Judy, Barbara And Juan: Random Thoughts About A Journalism-Filled Holiday Weekend

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.

Asante Sana, Askia Muhammad

I was so happy to try to give him his journalistic flowers while he was here.

FEBRUARY 27th UPDATE: The Final Call’s tribute can be found here and here.

MARCH 5th UPDATE:

APRIL 2nd UPDATE: Coverage of the above event can be found here and here.

My Reaction, Re: “Reveal”‘s “Mississippi Goddam”

I have no doubt that Al Letson poured his heart and soul into this investigation. His rage contained but explained, he and the other investigative journalist connected the dots well to the veteran Black police investigator who, for whatever reason, put cuffs on himself, who decided not to go the extra mile. Even in the “woke” era, no one dares the individual neck weight-pressure of the historic foot but those who will also risk being marginalized, un-alphabetized (ABC, MSNBC, and on)–and these Mississippi gunshots raced into history before then. This was a rare case because of the complete set of uncovered facts–the results of “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” “dozens of staffers” and “three years,” went Leston’s refrain throughout the almost two months. The sad sum was silences old and new. So now what? The public-radio medium’s constraints needed–and got–Letson’s Broadway showmanship to be powerfully pulled into the servicing of Billey Joe Williams. There could have been angrier, more sardonic ways to end Reveal’s report, but such a stand would not help anyone directly involved and perhaps instead only create national psychic reverb, causing dainty cups and saucers to smash, destroying a good brunch in the den or the Saturday-afternoon soccer-practice drive. More cuffs. 😦

My Quick Thoughts About “In The Heights”


a) Lin-Manuel Miranda reminds me how Ta-Nehisi Coates described Barack Obama: an activist, not a protester. (Nice move he made with NPR’s Maria Hinojosa to get some intellectual/activist cred! :)) This is the most thoroughly gentle–even if ever-present!–film portrayal of systemic white supremacy I’ve seen on film. Miranda, who loves 20th-century white popular culture at least as much as I do 🙂 , does NOT want to upset Whitey, EVER. 🙂 Having said that, I enjoyed seeing the undocumented struggle included in this. It shows how, like Coates, he is VERY careful. 
b) This story is highly cultural–very BROWN, the way Hamilton is (ironically!) very WHITE. (I can see Miranda on that Heights vacation, reading that Ron Chernow bio and going: “Yes! I can now go completely in a new and opposite direction, like an artist should! Past instead of presentwhite instead of Black/Brown, historical narrative instead of love letter, naked, individual ambition instead of family/community survival, birth of a nation instead of death of a neighborhood!”) As a concept, Hamilton makes a LOT of sense to me now. You can clearly see the themes in both New York-centric, immigrant-centric musicals that attract Miranda–the power of personal drive and dreams with/versus sacrificial commitment to family and community, etc.
c) Whether it is culturally stereotypical I will leave for Brown people to discuss. To this outsider, it looks like he’s trying to hit EVERY cultural mark. 
d) Because Hamilton was first for me, this seemed like a workshop to test out the style he would perfect with the slaveholders. 🙂

JUNE 12th UPDATE: So now that I’ve laid my issues on the table, I will admit he’s a FREAKIN’ GENIUS!!! Have you seen the teaser (below) for his directorial debut?!? And the Oscar goes to…. 😉 The year 2021 is only halfway through, and he’s already its savior!! LOL!!!