'We're talking about remodeling the furniture in the house, while the house is burning down'...
By Brad Friedman on 4/2/2008, 6:35am PT  

As mentioned last Friday, over the weekend, I spoke at CA Common Cause's "Media Reform Conference" out in Pasadena. The panel discussion, "Have the media undermined our democracy?" included myself, along with Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-CA), Alex Nogales of National Hispanic Media Coalition, Jonathan Taplin of USC Annenberg School of Comm. and Kevin Uhrich of the Pasadena Weekly. It was moderated by Tracy Westen of the Center for Governmental Studies.

The short video of my opening remarks, naming names and doing what I do, along with my comments on the panel --- naming still more names and still doing what I do --- during the Q&A section, follows below. Text transcript (courtesy of VelvetRevolution's Emily Levy), follows below that...

Text transcript of the remarks follows below...

CA Common Cause "Media Reform Conference"
California Inst. of Technology, March 29, 20098
Panel: "Have the Media Undermined Our Democracy?"

Opening remarks by panelist, Brad Friedman
Transcribed from video by Emily Levy

I'm Brad Friedman from BRADBLOG.com. [Applause.] You three are the ones who read it! [Laughter.]

The title of this panel is, "Have The Media Undermined Our Democracy?" I submitted my written testimony at BRAD BLOG yesterday on that question, the answer being "Yes" with many exclamation marks. That's the end of my testimony on that. [Laughter.]

I will disagree slightly with Kevin [Uhrich]. Not "a little bit," but yes, in a big, big way. You will know that I have been successful in my quest when I no longer appear at these panels. I'm working assiduously every day to put myself out of business.

The polite conversation here at these conferences, the FCC discussions, in Congress [gesture to Congresswoman Solis], is very important. But I'm here to say that it has not worked. And this situation is so much worse than we can possibly even discuss today --- this coming from someone who is on the ground dealing with what's going on in our democracy, dealing with the media outlets, the corporate media outlets, the mainstream media outlets, talking to the reporters who are just desperate --- and it's really bad. And the effect on our democracy is really, really bad.

I've been called --- I cover, at BRAD BLOG, I cover a lot of democracy issues, election reform and so forth --- I've been called one of the Paul Reveres of the election integrity movement. Though I have a blog that reaches the whole wide world, Paul Revere had an advantage over me: he had a horse. And if I had one and if I could, I would ride it down these stairs yelling, "The corporate mainstream media has failed! The corporate mainstream media has failed!" If there are any media here covering this today they would probably take a photograph of that and that would make its way onto the newspapers.

We are, there are fights going on at the margins --- and I consider the FCC, I consider Congress, I consider these discussions really to be on the margins --- while in the meantime the corporate mainstream media has a crunch that is proceeding like a bulldozer over our democracy. It is, as I say, much worse than we can possibly discuss here this afternoon.

The old way of fighting, I think, no longer works. The panel discussions, the Congressional debates, the academic studies. Folks, the bad guys have figured out how to game all of those. In fact, an FCC study we just covered that this week at BRAD BLOG (more info here), an FCC study about this very issue --- whether or not cross-ownership has affected media bias and so forth --, they have figured out they can go to certain academics who are happy to report to them anything that needs to be said. One of them is a fellow by the name of Professor Jeffrey Milyo at the University of Missouri who did a study for the FCC and said that everything is fine, media cross-ownership has not affected the debate at all, there is no bias in the media since cross media ownership. And he did this by creating a study looking at three days on local media prior to the 2006 election and seeing what they were covering. And he had a choice of partisan issues that they were sort of ticking off as far as what was covered. One of those partisan issues was the Iraq war. And if they spoke about the Iraq war on the local news, that was considered a Democratic issue. And so all of the discussion about the Iraq war in the days leading up to the 2006 election proved to this academic that Democrats are having their issues covered just fine. [Laughter.]

These are the academic studies. Of course, Jeffrey Milyo last week testified before Congress on whether photo ID is detrimental or not and he says, of course, what do you know? 'No, it's not. It's fine. You can ask for photo ID at the polling place. It'll be no problem.' [more info here]

So all of these institutions: the media, the government, the interest groups, the academic studies have all have all become compromised. It is, I feel, up to the people to hold them accountable. [Applause.]

I feel I have a responsibility to point out that Common Cause, even, their slogan is "Holding Power Accountable." Quite often we use the slogan at BRAD BLOG: "Holding Common Cause Accountable." We must hold each other accountable because the media has completely failed their first amendment obligation to hold anybody accountable.

So we must hold each other accountable. The media has become a glorified PR unit where they basically report, 'One guy says this, the other guy says this, oh, who knows? The answer must be somewhere in the middle.' No. The answer can be discovered and it must be reported. We try to do that every day at BRAD BLOG and I try to encourage the mainstream corporate media who is, as you hear Kevin, and I talk to these folks every day, they're desperate. They don't know what to do. Might I suggest they start reporting the news. [Applause.] That they start reporting what's going on. It's not a "he said/she said" story, it's not a red/blue, it's not a right/left, there is a truth and we need to start reporting it. It is provable. We can do that. We must do that. It is our responsibility.

I will end with a quote that the great whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers wrote at The BRAD BLOG. He had to write this at BRADBLOG.com. [Laughter.] Not the New York Times, not the Washington Post, but at BRAD BLOG. This was in reply to a woman, an FBI whistleblower who has been trying to get out her word about what she heard while working at the FBI after 9/11 that involves, her allegations that she heard discussion of high-level --- and I'm talking the number three in the State Department --- officials, who were allowing our nuclear secrets to be sold to foreign countries. This seems notable to me. Apparently not to the New York Times or the Washington Post. So Ellsberg, who has called her story --- her name is Sibel Edmonds, you can read about it at BRAD BLOG, not at the New York Times [more info here]-- he has called her story "far more explosive than The Pentagon Papers."

He wrote: "It is a measure of how far the New York Times and Washington Post have fallen from their responsibilities since I gave them the Pentagon Papers in 1971. They printed them then. Would they today?...If freedom of the press is mainly for the people who own the presses, it is time for those owners to stop using that freedom to conceal official wrongdoing....Such activities (wrongdoing by government officials like this) persists covertly to the point of national disaster because the press neglects what our First Amendment was precisely intended to protect and encourage it to do: to expose wrongdoing by officials."

If they won't, we will. I hope you will join me. We've got to change this mess. [Cheers, applause.]


[Later...During the Q&A]

Can I speak to one point, a couple [of folks] have been making? Thank you. And, by the way, thank you for waving your hands to get your question in. I would like to see more of that. The, just one, very briefly. There have been some questions about diversity --- gender diversity, racial diversity and so on and so forth --- and at risk of, I don't know, perhaps even incurring the wrath of my friend, the great Lila Garrett of KPFK here [gesture to Lila in audience], let me point out that I don't, I don't think we have the luxury to concern ourselves, in a certain sense, with these things, as important as they are.

We're talking about remodeling the furniture in the house while the house is burning down. [Applause.]

Where if Lippman said that we have to melodramatize these things, let me melodramatize the conflict here. [Laughter.]

We've, we're in a war without end. I don't know how we get out of it. I blame the media. Everybody in this room is being listened to and has their internet read every day. [Applause.] I blame the media. We have torture. We have thrown out the Constitution and called it "quaint." I blame the media. [Applause.] These are the things that I think we need to figure out how to deal with instead of enjoying the luxury of concerning ourselves at the margins...for now.

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