Last month in Houston the Green Party nominated Dr.Jill Stein and human rights activist Ajamu Baraka as their candidates for
president and vice-president. Given that I’d once run for state office as a
Green, Wisconsin Public Radio invited me to spend an hour on the network to
talk about the role of third parties in 2016. Predictably, the issue of voting
for a third party being a spoiler or wasted vote came up. The idea that we only
have two choices in elections, and that every other choice is worthless is so
deeply ingrained and intoxicating that even brilliant people who show know
better like NYU scholar Clay Shirky fall for it. He says: “The system is set up so that
every choice other than ‘R’ or ‘D’ boils down to ‘I defer to the judgement of
my fellow citizens.’ It’s easy to argue that our system shouldn’t work like
that. It’s impossible to argue it doesn’t work like that.” Wow, how brilliant.
Bet you never thought of that before.
others are correct of course that major party candidates will probably always
win the presidential election. But does he seriously believe that third party
votes are nothing more than deference to the judgement of major party voters;
i.e. wasted votes? If so, that’s an absurd position reflecting a profound
misunderstanding of the historic role of third parties in America as both
symbols of resistance to corruption AND as advocates for public policy ideas
that (when we are lucky) the major parties eventually take up. Kevin Zeese believes third party candidates are often "democracy heroes," a view I have much sympathy for. Examples:
In 1844 the
major party candidates were Whig Henry Clay and Democrat James Polk. Clay was
the “lesser evil” because unlike Polk he was hesitant to call for annexation of
the Republic of Texas, a position that would inevitably lead to war with
Mexico. Significantly, both Clay and Polk were slave owners. That year James
Birney ran on the Liberty Party ticket on a strict abolition of slavery
platform, sixteen years before the start of the Civil War.
voters waste their votes?
In 1892 the
Democrats and Republicans fielded two mediocrities: Grover Cleveland and
Benjamin Harrison. That year the new Populist Party nominated James Weaver who
ran on a platform that boldly called out the major parties complicity in
enabling the corrupt capitalism of the time: “The fruits of the toil of
millions are badly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few,
unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of these, in turn,
despise the Republic and endanger liberty.”
Did Weaver voters
waste their votes?
In 1920 women
could for the first time vote for president in all of the states. What were
their establishment party choices? Republicans nominated lightweight Warren
Harding who urged a “return to normalcy” after the tumultuous World War I
years. Democrats nominated Ohio Governor James Cox, a man who supported many
progressive causes but caved in to the anti-immigrant sentiment of the time and
endorsed the “Ake Law” which banned the teaching of German in the schools. He
said that teaching German was “a distinct menace to Americanism.”
In 1920 the
Socialist Eugene Debs ran for president from the prison cell where he was
serving time for speaking out against the war. He received over 900,000 votes, a
dramatic symbol of resistance to the establishment’s war on the Constitution.
voters waste their votes?
Wisconsin’s Fighting Bob LaFollette ran an inspiring third party campaign
against Republican Calvin Coolidge and Democrat John W. Davis (a Democrat who
supported the “separate but equal” doctrine that kept the schools segregated).
LaFollette stood against child labor, for progressive taxation, and for a
wealth of additional measures we today either take for granted or still have
not got to.
LaFollette’s voters waste their votes?
In 1948 another Progressive, former Vice-President (serving under FDR from 1940-144) Henry Wallace, challenged Democrat Harry Truman, Republican Thomas Dewey, and Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond. Wallace earned less than 3 percent of the national vote, but his campaign courageously called for an end to the disgraceful "Un-American Activities Committee." Moreover, he insisted on speaking at integrated rallies, a radical position in racist Jim Crow America.
Did Wallace's voters waste their votes?
many other examples, from environmentalist icon Barry Commoner’s 1980 run with
the Citizens Party to Ralph Nader’s much maligned 2000 Green Party effort. Say
what you want about Nader “spoiling” the election, but the fact remains that a
quarter million registered Democrats in Florida voted for George W. Bush.
Moreover, Nader remains as the only candidate to call for a Marshall Plan to
revive America’s inner cities, a position that the major parties better take up
soon lest we see the continuation of the despair leading to unrest and chaos.
Most of you
reading this rant have probably spent your lives voting for Democrats and Republicans.
You’ll probably be scared into doing it again this year. All I ask is that you
consider what voting for the establishment has gotten us over the last 30 years:
the bipartisan invasion of at least four countries, trade deals that decimated
the USA’s manufacturing base and wages, the abandonment of almost every New
Deal and Great Society program, tax policies that support urban sprawl, deregulation
mania that wrecked the economy, mass incarceration and the militarization of
the police, a massive and unaccountable Homeland Security apparatus, Soviet
style assaults on whistleblowers, health reform written by private insurers and
pharmaceutical companies, and the virtual elimination of competition for most
congressional seats. Meanwhile media censorship of third parties and consequent
low vote count for them keeps reform platforms out of the public eye.
What medium best captures the essence of an event or
even an entire movement? In a YouTube era that gives us all the chance to go
“viral” with our amateur films, it’s tempting to give the nod to privately made
moving images. Indeed the amateurish, grainy cell phone video in the 21st
century seemingly has the power to define moments in ways that the more slickly
produced establishment newspapers, television, radio, and Hollywood films never
could. The fact that the YouTuber, or the live Facebooker, or some other
multimedia video maker generally doesn’t seek monetary profit gives their
creation a kind of authenticity and credibility no longer enjoyed by the greedy
corporate media. Writing for Time.com, Daniel D’Addario argues that the
disturbing Facebook live video of Diamond Reynolds narrating the police murder
of her boyfriend Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, MN may “change how we
experience news” and is a “defining testament of how we live now.”
But just because amateur moving images are
pervasive, often powerful, and perceived as credible does not mean they best
capture the essence of events or movements. That essence, I would argue, is
captured more provocatively by a much older art form: the still photo. The best
recent example is freelance photographer Jonathan Bachman’s photo of
35-year-old Ieshia L. Evans, a nurse and mother who calmly yet assertively
confronted Baton Rouge riot police during a protest of the police killing of
Alton Sterling. The photo, which is simultaneously inspiring and terrifying in
its display of an unarmed African-American woman in a sun dress preparing to be
arrested by officers dressed in full occupying force gear, will many years from
now be seen as a profound example of how the militarization of America’s local
police forces played a key role in the creation of #BlackLivesMatter and other
After the photo went viral, Ms. Evans issued a
statement: "When the police pushed everyone
off the street, I felt like they were pushing us to the side to silence our
voices and diminish our presence. They were once again leveraging their
strength to leave us powerless. As Africans in America we're tired of
protesting that our lives matter, it's time we stop begging for justice and
take a stance for our people. It's time for us to be fearless and take our
power back." [Note: In virtually every online story about Ms. Evans, the comments sections features a slew of fiercely racist remarks that in their ignorance end up proving what #BlackLivesMatter and other activists have been saying about race in America.].
Some observers referred to the photo of Ms. Evans as
“iconic,” and I would agree. Visual rhetoric scholars John Lucaites and Robert Hariman defined iconic photographs: “photographic images produced in print,
electronic, or digital media that are (1) recognized by everyone within a
public culture, (2) understood to be representations of historically
significant events, (3) objects of strong emotional identification and
response, and (4) regularly reproduced or copied across a range of media,
genres, and topics.” The authors analyze a number of iconic photos including
Joe Rosenthal’s raising of the flag on Iwo Jima (taken in 1945), John Filo’s1970 capture of the tragic killing of a
single protester in China going up against a tank. Each one of these
photos not only captured the essence of the historical moment in question, but
also provoked necessary conversations about
America’s commitment to democracy
and human rights. Go to the website readingthepictures.org to see Lucaites’ and
Hariman’s (and other writers’) takes on a wide range of contemporary and older
The 2016 summer Olympics in Brazil reminds me
of my all-time favorite iconic photo: John Dominis’ brilliant capture of USA
track and field medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos defiantly engaged in the
Black Power salute at the 1968 games in Mexico City. The athletes’ action and
the photograph of it occurred in the context of the Cold War in which the
United States promoted itself as the land of freedom and equality in contrast
to the oppressive Soviet Union. Smith and Carlos blew up the USA image, in the
process getting themselves suspended from the games.
John Carlos recently reflected on his Olympic
activism for vox.com. Even though the aftermath was “hell” for him and his
family, Carlos expresses no regrets. In fact he urges contemporary Black
athletes and celebrities to be activists. Of the iconic photo he says this:
“That picture of me and Tommie on
the podium is the modern-day Mona Lisa — a universal image that everyone wants
to see and everyone wants to be related to in one way or another. And do you
know why? Because we were standing for something. We were standing for
If John Carlos is correct, it
suggests that Ieshia Evans’ photo will be featured in books, documentaries, and
other media for many years to come.
Photographer Sally Mann once said that “Photographs open doors into the
past, but they also allow a look into the future.” The beauty of the iconic
photo is that it provokes wide ranging conversation about the past and future.
When we look at John Carlos in 1968 we can see Ieshia Evans in 2016 and vice
versa. Will the photos motivate us to create a better future? Time will tell.
The Walker Era in
Wisconsin has witnessed an unprecedented brain drain as UW faculty and staff
actively seek opportunities to work in states where government leaders value
teaching excellence and the search for truth.
The brain drain
recently hit media studies as Dr. Christopher Terry, a former student of mine
who has been teaching and doing research at UW Milwaukee’s Department of Journalism, Advertising, and Media Studies announced that he had taken a
position as an assistant professor of media ethics and law at the University of
Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Chris is an outstanding
teacher who also does cutting edge research in media law and other areas. He’s
exactly the kind of young teacher/scholar that Wisconsin should be trying to
I asked Chris to
respond to some questions.
Media Rants: What will you miss most about the UW
Milwaukee Department of Journalism, Advertising, and Media Studies?
Chris Terry: I will miss the relationship I had with my students. I feel that one of my
strengths as an instructor is that I can speak to students on their level, and
as a result, I can convey the complicated concepts of media law and policy to
them in a practical way that makes it useful to them.
Media Rants: Describe your new position at the University
In addition to teaching media and advertising law, this position
is a research appointment. My appointment at UWM was primarily a teaching
Media Rants: Back in June of 2014, Alec MacGillis
of the New Republic wrote an article called "The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker." Your quotes in the piece on how Milwaukee area right-wing
radio operates ended up getting you trashed in the wingnut echo chamber. What
has it been like to be the target of the animus of people like Charlie Sykes
and Mark Belling? If you had to do it over again, would you still talk to
Chris Terry: I would do the article/interview again. Although I was heavily criticized for
the things I said, I certainly think that time has proven my prediction about
Walker correct. Although the talk radio hosts (and others beyond Belling and
Sykes) suggested the article and my comments were an attack focused on them, they missed my larger point. Talk radio in this town has
supported Walker most of his career, and although he is an experienced politician,
he hasn't had to regularly deal with a hostile press. I suggested that because
Walker had done such a great job using the friendly outlets that when the
scrutiny of the national press was focused on him, it would be a difficult
challenge for him. By the way, that's exactly what happened.
The hardest part of the whole experience was having people I worked with for
more than a decade pretend they didn't know who I was on the air. It was a bit
surreal, and at one point I actually was texting back and forth with one of my
old co-workers during commercial breaks in an hour where he was in full outrage
mode about the things I was quoted as saying in the piece.
Media Rants: Many people enjoy your Facebook posts that start off
with, "I know journalism is hard work, but . . ." before you launch
into a scathing critique of media sloppiness, under reporting, etc. Why do you
think modern mainstream journalism has so much trouble doing the hard
Chris Terry: I don't believe there's an easy answer to this question. Having been
a member of that media for some time, I can tell you there are always gaps in
the items that will get coverage due to resources or space, but my point in the
"I know journalism is hard work" posts are to point out that
journalism isn't really hard at all. The questions the press should be asking
are very easy to identify, but I think our current class of pundits fears
Journalists have a social responsibility to act as a check and balance on our
elected officials. The best way to do that is ask tough questions of those
officials, and not accept the answers when those answers are obviously spin or
worse. Our current media seems to have forgotten this basic principle.
The questions the press should be asking are very easy to identify, but I think our current class of pundits fears asking them.
Media Rants: Donald Trump is openly contemptuous of the
media, and is the first presidential candidate in my memory to suggest he might
push for limits on the First Amendment. What in your judgement would a Trump or
Clinton presidency mean for media and the First Amendment?
Chris Terry: Both of the major party candidates give me substantial pause when it comes to
free speech issues. Trump has been very forthcoming with his opinions that
libel protections are too strong. When he said that a few months ago, my
response was that I wasn't laughing anymore.
Clinton gives me a different concern. Her husband signed the 1996
Telecommunications Act, which fundamentally restructured our media system by
allowing for massive consolidation of broadcast ownership. In doing so, their
was a substantial loss in the availability and diversity of viewpoints, and the
voices of minorities and women were also heavily reduced. Our society is best
when we, as citizens, have access to the widest range of the diversity of
viewpoints, and a healthy marketplace of ideas can flourish. I'm concerned that
Clinton, like her husband would choose media economics over public service, and
in today's day and age, logically that would mean a reduction in viewpoints on
Media Rants: Your main areas
of expertise are media policy and regulation of new media. What's happening on
those fronts that the average media consumer should be aware of?
Chris Terry: There are three. The first is very wonky, but the spectrum auction
that the FCC is executing is going to restructure our media system over the
next 3-5 years.
The second is the decision about two weeks ago in Prometheus Radio Project vFCC. This case, which is the third round in court, could have the potential to
shake the foundations of the broadcast licensing system to its core,
essentially resetting the last 90 or so years of media regulation. The Third
Circuit warned the FCC that there was a short timeline to develop a new policy
to increase ownership of stations by women and minority groups. The FCC has
been dragging its feet for a decade on this policy, and there's little chance
they can wrap up the proceeding and repair 20 years of regulatory negligence in
a few months. The Circuit suggested that if the agency can't meet the deadline
(essentially the end of this year) the panel would consider throwing out all
media ownership rules, relying on Section 202(h) of the Telecommunication's
But the most important will be the DC's Circuit recently released net
neutrality decision. Every Tuesday and Friday, the collective
telecom nerds gathered waiting for the decision. The FCC's move to reclassify
broadband under Title II was a major move, and the court's upholding of the policy will dictate, probably more than any other single factor, what the
internet will be moving forward. Because the rules were upheld, citizen access to the
internet content will not be controlled by non-state actors. That's a huge
deal. You have no first amendment protection against a private company limiting
your speech or your access to speech. This regulation, which is not without its
problems, will provide a social democratic approach to regulating the
relationship between you and your ISP, and make it hard for them to keep you
away from legal content.
Media Rants wishes Chris Terry the best of luck in his new position!
How much gun violence needs to occur in northeast
Wisconsin before the mainstream media forces meaningful debate about the issue?
Public officials openly sweep the matter under the rug, as in this statement
from Governor Scott Walker after 18-year-old Jakob Wagner opened fire at Antigo
High School and was then himself shot and killed by police:
"It's really trying to address everything from
bullying, to mental health issues, to just how we deal with anger and
aggression in society today. And, again, there's no one thing. There's not one
easy solution. It appears to be a rifle, so unless people are going to ban
hunting, which from even the most extreme I haven't heard much of that talk in
the past, it's pretty clear that that route wouldn't be the answer.”
While waiting for the legislature and governor to
“address everything,” recent history suggests we will continue to address
Lest you think the Jakob Wagner tragedy was unique
in our region, let’s review other local gun events for which we are still
waiting for Mr. Walker and his legislative minions to “address everything”:
*In September of 2013 two men openly carried AR-15 assault
rifles to the Appleton Farmers Market for “self-defense.” Shortly after, a
“cluck or duck” campaign showed the absurdity of the fact that a Wisconsin city
can ban live chickens or other animals at special events, but not guns.
*In March of 2014 a gun was fired at UW Oshkosh Reeve Union during an evening social event. Thankfully no one was hurt.
*In May of 2015, 27-year-old Sergio Valencia del
Toro killed Adam Bentdahl, Jonathan Stoffel, and Jonathan’s 11-year-old
daughter Olivia on the Fox Cities Trestle Trail bridge. As with Jakob Wagner,
del Toro displayed obvious warning signs to his family and acquaintances, but
nothing that would prevent him from owning firearms.
*In September of 2015, 31-year-old Samson Gomoll
committed what prosecutors called “straight-up, cold-blooded murder” when he
shot his girlfriend Stacey Strange at the couple’s apartment on West 10th
Street in Oshkosh. Gomoll had multiple firearms in the apartment including an
AK-47 assault rifle.
*In December of 2015, 46-year-old Brian Flatoff held
hostages at gunpoint at the Eagles Nation Cycle Club in Neenah. The resulting
chaos led to the police killing of the club’s owner Michael Funk. Attorney
General Brad Schimel whitewashed Funk’s death, but a Post-Crescenteditorial lambasted the so-called good guys with
guns: “Something is broken in the Neenah Police Department. The department is
dysfunctional. The leadership is absent.”
*In December of 2015, a man was shot outside of a
business on the 700 block of Oregon St. in Oshkosh. The victim survived but the
identity of the shooter remains unknown.
Why do we live like this? Or maybe the better question
is why do we allow our citizens to die like this? From a media perspective, the
short answer is that the establishment press is unable or unwilling to sustain
a debate about gun rights and the Second Amendment that might last longer than
an evening of local or cable news. A missing airplane or the latest Donald
Trump inanity can get weeks or even months’ worth of obsessive reporting and
commentary. Gun journalism appears mostly after a tragedy, but then usually to
remind us why nothing can be done given the politics of the issue.
What would a sustained debate about how to handle
gun violence look like? I think a great starting point would be the position
taken by former US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens in his 2014 book Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change
the Constitution. After presenting an exhaustive look at the history of the
Second Amendment, Stevens demonstrates persuasively that the Amendment was
designed to prevent the federal government from interfering with the power of
each state to ensure that its militias were “well regulated,” and to protect
the individual right of gun ownership for persons actually serving in a state
militia. Stevens then suggests five extra words that can “fix” the Second Amendment
(Stevens changes are in italics):
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the
security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be
Many NRA members and others who continually
obfuscate any meaningful gun discussion will insist that Stevens is wrong on
his Second Amendment history. But what if he is right? The function of an
ethical media (I realize “ethical media” is somewhat oxymoronic in our time) is
to break through the obfuscation and provoke intelligent debate. If Stevens’
provocative suggestion could get more national media attention, candidates for
state and federal office could continually be challenged to argue for or
against it. That won’t solve our gun problem overnight, but it would at least
put an end to the “gun debate free zone” that’s held sway for too long.
than a year ago, the dominant corporate media narrative regarding presidential
campaign 2016 predicted the inevitable coronation of Jeb Bush and Hillary
Clinton as the nominees of their respective parties. Back then, the major
challenger to Jeb was supposed to be our own Scott Walker, and few in the
establishment thought that Bernie Sanders would last until the Wisconsin
primary (let alone win it).
the voters elected not to cooperate with the establishment narrative,
Wisconsin’s April 5th primary took on an added significance. The
national media gave much attention to our state, and for the first time in
months people across the country associated Wisconsin with more than just Making a Murderer, beer and cheese, and
the Green Bay Packers.
are some takeaways from what will go down as one of Wisconsin’s more memorable
Reince and Beans: The Chair of
the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, is a Wisconsin guy and big
Scott Walker fan. Reince and the RNC created a 2016 primary calendar tailor
made for Walker: they front-loaded the calendar with deep red states that
should have been open to the Wisconsin governor’s brand of conservatism, and
they made sure Wisconsin was the only state to vote on April 5th,
something blatantly designed to give Walker a national platform six months
before the general election. As it turned out, Reince’s maneuvering wasn’t
worth a hill of beans. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz outflanked Walker on the right
wing, stealing all of the attention and votes in the red states; Walker’s campaign
ended barely 70 days in. A primary process designed to pacify the Koch Brothers
and other big donors while quelling dissent within the party ends up on a path
toward the most fractious nominating convention in GOP history.
Dems Felt The Bern, But Not The Burg: Bernie
Sanders’ campaign is rooted in the idea that social change only comes about
through the power of grassroots movements. In fact when challenged as to how he
will get anything done as president, Sanders insists that millions of people
will come to Washington and pressure the congress, whose members will have no
choice but to succumb to the “political revolution” staring them in the face.
gave Sanders a great chance to put the revolutionary strategy into practice.
Would he be able to get his energetic supporters to turn out for state Supreme
Court candidate Joanne Kloppenburg, the progressive challenger to Rebecca
Bradley, the right wing judge appointed to the court by Scott Walker? As it
turned out, no. True, Kloppenburg was outspent and was the victim of some nasty
special interest advertising, but the disturbing fact remains that thousands of
people who voted for Sanders (or Clinton) did not vote in the supreme court
race. You’d think that advocates for a political revolution, if they intend to
be anything more than human campaign slogans, would be able to educate voters
about the consequences of “undervoting.”
Right Wing Talk Radio and Civility: Given his
national appeal to alienated, low income white voters with less formal
education, Donald Trump should have done well in Wisconsin. At the national
level, Trump’s campaign has been boosted among such voters by right wing radio
icon Rush Limbaugh and his mini-mees like Sean Hannity. In Wisconsin however,
right wing radio turned against Trump (who in their alternative universe is
somehow “liberal” compared to other GOP candidates).
wing radio in Wisconsin is led by Republican hosts comfortable with the GOP
establishment and big donors for whom Trump has displayed mostly contempt.
These hosts called out Trump for his lack of civility, the irony and hypocrisy
of which was somehow lost on the national media. Trump is an obnoxious bore, it
is true, but right wing radio in Wisconsin is about as a civil as a hungry
piranha fish. They make their living off of demonizing liberals, union members,
and anyone else who opposes their agenda.
Voter ID Will Serve Its Purpose: On the evening
of the primary, our own Congressman Glenn Grothman argued that Ted Cruz or
Donald Trump could be the first Republican to win Wisconsin in a general
election since 1984 because "Hillary Clinton is one of the
weakest candidates they ever put up, and now we have photo ID, and I think
photo ID is gonna make a little bit of a difference as well."This means that Grothman believes
every Democrat who’s won Wisconsin since 1988 benefited from voter fraud; if he
does believe that he should be calling for congressional hearings. Or, and more
likely, he believes that voter ID will suppress Democratic votes just enough to
allow the GOP to prevail in a close election. Some are angry at Rep. Grothman
for his comments, but he probably should be thanked for confirming what voter
ID opponents have suspected for years: the law is not about fraud (of which
there is negligible evidence in Wisconsin), but about helping Republicans
Missed Opportunities: The national
media staked out in Wisconsin for two solid weeks before the election. That
should have been a great opportunity to get candidates to go on the record
about critical issues facing the state. Instead we heard mostly talking points
culled from stump speeches, with little Wisconsin focus. What a shame.
Like large numbers of Netflix subscribers, I binge watched Laura Ricciardi
and Moira Demos’ “Making a Murderer.” Before watching the series, my knowledge
of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey was similar to most Wisconsinites: I knew
that Avery spent 18 years in jail for a crime the Innocence Project proved he
did not commit, got released with much fanfare and not too long afterwards was
convicted of murdering young photographer Teresa Halbach. The evidence against
the hapless Dassey never seemed as strong, but I remember in 2006 being
convinced by prosecutor Ken Kratz’s media presentations that he was probably
guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
After watching the series I’m not quite ready to say that I think Avery/Dassey
are innocent or even that enough reasonable doubt exists to warrant a new trial.
But I am troubled by two things. First, in hindsight it is now clear that media
coverage (especially television) of the Avery arrest and trial in 2006 and 2007
was awful. Second and more important, outrageous wrongful convictions are
something that people of color in American have had to deal with for many
generations. Why has there been so little public outrage at that fact?
On the awfulness of the media: some of the most cringe inducing scenes
in “Making a Murderer” involve press conferences with prosecutor Ken Kratz.
Most of the so-called journalists in the room come off as deer caught in
headlights; they seemed unable or unwilling to press the prosecutor to support
his statements. The most egregious example occurred on March 2, 2006 when Kratz held a press conference providing lurid details about how Ms. Halbach was
brutally raped, stabbed, shot, and burned to death by Avery and Dassey. The
press conference, which included charges for which Kratz did not have evidence and were ultimately not what Avery was convicted of, succeeded in making it next to impossible to impanel a jury that did not
already have an impression of the case. Because media outlets across the state
chose to report Kratz’s comments, Avery’s attorneys saw no benefit to asking to
move the trial out of Manitowoc County.
In fairness to the media, they could not have known in 2006 that Mr.
Kratz would turn out to be a major league dirtbag. On the other hand,
Journalism 101 should have taught them to be more inquisitive before becoming
mouthpieces for the prosecution, especially given what we now know were highly questionable methods used to extract a confession from Dassey.
What about the lack of public outrage over wrongful convictions? Given
the massive public outrage as regards Avery’s case (over a half million people
signed an online petition asking President Obama to pardon him—something he has
no power to do), you would think that wrongful convictions are rare. Not so.
Reporting about the National Registry of Exonerations, the New York Times said that, “A record 149 people in the United States
were found in 2015 to have been falsely convicted of a crime, and of those,
nearly 4 in 10 were exonerated of murder . . . All told, its researchers have
recorded 1,733 exonerations since 1989.” Five of the convicts exonerated in
2015 were facing death sentences, which should make even the most ardent pro death
penalty advocates pause and reconsider their position. None of the exonerated individuals
were the topics of documentaries, media sensationalism, or petition drives, yet
the injustice against them was every bit as great as what happened to Avery for
18 years and what some believe is happening to him again.
African-Americans face the most blatant injustices in the system. According to criminal justice reporter Michael McLaughlin: “There's no
way to know for sure, of course, but data about wrongful convictions show that
blacks who are exonerated after a bogus conviction have served 12.68 years on
average before the good news, according to Pamela Perez, professor of
biostatistics at Loma Linda University. It takes just 9.4 years for whites and
7.87 for Latinos.”
White Americans sometimes
get involved in efforts to raise awareness of the plight of African-American
inmates falsely accused. Probably the best historic example was the case of
Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, the boxer whose quest for freedom took off after a
book and a Bob Dylan song raised public awareness. Mumia Abu Jamal and Assata Shakur have whites supporting them, but primarily in the activist community.
Would “Making a Murderer,” and Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, be
getting so much open show of support if the parties accused were Black? The
painful truth is probably not. Let’s close with a reworking of Paul McCartney
and Stevie Wonder’s “Ebony and Ivory.”
Ebony and Avery covered
differently on the ‘Net and TV
Since 1976 Sonoma State University’s
Project Censored has challenged the news media to meet their First Amendment
responsibilities. Annually the Project compiles a volume of news stories
"underreported, ignored, misrepresented, or censored in the United
States.” Walter Cronkite said that “Project Censored is one of the
organizations that we should listen to, to be assured that our newspapers and
our broadcasting outlets are practicing thorough and ethical journalism.” Bestselling
author and activist Naomi Wolf asserts that, “Project Censored is a lifeline to
the world’s most urgent and significant stories.”
Censored is famous for its nontraditional definition of censorship, referring to it
as “anything that interferes with the free flow of information in a society
that purports to have a free press.” They argue that censorship includes not
just stories that were never published, but also “those that get such
restricted distribution that few in the public are likely to know about them.”
Censored 2016: Media Freedom on the Line(Seven
Stories Press) continues the Project’s annual exploration of what a panel of
judges determines to be the top 25 most censored stories of the year. The top
three are (1) “Half of global wealth owned by the 1 percent,” (2) “Oil industry
illegally dumps fracking wastewater,” and (3) “89 percent of Pakistani drone
victims not identifiable as militants.” I’d say that #3 is a good answer to the
question “why do they hate us?” In fact, just about every story covered by
Project Censored is an answer to the question of why there is so much despair
and tension in the world. If mainstream media met its responsibility to give
the stories proper treatment, we would of course not see an end to despair and
tension. But we WOULD see less ignorance and confusion about the causes of
trouble in the world, and less ignorance always leads to more positive action
on behalf of reform.
the years when I have written about Project Censored, some readers have
responded by saying that the organization’s approach to censorship seems too
conspiratorial. Such readers argue that news media can only cover so much given
time and space constraints, and to favor some stories over others probably has
more to do with commercial pressures and “giving the audience what it wants”
rather than actively “censoring” certain stories. I think there is some
legitimacy to that critique; the northeast Wisconsin corporate media wall to
wall Packer coverage for 20 to 30 weeks out of the year probably has more to do
with a ratings calculation as opposed to news directors willingly dumbing down
the audience’s knowledge of critical labor, political, environmental and other
challenges facing regional communities.
censorship is the simply result of journalistic laziness. My spouse Lori and I
recently experienced the consequences of journalistic laziness when she decided
to take out nomination papers to run in the April election for Oshkosh Common
Council. When she took out the papers in December, she was told by the Oshkosh
City Clerk’s office that she needed to obtain 200-400 signatures by January 5th.
When I asked my friend and former Oshkosh Mayor Paul Esslinger if he could get
some signatures, he pointed out that the requirement was actually 100-200
signatures. Republican Senator Rick Gudex and Republican Representative Jeremy
Thiesfeldt were able to get the law changed so as to promote the entry of more
candidates in city council races. When Lori showed up to get her 120 signatures
certified on January 4th, she was told by the Clerk’s office that
the requirement for Oshkosh was still 200-400 signatures; for some unclear
reason they believed the law did not apply in a place represented by one of its
chief sponsors (Senator Gudex). Even the
members of the Oshkosh Common Council we contacted about the signature
requirement were not aware of the law. On the morning of January 5th,
the Clerk’s office contacted Lori to say that they called the Government Accountability
Board in Madison and that in fact the requirement was 100-200 signatures. Lori
will be on the ballot in April. We will never know if potential candidates were
deterred from running because they were given inaccurate information.
the Clerk’s office should know the law. But the real problem in my judgement
was that the Gannett press, local television and local radio simply did an
awful job of reporting on the impending campaign season and the requirements
for running. These are the same media who regularly lament the shortage of
would argue that the mass media minimization of the enthusiasm for Bernie
Sanders’ presidential campaign was the most censored national story of 2015.
Sanders has spoken to record crowds, raised huge amounts of money from mostly
small donations, and completely shifted the Democratic Party primary debate to
the left. He also polls well against any Republican nominee. All that, and yet for the New York Times and other establishment media, Sanders is virtually
OneNew York Times article quoted a
senior citizen Trump supporter who said that “This electionis the first in my life where we can change what it means
to be a Republican.” Memo to the Times:
the same is true for the Democrats this year—your readers would know that if
you would stop censoring Bernie’s campaign!