Watching and, frankly, enjoying the unapologetically hagiographic network television tributes to the semi-retired Judy Woodruff and newly-deceased Barbara Walters over the weekend, and then waking up to this Juan Gonzalez speech on Democracy Now!, shows how stark differences in mainstream American journalism can be–or at least, used to be, pre-Web and pre-1,000 channels. I accept my membership in Juan’s camp. But it’s clear to do today and tomorrow what he did means using Substack, etc. Effective mainstream journalism has this weird history of coming out of the American muckraking and capitalist traditions, and the millions made by mass advertising created a lot of space for approaches that don’t exist today. So you have to make them yourself, the way I.F. Stone and those folks did.
What’s also interesting to me is how in America, “alternative” spaces, if created by middle-class whites, can eventually become mainstream–or, as some critics of the mainstream would say, co-opted. We remember that at its creation almost 50 years ago, The MacNeil/Lehrer Report and All Things Considered, the newsmagazine of National Public Radio, were silent critiques of, and alternatives to, commercial mainstream news. (Note that among NPR’s alumni is former Philadelphia radio journalist and now Leftist legend Mumia Abu-Jamal.) Almost 30 years ago, Democracy Now! was a radical, almost anarchist critique of the million-dollar media institution it now is. 😉 I guess it now sees itself through that Gonzalez lens of outsider-within-the-inside. Which makes me think: is the middle-class, millionaire blond public television anchor Judy Woodruff just a “purer” version of her commercial counterpart, the long-ago-gone-Hollywood Barbara Walters? It’s a good, fair question.
In 2023 and beyond, more and more truthtellers must struggle with Amiri Baraka’s words, applied to race but easily, in this monochromatic circumstance, given to class:
I know it’s hard to be Black, and we’re all controlled by white folks.
[W.E.B.] Du Bois said we always have the double consciousness.
We’re trying to be Black, and meanwhile you got a white ghost hovering over your head that says, “If you don’t do this, you’ll get killed. If you don’t do this, you won’t get no money. If you don’t do this, nobody’ll think you’re beautiful. If you don’t do this, nobody’ll think you’re smart.”
That’s the ghost.
You’re trying to be Black and the ghost is telling you to be a ghost.
I appreciate Walters intervening Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. But I appreciate more that she said a few years ago that in today’s commercial news media climate, no one would care about it. I will appreciate what Woodruff soon will teach me about parts of America of which I know nothing. But I still see ghosts in my TV tube. And with money and stardom on the line, very few Juan Gonzalez-es who will challenge powerful people like Woodruff’s and Walters’ employers.