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The 2006 National Media Reform Conference Ignored the Greatest Threat to its Existence

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Message andi novick
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I am a media reform activist. I have devoted the last few years of my life to this work - to the exclusion of just about everything else. I believe that the corporate control of the media is the greatest threat to democracy because without a fourth estate letting us know what the bums are up to, how can we be truly self governing. And because media corporations contribute to the escalation of the costs to run an election by raking in huge profits through campaign ads and being satisfied that the issues have thus been covered, not only wouldn't we know why we should vote for candidate A or candidate B, but why would we care: In most cases either candidate can't represent the people's interests, so beholden is he/she to the moneyed interests that put him/her there. I believe that the control of the information is destroying the republic and so I have made media reform my movement.

But now we have a new threat, even greater than the disinformation which is the media. We have the greatest theft of our democracy going on in the few short years since our government thrust upon us the Help America Vote (for Us) Act (and that Us has nothing to do with Us the people): The theft of our electoral system; the wholesale change from a system where we counted our votes to a system where private companies have been legislated to deprive us of the right to control our own elections. That's not just another example of the media not providing us with the information we need: That's the end of self government. But you don't know something this devastating is happening if you just read MSM and you wouldn't know it was happening if you spent the weekend at the Media Reform Conference.

I will continue to work hard in the media reform movement, but I don't know how to talk to my movement. I don't know how to tell it- you're missing the big picture and it's going to destroy us. If we can't throw the bums out of office, what are we working towards? What are we going to reform? Who is going to feel pressured by our organizing? If the fix is in they don't have to care. So what are we doing proceeding as if it is business as usual? We can't keep working within the system when the system is about to self destruct. Any vote cast on a DRE (touch screen voting machine) has the potential to be stolen and the government has admitted as much. It makes no difference whether that DRE has a paper trail attached to it or not. If we don't deal with these DREs now, 2008 will mark the end of our media reform work (and everyone else's reform work). BTW, it's not that I'm advocating for Optical Scans, I'm just focusing on the larger evil.

When I saw Danny Schechter's article in Common Dreams, http://www.commondreams.org/views07/0115-25.htm, I felt less alone in my frustration with my media reform companions. The most telling thing Danny wrote was that our media reform movement has yet to really threaten power. He wrote that:

".....Media Reform as a concept has been narrowed in scope and focused on legislative lobbying by lawyers and professionals inside the beltway, narrowed to a series of buzzwords like "net neutrality," turned into a support group for two good but potentially co-optable FCC Commissioners and "pragmatic" members of Congress, "big names" in show biz and politics but with only a handful of grass roots leaders.

Shouldn't we debate what we are or are not accomplishing? Was the recent net neutrality compromise acceptable---a guarantee on the part of AT&T's least used platform and, then, only for two years? Was that really the big victory it was hyped as? One activist engaged in that fight says scholars have documented a long history of Telecom companies making promises to win rate hikes and then never fulfilling them. Is this more of the same? Are we being deluded in hopes that a Democratic Congress will somehow save us?

There were many panelists attacking the media coverage of the war. "Press Scolded on Iraq War Coverage" was how the Memphis Commercial Appeal headlined their report. But were we there just to scold-something I have been doing with books and my film WMD for years? Where was the action-a march? a confrontation?-any plan for a activist campaign to try to change the disgraceful media coverage? That was, in military parlance, AWOL-Absent Without Leave.

How do we get other issues more attention in the news-especially Election reform? It was not discussed."

This was my response to Danny's article which was posted to his blog, Dissector Daily Forum Debate:

Not simply election reform, as if just one more issue--but the untold "issue" of the end of self-government. 3,000 media reformers and how many knew or cared that just last month the federal government acknowledged that the machines we are forced (by the Orwellian Help America Vote Act) to vote on "are vulnerable to errors and fraud and cannot be made secure" (that from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, technical advisor to the HAVA created Election Commission). It's one thing to talk about the media's failure to keep the public aware of issues with the result that people don't know why they should vote for one candidate over the other or the issue of money in politics keeping anyone you'd want to vote for out of the running. It's the greatest crime of our history --the theft and end of our electoral system -- that is being ignored not only by corporate media, but it would appear, by the media reform movement as well- the very people who should grasp this and see the devastation it will cause to its movement as well as to the republic.

Without a massive out pouring of all our collective energies on this single issue, 2008 will be stolen back (this time the theft will be sufficient to overcome the numbers who voted against the republican party) and then what? Revolution? When from the audience in one session, I raised the possibility that we were losing the forest for the trees: That if we didn't focus on this huge threat which will undermine all our other efforts to reform anything, we'd be left with our only option being revolution, one of the panelists, who I truly admire and respect responded that all issues were equally important and what's wrong with a revolution. I know she didn't mean to trivialize what I was saying, but what's wrong with taking this one shot we have in 2007 and trying to avoid the horrors of a revolution?

If people who I know understand better than anyone else that the media's lies or suppression of facts is destroying democracy; people who I consider to be more knowledgeable, insightful and brilliant than the rest of us, can't see the need to even listen to the evidence, what hope is there for any of us?

I left the conference despondent as was my colleague who'd traveled with me to Memphis. We were struggling to understand how this could have happened? The system as we know it is about to collapse and if it does it won't be coming back very soon, if at all. Not a highly functioning system -- this power emanates from the people and we exercise that right through our ballot-- but the only one we have. Or had! And all these people who I so admire were talking about how we should continue fighting within that very system that is about to end. I'm not talking about fighting for the right to radio and television when they are quickly becoming obsolete. I'm talking about our movement's strategy of pressuring a government that no longer will have to listen at all: Why listen if you can stay in office just by rigging the election? Who are we going to lobby? Who can we threaten with our collective pressure? You can't throw the bums out if the bums are the ones counting our votes. Or not counting our votes!

I spent some time today listening to part of Martin Luther King's speech in Memphis. My mind just kept thinking about what he was doing so effectively: civil disobedience-- challenging the system. Boycotting the system. Resisting the system. I'm not saying one always has to reject working within the system. But when all our strategies revolve around pressuring a system that has no reason to respond, then we need new strategies.

Millions of Americans forced to vote on DREs (touch screen computers) which the government now admits are readably hackable. The government acknowledges that it has forced us to vote on machines that are vulnerable to theft. The evidence of theft reported by scores of highly respected independent journalists is overwhelming. Gearing up for 2008 on these machines that take away the people's ability to ensure the integrity of their election by letting the private company voting machines vendors count our votes and not a peep!

In another session I asked Robert McChesney, a man I revere for his insight and visionary thoughtfulness, how are we going to do our media reform work if Americans vote on these designed-to-steal-your-vote machines in 2008 and the machines indeed fix that election? To my horror, he refers me, as if by way of offering the solution to the problem and question I'd posed, to the work of Common Cause and Chellie Pingree who shared the panel with him. Common Cause supports the Holt Amendment, whose solution to our being forced to surrender our right to cast a vote in our own hand by being required to touch a screen and pray that the black box inside the machine isn't rigged or broken, is to add a voter verifiable paper trail to these corrupt DREs. Adding a paper trail doesn't protect our votes. Researchers at Princeton University's Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP) recently released a study confirming that the software on these DREs could be programmed so that the electronic and paper records produced by the voting machine would agree--and both be wrong!

The Holt legislation, unless amended as proposed at least by the Request by Voters, http://www.democracyfornewhampshire.com/node/view/3223, not only will not prevent the theft of the 2008 election, but would assist the fraud by giving the DREs the appearance of legitimacy.

I left this conference feeling like the movement that had such potential had become part of the problem. The loss of our ability to vote; the end of self-government in the United States was just one more issue that when raised by participants at panels (there were others besides me) was treated with a disinterest that left me numb. There was no time on the agenda to discuss this subsumingly important issue that MSM has so conveniently ignored. There was no room to discuss the problem and the feeling of many of us who have studied the issue that Common Cause is doing more harm in its support of the Holt Amendment and in keeping other voices silenced. I thought if I can't get media reform activists to hear, who is going to?

I had joined the media reform movement because I realized that the impact of the control of the media by a few was brainwashing my fellow citizens so that no one could hear. Now I wasn't being heard by the very people I had joined with to alert the others. I felt like I was in a nightmare.

That was the end of my blog response. I've had the day to think about it and I think the ineffectiveness of "legislative lobbying by lawyers and professionals inside the beltway", as Danny so aptly put it, is unacceptable. In the spirit of the memory of the day that just passed - let's all go visit Congressman Holt. Let's tell him we appreciate that he's trying to help, but his legislative solution left over from the last Congress has become obsolete. We know that attaching a paper trail to DREs won't prevent the theft of any vote cast on a DRE and he needs to see the evidence so he'll know his legislation has to be amended. I understand people have tried, but have been unable to gain an audience with Mr. Holt. It's time to take a page from Cindy Sheehan's book.
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Andi Novick Election Transparency Coalition, www.etcnys.org, http://nylevers.wordpress.com/
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