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June 25, 2006

The State of Mainstream Debate

The Acting Executive Director of WILPF had an interesting experience last week. She was asked to participate in a debate on the Iraq War on a local cable channel. She was told she'd have time for an opening statement, followed by a question and answer period. Instead, only the conservative pundits were allowed opening statements and they framed the debate before our ED and a professor were brought into the program.

This is but one example of the larger problem in mainstream society. Progressive voices are only heard as a kooky add-on to the "substantial" discussions of "mainstream" / right-wing pundits. We're told that the "majority of Americans" agree with a middle-of-the-road cross between Republican "values" and Democratic "populism." In reality, when offered the choice between free-trade capitalist no-morals conservatism and social democracy inclusive progressivism, most Americans side with the progressive point of view. I might be using too many catch phrases here, but I have a serious point:

Too much of the media is drafted from the talking points of the corporate heads of state. You think I'm a conspiracy nut for pointing out the collusion between big business and government? Sorry, sir, but I've read Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, and I know the truth about power in this country.

By the way, left of center media isn't much better. NPR is decent, but doesn't have enough courage in its reporting of the war and the Bush administration. Democracy Now offers access to people rarely interviewed by the mainstream media, but damnit Amy Goodman doesn't actually interview people so much as say "talk about this." And when she gets someone on whose politics she doesn't agree with (rarely, but it does happen), she asks kooky questions that don't probe the heart of the problem with their views. I mean, I still watch the program; but it is so frustrating when I catch her in factual mistakes: like how she kept repeating that Nadia McCaffrey learned the truth of her son's death two years after he died. In reality, Mrs. McCaffrey knew what happened to her son soon after he was killed by Iraqi security forces who were patrolling with him - it just took two years for the military to officially acknowledge the real cause of his death. She kept erroneously stating this even though she was interviewing Mrs. McCaffrey - it was as if she wasn't listening to her guest, but simply repeating from the script written prior to the interview. Whatever problems I have with NPR, at least they got the facts right when they reported Nadia's story.

The take away lesson for activists is to think outside preaching to the choir. Think about how your statements sound to someone who hasn't read the same blogs, harbored the same negative reaction to the war on "terror," and marched in the same rallies. If you ever want to go beyond the soap box that no one listens to, you must create a compelling argument that sounds reasonable to non-activists. It can't have too much conspiracy theory (don't mention Kennedy's article on stealing the 2004 election), and it should have some factual basis in addition to the heart-pulling pleas of parents of dead soldiers. All due respect to military families for peace - your voices are vital to the expansion of the peace movement; but no one activist is worthy of being the poster child of this resistance. And those of us dedicated to a multi-issue approach must be willing to isolate an issue now and then to have our voices heard. We also must respect people's time and not expect them to understand arcane details of the cause that we're passionate about.

Okay, enough of the soap box. Sure do wish Ecuador had played better today. Congrats to Britain and Portugal for makin it to the semifinals!

Posted by cj at June 25, 2006 9:26 PM


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