Saturday, October 30, 2010

Media Rants: Happy Anniversary to (Me)dia Rants

The following piece will appear in the November 2010 edition of The Scene.

Happy Anniversary to (Me)dia Rants

Media Rants

By Tony Palmeri

The first Media Rants column appeared in the August 2002 issue of The Scene. By my calculation, that makes this November column the 100th (!) rant. When the column debuted, I wasn’t sure I’d have the discipline demanded by 10 rants, let alone 100. But here we are, 8 years later, still trying to shed light on the ways in which corporate establishment media can, in the words of the late and great Madison Capital Times editor Bill Evjue, be “used to reduce the people to conformity and dumb acquiescence.”

Given that the New York Times, Washington Post, regional Gannett tabloids, radio and television outlets, or even alternative web sources aren’t exactly lining up to talk to me about this most momentous anniversary, I guess I’ll have to interview myself. So here’s a retrospective of sorts on the last 99 columns.

Question: How did the Media Rants column get started?

Answer: In the summer of 2002 then SCENE editor Tom Breuer called and asked if I’d be interested in writing for the paper. Back then I wrote a weekly electronic newsletter to accompany a television program called “Commentary” I hosted and produced with my heroes Doug Freshner and Jim Mather. Somehow Tom got on the newsletter email list, and he liked it enough that he thought I might be able to contribute something worthwhile to the Scene. The name “Media Rants” was Tom’s idea. The first column was a critique of the local press’ annual and shameful subservience to the Experimental Aircraft Association.

Question: What writers have influenced your thinking and style?

Answer: All conscientious media critics owe a debt to the late George Seldes. Probably the greatest investigative journalist in American history, Seldes in the 1940s published a newsletter called “In Fact” which is now widely regarded as the prototype for how to expose the shortcomings of the establishment press.

Given that Media Rants is a monthly essay, stylistically I’ve been guided by my favorite essayists. I respect and admire the rebel passion of Thomas Paine, the moral clarity of George Orwell, the principled prose of I.F. Stone, the sheer eloquence of Christopher Hitchens, the wisdom of James Baldwin ("I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually."), the unpredictability of Alexander Cockburn, the stinging humor of Molly Ivins and Maureen Dowd, and the in-your-face rhetorical flourishes of James Howard Kunstler. I’ve disagreed with each of these wordsmiths at various times yet stand in awe at their contributions to the craft of writing.

Question: Do you have any favorite Media Rants columns?

Answer: My favorites are the ones that make at least some minor contribution to our understanding of local history (“Press Coverage of McCarthy” from April of 2006; “Earth Day at 40” from April of 2010; “King Karma: Yesterday and Today” from March of 2003), challenge local and state establishment media to do better (“The Magruder Media’s Ethical Compass” from November of 2002; “Northeast Wisconsin’s Iron Triangle” from August of 2003; “It’s Not a Witch hunt if There’s a Witch” from June of 2004), counter the insane pro-war journalism of the last 8 years (“Will We Hear the Winter Soldiers?” from March of 2008; “Media AWOL on National Guard Coverage” from March of 2009), and take a stand for rational public discourse (“Fighting Reactionary Politics: Real Conservatives, Real Liberals, and Real Radicals Must Work Together” from April of 2005). I also look fondly on the tributes to Robert L. “Doc” Snyder and Doug Boone, and interviews with my friends Curt Andersen, Stephen Richards, Jo Egelhoff, and Ron Hardy.

Question: Most memorable Media Rants moment?

Answer: UW Oshkosh Professor of Political Science James Simmons found the essay “Deconstructing Don Kettl” (July 2004) interesting and asked me to publish a revised version of it in the Wisconsin Political Scientist Newsletter. The essay situated Professor Kettl, formerly of UW Madison and widely recognized as governor Tommy Thompson’s most revered academic, as a symbol of the extent to which UW profs had become tools of power rather than challengers to it. Some of Professor Kettl’s colleagues at UW Madison lambasted Dr. Simmons for publishing the piece, reducing it to nothing more than a cheap-shot personal attack. The irony was that the tone and vacuity of their complaint validated the thrust of the essay better than anything I could have said or written.

Question: What kind of response has Media Rants received over the years?

Answer: Though it’s now conventional wisdom to say “no one reads anything longer than a Facebook wall post anymore,” the fact that Media Rants does have an audience keeps me writing it. When the Appleton Public Library invited me to participate in a debate about the movie “Good Night and Good Luck” in 2006, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of people in attendance who recognized and appreciated the column. Media Rants columns also led to several invitations to lead discussions at the Harmony Café in Appleton, as well as numerous appearances on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Question: Any final thoughts?

Answer: I just want to thank everyone who has supported Media Rants over the years, especially those readers who take the time to offer constructive feedback. Many thanks also to Scene publisher Jim Moran and current editor Jim Lundstrom for making space every month.

Rant On!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Two Screenings of "Mad City Chickens"

From citizen Dan Hoyt:

On behalf of the citizen group calling ourselves "Oshkosh Backyard Chickens" I would like to invite you to a free, public showing of the documentary film titled "Mad City Chickens".

This feature length production, with a total run time of 79 minutes, will be shown at the UW Oshkosh Reeve Union Theater on Friday, October 22 at 7:00 p.m. and again on Tuesday, October 26 at 3:00 pm. The times were chosen to allow for different schedules so the film would have opportunity for public viewing before the Oshkosh Board of Health meets on October 27th.

"Mad City Chickens" documents how the citizens of Madison, Wisconsin organized and worked to change their local ordinance to allow for "urban chickens" to be kept as pets. This film addresses all of the major concerns regarding "backyard" chickens including noise and enforcement issues among many other things.

Mr. Ronald Kean, the UW Extension Poultry Specialist, is interviewed in this film as are many local residents of Madison, a pet store owner and city officials. The film contains lots of great information, plenty of facts and a good dose of humor as well.

I encourage everyone to pick the time best for them and make a point of attending this free event. Also, please spread the word to your friends and neighbors as all are welcome. The Reeve Union theater, located on the 3rd floor of the student union on the UW Oshkosh campus, holds 196 people in comfortable, stadium style seating.

This event is being sponsored by the UW Oshkosh Student Environmental Action Coalition and (hopefully) many local businesses who would be happy to see chickens in Oshkosh.
For more information about this event contact me by reply email.

Thank you and I look forward to seeing you at the show!


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Compulsory Voting on WPR Thursday Morning

I'll be on Wisconsin Public Radio Thursday morning at 6 a.m. (yikes!) talking about compulsory voting with Joy Cardin.