When "60 Minutes" Asks for My Contacts...

I received an email today from a producer of the "60 Minutes" TV news magazine program.

She wanted my "contacts" in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - a city where I lived in for a good chunk of 2003 - to do a story on "Rio's out of control crime rate and drug problems."

And, oh, could I also provide her with translators because, she writes, "I cannot speak Portuguese so an English speaker would be great"?

I will publish the text of her email - and my response, in which I explain why the very premise of her story, and how she plans on doing it, will prevent it from telling the whole truth - below...

And I will explain to her (and to all) why the days when this project blindly helped Commercial Media correspondents with their projects, except under carefully specified and disclosed circumstances, are now over... Everyone in the Commercial Media now knows that when it comes to any corner of our América (especially the América with an accent), the Narco News team has the best "contacts among the lumberjacks" and knows the terrain of drug policy better than any other news organization where somebody also publishes in English.

As of today, I announce: Only those Commercial Media colleagues who have demonstrated, through their consistent published or broadcasted reports, a truthfulness high above the normal low standards regarding drugs and democracy in our América, will receive any help or assistance from our network.

The 60 Minutes producer writes:

Hi there Al

I was hoping you could help.

I am... in the very early stages of looking at a story on Rio's out of control crime rate and drug problems.

At this stage I am looking for a focus for the story - and would really appreciate any advice on people I should be talking to. Obviously people working in a human rights capacity - the police etc etc.

And please bear in mind that I cannot speak Portugese so an English speaker would be great.

Thanks so much

(Name of colleague)

Associate Producer
60 Minutes

To which I reply:

Dear (colleague),

How many days, weeks, or months did you plan on spending in Rio de Janeiro in order to do a "60 Minutes" story on what you call "Rio's out of control crime rate and drug problems"?

Do you think you can do that story as a non-Portuguese speaker, with just an English-language translator?

Let me start with the most simple truth: Rio doesn't have an "out of control crime rate and drug problems."

Rio has a "policy problem." Rio has a problem named drug prohibition.

It is the policy that causes the price of some drugs (and the profits involved with trafficking them) to be so exorbitantly high.

It is the policy that brings kids into drug dealing, that leads them to have to join or form gangs to develop and protect market-share (and thus causes gang wars), that provides them with the cash to buy heavy weaponry used to cause more bloodshed, and that puts them into direct contact with, and under the rules of, larger organized crime organizations.

It is the policy that corrupts the police and politicians who the dealers need to look the other way at some while rounding up the competition, and that then causes a disproportionate amount of public safety resources (police time, prison space, court dockets) to be devoted to a "drug war" thus leaving the system unable to cope with any other crime or problem effectively.

It is the policy that causes the poor addict to have to pay unreachable prices for the average working stiff to get his fix, and thus sends disorganized platoons of addicts out in the streets to steal and often harm other citizens in order to get that unreasonable amount of money.

It is the policy that enriches the bankers and the money launderers, those "respectable" men in suits and ties, who wield so much influence over, well... the creation of the policies!

If you've done a story on "out of control crime and drug problems" in other cities (since that kind of story seems to fit a certain Commercial Media formula: just fill in the blanks of the name of the city, the street-lingo used there to describe the drugs and gangs, and the unconscionable linkage, again and again, to the public mind to associate "drugs" with "crime" and, viola, that's the story the Commercial Media, including its so-called investigative arms, always does, and does so poorly), then please send me a link or transcript of other stories you've done on the themes of drugs and/or crime and/or events in our América.

If your previous work on these themes was honest about the real problem - the policies imposed on Brazil and others by Washington, Wall Street, and the international monetary, banking, diplomacy (including the UN), and trade organizations - and you can demonstrate it, then I will probably be happy to help you (I lived in Rio for a good part of 2003, and of course have all kinds of great contacts, even some who can translate).

If you haven't got that kind of portfolio to show it, then, I'm sorry, please don't take it personally, but I don't think that any reporter who doesn't learn Portuguese can do justice to this story with just a visit to Rio.

I understand that the demands of TV news magazine shows are rough on the journalist... running from deadline to deadline... limited resources... limited time to get really in depth on a story... And I sympathize. I've been in your shoes in my years in the Commercial Media.

But those demands are inconsistent with truthful journalism. Narco News has done the story of Rio de Janeiro from the favela slums to City Hall to the courts to the governor's mansion to the Harm Reduction programs trying to solve the problem to the school halls where innocents have been shot because of this policy... and we will continue to update it until the policy is ended.

The story is the policy, not the media myth of "out of control crime and drug problems." The quaint image of brown people on hillside slums taking drugs and committing crimes, I'll agree, keeps people in the developed world glued to the chair in front of the TV long enough to then watch the advertisements... It's a cute little story... The only problem with it is... It's deceptive and untrue!

And the formulaic ways that Commercial Media approach the story only heaps more harm on the real problems, and provokes a kind of public prejudice and fear that builds greater support for the policies that cause the problem in the first place.

So, if you've got the clips that show a greater conscience and truthfulness on these issues than the Commercial Media offers us in 95 percent of all its work, let's see them, and then maybe I can help you.

But if not, you're just going to have to wait to read it in Narco News.

from somewhere in a country called América,


(The only reason I don't post the producer's name here is because there are - gasp! - less ethical folks out there who, for thirty pieces of silver, would be happy to lead 60 Minutes around Rio and translate for them, and would probably contact her just to bid in the sell-out auction. But this is Narco News, baby! We don't go by the old standards of decrepit journalism... we set the new standards... Authentic Journalism! Which is, of course, why they all contact us wanting our sources and contacts... But the best ones out there are as fed up with the Commercial Media as we are... They are Civil Society... and we work not for advertisers or their bean-counters, but, for them, the people.)


60 Minutes Responds (I didn't make this up)

Within a couple hours of posting this correspondence, I heard back from the 60 Minutes producer.

She wrote:

Dear Al

Seriously please take my letter off your website and read the below news article written in the Independent newspaper in the UK - a highly respected paper I would like to point out.

I would like to point out that not all "commerical"

(sic) media outlets are tarred by the same brush. My email to you was simply a very brief outline - I wanted at that stage to talk to someone to get some idea of the story.

I certanly didn't need a lecture and found your response condescending.

I hoped to do a TV version of the below story which I thought sounded very interesting. Forgive me if I don't live up to your lofty ideas.

All the best

(Name of 60 Minutes Producer)

The article she cites as worthy of a "TV version" is, as she glowed, from The Independent of London.

Wanna guess what this supposed "highly respected" newspaper's article about Rio de Janeiro is titled?

It is titled:

The City of Cocaine and Carnage.

I swear I'm not making this up!

The October 12, 2004 article by Tom Phillips and Thais Villela is available only by subscription over at the Independent website.

Yes, this is the same Independent of London that had the honor of publishing, last August 16th, the only story on earth that reported that Venezuela President Hugo Chavez had "lost" a recall referendum… when, in fact, he had won with 59-percent of the vote.

(The newspaper, again embarrassed by one of its Latin American correspondents, had to dump the bad reporter and hire our own Reed Lindsay to correct the record, but only after an international outcry led by Ron Smith and others here at Narco News.)

However, this latest story, calling Rio de Janeiro "The City of Cocaine and Carnage," really exceeds the August 16th blunder in high-blown deceptive rhetoric, sensationalism, and fiction-posing-as-news.

Here are some excerpts from the story that 60 Minutes wants to turn into a "TV version."

"Favelas (slums) across the city are erupting in violence that often matches the conflicts in Chechnya and Sudan for intensity, if not in headline-grabbing power.

With fierce turf wars igniting around Rio, many now fear the city is staring into the abyss…

Miles from the golden sands of Copacabana deadly conflicts are playing themselves out between youthful drug dealers with names worthy of cartoon characters, like "Dudu". A stone's throw from the road that links Rio's international airport with the world-famous Ipanema beach are some of the city's most explosive slums. To locals the area has become known as "the Gaza Strip". Between 1987 and 2001 nearly 4,000 of Rio's inhabitants met violent deaths compared with just 467 in the West Bank, an official war zone…

Dudu, who tried to invade Rocinha earlier this year, is reputed to feed his opponents to a pet alligator. Other drug lords treat their enemies with similar brutality - forcing them to swim through open sewers or burning them in so-called microwaves, makeshift crematoriums made of car tyres. In 2002, an undercover journalist was hacked to death with a Samurai sword by a trafficker known as Elias Maluco (Crazy Elias).

With drug wars endemic across the city Rio society is running scared…

"Society thinks that all you'll find in the favelas are poor black people, who walk around barefoot. But you can't even imagine how organised they are. They've got internet, radios, telephone... and their message is one a lot of people buy."

…for thousands of children and teenagers caught up in the drug trade, Rio de Janeiro is a city without a future.

Got it?

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! City of Carnage and Death! A city without a future! See the drug trafficker feed his enemies to a live alligator! Tour the human microwave made of car tires! They're not just "poor black people" - they have cellphones! It's Chechnya! It's Sudan! It's the Gaza Strip! All rolled into one! Tune in to "60 Minutes" and don't miss all the reasons why you should live in fear of drugs and poor people! It must be true: The Independent of London said so! A "well respected" newspaper! And an award-winning TV magazine show! Together to make you afraid, very afraid!

The article asks no questions about what causes the violence it reports, and therefore provides no answers.

Worse, is that non-governmental do-gooder organizations participated in this travesty against the truth… The Commercial Media calls them and they jump… Being their "guides" and "translators" for sensational and untrue stories like this one... Because, after all, when they get their names in "well respected" newspapers like the Independent, it gets them more attention and hopefully money… from people who are afraid, very afraid, of "poor black people… with cell phones! And drugs! And alligators!"

Pay no attention to the policy behind the curtain. The Mighty "Respected Newspaper" has spoken! And now the Mighty "Award Winning TV Magazine Show" wants to add its signal to the echo chamber...

Never mind that sensationalist drug war stories like this don't reflect reality or truth... What about the ratings? The journalist's career prospects? The need to keep the viewer scared or titilated to get him to stay through the next advertisements?

And the good people of Rio de Janeiro - a city that very much has a future, despite the "respected newspaper's" yellow conclusions - are dumped on once again by a Commercial Media for whom ratings and profits drive the collection and "reporting" of "news."

(I can hear the do-gooders saying, "Oh, but wouldn't it have been worse if we hadn't cooperated with them?" To that I answer: How could it possibly have turned out any worse than it did?)

I have a better idea. Send video cameras to the youths of Rocinha and other favelas in Rio... and invite them to cover the coming Civil War in Journalism through their eyes and experiences.

That would be a show I'd like to watch.

Taking Apart the Inspiration for 60 Minutes

Since it might be quite difficult to actually get the killer alligator on camera, perhaps it was this angle that inspired our mystery CBS producer:
Favelas (slums) across the city are erupting in violence that often matches the conflicts in Chechnya and Sudan for intensity, if not in headline-grabbing power.
That's some statement, isn't it?  Many have accused Sudan of genocide in its Darfur province.  A million people have had to flee their homes.  The U.N. says about 10,000 are dying every month.  In Chechnya, an estimated 200,000 or more civilians were killed in two wars over less than 8 years.  That would have been about 20% of the population.  Tom Phillips and Thais Viallela, writing for the Independent, want us to believe Rio is just as bad.  
But instead of backing up their outrageous slander with comparisons to Chechnya and Sudan, they offer this:
Rio de Janeiro has the highest rate of gun-related deaths in the country. Between 1980 and 2000 there were 600,000 murders in Brazil against 350,000 during Angola's 27-year civil war.
I wonder if 60 Minutes noticed the bait and switch.  Angola only has a population of around 10 million today.  Estimates for the death toll in its 27 year war range as high as 900,000 to 1,250,000 (see here: http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstat3.htm ).  Brazil has a population of around 180 million.  So even if you use the Independent's figures, once you adjust for the size of the population, Brazil's 600,000 murders would be nothing compared to Angola's 6,300,000 deaths.  
Between 1987 and 2001 nearly 4,000 of Rio's inhabitants met violent deaths compared with just 467 in the West Bank, an official war zone.
More deceit.  For most of those years, the West Bank just wasn't the so-called "official war zone" it is today.  The current period of violence only started in October 2000 and before that was 7 years of the relative calm of the Oslo peace process.  Before that was the first Palestinian uprising, primarily fought with stones and rubber bullets.  
Now let's look at that 4,000 deaths over 15 years.  That's about 266 each year, out of a population around 5.5 million.  But does it compare better to sites of alleged genocide like Sudan and Chechnya, or merely to other major cities in the hemisphere?  
In 2003, Detroit's murder rate dropped 9%, down to 366 out of a population around one million.  That's a per capita murder rate 7 times greater than Rio's.  Detroit wishes it had a murder rate as low as Rio's.  So where does that leave Phillips and Viallela's fraudulent statistics about Rio?  They belong in the trash, not in some 60 Minutes producers' "to do" pile.  

Couple of things

I am surprised that this producer did not ask you to  do the story.  If they are under pressure to produce fast and cheap then that is her best solution.  Let Narco News do the special on the bigger story, Drug Policy and Latin America.  But by her response and choices I am inclined to agree that they are not interested in the real story, only "shock and awe".  Pity, what is democracy without a well informed electorate?  Probably what we have now.  

Second, for Bill Conroy.  Your post comes off as a bit venomous.  Not that what you wrote is incorrect (well, I cannot correct you but I am no expert in this field), its just that there are ways of conveying things that are more productive than others.  Even Al's post showed a lack of patience when confronting Corporate Media, in my humble opinion.  I am not saying you are wrong, but I was originally attracted to Narco News by the avalance of ice-cold facts written with a little verve.  Don't let the buggers wear you out!

Also Bill, I noticed that you seem to dispair about the USA.  I too am worried but I would like you to look here for some comfort that the Corporate Media stories (that you seem to have bought) are just not true.  Half the US electorate has been fooled by the Far Right and the media failed to stop them.  


If you need a show that will broadcast this story, I would recommend trying PBS's Frontline.  Unfortunately they do not have the audience that 60 Minutes does (or Fox for that matter - those are the people that need an awakening) but at least they are interested in the story.

All the best,

a lack of patience, heh heh....

Bill Conroy summarized my take with far better flair than I dare aspire to.  still, I'm going to comment anyway, since it's been a while since I made time to muck about in ther NarcoSphere...

David said:

"I am surprised that this producer did not ask you to  do the story."

well, in a way, that's exactly what she did, which is why I had to chuckle.  she is coming in and doing exactly what Al portrays mainstream media as doing routinely, that is, asking Al to please give her the benefits of his spadework.  her tone is one of "hey, I don't speak the language and don't have contacts and already know what kind of story I want to tell, and it's diametrically and maybe even dialectically  opposite to the NarcoNews perspective on the economics and the consequences of prohibition...so please do my work for me so I can say the usual Ain't It Awful on national TV."  

if someone had set out to do a satire of the type of interaction that characterizes Mainstream US Media's contacts with NarcoNews, he or she could scarcely have written more apt lines.  as they say in my hometown, she's straight out of Central casting.

and Al totally calls her bluff and she feeds him even more straight lines, so to speak, with the usual cliches about drugs, crime, and the favelas. they are not only, as David puts it,

  "under pressure to produce fast and cheap,"  that's  Precisely What They Do, and what NarcoNews does is diametrically opposed to this cookie-cutter approach.

I also can't repress my taste for the droll and ironic (expressing itself in the out-loud chuckle again as I read) when DF says, apparently without guile, that Bill Conroy's comments seem
 "a bit venomous"  and that "(e)ven Al's post showed a lack of patience when confronting Corporate Media."

somewhow I'm not only not surprised; I'd be genuinely disappointed if we weren't enjoying a taste of gleeful venom at the expense of a rather lazy corporate producer who fed us such hilariously juicy morsels of foolishness.

wasn't it Niezche who said a little poison now and then makes for good dreams?  (and a lot of poison at the end for a good death, more tangentially?)  of course Al is being a touch wicked as he lets Ms. Sixty Minutes and Counting  tweak her own nose, so to speak.

the high schoolers are a bit restless here, I'd better collect the remnants of my scattered thoughts and sign off for now.

meantime: you laugh, or you die of depression and ennui and annoyance.  I'm going to enjoy a little wicked funniness myself, one of the few legal highs left. thanks once again Al (and happy more or less birthday, huh?)

the Comadre


First off, sorry I replied to an intermediate post instead of the main or last post.  Hope Bill notices so that he can respond if he wishes.  

Second, Judith, I note that same lack of patience in your post as well.  I am not scolding anyone here, just posting my view of the tone and why I think that it might not be productive.  Sure it's therapeudic, but for whom?  I doubt that Ms. Producer finds any help in it at all.  (Which really is too bad :)

As you misrepresented my post let me clarify.  I was pointing out that if such a producer was truly pressured to produce quickly and cheaply then her best option would be to let Al do a piece and cut him a check (he's gotta be cheaper than the CBS crews).  But she didn't so obviously she has other motivations, such as the content of the piece (utter pablum for the American masses to gum in semi-conscious silence in front of the tube).  

In my humble opinion, I would expect that the most satisfying result, and therefore process, would be to succeed in conveying this message to the American public (hoping they would know what to do about it...).  I am not inspired by self-gratification through looking down the bridge of one's erudite nose at the pathetic rats in the race.  (That is part of what isolated the heartland of America INTO the Republican Party.)  

I agree with what Al wrote, and I think I agree with what Bill wrote, I would just rather see the delivery be, as I stated, an unrelenting avalance of undeniable facts that force Ms. Producer to admit that her motivations are other than newsworthy!  

Chess this out


To your point on venomous: You can't play chess with someone who only allows checkers to be played.

I've seen it happen too many times before, particularly with big TV networks. You usually gain nothing by sitting down at that table, except tarnished credibility in the end. On rare occassions, the bargain with that devil may advance a bigger cause, but that's only because you have figured out how to upset the checker board.

"Sources" who play ball with big network shows need to know the truth behind the curtain. They can easily wind up ruined in the end, because the networks cut (or shoot) and run -- on their timetable, with their agenda, without regard to authenticity, often leaving a path of wreckage in their wake. They want faces, action and visuals, even if that sometimes means the people and lives behind those faces pay a dear price for that network prize. It's passed off as "getting the story"; in reality, it's usually all about getting the big ratings and career pay-off.

Again, I qualify that opinion by pointing out that there are exceptions, even in the network world. But those exceptions don't approach any story on the path this producer chose. They know the rules of chess.

In the case of this 60 Minutes encounter, as I see it, the stakes are too high to feign professional courtesy, to try to accommodate the freight train, because it will certainly run you over without a pain of guilt.

There is no honor among thieves, truly; and that is what you are dealing with in the real game much of the time. People who have bought into the checkers media world get ahead by jumping over things in their way on the way to getting crowned -- so why make it easy by bending over for them?

And though you may have interpreted my suggestion that the producer be dropped in the middle of Bolivia to fend for herself as a notion laced with venom, it really would be the best thing for her revival as an authentic journalist. The experience might actually help her learn to appreciate chess; then we can really begin to relate with her within the depth of perception required in the authentic game.

And unlike checkers, where the goal is to charge forward relentlessly to become a king, chess has the much more subtle message that kings have little power without the help of the other pieces on the board.

The Eternal Teach-In about Commercial Media

I think this is a great discussion. Thanks for offering constructive critique, David. Sorry I haven't participated yet but I've been on the road all week with limited online access.

David writes (about my exchange with a 60 minutes producer):

I am not scolding anyone here, just posting my view of the tone and why I think that it might not be productive.  Sure it's therapeudic, but for whom?  I doubt that Ms. Producer finds any help in it at all.  (Which really is too bad :)...

And David adds:

I am not inspired by self-gratification through looking down the bridge of one's erudite nose at the pathetic rats in the race.  (That is part of what isolated the heartland of America INTO the Republican Party.)

Al comments:

I heartily agree with the second point - that an often snobby discourse toward those in the rat race by some activists or journalists pushes otherwise good people into reactive political positions... Such as when folks are derided for eating at fast-food restaurants, or listening to pop music, or still using Windows PC operating systems that are not as "PC" as Macs.... or whatever... Yeah, there is a snobbery and I've seen it and felt it a lot this week as I'm behind enemy lines (that is, North of the Border)...

On the other hand, what class of professionals is most responsible for the negative messages toward working and poor folks that permeate our cultures? It's the Commercial Media professionals, that's who! And, by and large, producers, editors, reporters, etcetera, are college educated, many have degrees, most grew up in privilege, and they spend their workdays finding new and exciting ways to kick other people, with less privilege and opportunities, when those other people are down.

The 60 Minutes approach to the people of Rio de Janeiro (like the Independent of London article that the TV show wanted to retread) commits that "downward nose" offense very steeply.

I identify more with the folks in the favelas of Rio than I do with some desk jockey at a Commercial TV program. I never graduated college. I don't own property (and I have none awaiting me from any possible inheritance). I don't (and won't) wear a tie: not even in court! Although I worked many years in the cubicles of the Commercial Media (print, TV, radio and Internet) I don't identify with this class of upscale mutant wage-slave careerists, most of whom dream that Santa will bring them a job at the New York Times in order to impress their rich parents and relatives.

But, as we used to say in the 70s, "oppression is often internalized." Activists, change-agents, even alternative journalists, dedicate hundreds of hours a year of free, unpaid, labor to helping the Commercial Media do its job... All under the pretext of trying to make the Commercial Media reports better... Even some Authentic Journalists are often confused... They sometimes think that their work is only "successful" if it gets picked up and stolen, then, by Commercial Media...

So, for the past five years or so, I've been involved in an educational process, through Narco News, and through my work in the years before that (see The Medium Is The Middleman), to try and share what I learned inside the bellies of those Commercial Media beasts and help others better navigate the electronic jungle that is dominated by them.

To educate (Abbie Hoffman taught me) you have to entertain. You have to grab people's attention and keep it, but not in banal ways that cut against the revolutionary message. So I increasingly use these Commercial Media people as props, or what the humorists call "straight men." Think of Groucho Marx as Rufus T. Firefly bouncing off Mrs. Teasdale, the upscale (and uptight) symbol of wealth and boring power in some Marx Brothers films.

It is still (sigh) sadly rare that change agents or other journalists take on the Mrs. Teasdales of the Commercial Media in ways that remind the public that they are not almighty and that they do not have our interests at heart.

Part of the group I'm reaching with such tactics are journalists of conscience inside the Commercial Media systems, as a tweak and reminder that there is nothing "essentially good" nor even situationally good about their employeers or the organizing principle (make money!) of their news organizations. But mainly I'm speaking not to the 60 Minutes producer (my prop) but to the large swathe of regular folks out there in the Narco News readership, to dissuade them of the myth that we always have to "play nice" with the Commercial Media.

So, anyway... It's not impatience (although impatience is often a good thing when it comes to making political and social change)... It's theater... The "teach-in" has a stage, it has lighting, it has sound... but it needs its Mrs. Teasdales and I'm very lucky to be fed a steady stream of them to bounce off of in order to make this show more educational and interesting to the multitudes of people who really do count.

And it's not poking fun at her or them because she's inside the rat race... To the contrary, it's on behalf of those of us who are more its indentured servants on the mouse wheel, to defend us from the college-miseducated elites of the Commercial Media, who, as even the right wing has noticed, are socially more liberal, but economically more authoritarian, than the public at large. A very strange bunch, those Commercial Media elites... and lazy too! Groucho awaits his next satis-fried customer!

Extracting the venom

Al addressed the impatience concern with respect to David's comment about the treatment of the phantom 60 Minutes producer. (Phantom in the literary sense that she is an abstract representation of an idea in this debate -- that idea being the practices of the commercial media.)

But I'm not so certain I adequtely addressed the venom concern in light of the theater of all this.

Second, for Bill Conroy.  Your post comes off as a bit venomous.

My attitude on this can be cleverly disguised through analogies of chess and checkers, but it probably needs a more direct statement to clarify matters.

I admit to being more than a bit cynical about the media game, and I am not under the illusion that a story somehow becomes a better story once it's "commercialized." (Hey, that's what ruined rock 'n roll, right?)

I may come off at times as showing distain for the process, distain that might be better received if it were less bitter to the taste. I assure you, though, my bite is harmless, no real venom.

Where I do retain my idealism in journalism is with respect to readers, particularly participatory readers, who are equally writers and authentic journalists through that participation.

Ms. 60 Minutes, as I said, in my mind represents a concept. The concept does have implications for reality, but in this debate, in my head, she is not a sentient being that I can interact with; I can only react to a small glimpse of who she might be based on her letter to Al.

Like you and me, she is far more complex in real life. So I bear her no ill will, or venom. But the concept, well, that's where it gets complicated.
I've read Al's "The Medium is the Middleman," and think it is a catalyst for revolutionary change.

But there is a lingering question in my mind, and I think David brought it forth to me in more clarity. If we assume the mass media, as it exists, is corrupted, what do we do next? Do we work to tear it down, reform it, or leave it alone and build something new that makes it less relavant, maybe even irrelavant?  

And depending on your take on that, in the mean time, what do we do with the people who are now part of the commercial media? Do we make an effort to reach out to them in the hope that some of them will change, become authentic, or do we charge ahead and let them fend for themselves, allowing those who do see the light to come on board if they can?

(To be straight with you, I have a commercial media job, so in a very real sense this is my future I'm talking about.)

What is the praxis on this?

David, and I may be wrong, but it seems you hold out hope for reform of some sort, at least for some in the commercial media.

If I recall, and Al correct me if I'm wrong, The Medium is the Middleman actually talks about a cascading effect within the commercial media once a critical number of the "editorial class" inside the machine begin to stop feeding the monster. To me, that is beyond reform; it's what I interpret as "metamorphosis."

First we kill the editors! And that kind of guillotine requires a kind of "auto-sacrifice," or self-revolution, by individual members of the editorial class. The editor who first acknowledges and acts upon this tactic of de-mediating the printed word will, we predict, set off a chain-reaction of immediacy in the field of publishing. That individual, as Thomas Paine wrote of the Winter Soldier, "deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

So in addition to building something new, we may be trying to, at the same time, transform something old and dysfunctional into that new dream. Maybe we are giving birth to something that is itself transformative, much like a child.

In that sense, Ms. 60 Minutes becomes, well Ms. Smith, and she is just like the rest of us. We all have a stake in raising the child -- and protecting it from those who would do it harm. How any one person lines up in that world is really an individual choice it seems to me, but collectively, those choices hold the promise of reshaping the world.

So enough of my idealism. Maybe I've got it all mixed up anyway.

As far as venom, though, I confess to using it, at times, on concepts I believe to be destructive, but I would never use it against a child.

satire, patience, and the real world

a few random notes: recognizing and acting on the necessity to send in the clowns of one variety or another isn't always  diagnostic of  lack of patience, as Al points out.  there's a personal and collective mental health day implicitly and greatly needed that is sometimes best addressed through some well-placed satire or facetiousness or even sarcasm.  Shakespeare was not the first in the history of theater to throw in a bit of foolery, often with the high and mighty inverting into the fool, when the drama got too heavy. and the nature of really reporting the news is to deal with the almost unbearably heavy.

  Jill Nelson was just on Pacifica Radio yesterday, talking about turning to writing fiction as an antidote for the way that being a journalist and studying and exposing some really nasty stuff pisses her off as an unavoidable side effect. (her latest novel is about a fictitious bordello-for-female-clients in Reno, and it sounds like fun; take that any way you may choose.)

the truth is not always entertaining; it can be totally disgusting in fact, as anyone who follows the news can tell you. and the act of using humor, including barbed humor, to invert the more hirrifying aspects of the truth is an ancient social ritual that serves a vastly important function.

some of my old friends have heard me quote the original PL Traver creation, Mary Poppins ( a far more complex and bitchy and ultimately wise character than any Disney movie could ever protray) as telling the Banks children, "Patience?  I have the patience of a Boa Constrictor.  I merely Speak my Mind."  (capitalization quite important to the message here, IMO.)

could a person get a bit psychoanalytical and say that in having a chuckle at the expense of the straight-line lady here, I'm allowing Al to express some of my own impatience or hostility or aggression by letting him do the twitting of Mrs. Tisdale?  sure, if you want. it can also be argued that perhaps enjoying  this relatively harmless diversion makes it easier to endure for the long haul, which is where patience comes in handiest and/or most important.

I repeat, you laugh, or you die. it's not really a patience issue for me in the last analysis, though I do understand what you're saying.

as far as making fun of people who eat in fast food restaurants is concerned, Bill Clinton was by far the funniest of all Mac-aholic types from my perspective, mostly because he could damned well afford a more genteel, if you will, food addiction. it's not just about prepacked fast food.  remember the fun at least some of the public had with Richard Nixon's dietary habits (catsup on cottage cheeese.)how the powerful feed themselves can be howlingly funny.

and on that note, I break for lunch. I'm a rather patient soul despite the amusement I take in Al's ways of speaking quite bluntly to his straight-line folk, but not so much when I'm hungry. and could (and do)people make fun of MY hippie-food lunches! let 'em, but I gotta eat.

 hasta la victoria siempre, no mayo, no pickle,


Independent at it again

Al, thought I'd draw your attention to today’s Independent, it would seem the new front, in the war on drugs, is now official;

 Afghanistan: a nation abandoned to drugs

And more

Where every farmer grows opium because they would be ‘fools’ to grow anything else

Both articles, focus on the fact that farmers have little choice but to farm poppy’s as no other crop holds sufficient value, and the Afghan government’s reluctance to tackle the problems at the highest levels due to corruption.

The paper states “most experts in Afghanistan believe it is a more significant factor in the continuing violence and instability than the Taliban insurgency."

Before going on to say that the UN wants to bring in US and British forces to “destroy farmers crops on a mass scale before they can be harvested."

The paper cites yesterdays UN office of drugs and crime (nothing like a name for broadcasting intent) which “reveals that the engine of economic growth is opium production”.

The paper informs a no doubt alarmed Afghanistan, of the US promise to “spend $780million next year on a war against drugs” apparently “some money would be will be spent on alternative livelihoods for farmers, but most will probably go on measures such as spraying poppy fields, currently being discussed in Washington, and transporting drugs barons to US courts to stand trial.

It’s little consolation that perhaps the Independent almost gets the point when it quotes an aid worker, “Nobody wants to live in a narco-state but if we saw a similar commitment to dealing with people at the top as with the powerless opium farmer, a lot of people would have more faith in a war on drugs.”

Nice to see the failings so oft reported by Nacronews continue to fall on deaf and stupid ears.

Steal this story....

Beyond what has been said already with respect to 60 Minutes contacting Al, what I find mind boggling about this producer's request is what it reveals about how journalism is practiced by the "big time" players.

First, instead of going into the field to dig up a real story on her own, this producer swipes a story -- a bad story -- from another publication. Then, instead of doing her own homework, she has the gall to contact Al and ask him to essentially turn over to her his sources (with conditions, that they speak English) so she can just swoop in and turn on the camcorder.

And no doubt that when some less honorable journalist does bite on her hook -- dazzled by the glammor and money of CBS -- that will be the end of that. When the credits role, it will be this producer's name in the limelight inside the corporate media machine, using the story she stole to step up the ladder.

I won't make a blanket indictment of every TV producer on this front, because I have worked with some who are very good, who do it right. But they will be the first ones to tell you the filter is so tight on what gets through to the big lights of a network like CBS that hundreds of legitimate stories are cast aside for the sap that does find its way into the "faith-based" homes of the United States.

And make no mistake about it, at least in my estimation, the story this producer is seeking to manufacture fits in perfectly with the "moral values" climate now washing through this nation like a stream of vomit. Meanwhile, an informant's participation in the murder of more than a dozen people along the Texas/Mexico border -- all under the watch of U.S. federal agents and the Justice Department -- doesn't merit a blip on the national network news front.

Why? Maybe it's because corruption on the U.S. side of the border in the "drug war" doesn't conform to the notion of "moral values" that the pack journalism in the states now sees as the bread ticket for ratings.

I suggest that Al does invite this producer down, south of the border, and drop her in the middle of, say Cochabamba, without a cell phone, to fend for herself -- and see how long it takes before she finds a lifeline. Maybe, along the way, this producer might get a glimpse of what a real story is -- because the experience might actually lead her to interact with the people.

Until she is immersed in the view from the ground, she will never understand the obstructed view of the "penthouse journalist." But we might as well pound sand in terms of getting that point across to posers who are intent on milking the golden calf of the media Moloch -- to steal a notion from Howl.

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Reporters' Notebooks

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.