of media reform.  And what about
revolution anyway?  And histories of pirate media?

An exception to above:  I am currently sitting this afternoon in a packed
session on Saving the Internet (Tim Wu, Adam Green, Matt Stoller, Frannie
Wellings, Azlan White, Scott Goodstein) which is illustrating that this
major overturn of ATT/BellSouth merger legislation was due to online viral
organizing and activism.  "we're not going to let the internet become like
cable!  They can be private, but culture of control cannot attack
internet."  What about creative commons?  As my colleague John Willinsky
asks, "what about non-proprietary, non-market networked info economy?"
(Willinsky commends Benkler's Wealth of Networks)  So far, in the Q&A, no
one asking about this.

(btw, Moyers strongly suggested calling it not Net Neutrality but Equal
Access Provision. Tim Wu, in Saving Internet panel, is justifying that
things "just get picked up…even if term "net neutrality" is not immediately
clear as soundbyte..now it works." In his original essay in which he coined
the term, he also used the term "broadband discrimination," but that wasn't
picked up.  I think I agree with Moyers and others that it might be smart to
re-brand it with a term that is crystal clear to newcomers.

The other packed session today was called "Inside Corporate Media—Can it
Tell the Truth" with some good talks by working journalists including Jeff
Cohen, Juan Gonzales, and Laura Washington, moderated by Phil Donahue.

"We are the ones we've been waiting for."  Gotta say, there's a nearly
spiritual gospel element to the tone of this media reform "movement."  And
indeed the Huge Friday evening event to 3000 includes everything from Amy
Goodman to a gospel choir followed by FCC commissioners…

Saturday January 13

b/c I am lurking around to catch amy goodman for an interview for my MIT
book (Tactics in Hard Times, forthcoming MIT 2008) I am missing citizen
journalism panel, bummer ☹

Part of my purpose here is to interview Amy Goodman of DemocracyNow! And
Robert McChesney of Free Press.  I began an interview with Amy this morning
in the midst of her juggling a constant stream of broadcast interviews and
her presentations on three panels.  We are speaking at 9:30 am, and someone
calls her to remind her she's on an 11 am panel which she hadn't realized.
Constantly text messaging and getting calls.  Basically impossible to
conduct an interview with her in this venue of 3000 media people who all
interrupt us in the hallways. How in the world can she do all of this?  I
don't ask, but she actually says it at one point…"Why do I think I can do
all this…"  Yet she remains unflustered and open to anyone who wishes to
speak to her, tons of community media activists approach her, artists, young
journalists and old… In the course of our few moments she tells me, "You're
doing great, just what I would do—keep hounding but without imposing."
However, we got through half a question before Helen Thomas (47 year veteran
of NY Times, now I think 70+, famous for not getting banished to back tear
in white press room by Bush and others) arrives and Amy had to leave to
conduct an interview to air. She tells me "we will do this, keep pestering
me" but I am going to have to do this interview in NY or by phone.

Last nite had a discussion with people who have been attending this media
reform conference for all three conferences.  They said there are many who
are frustrated with issues I discussed yesterday—i.e., focus on official
policy and avenues of democracy policy reform as opposed to tactics and
piracy etc.  Folks were saying that many share the frustrations, but this is
the main conference and forum in U.S. to come together.

11 am Panel on "Fighting for Air: The battle to Control America's
AirWaves"–about 400 in room.
Pete Tridish: Prometheus radio: pirate radio station.  "sick of the answers
not given on Lehrer newshour…bought a kit and sautered it together…  How can
we  compete with ClearChannel?  Issued FCC a 7 pt platform for community
radio…for every pirate station FCC harassed we put on 10 more…  Succeeded,
got FCC to change rules and allow pirate radio.Removed my eye patch ☺ and
continued to teach people how to start their own stations.  Sideswiped by a
legislative rider, took out ¾ of low-powered radio station in urban
markets.  Spent last 5 years in rural areas building radio stations, despite
frequencies we can use, trying to get congress to change this rider.  I am
more of an anarchist than ever.  We do Weekend Radio barn raisings….72 hours
to make a radio station work, at end of weekend they flip it on and are in
biz…[massive applause]  gives info on how to get licenses for hi powered fm
station, contact Prometheus and they will help. Alternatively, work with
them to get low powered fm."
[Refreshing to hear Pete's humility of these endeavors, very grassroots,
radical, fantastic.]

Betty Yu Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN) "media justice work in
NY"…"Public access threatened by same bill that is protecting net
neutrality!  Effecting local access—phone co's trying to limit local
access…b/c co's don't want to pay franchise fees for local access which they
actually use..impact channel capacity and funding if they get out of paying
taxes.  They can serve just affluent areas and deny service to low income
and rural communities.  End of 2006 this legislation was stalled…however,
the phone co's want to attack local media thru statewide franchises in 12
states that would end local franchising."

Josh Silver of FreePress: "Blogs one of biggest drivers, esp in save
internet.  But no either/or—all fronts are important. Helpful to distinguish
indy media; policy; media critique—when media lies/omits; and media justice,
increasingly getting a voice in terms of representation.  Conservatives
understand value of local access, and equal access to Internet.  Amy Goodman
and Bill Moyers not liberal left but critical journalism.  Boost to this
movement was in 2003, 3 million from across political spectrum against
FCC…then the issues around war coverage.  I am policy guy:  structural
reform has limits.  Not possible to envision quick change on media
consolation.  Radio opp's like Prometheus are crucial.  Public broadcasting
eroded, b/c under gavel of congress defunding and partisan approach.  Real
hope for radical change in media future is the Internet.  TV, radio, phone
etc are all delivered by broadband.  Policy debates are NOW.  If we win,
every single website can become a TV network or radio station.  We have to
win, b/c this will  break the commercial bottleneck."

Amy Goodman: "Important to me to be in Memphis this weekend where Dr MLK was
assassinated.  Important that Media Reform is being held in the South.  MLK
Fighting for sanitation workers, room 306 at Lorraine Motel here in
Memphis.  She discusses when she and others were in Seattle at beginning of
indymedia.org  "what matters is getting truth on the ground"  …  WTO:
watching TV at beginning showing us corporate delegations and ministers of
trade, while ignoring images of arrests…democ now was working with deep dish
and paper tiger, in 2001 we started on TV, collaboration with indy media
world.  M&M tells us, wants to broadcast through video..ok, as long as this
signal doesn 't interrupt radio the heart of what we do…"

Goodman continues: "9/11…our grief is not a cry for war…we had to get out
message that NY was not calling fro war.  Broadcasting DemocNow thru
Pacifica and then MNN FedExing tapes through deep dish and paper tiger..free
speech TV thru boulder co, let's go on to pubic access stations. We were
doing podcasting before that's what it was called.  2002 east timor.  We
sent compressed DVDs of interviews…DemNow is a huge team effort, Juan
Gonzales, many producers…and all diff indy media outlets to broaden
platform…in East Timor, we would race to airport and find nun, soldier,
priest and ask them to mail DVDs…invasion of iraq..jeremy scahill and
Jackie, sending broadcast quality video of events in Iraq in 2003.   The
pride it gives people when there is a different perspective on air….thanks
to all the producers (she names them all who are here in Memphis).  There is
groundswell of demand that we put "public" back in media…[amy Goodman then
gets a standing ovation]

1 pm…Andy Bichlbaum of Yes Men scheduled to appear at 1 cancelled.  I take
the super quaint but central transport of trolley down Main St to the Civil
Rights Museum.  Downtown Memphis is dead and gutted like so many urban
downtown cores.  The museum is incredible and packed…the actual Lorraine
Motel where MLK was killed,  incredible curated installations on entire
history of civil rights, historical photos and info, original documents,
footage, videos from the CR movement.  Packed with people.  Amazing space in
the middle of totally closed, mostly abandoned old downtown of Memphis TN.

2:30 pm
Session on "Bubbling Up: My Space, Youtube, Social Networking & Political
Change". packed room, one of few sessions on sociable networking here.

James Rucker from ColorofChange (he founded this after leaving MoveOn.org)
(late from museum, missed his talk  ☹

Big intro pitch from Dina Kaplan of BlipTV on benefits of videoblogging,
especially featuring AliveinBaghdad young man's site streamed from Baghdad.
Good question about difference between YouTube and Blip.

Next speaker Joan "McJoan" McCarter, Daily Kos, avid blogger, talking about
how blogging shaped different state elections.  How does blog effect policy
change?  Energize America, etc egs of online organizing that are able to
turn into policy—legislators or fed org's etc that are either using that
info from blogs, or online networks that consolidate into policy.  Lost
effort:  attempts to stop nomination of Alberto Gonzales."

Lots of emphasis on creating community through these online networks.
Haven't heard anything radically new…inadequate answers and knowledge about
access, and not any questions of non-proprietary options of networks.

4 pm 500 people at panel on "The Press at War and the War on the Press"
Moderator Geneva Overholser opens panel saying that (1) the media reform
folks should not be making sweeping generalizations that all MSM is corrupt;
and (2) that there should be more representation of women and people of
color here.

Sonali Kolhatker, Afghan Women's Mission and KPFK addresses coverage of
forgotten war in Afghanistan.  No other media in Kabul—eg, in Feb 2005 she
was able to get NATO on phone from Kabul easily to deliver her report and
get story in press.  Short and sweet, to the point, 5 minutes!

Paul Rieckhoff, author of Chasing Ghosts and founder of Iraq and Afg. Vets
of America.  "Members of media failed us in early moments of Iraq…why was
Janet jackson's exposed breast biggest story?  Why is Donald Trump more
important than Fallujah…soldiers call it Forgotistan.  Only 1% of pop has
served in military as compared to 12% in WWII.  This creates problem of
unseen human cost of war.  Never see dead American soldier on TV…[btw, The
Nation's recent issue has front page story of Soldiers opposed to the war]
Embeds totally compromise journalist integrity. Encouraged by vets coming
home who are sharing stories publicly.  Bloggers are doing excellent job as
well of offering accountability.  DOD shuts these guys down but u should
seek out bloggers in Iraq and US soldiers on Iraq."

Helen Thomas…57 years as correspondent for UPI, author of 4 books, most
recent Watchdogs of Democracy?  [unequivocal STANDING OVATION!!!]

"American press corps has lost its way…supposed to search for truth, keep
spotlite on public officials.  No reason for the media to have played along,
and no apologies from powers that be.  We were called unpatriotic if we
spoke out…we gave up our one weapon, skepticism.. Congress rolled over like
we did.  No  way to measure cost to Iraq and to U.S.  In this disgraceful
era we've seen the production of misinformation…reporting and parting…came
out of comas for Katrina.  Don't know why reporters didn't ask hard
questions in 2003-04….soundbytes cannot replace a good solid story…we've
witnessed chipping away of civil liberties…impunity for wiretapping…  Where
is the liberal press we hear so much about?  I say, Bring em on!!!
[applause] You can't have a free country w/o a free press." [another
standing ovation]

Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, author of Lapdogs.  Picks up on
Geneva's point, "we shouldn't whack the MSM press…diff between lib and cons
critique of press…[he disses Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter]…Bush will be
remembered for this mess of war, and press will be remembered for their bad
job.  This war would not have been possible w/o this press, the 'war on
terror' press.  Worst press failing of last century…March 2003, 10 days
before invasion, Bush comes out w/ cheat sheet of who he's going to call on
and makes joke "This is scripted" haha, while journalists did pretense of
shooting up hands as if they would be called on, classic kabuki theater.  13
refs to Al Qaeda, no one asked abt it, no follow up questions.  Cable shows
went wall to wall w/talking heads, all pro war on hard ball…all articulate
critics of war had been shown exit door.  In theory, 1st uncensored
war..photographers were in fact sending back incredible horrible photos, but
editors were censoring.  IN 2005-06, revisionist theory came about…now
claims about journalists having their hands tied, b/c democrats weren't
speaking out against war..Not true!  IN 2002 Wash Post wrote 200 artciles on
war, 1 million words, and gave Ted Kennedy's speech against war 30 words
total.  26 op eds in favor of war from Nov 2002-March 2003. yes, where IS
liberal media?"

Sara Olson, freepresswg.org, reporter who is being subpoened conducted
interview with Ltn Watada, "I talked an hour w/ Watada abt his reasons to
speak out against Iraq war, he is up on counts related to charges for
speaking to press."  Thus Olson has been subpoenaed, "but I feel it is not
my job to testify against my own sources, particularly with regard to
political speech.  We must not turn journalists into investigative arm of
govt, and it chills speech,  reporters would then be deterred from wanting
to investigate controversial issues." Audience goes crazy applauding her.
She is becoming a face of this movement for journalist integrity re:
sources, wait and see!

Trial is Feb 5-9, and if she refuses faces a felony charge and possible
jailtime.  She mentions, Josh Wolf is a journalist now in jail 144 days, on
Feb 6 would be longest imprisonment of any journalist.  Sara concludes, "I'm
here at the Media Reform conference b/c I need your support, need you to
write letters. I want army to know if it insists on eviscerating 1st
amendment they are facing whole movement of people."

Josh Wolf's mother appears on stage:  "Josh has been in jail 144 days…go to
joshwolf.net,we need to keep his case in public eye, we need money, we need
publicity…he is in jail b/c he is standing up for a free press..help in
anyway you can."

Helen Thomas on war on press:  "for two years in press room Ari Fleischer
said Saddam Hussein-- 9/11 every day in same breath for 2 years.  But there
is sea change…"

Paul again f vets against war: "Military has high mistrust of media…admin
has used repetition…but American people have woken up, they might be slow
but they're not stupid.  Don't let the Bush admin blame the media or blame
the Iraqis."

Special Evening session on War Reporting and Impeachment (not on program):

An event moderated by a fairly rad guy David Swanson from
Afterdowningstreet.org, Dave is all about impeachment:"Failure to impeach—he
cites claims impeachment is not on agenda b/c of fear of media.  Vastly more
popular support to impeach Bush than Clinton.  Why are polling comapny's not
reporting, not polling, not reporting on populace desire for impeachment for
war crimes?  Downing st memo was heard abt only b/c of protests.  Announces
current Movement to produce 1000s of Youtubes for impeachment…"

Amazing report from Mark Manning, indy filmmaker who did Caught in the
Crossfire, who spent time in Iraq witnessing and filming civilian
experience. Conceptionmedia.net

Amy Goodman gives Mark Manning big plug.  Then, turns to "embedding…has
brought US media to all time low.  We need to see them embedded in Iraqi
hospitals and communities, and not just iraq and afg but in every jail,
school, hospital here in U.S. As journalists we have to be very careful abt
words we use: "war on terror," "surge," "Operation Iraqi Freedom", the world
that is undercovered in the media—poor, those who are iced out, those are
the people whose voices need to be represented.  media is a huge kitchen
table that we all have a seat out.  Anything less than that is not a

Next up was Sam Husseini—and you MUST WATCH: Thewashingtonstakeout.com
Hilarious stints of him chasing down US congressmen asking things like "Sir,
as head of Intelligence Cte, can you tell me whether Israel has WMD?  Sir?"
while congressmen ducks for cover and Sam trots after him like an innocent
puppy dog.
[from their website"The Washington Stakeout is a project in new journalism
and accountability. Week-in, week-out, day-in, day-out, public figures
responsible for and able to influence policy make themselves available in
Washington, DC.The Washington Stakeout strives to take advantage of these
opportunities and ask direct questions — we think the answers and
non-answers, confirmations, denials and non-denials will be
telling.TheWashington Stakeout is: Sam Husseini, reporter; Chris
Belcher, videographer,
video editor; Matthew Bradley, web production, researcher."]

Normon Solomon from FAIR, "agrees with impeachment's importance but
impossibility of impeaching corporate media.  Thru grassroots organizing
need to widen debate, and Bush admin is guilty of war crimes."

Jeff Cohen  does his entertaining rap on how MSM and cable back away from
anything sounding liberal or left.  Notes that Progressive democrats of
America are going to march on Washington in January 27
www.pdamerica.org--he suggests the march should target The Washington

Sat nite plenary  8 pm opening Bob McChesney.  Estimates of
attendance—conservative estimate 3500 here, 2000 online, and thousands
through Pacifica broadcasts "we have 'right' to media, not privilege"

"Why has movement exploded?  People realize that media is not 'natural' but
made in our name and w/o consent… non-partisan but progressive.  How

I'm fried on typing everyone.  But let me say, you MUST watch online at
freepress the streamed version of Sat nite these bits: Bush Impersonator
[for a laugh] and Deepa Fernandez, a WBAI Pacifica journalist and producer.
Deepa's talk summarizes for me THE missing dimension from this otherwise
pretty amazing huge event and movement, however you feel about the liberal
wraparound there's a lot of rad stuff going on with media production and
savvy journalism all over the world.
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