Monday, July 24, 2006

Sent By Earth (Alice Walker) and thoughts on the media 'coverage'

I'm starting late tonight. I had to attend a formal dinner. (I chose to attend.) So that's put me behind schedule. I spoke with Betty on the phone and she's got some points she wants to make (at Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude where she's guest blogging for Rebecca) about the snapshot today so I'll gladly let her have that. (She feels she hasn't written enough about Iraq. I disagree. But she's got some strong points to make tonight so please read it.) Please visit Mikey Likes It! for Mike's comments and, on the phone a few seconds ago, he read me some of his post tonight. It's covering a number of things and I think everyone will enjoy it.

Here, I mentioned Lord of the Flies (not "Rings" as one excited e-mail misread) and I also mentioned it in The Third Estate Sunday Review's "What's being read?" Sunday. A number of e-mails came in wondering what I thought of the book. I thought it was dark, I thought it illustrated the issues of group think wonderfully. Other than that? I think people far wiser than I have commented (at length) on this book many times over the years. Lynda wrote asking of Alice Walker's Sent By Earth and I'd honestly prefer to talk about that book.

First, because I love Walker's writing. Second, because it's from a small press (Seven Stories Press). Third, because it's a book that deserves more attention.

Sent By Earth is fifty-five pages of text. It's full title is Sent By Earth: A Message From The Grandmother Spirit After The Attacks of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. If you're think of Fiona Apple's When the Pawn Hits The King . . . , yes, it is a long title. It's list price is $5.00 (in the US, $7.95 in Canada) and, from the back cover, the questions are: "Where do we start? How do we reclaim a proper relationship with the world?"

It's not an essay (though there are sections that are), it's not a poem (though there are sections that are). I've called it a "prose poem" because it uses a variety of genres/forms to explore what we feel inside and what our government's response is.

When the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon happened, C.I. and I were discussing them (Rebecca and I were as well) but on that first day, C.I. pointed out two things. One that Mark Bingham would go from "hero" (as the mainstream was billing him) to rarely mentioned. C.I. noticed how there was already an effort on air to downgrade him and called a friend at one of the networks who explained Bingham was gay and there was some concern over whether or not America was "ready for" a gay hero. If you watched the initial coverage, you may remember how Bingham was suddenly downgraded even though he was on Flight 93, he was a soccer player, he was over six foot tall. He was supposed to be part of the group leading the response to the terrorists on board. Then he pretty much vanished. You still hear of Todd Beamer and others, to this day. But it was thought that the country might not be ready for a "gay hero" and Bingham didn't have a spouse (or at least an opposite-sex spouse) who could go on TV.

I mention that because this was the time when the nation was supposedly coming together. If the country couldn't accept a gay hero then, it makes me wonder when they could? (I think they could. I think some making decisions on coverage couldn't.) Of course, we weren't coming together. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell would attack Americans shortly. Already the thought police was on patrol (right and left) telling people what they could say, what they couldn't, and how we would address the issues. At a time, remember, when the nation was supposedly under attack, Bully Boy played hop scotch all over the country and didn't get back to DC until that evening. Pointing that out cost at least one columnist a job. The thought police were in full swing (and it wasn't just the right). Susan Sontag was strung in the market of public ideas by many. (I will never respect or read Eric Alterman because he joined in the Sontag bashing. Sontag's points were on the money. Alterman demonstrated he was a coward and that he would burn anyone to make sure he was "okay." He's a sell out and a creep, in my opinion, for many reasons, but the Sontag trashing is the most extreme example. When the left could defend their own, many chose to go along with the right and that -- not any election -- caused the silencing of dissent and the refusal to question the Bully Boy for so long. More than what happened on Politically Incorrect or the Dixie Chicks later, that trashing demonstrated that the bullies were out in full force and that they included the left.)

The other thing, and the reason I'm noting C.I., that happened immediately after was C.I. turned off the TV and got away from it. That was a smart thing to do. I wish I had done that earlier. (I turned off the evening of day two.) There was a feeling that this was 'great' coverage. It largely wasn't. Not because Dan Rather announced an attack on the Brooklyn Bridge that wasn't happening. Not because you had some really bad reporting (you had a lot of it) but because it wasn't informing. It was programming. (I love music, but I skipped the telethon because I'd had quite enough of the programming.)

The same shots shown over and over. The "Oh my God!"s as Ani DiFranco notes in "Self-Evident." The people rushing to connect it to Iraq (which there was no connection to). The industries using it as an excuse to push legislation through. The government using it as an excuse to push through the Patriot Act.

It was all programming. It was also planned programming since Mark Bingham can be a hero in the early hours of reporting and then be all but forgotten as day two comes to a close. The media got a lot of credit and, in most cases, they didn't deserve it.

They were "serious" now was the argument. The WTC had been brought down, the Pentagon had been damaged. Did you really think they were so stupid to go on about some missing blonde woman in Aruba at that time?

There job was to cover it. So a lot of the praise confused the events with the coverage.

The coverage was very poor. You saw the voices who were included int he discussions and, if you were paying attention, you noticed the ones who weren't included. If you wanted to respond violently, you had plenty of on air voices to represent you. If you were undecided, don't worry those on air voices were telling you what to do. If you were opposed to treating a crime as a war and an attack "the world for free" card, you realized how little you mattered to the big media machine.

"It's great footage" someone might argue. Was that really reason to show, over and over for over a week, repeatedly, the towers collapsing? Or was it to get us all on board, on message?

I'm not suggesting that the coverage was cooridnated. I have no idea. I do know Bingham was dropped from the coverage due to his sexuality. A week after C.I. explained what was going on, a man I dated in the eighties for six months called. In those weeks, you were pretty much calling everyone you knew. He's a network news producer. I asked him flat out why Bingham was removed and he confirmed it was, for his network, due to the fact that Bingham was gay. Paraphrase, America needs heroes and his story is too complicated.

Leave out Bingham from that sentence and you have the coverage we got -- simplistic, redundant, an appeal to emotion (over and over again).

Some have stated that since so much of the media (national) is located in NYC, the media had a very personal response. That may be true, it may not. I don't know and honestly don't care. I'm not all that interested in excuses.

I am interested in what the coverage did. Intentionally or not, it decided who was worth noting, who was given voice, what points were heard (very few points at all -- not just in terms of perspective but also due to the fact that it was emotional dirven so thought and analysis took a backseat took a back seat to tears and anguish).

Due to my profession, I assumed, on 9-11, that Friday would be a day of mourning. It was the end of the week. The nation was grieving. (Or trying to.) Rebecca and I spoke of this and both thought that would happen. The days after would be used to demonstrate that America wasn't brought to a halt and, having proven that, Friday would be used for a national day of mourning.

On 9-11, C.I. said it would never happen. C.I. said this was being used (the coverage was being used) and that the adminstration would continue to keep the people off balance (as opposed to helping with closure). I didn't react with outrage at that comment. I wasn't rallying behind Bully Boy and thinking, "Thank God we have a leader." (We didn't that day or any other that he's occupied the White House.) But I did think C.I. was wrong on that. A day for closure was mentally healthy and needed. Surely even this inept administration would grasp that and offer it?


No closure. But we got Bully Boy on a Bull Horn threatening the world. Posing. Acting macho. Didn't the media rush in to crystalize that moment (while avoiding his lengthy absence from DC, his embarrassing "performance" when he finally made it back to DC, etc.)?

Sent By Earth was a painful book for me to read the first time. I didn't read it until the summer of 2002. (Rebecca or C.I. sent it to me.) By then, the nation's course was set (on set on Iraq, the move on Iraq started openly on 9-11) and it was very difficult to read a book speaking to our souls, speaking of what happened, when the larger message was already imposed and established. (Kill! Kill! Kill!)

In the times since, I've gone back to the book many times and now it reminds me that there was another path we could have pursued (a legal one, for one). It doesn't upset me because those days are removed and part of "the past" now. What it does is remind me of how important it is to reject to blood thirst and to speak out. We were sold a lot of lies from the beginning. (Some think the attacks themselves were a lie -- I have no knowledge on that but I don't shut down others who want to speak on that.) We wouldn't be in Iraq without 9/11 and the coverage of it. We wouldn't be now, right now, attempting to restore democracy in this country were it not for 9/11 and the coverage.

When I read Walker's book now, I'm inspired and not depressed. I'm inspired by the fact that she put pen to paper in 2001, at a time when speaking out took tremendous courage. I'm inspired that not only was she able to reject the administration and the media's call for war-war-war-WAR! but also able to formulate an alternative vision.

I'm also inspired by the awakening going on this country. It's been slow but it has happened.

The book reminds me of the importance of leaving the programmed intent of the larger media in a crisis and it reminds me that there will always be those who use tragedy to their benefit. I wouldn't have expected that from Bully Boy on 9/11. I didn't vote for him. I didn't care for him. But I thought that the office itself would demand that he find maturity and knowledge he didn't possess when he was sworn in. That didn't happen. He was a petty school yard bully who, when given a broader vista, used the office to implement his bullying tactics on a larger scale.

So if you haven't read Alice Walker's Sent By Earth, I hope you will. It's a voice you didn't offer with a vision that didn't broadcast.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Chaos and violence continue.
But will you hear about it? (How bad is the coverage -- in terms of quanity? So bad that Mark Silva's Chicago Tribune article is titled "
Remember Iraq?") And, if you do, will you hear of the 'relative calm' or any other dubious phrase?
Following Sunday's bombings that
claimed the lives of at least 66 and left over 200 wounded, today's events may not 'impress' enough to get the coverage they deserve.
It's after 10:00 pm in Baghdad, here are some of the events reported from Iraq.
Reuters reports two roadside bombs in Baghdad (one killing an Iraqi solider and wounding three more ; the other killing a civilian and wounding three police officers); a car bomb in Mosul killed five Iraqi soliders and wounded four; a roadside bomb killed one person in Mosul; and mortar bombs in Baghdad wounded at least eight people. CBS and the AP report a car bomb in Samarra that killed two Iraqi police officers and wounded 17. That would be six bombings with ten killed (plus the driver of the car bomb in Mosul for eleven -- Evening Echo News notes that the "car driver accelarted toward the house before detonating the explosives" -- the police were using the house as a command station). Of the car bomb in Mosul that killed the Iraqi soldiers (not the police officers), RTE News notes: "The Iraqi vehicle was driving behind a US patrol at the time of the explosion, although no US personnel were reported injured in the blast."
Reuters reports "an agricultural engineer" was shot dead near Kerbala; gunfire near Hilla left two dead and 17 wounded; and four died from shootings in Mosul. AFP reports the shooting death of "a bodyguard of a Sunni politician" in Baghdad. That would be eight dead.
AFP reports 23 corpses were discovered in Baghdad.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi prime minister (in name if not deed) Nouri al-Maliki splits from Iraq and goes to London.
James Hider and Jenny Percival (Times of London) note the departure this way: "As he flew out of his embattled capital yesterday at least 63 people were killed in bomb attacks and a dozen were shot dead in relentless drive-by shootings or kidnapped and murdered." Or, as Paul Schemm (AFP) worded it: "Nevertheless, while Maliki began a trip to Britain and the United States, the violence raged on at home."
BBC reports that on their radio program Today, Nouri al-Maliki has declared that Iraq "his country would not slide into a civil war." Reuters quotes him saying, "Civil war will not happen." CBS and the AP report him declaring, "There is a sectarian issue, but the political leaders have succeeded and they are working on putting an end to the sectarian issue. There is continuing efforts in that direction, the civil war will not happen to Iraq." The Puppet meets the Bully Boy in DC on Tuesday while he preps new 'believeable' lines -- possibly that no one takes a cut off the house's take in Vegas?
This as
Patrick Cockburn (London's Independent via Belfast Telegram) reports on a conversation with Hoshyar Zebari (Iraqi Foreign Minister) who spoke of how "in theory the government should be able to solve the crisis because Shia, Kurd and Sunni were elected members of it. But he painted a picture of a deeply divided administration in which senior Sunni members praised anti-government insurgents as 'the heroic resistance'."
Mark Silva (Chicago Tribune) quotes an unidentified White House flack saying: "In terms of the civil war question, I would simply say there has been a rise in sectarian violence.. . That in itself does not constitute a civil war,’’ the official said." In terms of the news value of that quote, I would simply say there is none. That in itself, a flack lips flapping, does not constitute news.
AP reports that Muqtada al-Sadr's followers have released a statement on the impending meet up between Bully and Puppet: "We want him to cut his visit and not to sign any paper leading to occupation forces remaining in Iraq." And Robert H. Reid (AP) quotes one al-Sadr 'follower,' Jalil al-Nouri, stating: "We are the only group that rejects the occupation because we are nationalists. We are the only political group that rejects their presence in the country and we demand that they leave. We are to the point, and we are clear."
But with al-Maliki due in DC tomorrow, don't be surprised to see the days events described as 'calm' or 'relative calm' (on a day with at least 19 reported dead and 23 corpses discovered) and the rah-rah-'liberation' noises to start up all over again. Don't expect to read many pieces like Michael Gregory's "
None left untouched by daily violence in Baghdad" (Reuters) which notes: "President George W. Bush will hear the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, in Washington on Tuesday tell him of plans for stemming bloodshed in Baghdad and repeat assurances he gave on Monday that Iraq is not at war with itself. But talk to people at random in the capital and a picture quickly emerges of a city where virtually everyone has a friend, relative or neighbour who has fallen victim to the sectarian shootings and death threats that Washington accepts are now an even bigger threat than the 3-year-old Sunni insurgency."
In Australia, the inquiry into the April 21st death of Jake Kovco in Iraq continues. Last week, it was decided (or "decided" since the board of inquiry appears to change its mind regularly -- Olive writes that Judy Kovco should call it the "Keystone Court" as she called the police the "Keystone cops" last week) that the former roommates of Kovco, in the room when he died, would testify from Iraq via videolink.
James Madden (Daily Telegraph) reports that has changed and now the board has decided to summon the two roommates to testify in person. Madden also notes that Dectective Sergeant Phillip Elliott testified to the inquiry that "Pte Kovco's body was washed and his two roommates were allowed to shower after the shooting. The bed linen and the soldiers' clothes were washed, and blood spatter was thought to have been removed from the ceiling and furniture." Australia's ABC notes that Kovco's "clothes were destroyed" prior to Elliott's arrival for the investigation. Malcom Brown (Sydney Morning Herald) reports: "In answer to Lieutenant-Colonel Frank Holles, for Private Kovco's parents, Sergeant Elliott said Private Kovco's roommates, Soldiers 17 and 19, differed as to where Soldier 17 was sitting at the time of the shot. Soldier 17 had said he was sitting at the foot of the bed and Soldier 19 said Soldier 17 was sitting at the middle. [. . . .] Sergeant Elliott agreed the two also differed in their accounts of where Private Kovco lay after he fell. Bloodstains on the floor were consistent with him having been turned over after he fell." Austraila's ABC notes, of the decision to have the former roommates testify, "The inquiry has agreed to the application, but it is not yet known when the soldiers will return to Australia."
Meanwhile, the
Herald Sun reports that a witness known only as "Soldier Two" will testify with regards to how Bosnian Juso Sinanovic's body ended up being shipped to Australia instead of the body of Jake Kovoco.
In peace news,
it's day 21 of The Troops Home Fast (21 days since it started, 21 days for those who have been fasting since the Fourth of July -- but you can join the fast at any time). Robert C. Koehler (Tribune Media Services) writes of his decision to fast for one day and join the efforts organized by CODEPINK, Global Exchange and Gold Star Families for Peace: "We have a war machine that's fed by hate and fear - indeed, by the need for enemies without the least humanity, because that absolves us of the need to have any ourselves. It's the age-old formula for war, but we have entered a time when it is globally life-threatening. When the world's only superpower swaggers through the Middle East with that kind of delusional anger and a military budget of half a trillion dollars that requires annual justification, watch out. It is time for new priorities."
Christopher J. Stephens writes, in The National Ledger, of the cases of Ehren Watada and Suzanne Swift noting: "Veterans for Common Sense [VFC] wrote an open letter to President Bush in March 2005 that noted some ominous possible results of the war in Iraq: 1.26 million Iraqi children under the age of five will die, 500,000 will need immediate medical attention, and 2 million will become homeless. Signatories to this letter included two Navy Vice Admirals, a Brigadier General, 14 Colonels, and 4 Captains."