media

Lookin’ Back, Movin’ Forward: The End of MediaMouse.org

Almost ten years ago, a group of people fed up with the way things were going in the world and in Grand Rapids, Michigan started meeting. Inspired by the excitement surrounding the World Trade Organization (WTO) summit in Seattle, Media Mouse formed as a group that sought to distribute information about under reported issues–globalization, corporate control, Latin America, and U.S. imperialism–to name just a few.

In the early years, that meant organizing a wide variety of campaigns and projects–protests, independent media festivals, speakers, rallies, documentary showings, zines, and more. Like many groups that formed in 1999, Media Mouse rode the wave of energy that followed the successful WTO protests in Seattle and made globalization and corporate power an issue here in Grand Rapids. We also did local work: we built connections with other groups pursuing social justice, targeted area lawmakers, and organized in support of alternatives to motor vehicle transit. Again, like many groups of the era, we moved into anti-war work following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and had an arguably important roll in that movement. We posted regular updates about protests on the Internet and launched one of the first blogs in Grand Rapids to keep people updated about what was happening in Iraq and in the ant-war movement. We continued the work of that earlier blog–The People’s Alliance Bulletin–when we launched a regular blog at MediaMouse.org in January of 2004.

Since 1999, the political context has changed greatly–gone is the excitement of Seattle, gone is the sense that anti-war work could end the Iraq War, and gone is the administration of President George W. Bush. Granted, Bush’s replacement–Barack Obama–has proven to be every bit as disappointing as we would have expected, yet much of “the left” is still struggling with how to deal with the Obama phenomenon and has been largely paralyzed since his election. In addition to political changes, the Internet has changed dramatically since we started blogging back in 2003. Now there are innumerable places for people to get left/progressive news and a wealth of technologies that make it increasingly easier to do so.

In this context, it’s hard to see where MediaMouse.org fits into the current struggle. To be sure, there is plenty to be outraged about and plenty of things to fight for and against. Everything that we ever wrote about–environmental destruction, inequality, racism, etc–continues to persist and likely will for quite some time (especially if we don’t step up to organize against these things). However, locating where MediaMouse.org should be in those struggles is difficult. Stepping back from the daily task of writing and maintaining the site, there are no easy answers to those questions. At this point, I’m convinced that MediaMouse.org–as it has existed at least–doesn’t have much of a place. In a lot of ways, I think we failed at our main goal–which was to motivate people to take action in their communities around issues that they care about in order to help strengthen the struggle to a new world. We rather simply told people how bad everything is and rarely inspired substantive discussion about how we could move forward.

Moreover, underlying these questions about the where MediaMouse.org fits into the broader struggle are the particulars of the project. MediaMouse.org has no clear and quantifiable strategic or political goals, making it next to impossible to determine our direction or measure any “success” we might have. All too often, we jump from one issue to the next with no real continuity and are all to willing to write about whatever we feel like, with no real connection to what folks need or want out of an alternative media project. Similarly, the project is almost painfully dysfunctional–there is no decision making structure, there are all sorts of problems with work distribution, no accountability, emails go unanswered, and almost all of the work is (and has been) done by one person. To add further insult to injury, if the project is not sustainable when it comes to its actual work, it’s even less so financially. Ultimately, the internal problems are such that to abandon it–and start over if needed in the future–is the only thing that really makes sense. Trying to “fix” things would be an uphill battle that at this point we don’t have the energy to pursue. To be sure, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from the numerous mistakes that people involved with MediaMouse.org have made over the years–hopefully sometime soon we will be able to share some of those lessons to prevent people from making the same mistakes again.

At this time, I’m confident in saying that MediaMouse.org has outlived its usefulness. Internal problems coupled with an inability to respond to the changing political context, has rendered this project largely ineffective. That said, we’re quite proud of much of the work we have done over the years, whether it is reporting on under reported issues here in West Michigan or traveling across the country to cover large mobilizations against trade agreements. There is a lot to be thankful for, not the least of which has been the opportunity to hear that we inspired people–however few they may be–to act to make this world a better place.

With MediaMouse.org no longer taking up so much of the contributors’ time, we will be in a better position to be able to act in that capacity and to move forward from a place where we are unhindered by the baggage and responsibilities associated with this project. To that end, we are excited to see where the future takes us–and excited to make room for others to fill whatever gaps may be left by our departure.

In the end, we just want to thank everyone that ever read what we wrote, contributed to the site, or otherwise helped make this project work to the extent that it did.

In Pursuit Of A Stronger Struggle For A New World,

- MediaMouse.org

“Read the Bill” Legislation Introduced in Congress

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Back in February, MediaMouse.org reported on a campaign called “Read the Bill” that was calling for the passage of legislation that would require Congress to post bills online for 72 hours before voting on them. The legislation would allow time for members of Congress, the media (including bloggers and citizen journalists), and the public to review pending legislation. All too often, legislators vote on bills without ever taking the time to read them. This is especially true of more complex bills such as trade agreements and the economic stimulus bill passed earlier this year.

The Read the Bill coalition–which is endorsed by a number of different organizations–announced this week that legislation has been introduced in Congress that would require bills to be posted online 72 hours prior to them being voted on. The bill–H.R. 554–is co-sponsored by Reps. Baird (D-WA) and Culberson (R-TX).

The coalition cites a few examples of why this bill is needed:

  • Most citizens would have supported amending the economic stimulus bill to remove the provision allowing AIG executives to receive retroactive bonuses – if only they had known.
  • The average person probably would have preferred to let the judicial system work rather than have Congress give immunity from lawsuits to telecommunications companies that participated in a controversial wiretapping scheme.
  • Workers hoping to retire on their 401(k) investments might have liked to have some serious analysis of whether credit default swaps ought to be regulated. We know how that worked out.
  • And, just about everyone benefits from mandating time to check for questionable and wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars.

The Read the Bill coalition has setup an online system for contacting your legislators to ask them to both support and co-sponsor the bill in order to improve its chances of passing. Additionally, it is circulating a petition and is hoping to get 15,000 signatures before Congress’s August recess–you should add yours today.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Capitol News Coverage Dying; Bill Targets Teachers Who Strike

Here are some interesting stories published elsewhere on the web in the past twenty-four hours. Feel free to discuss them in the comments or let us know if we missed anything:

  • Capitol news coverage dying – This column from the Lansing City Pulse by MIRS editor Kyle Melinn looks at the dramatic decline in news coverage at the capitol. Over the past several years, media outlets across Michigan have dramatically reduced the number of reporters covering the state capitol. With important issues before the legislature–such as the upcoming budget–Melinn says that people want to know what is going on in Lansing, but he isn’t sure if there will be reporters to satisfy their interest.
  • Health and Hope – This is an interesting article from Rapid Growth Media about a dentist who was inspired by a trip to Africa to give up his lucrative dental practice in the suburbs to provide dental care for low income patients in the Burton Heights neighborhood as part of Health Intervention Services. The clinic is part of the Free Clinics of Michigan network. To be sure, it’s going to take a lot more than individual acts of charity and selflessness to fix the health care system in the United States, but it’s great to see things like this.
  • GRIID Interviews Kathy KellyThe Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) interviews activist Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Non-Violence. Kelly was in Grand Rapids last night to speak about her recent trip to Pakistan and what she learned from talking with refugees who have been displace by U.S. drone attacks.
  • War Funding Coverage Full of Omissions – Over the past week, MediaMouse.org has reported on the debate over war funding in the House of Representatives. In particular, we have looked how the Democratic Party has been willing to sellout its anti-war constituents. In this piece, the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) looks at how the war funding bill was covered in the Grand Rapids Press. Not surprisingly, it was barely covered, but what can you really expect from a newspaper that has no national reporters?
  • White House Says, ‘Stand Tall, Michigan!’ – The Obama administration’s so-called “green jobs czar” says that Michigan has everything it needs to make it “a green energy capital of the world.” The only thing missing is the political will to adopt green policies.
  • Proposed bills tell teachers one strike, they’re out – Two proposed bills in the Michigan House of Representatives will make it easier to punish teachers who participate in strikes. The bills would enact new penalties–including loss of certification for two years–on teachers who strike. Teacher strikes were made illegal under a 1994 law.
  • Dow dioxin cleanup in mid-Michigan could take years – This article from the Detroit Free Press describes a pretty typical pollution scenario. A corporation–in this case Dow Chemical–contaminates a large swath of land with a toxic chemical–in this case dioxin. After several years of citizen complaints, the EPA finally decides to investigate the issue. First, they promise a study. Then, they decide how to clean it up, then they actually (more often, a maybe) start doing the work. It takes years before the pollution is ever cleaned up. In this case, clean up could last until 2018.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Updates on Coal Plants in Michigan; Pete Hoekstra is Olbermann’s “Worst Person in the World”

Here’s some interesting headlines covering Grand Rapids and Michigan from the past twenty-four hours:

Abortion Doctor Murdered, Media and Government don’t Label it “Terrorism”

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Over the weekend, an a doctor named George Tiller–who provided abortions to women who needed them–was gunned down as he entered his church. The shooting was part of a long campaign of anti-abortion violence aimed at intimidating doctors who perform abortions. Not only that, it’s part of an upsurge in harassment of clinics since President Barack Obama took office. The lead suspect in the case has long been associated with the anti-abortion movement–a movement which has successfully restricted access to abortion over the years.

While the media coverage of the shooting has been correct to put in the context of a long history of anti-abortion violence–including shootings and clinic bombings–few media outlets spoke of the attack as an act of terrorism. Almost universally the shooting was referred to as simply a “shooting” or a “murder”–not as an act of terrorism. The only newspaper that mentioned the shooting in relation to “domestic terrorism” was the Los Angeles Times. Online alternative media has been quick to call the shooting terrorism, with The Huffington Post (1, 2) and Salon.com both ran articles calling the attack an act of domestic terrorism.

I’m not a huge fan of calling every crime under the sun terrorism, as the government has been wont to do in recent years, but it’s hard to imagine calling this attack anything else. The federal government defines “domestic terrorism” as:

`(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;

`(B) appear to be intended–

`(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;

`(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or

`(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping;

Under this definition, this was clearly an act of domestic terrorism. Tiller was specifically targeted for assassination with the goal of ending his capacity to perform abortions and intimidating doctors who perform them. Tiller’s movements were tracked by the anti-abortion movement and he was hated within that movement. He had previously been the target of protests and acts of violence. In the 1980s, his clinic was regularly targeted by protestors, it was bombed, and Tiller himself was shot. Recently, his clinic had been vandalized–an act that did thousands of dollars of damage. Tiller had also just beaten trumped up charges that he violated Kansas law.

Contrast with Left-Wing Violence

I think it’s interesting to contrast the media’s coverage of this case with so-called acts of terrorism committed by the left in the United States. Crimes committed by the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front–groups which engage in the criminal destruction of property and economic sabotage–are routinely labeled “terrorist” and both the media and the government are quick to call those crimes “terrorism.” For example, when environmental activist Marie Mason was arrested last year for a politically motivated arson at Michigan State University (MSU), the corporate media universally called the act “terrorism,” even before she was convicted. This echoed coverage back when the arson happened in 2000. No human lives were harmed or threatened–although the government and media would later hype the fact that the resulting fire put firefighters in harm’s way.

Similarly, environmental and animal activists have been rounded up as part of the government’s “green scare” campaign and labeled “terrorists”–and even imprisoned–when they have engaged only in acts that damage property, not taken human life. Moreover, there has been a recent trend of charging animal rights activists with terrorism for undertaking acts that are otherwise protected under the First Amendment–such as protests and informational campaigns.

How do you think the media and government would respond if it was a vivisectionist that was shot? I’m willing to bet there would be allegations of “terrorism” coming from all quarters.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Detroit Free Press Cutting Its Staff; Auto Worker Contracts

Here are some interesting stories from the past 24 hours:

If we missed anything, let us know.

Grand Rapids Press Editor Mike Lloyd Retiring

The Grand Rapids Press

The Grand Rapids Press announced today that longtime Editor Mike Lloyd will be stepping down on July 1st.

Not surprisingly, an article covering the announcement is filled with accolades, praise, and a list of awards and honors bestowed upon the Grand Rapids Press under Lloyd’s direction.

For many MediaMouse.org readers and progressives, it will likely be hard to say too much other than “good riddance” in response to this news. Lloyd has a reputation as being rather pompous–see his weekly columns in which he talks about editorial decisions made at The Press–and has generally been no friend to progressives.

His columns–which tend to be particularly aggravating–were praised in the announcement:

Shortly after assuming the editor title, Lloyd began writing a weekly column that focused on news coverage decisions and the Press writers and editors who made them. The column also served as a vehicle for answering reader questions and concerns.

I’m much more inclined to remember them for what they are–often obstinate defenses of objectionable editorial decisions. For example, earlier this year, Lloyd defended his paper’s repeated frontpage coverage of The Bachelor. In other instances, he has taken similarly frustrating positions: defending the distribution of an anti-Islamic DVD earlier this year, giving space to Pete Hoekstra to defend Blackwater’s Erik Prince, and dismissing animal rights protestors.

Hopefully, a new editor will bring a new direction to the Press.

National Media Day of Action on Afghanistan

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United for Peace and Justice has announced a new action that they are hoping will increase opposition to the Afghanistan War and raise awareness about the realities of the war. The group is facilitating a “National Media Day of Action on Afghanistan” on Thursday, May 21. The goal of the action is simple: change public opinion about the war by getting anti-war editorials, articles, and opinion pieces published in news outlets across the United States.

The group has put together a helpful series of guides to using the media. These include tips on how make the most of newspapers, radio, and online media as well as factsheets and other resources (including pre-written letters) that can help activists work with the media. The group is placing a special focus on online media, with ideas on how to use Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace–all of which are simple and effective ways for spreading your message.

This is certainly something that readers of MediaMouse.org should consider participating in. The local media outlets in Grand Rapids–The Grand Rapids Press, WOOD TV, WZZM 13, and WXMI 17–run relatively little coverage of the Afghanistan War. Almost completely absent from what coverage they do run is opposition to the war. It doesn’t take that long to write a letter to the editor or to email the media outlets asking them to improve their coverage–and it’s a necessary step if we’re going to build opposition to the war.

United for Peace and Justice would like to know what people do on the 21st, so if you contact a media outlet, be sure to let them know.

Michael Savage Barred from Entering U.K. over “Hate Speech”

Michael Savage

Conservative radio show host Michael Savage has been barred from entering the United Kingdom due to his “engaging in unacceptable behavior by seeking to provoke others to serious criminal acts and fostering hatred which might lead to inter-community violence.”

Savage has been banned since October 2008, but the United Kingdom’s Home Secretary just released a list of sixteen people banned from entering the country. The list bans people who foster extremism and hatred according to the U.K. government. It includes the anti-gay Revered Fred Phelps, white supremacist Stephen Black, two Russian skinheads, and various Palestinian activists.

Michael Savage’s show can be heard in West Michigan. In the past, Savage has been the target of an organized campaign in the United States to target advertisers to pull ads from his show due to “hate speech.”

Savage has a long history of engaging in anti-Muslim, anti-gay, and anti-immigrant speech.

Fox News: Riling Up the Right through Selective Editing and Scare Tactics

Fox News

Fox News’ ratings are skyrocketing, in large part due to rightwing opposition to President Barack Obama. In a review of Fox News’ first “100 days” of covering Obama’s administration conducted by Media Matters, the channel has consistently talked about “the extreme left,” “socialism,” “communism,” “fascism,” and touted Obama’s so-called “failures.”

At the same time, Obama’s popularity has remained high. 69% of those living in the United States approve of the job he is doing and “half of Americans now [say] the country’s headed in the right direction.” Rather than presenting the “Fair and Balanced” view of Obama’s administration–which would acknowledge his popularity–Fox News is taking every opportunity to oppose the administration. They are doing this by giving conservative legislatures a prominent voice, having on conservative commentators as guests, and even participating in promoting a series of rightwing anti-tax “tea party” protests.

Fox News has also selectively edited interviews to portray Democrats and progressives–when they appear–in a negative light.

Media Matters recently conducted a study showing that Fox News has consistently done this going back several years. It’s a convenient way to rile up the rightwing base. Recently the channel has selectively cropped comments by Al Gore to make it seem as though he is personally profiting from his work addressing global warming, to make it seem like President Obama supports a healthcare system like “European countries,” and that President Obama want Supreme Court judges that do not look at United States law.

While providing an interesting look at how the rightwing media is attempting to energize its perceived base, Fox News’ selective editing is also an important reminder that progressives and those on the left need to be careful when we use the media. The media in Grand Rapids is certainly willing to distort and selectively edit interviews, making it essential that we carefully prepare for media appearances. We should never assume that they will cover us–or anyone else–fairly. Their number one goal is profit.