Saturday, November 01, 2014

Campaign 2014’s Biggest Loser: Debate

Campaign 2014’s Biggest Loser: Debate

Media Rants 

by Tony Palmeri  

From the November 2014 edition of the The SCENE

Friday night in Wisconsin means fish fry, brandy old fashioned happy hour, family gathering, dinner and a movie, party after a long week of work, high school sports, and just about anything other than potentially depressing political discussion.  Even citizens deeply engaged in elections have Friday night lives. So why did the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association (WBA), the establishment media outfit for some reason empowered to sponsor the only two formal gubernatorial debates, schedule them on Friday nights?

With the possible exception of a Doogie Howser, M.D. rerun marathon, it’s hard to imagine what besides political debate would get lower ratings on a Friday evening. As a further slap in the face, the WBA only allowed Scott Walker and Mary Burke on stage. Dennis Fehr of the Peoples’ Party and the Libertarians’ Robert Burke (no relation to Mary), articulate candidates standing for something other than business as usual, were excluded.  

But the WBA’s sham Friday night blah blah fests represent just one part of what has been a miserable debate season in Wisconsin. Locally, the SCENE partnered with Cheryl Hentz’s “Eye on Oshkosh” program to produce debates for as many local and state wide races as possible. Transcripts of candidate shows appeared in the Oshkosh SCENE. Cheryl asked me to cohost along with UW Oshkosh journalism student Emilie Heidemann. Here’s a summary of our experience: 

Guv Candidates Flip Us The Bird: Cheryl did all of the hard work involved in scheduling candidate appearances for Eye on Oshkosh. She knew the demands on the mainstream governor candidates would make it difficult for them to commit the time, but never expected them to be so dismissive of the invitation. The behavior of the Burke campaign puzzled us, as she needs to do well in northeast Wisconsin to win the race. One might think the campaign would jump at the opportunity to get some local free media time. Instead, her Communications Director communicated hostilities to Cheryl, angry that she sent repeated requests to schedule a taping with us. 

54th AD Candidate Flip Flops Invitation: Cheryl invited 54th district incumbent representative Gordon Hintz (D) and his challenger, political newcomer Mark Elliott (R) to appear. Hintz came on and answered allquestions put to him. Elliott initially seemed excited to talk, then withdrew because, as he told Cheryl, our September interview schedule was “too early” in the campaign to start doing interviews. This in spite of the fact that he had already been on WOSH radio in Oshkosh on May 21st to answer questions and announce that he needed to “speak to every group that I can.”  Perhaps he meant “too early to answer anything but softball questions on WOSH.” 

6th CD: Grothman Flips His Lid: Of all the candidates running for office this year Glenn Grothman, the Republican seeking to replace the retiring Tom Petri, has been the most contemptuous of debate. Not only has he refused to appear at a number of forums, but he and his political operatives have questioned the integrity of debate sponsors. Imagine Stephen Douglas in 1858 refusing to debate Abe Lincoln because “those liberal abolitionists won’t be fair to me.” Shame on Grothman, and shame on the establishment media for allowing him to get away with his strategic non-participation. Mr. Harris appeared on Eye on Oshkosh and all other venues interested in voter education. If you read this column before Election Day, be sure to check out his campaign’s page. 

Attorney General: Flippin’ Unbelievable. Cheryl invited Attorney General candidates Brad Schimel (R) and Susan Happ (D). Currently Jefferson County DA, Happ like Burke needs to do well in northeast Wisconsin to win a statewide race. Yet her campaign just could not find a way to get her to Eye On Oshkosh; eventually they just stopped responding to Cheryl’s outreach attempts. 

Waukesha County DA Schimel graciously accepted the invitation, and respectfully answered every question put to him in clear, concise terms that were conservative but not Van Hollen wingnut. The Democrats could not find a way to get their candidate on the program, yet they managed to get Eye on Oshkosh national attention by sending out a press release attacking Schimel for the way he responded to a question I asked about the proper role of an Attorney General in the 1950s, when some states outlawed interracial marriage. That one clip of the interview ended up on the websites of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin Eye, The Young Turks, Talking PointsMemo, and others. Unbelievable.

State Treasurer’s Race: Flippin’ Awesome. By far my favorite Eye on Oshkosh experience of the campaign season was the debate that Cheryl and Ihosted between Green Party candidate Ron Hardy and the Constitution Party’s Andrew Zuelke. As third party candidates shunned by the establishment media, Hardy and Zuelke enthusiastically accepted the invitation to debate. The debate exposed serious disagreements between them on the role of the State Treasurer (especially over Hardy’s call for a publically funded state bank), but they treated each other with the utmost respect. Indeed, it was probably the most civil and educational debate I have ever helped moderate. 

Notice that neither Hardy nor Zuelke are in the grips of the special interests that control the establishment party candidates. Chew on that fact at next Friday’s fish fry. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Media Rants: Interview With Sam Mayfield

From the October 2014 edition of The SCENE

Interview With Sam Mayfield

On Tuesday, October 14th at 6 p.m. in Reeve Union 307 on the UW Oshkosh campus, the student Communication Club is sponsoring a screening of independent filmmaker Sam Mayfield’s Wisconsin Rising. Sam will be there to introduce the film and engage in conversation afterwards. Admission is free and open to the public. You are invited!

Wisconsin Rising is a 55-minute feature documentary about the popular uprising against Scott Walker’s Budget Repair Bill. Here’s what Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman said about the film: “This slice of life, a moment in movement history, captures the struggles of the American Middle Class confronting the corrupting power of money over democracy. Don’t miss it.”

Sam Mayfield resides in Burlington, Vermont. Her video reports have been filed with Democracy Now!, Free Speech TV, and other Progressive media outlets. Her video footage has been aired on PBS and MSNBC. To get some background about her and Wisconsin Rising, I asked her to respond to some email questions:

Media Rants: Why did you decide to make Wisconsin Rising?

Sam Mayfield: I was sent to Wisconsin to cover the uprising and report for a media outlet based in Minneapolis. When I got there and saw for myself the power of the people gathering I knew that American history was unfolding in front of me. I knew that I wanted to keep covering the story. I was sent out there for four days but ultimately stayed for seven months.

I made the movie because I wanted to share the incredible story of what was happening. I did not want the movement to go undocumented and I knew that the commercial American media was getting the story wrong much of the time when they bothered to talk about it at all.

Media Rants: What kinds of challenges did you face while filming on location in Wisconsin?

Sam Mayfield: I come from a community media background so when I got to Madison the first thing I did was connect with the local community radio station. Community media people stick together and support each other. The good people at WORT Radio in Madison gave me a desk to work from, an ethernet cable and a cup of coffee. I was set up and well connected the minute I landed in Madison. So, I can't really say that getting to know the locals was a challenge.

When I made the decision to move to Madison to continue shooting the film I rented an office space near the capitol. A major challenge during the many months I spent on the ground there was in knowing which story to cover for the film.

Wisconsin was a lot like a circus in 2011. Many wild events happening all at once, knowing which part of the story to cover was always a hard decision to make.

Media Rants: What surprised you most during your time living in Madison during the height of the protest activity?

Sam Mayfield:  I was surprised by the openness and kindness people demonstrated toward each other.
Media Rants: What kind of response has Wisconsin Rising received so far?

Sam Mayfield: The film has been doing great. The most common reaction to the film is "I can't believe he still won in the recall election" and from there the conversation continues about how struggle takes time and how no movement has ever triumphed after one election (failed or won).

Media Rants: What do you see as the broader significance of the Wisconsin protests and recall movement? Are we on the brink of seeing the "USA Rising?"

Sam Mayfield: I think what we saw in Wisconsin in 2011 is proof that people are aware that the political system is not put in place to always serve their best interests. People relied on each other for information and for decision making. They did not wait to be told what to do by leaders or politicians and they did not wait to hear the latest report on the nightly news. They were the news and they were the leaders of the movement.

Media Rants: In 2014, how important is independent journalism and film making?

Sam Mayfield: In this country, our media system is owned by corporations and the "news" we are fed represents the values and interests of those companies. With this system in place we cannot expect to hear alternative viewpoints expressed and we cannot expect that these corporations will be challenged or held accountable by the same media outlets they own.

Media corporations are good at doing what they do, making money and serving their own interests. We should not expect the extreme corporate media to change what they are doing or to serve us. We need to make our own media and create our own news outlets. We need to support community radio stations, community television stations, independent newspapers and magazines. Essentially, we need to create the media we want to see in the world. A media that reflects the values of a community is a revolutionary act at this hour in American politics, when so many outlets serve up ideas of who they think we should be and what they think we should buy. A media that is representative of the values of a community is essential for our democracy.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Media Rants: Wisconsin's Sterling Reputation

Wisconsin’s Sterling Reputation

Media Rants 

From the September, 2014 edition of The SCENE
In mid-August the town of Ferguson, Missouri erupted in protest after a police officer killed an unarmed African-American teen. A troubling legacy of the so-called “War on Terror” is the militarization of local police forces, so law enforcement officials responded to the protest by treating Ferguson like Fallujah. Even journalists on the scene from establishment sources like the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, and Al Jazeera America found themselves being assaulted, tear gassed, and arrested for having the audacity to report on the events.

Trying to avoid accusations of a hurricane Katrina style of management by indifference and incompetence, Barack Obama and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon did their best to avoid allusions to George Bush and Kathleen Blanco. The President was forced to interrupt his Martha’s Vineyard vacation to make a banal statement about police transparency and protecting press freedom. Nixon came out of his own slumber sounding about as un-Nixonian as an American politician can get. He said that Ferguson "looked like a war zone and that's not acceptable . . . Literally, the eyes of the nation are upon us."

 Nixon’s comments beg some important questions. Why does it take a tragic murder or a natural disaster to get the “eyes of the nation” on cities and towns already struggling under the weight of economic depression and neglect? Why do national, state, and even local media consistently minimize, ignore, sweep under the rug or (worse) sensationalize race issues? How can we defuse time bombs if we tune out the ticking?

Sadly, the state of Wisconsin is one of the worst offenders when it comes to refusing to deal with race issues. Not just our media, but our politicians, educators, business leaders, and even the clergy cannot or will not bring themselves to say WE HAVE A PROBLEM HERE. Some do speak out, but their voice always sounds like the glaring exception to the rule. From incarceration rates to health care outcomes, the racial disparities in Wisconsin are wide enough to drive a Country USA camper through. Yet somehow we managed to complete the recent primary campaign to choose nominees for state offices and, to my knowledge, not one candidate was asked any serious questions about race issues.

Wisconsin’s dreadful record on race reached a shameful low point last month when the journal Health Affairs circulated a major study on the “life expectancy gap” in the United States. According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report on the study: “The discrepancy in life expectancy between black and white Americans is improving — but not in Wisconsin. Wisconsin is the only state in which the life expectancy gap between blacks and whites has grown significantly, particularly for women . . .” 

Think about that: Wisconsin is the ONLY STATE in which gap in life expectancy between blacks and whites grew significantly from 1990-2010. For men, the gap increased only slightly, from 7.7 to 7.9 years. But for women, the increase was dramatic: from 4.9 years to 6.4 years. The story also pointed out that Wisconsin is now the worst state in the country for childhood opportunities for black children, a fact that correlates strongly with the life expectancy figures. 

Dr.Marshall Chin is a Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago and director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Finding Answers: Disparities Research initiative.  He says that “our country has been good at documenting disparities in care but poor at delivering solutions.” I think Chin is correct in terms of national trends, but in Wisconsin we do a horrendous job of documenting disparities in a way that creates the sense of urgency necessary to begin the hard work of delivering solutions. The Journal Sentinel report of the life expectancy gap findings resulted in no sustained follow up reporting or persistent editorializing [Note: This essay was completed on August 15th; The Appleton Post-Crescent did editorialize about the life expectancy gap on August 21st.), no calls for action from think tanks or interest groups, and no attempt by the press or politicians to make the issue a part of this year’s political campaigns.  Go to the websites of the major candidates for governor and attorney general (the two offices that could probably have the greatest impact on race issues in the state) and you’ll find little evidence that the candidates have any interest in talking about race in any meaningful way.

Earlier this year the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team Donald Sterling was forced to give up ownership after tapes of him making racist comments were released. Sterling lives in California, the most diverse state in the nation. If he had been the owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, one wonders if the Wisconsin press and politicians would have even summoned up the energy to condemn his remarks.

For many years we’ve needed a domestic Marshall Plan to deal with the roots causes of the kind of turmoil ignited in Ferguson and the racial disparities existing in Wisconsin and other states. Instead, politicians in a bipartisan manner have spent the last 30 years giving us a “martial” plan; they’ve built more and bigger jails, turned what used to be minor infractions or misdemeanors into felonies, and militarized the police. Throw in the excessive state surveillance bureaucracy and we’re left looking like a kind of East Germany 2.0.

As for us Badgers, we need to begin the work of changing our “Sterling” reputation.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Media Rants: The 42 Gospels

The 42 Gospels

Media Rants  by Tony Palmeri 

From the August, 2014 issue of The SCENE 
The New York Yankees’ Mariano Rivera, the greatest relief pitcher in the history of American major league baseball, retired at the end of the 2013 season. When major league baseball retired Jackie Robinson’s #42 in 1997, players wearing the number at that time were given the option of keeping it until they left the game. Rivera retired as the last #42. Jackie Robinson’s widow Rachel believes Rivera wore the number well: “He carried himself with dignity and grace,  and that made carrying the number a tribute to Jack."

Rivera recently released an autobiography entitled The Closer. Deeply spiritual, the book could have easily been called The Gospel of Mariano Rivera.  In it we find a man for whom saving games pales in significance to saving souls: “For the last nineteen seasons, the Lord has blessed me with the opportunity to play baseball for the New York Yankees. My job was to save games, and I loved every part of it. Now I have a new job – probably better described as a calling – and that is to glorify the Lord and praise His name, and show the wonders that await those who seek Him and want to experience His grace and peace and mercy.”

 Rivera and his wife Clara are the founders of Refugiode Esperanza (Refuge of Hope), an evangelical Christian Church in New Rochelle,NY. Housed in a historic building undergoing a $4-million facelift, the Rivera’s’ plan is for the church to be a “community hub that will include a food pantry, educational programs, tutoring, faith-based initiatives for kids and families, and more.” New Rochelle is an affluent suburb. Given that Rivera competed in the Bronx, in a stadium which has the dubious distinction of being located in one of the poorest and hungriest congressional districts in the nation, one wonders why Rivera didn’t get the calling to build the church there. But let us judge not lest we be judged.

With humble beginnings in Panama, Rivera understands poverty and racism. Yet The Closer studiously avoids controversy. Comparing himself to Jackie Robinson, Rivera writes, “I am no pioneer, I can tell you that . . . I am a simple man who measures his impact in a smaller way: by being a humble servant of the Lord, and trying to do my best to treat people – and play the game – in the right way.”

Jackie Robinson’s autobiography I Never Had It Made was released in 1972, shortly before his death from complications brought on by heart disease and diabetes. Most Americans know Robinson as the first African-American to break the color line in major league baseball. Less known is his political activism, which by the late 1960s had become militant in tone. In the preface he reflects on hearing the national anthem at his first world series: “As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world.” In a chapter on Martin Luther King, Jr. he says that “there was a time when I deeply believed in America. I have become bitterly disillusioned.”

Robinson endorsed Richard Nixon against John Kennedy in 1960 (“I was fighting a last ditch battle to keep the Republicans from becoming completely white.”), but came to be disenchanted with both major political parties. Preaching a gospel rooted in social justice as opposed to Rivera’s rooted in personal salvation, Robinson argued that “we must develop an effective strategy and learn how to become enlightenedly selfish to protect black people when white people seem consolidated to destroy us.”

What would Jackie Robinson say about Mariano Rivera? A clue can be found in Robinson’s relationship with the Dodgers’ African-American catcher Roy Campanella. When Robinson fought to get black players the right to stay in air conditioned rooms at the Chase Hotel in St. Louis, Campanella did not join the fight because “I’m no crusader.” Though the two remained friends, Robinson made it clear throughout the book that he had little regard for people who stay silent in the presence of injustice.

Rivera respectfully and admiringly praises Robinson for his courage in moving baseball out of the Jim Crow era. Unfortunately, he shows little awareness of the game’s modern injustices. One injustice concerns the gradual disappearance ofAfrican-Americans in baseball. In 1971 the Pittsburgh Pirates fielded the first all-minority starting lineup, and by the mid-1980s over 18 percent of major leaguers were African-American. Today, the number is down to around 7 percent (the lowest since the 1950s). For major league baseball executives and players to celebrate Jackie Robinson at the same time tolerating the steady decline of black participation in the sport is to make a mockery of his sacrifices.

Rivera like most modern major leaguers also has nothing to say about the “baseball academies” that exploit young athletes in Latin America. A 2013 Mother Jones feature exposed the terrible, sweatshop like conditions of the academies in the Dominican Republic. The death of the Washington Nationals’ teenage prospect Yewri Guillen in 2011 due to inadequate medical care should have provoked major reforms, but the deafening silence of players and the press makes change slow.

The 42 Gospel of Jackie Robinson would speak out about these abuses. Rivera should too.