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June 7, 2012

Dissecting the News Dissector: "Blogothon: Reflections and Revelations from the News Dissector "

By Marta Steele

Dissecting the News Dissector: Review of Blogothon: Reflections and Revelations from the News Dissector by Danny Schechter


Dissecting the News Dissector:

Review of 

Blogothon: Reflections and Revelations from the News Dissector

by Danny Schechter

"It's all about target[ing] the banksters on Wall Street as well as the politicians that do their bidding."

"Ideology has become a substitute for clear thinking while posturing and polarization define the issues of our times, leading to a stalemate and paralysis."   

"[T]he struggle is my life."--Nelson Mandela

"[T]elling untold stories moves audiences to care and to act."

     What follows is a laudatory review of an excellent selection of blogs documenting and commenting on events that occurred in 2010-2011, referring always backward and forward, of course, from the McCarthy era to Election 2012. And earlier and later ("the future").

Edward R. Murrow, who busted Senator Joe McCarthy's "crusade against communism" (see the film Good Night and Good Luck if you haven't already) was Danny Schechter's mentor, exemplifying journalism at its finest, which involves changing the world for the better. Power of the word and film and the encompassing profession.

Schechter's collection spans issues and events from the Financial Crisis, Media Coverage, "Politics and Politricks," Culture and Resistance, Foreign Travel, and the cataclysm that lifted Apartheid in South Africa, the author's favorite country--he was there when it happened, filming for tv and movies, as well as narratives ever since that always shed new light on the event and surrounding history.

The blogs of this co-founder of Globalvision, which aims to provide coverage of the entire news free of infotainment--the latest shade of blonde adorning Lady Gaga's head, for instance, or the one package of events that adorns all network newscasts give or take a few words--do indeed span the plight of the world. In the preceding two years alone (the book is dated 11/11/11), the author has been to England, Iran, Qatar, South Africa, and Turkey, by invitation, to attend conferences and speak, or both. To ask him to recite all of the places far and near that he has visited would amaze even Ferdinand Magellan.

Edward R. Murrow is a hard act to follow. This review will explore Schechter's many contributions and insights donated to journalism and allied fields and conclude with a yardstick, as we, including Murrow, "bow, unabated, to the form flying forward." [1]

The Prologue is dirty laundry, a blog itself; all books are fraught with conflict. If they could only talk, what tales would emerge above and beyond the content that would pale in comparison.

Blogothon is dedicated to us bloggers the world over, among whom Schechter is one of the first, pioneering in this as well as so many other areas.

There follows a small section on exactly what blogging is:

"A BLOG OFTEN offers a mixture of what is happening in a person's life and what is happening on the Web, a kind of hybrid diary/guide website, although there are as many unique types of blogs as there are bloggers. "In a little more than five years, the phenomenon has gone global, with a reported 51 million participants," he reports, always generous with statistics (see below for more, on unemployment in this country)."

His initial homage to the power of the finest language is poignant as he descries what it has become in the hands of the media: "I am a lover of language, a journalist trapped in a profession where words can be wooden, predictable, and recycled endlessly. News clichés encourage conformity and co-optation."

Maybe so, but wordplay abounds in his writing: witness this May 24, 2011, blog title: "Why Are We Banking on Banks for Economic Recovery? HBO's "Too Big To Fail' Should Have Been "Too Big To Jail.'" --This blog, by the way, is a must read.

And in section IV, on the Occupation, Schechter capsizes the positive connotations the term has taken on so recently to admit that "Wall Street is occupying us."

Compare to this his brainchild: " [We]e need a jailout, not just a bailout." 

Another memorable bit of wit? "It is the banks that are robbing us." The sayings of Chairman Dan live on with such captivating creativity.

And speaking of an even more prominent Chairman, there is an ironic quote from Mao taken out of context ["to flush out critics and then destroy them"]: "let a thousand flowers bloom." Writes Schechter in praise of bloggers as he initially contextualizes their work as a powerful vehicle of the people, a "thousand flowers" in itself: "Today's citizen journalists are in part out to improve and in some cases supplant a media world that has lost credibility and is in desperate need of being shaken up from below."

Blogging is how we are fighting back most effectively, our pens mightier than any other weapon we have tried. The irony is that "they" read us--it's damn good writing for the most part--to understand us better; you must know your enemy before you vanquish them. And our wall of words doesn't stand a chance against their Wall Street, which Schechter calls the new capital of America or, as he puts it: "our growing wall of debt":

"[T]he wall I later ran up against was more than a Street; it was a tower of indifference. I was asked: How could you be so negative about what was then an economic boom enriching so many? Was I a doom and gloomer, or an alarmist? I was told: 'your apartment has gone up in value. Relax?'

 Schechter's life in particular is one with world events. His mind is always synthesizing the external into his own thinking. He is a 24/7 blogger. We can depend on him not only for the real news but what it means at so many different levels. He does our thinking for us, but we can trust him, unlike others who aspire to this and wreak such havoc.

Mind control, no. Danny Schechter, yes.

[Blogothon] collects the work of one of the "early" bloggers who has used the medium to offer a critical counterpoint and counter-narrative to the daily news in a daily blog. (p. xix)

A counter-narrative, as explained in depth in the final blog of the collection, consists of one or more other versions of an event [usually] reported by the mainstream media, be they network or cable. Schechter is its personification.

Online since 1986, Schechter became the News Dissector for a second time [he was initially a famous radio commentator in Boston in the seventies, when he first acquired the epithet]

"[o]n September 11, 2001, literally as the World Trade Center towers collapsed, I started writing what I thought would be a column focused on news coverage; it quickly turned into a blog, because it was updateable . . . as often as events changed."

So much is quotable; my notes are filled with direct quotations.

"TV programmers would tell me how much they admired me, but then explained that the programs I wanted to cover were, well, 'not for us.' It soon became clear they were not for anyone [among the MSM]. (p. xxvi)

To face the truth head-on is the ultimate challenge, the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate achievement. Murrow would approve. Read Schechter's "manifesto" in the Introduction, which introduces him and his art and craft to the few readers who may not yet have crossed paths with his popular dissections.

"IT IS 5:55 a.m. in midtown Manhattan. A slightly overweight, often bedraggled figure is slowly lumbering in the dark, from bedroom to living room, in a loft he endearingly refers to as his "Museum Of Pre- Revolutionary Culture." He reaches for the cable remote. Where is it? Under the couch again, next to a book he's been searching for? It is here somewhere. It always is.

"He yawns, scratches, and s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s. It's just about six in the morning; time for the day's first media fix."

There follows the first of many media dissections, pars pro toto.

In the first blog, Schechter portrays Fox News in three simple paragraphs:

"The issues they focus on are carefully selected by top executives and then broken down into highly politicized message points.

Their dominant emotion is annoyance as expressed in sarcasm and scowling; contempt is the underlying attitude.

The other side is usually not just wrong, but plain stupid, almost unbelievable in its softheaded naiveté and distance from reality . . ."

Of course he is right and the dissection of polarization that follows is so on the mark my minds spins; but then when he writes

What's also not always clear to folks on the left is that Fox News positions itself as an upholder of what are, at bottom, liberal American values. Hence, their motto co-opting and championing Fairness and Balance. (They actually have more opposing views on their programs than channels like MSNBC.)

I become curious and want to experience this phenomenon. As a matter of fact, I have, and only change the channel when I realize that I'm watching Fox News. Is this a big ad for Fox?

It is a fact that Fox gave Michael Moore's Sicko a laudatory review. But Schechter probes deeper, giving Fox all the kudos it deserves for "[its] real ethos[, which] is not Republican but anti-elitist--a major reason it connects with so many Americans and annoys so many coastal elites."

There is courage here in citing compelling evidence from both sides, killer evidence. The dissector might have added that in a survey Fox audiences displayed more ignorance than any other MSM and cable counterparts.

But the finish line is a punch in the gut:

"In the end, what we have is a cruel and deceptive game that appears to be informative when it's not, presided over by professional actors and reactors.

And like the old joke asks, "How do you know when they are lying?" The answer: 'When their lips are moving.'"

The blogger's last lines are often this forceful.


It would be easy and is tempting to review the bare bones of each blog, to display poly-dimensional art and craft of a journalist who practically invented his genre, the Vincent Canby of news analysts.

In Blog 2, Schechter reveals his poetic side (maternal influence; his mother was a published poet) by using excerpts of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," in order, to dissect the divisive U.S. foreign policy. The book ends with a poem celebrating the author's turning age sixty, his identity and life's mission having been formulated in the sixties ("From the Sixties to Sixty").

And speaking of the sixties, at the end of section III, he describes this spine-tingling revolutionary era in more detail:

"It was a heady time and it's shameful to read in 2011 that most students today are not taught about what we called "THE MOVEMENT," in caps, and felt part of something bigger than ourselves--a force that rolled across this country touching and changing so many lives."

In my experience, they tend not to want us relics around; I tried for a paying job collecting money on the street for a human rights organization and lasted around a week for not amassing enough (I'd earn into the hundreds a few times; later I discovered a "colleague" who confessed she had the same job and hadn't earned a cent) but here we are tolerated by Occupy (more on Occupy below): "the media labeled it 'kids and ageing hippies.'"

Blog 3, on fascism, is a masterpiece of knowledge and analysis, equating fascism with corporatism, convincingly predicting the economic if not political direction of this country.

What can we do? Some of the answers have been advocated again and again in other of his books. No hypocrite, he lives these answers. To jump ahead to his section predicting and then dissecting the Occupation, there is footage (in one of his films, which should have been excerpted here--is it?) of Schechter standing on Wall Street a year before the Occupation, literally preaching about its evils. The Reverend Jesse Jackson stands at his side. A few listeners stand in front of him, rather absurdly, as others walk by ignoring the scenario.

What a scenario.

In another solution scenario, in Section 3, blog 6, the author spells out an agenda for Occupy (Dec. 2011):

1. Investigate who stole what;

2.Indict wrong doers;

3.Prosecute the guilty; and

4.Incarcerate white-collar criminals

What I am surprised not to find, in the first section that includes dissections of Obama, is the notion of "appeasement," which very well embraces the president's domestic if not foreign policy [another story that interests the author far more]. The term appears once in the book, in a pre--World War II context in one of the lengthier entries, his "Introduction to the Financial Crisis Inquiry --Report (Cosimo Books, 2010)," with reference to a failed committee analysis of the causes of the Great Depression.

Blog 6 of t he first section ends with cruel evidence of the impact of the Citizens United verdict on the second decade of the new millennium:

"As of last week, House and Senate campaigns reported taking in more than $1.5 billion, exceeding the total collected by congressional candidates in 2006 and in 2008, Federal Election Commission data show. Most of that money already has been put toward advertising and other expenses. . . . And, here in America, only eight to nine percent of the people say they have confidence in Congress, and it's not clear why the pols even enjoy that record low in support. [So what good are the elections?] . . .

"The Public Campaign Action Fund, a watchdog group, will release a study Tuesday predicting that House candidates alone could spend nearly $1.5 billion by the time the dust settles on Election Day. The calculation is based on previous elections in which about half of a campaign's money was spent in the final month of the contest."

Elsewhere the News Dissector blogs that Congress has sold out to its own perks, which include income for life after one term in office, even if it's a total flop. We need to reduce the perks, so that those who represent us will better understand us and relate to us.

"If we ain't broke, don't fix us," they say. "Fix yourselves," say the Tea Discarders, refusing to see the forest of an economy unable to support anyone but the super-rich, who have absconded with it. "Fix yourselves to a degree that guarantees eternal parasitism," say the top .5 percent. "But don't claim us on your tax returns."

Among all of the blogs collected in this volume, the author's star witness, probably, is  convicted financial criminal Sam Antar, who appears in [his film] Plunder: The Crime of Our Time [and again in the blog "The Ten Reasons"] , telling him that the government

"[doesn't] seem to understand how calculated these crimes and their cover-ups are. . . . Our laws . . . limit your behavior and give the white-collar criminal freedom to commit their crimes, and also to cover up their crimes. . .  . We have no respect for the laws. We consider your codes of ethics, and your laws, weaknesses to be exploited in the execution of our crimes."

Schechter quotes others, from top to bottom [or both, as immediately above], including comedian George Carlin ("Who Rules America?"):

"The game is rigged and nobody seems to notice. Nobody seems to care. Good honest hardworking people . . . good honest hard working people continue, these people of modest means . . . continue to elect these rich !@#$s who don't give a !@#$ about you. . . . They don't care about you at all, at all, at all."

The second section displays Schechter's incisive insights into the raging recession that has crippled this country since 2007--in several works he warned about and predicted it and then dissected the reality of this huge explosion of the real estate bubble, exposing its root causes to readers either aware of it and gloating or else in no position to do anything about it. (e.g., In Debt We Trust: America Before the Bubble Bursts)

Did we listen like Ninevites or did we revert to idols like Baal and Plutos the minute God went elsewhere in the universe to tend to things?

Who's we?

Unfortunately, the victims.

The MSM nod, knowing that he is right but just won't keep their ratings anywhere near where they need to be. East Coast, West Coast, and Chicago intellectuals just can't keep them going, as Fox News knows well.

The final blog is a manifesto of Globalvision's mission.

"A decade ago, PBS told Globalvision that human rights is not a 'sufficient organizing principle' for a TV series (unlike cooking!). We went on to produce four years of the hard-hitting series Rights & Wrongs anyway. Recently, a PBS station that had been an ally told us that despite AIDS and SARS, a global health series is not a 'sufficient organizing principle.' The very same words! The world may change, but institutional attitudes don't. Today we lack the resources to do it ourselves."

But section 2 begins with a shocker:

"We are just learning the full extent of the Federal Reserve Bank's loans to banks the world over, while a promised crackdown on fraud has yet to come. [$17.7 TRILLION in no-interest money, acc. to section 3, blog 6]

"Wall Street is stronger than ever. Its 'reforms' are proving to be a joke. No big execs that profited from pervasive mortgage fraud have gone to jail as prosecutions dwindle.

"Politicians will do and say anything to avoid explaining that inflation is a monetary problem."

Barack Obama just wants to cheer us up.

Section 3: "The Activists among Us"

The first blog in this section reports that

"While the official unemployment rate is 8.8 percent, its 15.7 percent if unemployed, underemployed and those who have given up looking for work are included--more than 24 million people. [. . .]Young people and people of color continue to experience the worst jobless rates which have remained high, with 24.5 percent of teenagers out of work and 15.5 percent of black workers and 11.3 percent of Hispanics jobless. Some 7.9 percent of white workers are jobless, as are 7.1 percent of Asian workers."

In his tribute to Jesse Jackson, another stalwart comrade of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Schechter displays false modesty in his tribute to this gutsy progressive minister:

"In perpetual motion, his life makes mine seem almost like a slow motion exercise. In his world, I play turtle to his hare, even as I am often considered by some to be frenetic and an Energizer bunny."

Who else begins his day at 6 a.m. by blogging and ends as the new day dawns doing what else, blogging? Others closer to him than I am have sworn to this hyperactive regime.


Just as he foresaw the explosion of the real estate bubble, Schechter anticipates the Occupy movement in 2010 by way of a verse from Bob's " A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall":

"We ask ourselves how we can be experiencing the largest economic meltdown in decades, with millions out of work [he has given stats relevant to unemployment; see above] and millions more losing their homes, yet with no real mass mobilization or ongoing response from the progressive world."  

To backtrack a bit:

"So, once again, a gauntlet has been thrown down, but so far activists, advocates, unions, and even progressive journalists stay submerged in fighting partisan wars and are not taking on the deeper fight for economic justice."


". . .[H]ere in America, only eight to nine percent of the people say they have confidence in Congress, and it's not clear why the pols even enjoy that record low in support. . . .

"Objectively, this is a time when a new force can shake up politics, but is OWS, as presently constituted, that force?"

Schechter informs us that Occupy, a subject which weaves in and out of the narrative, not only attracted but tolerated a healthy number of us holdover hippies (see above for more on this), spread to more than 160 cities and towns. And witness the New York Times on this subject:

"A recent New York Times/CBS News poll found that almost half of the public thinks the sentiments at the root of the movement generally reflect the views of most Americans."

This section ends with a poignant memoir of Schechter's marching with the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.


What follows are brief reflections on subsequent sections, teasers to lead you to the book, not a play-by-play review of it.

Section 4 discusses the Arab Spring, Fukushima, and the capture of bin Laden :

"They could have captured him, but that would lead to the hassle of putting him on trial. Besides, what if he revealed his long connection with the CIA and U.S. officials? Can't have that. So the kill order was given, along with a quick disposal of the body at sea, mafia-style (as in "sleeping with the fishes")."

On the implications of Fukushima, noting that President Obama has hired the same contractor who built the reactors now polluting Japan as well as the Pacific Ocean, and that plans to expand this form of energy production continue in other countries, Schechter writes that

"The chain of events at the reactors now running out of control provides a case history of the underlying mismatch between human nature and the force we imagine we can control."

But at least, for some consolation, he quotes Ralph Nader:

"The unfolding multiple nuclear reactor catastrophe in Japan is prompting overdue attention to the 104 nuclear plants in the United States--many of them aging, many of them near earthquake faults, some on the west coast exposed to potential tsunamis. . . ."

"Bernie Sanders is calling for a full investigation of nuclear safety here."

Section 5 highlights the author's nearly three-decades-long association with and emotional attachment to South Africa at both zenith and nadir points in time. He was there when the wall of Apartheid finally fell, documenting it for several media. Things may have not yet turned perfect, but

"At least in South Africa, leaders and the press recognize the problem ["the looting continues"--the Beloved Country is not yet "living happily ever after"] and speak out. Perhaps that's something that politicians and financial leaders in the West, especially the United States, can emulate."

In Section 6, focusing in on the media, Schechter lauds the controversial news network Al Jazeera on the launch of its offspring Al Jazeera English on its tenth anniversary, 2010:

"The Arabic language news channel that revolutionized news in the Arab World has just marked its tenth anniversary and become once again the world's fifth top-known brand.  

and for its use of native reporters rather than foreign correspondents from Western countries.

"The US bombed its offices once and considered repeating it. An Al Jazeera journalist is being held at Guantanamo without charge."

"The anglo-American hegemony of the big news cartels has for the first time a challenger in the form of well-packaged professional network. Al Jazeera goes on the air globally in English (but not yet in the U.S.A.) to offer another perspective. . .  One of their biggest catches was Sir David Frost, the world-famous interviewer."

Ironically "Qatar, the proprietor of al-Jazeera, is also our most important ally in the Middle East."

From this controversial issue the outspoken Dissector jumps to Helen Thomas:

"She may be a critic of Israel, but never a hater of Jews."

And a masterpiece of logical reasoning [by analogy]:

How can we expect Israelis and Palestinians to reconcile if our media won't set an example by reconciling with Helen Thomas?  

In the following blog, continuing on Thomas's debasement, he asks yet another compelling questions:

"The only issue on your table today is whether [the Society of Professional Journalists] stands for the unabridged right of any journalist--any American--to speak his or her opinion, on any subject, without fear of punishment or retribution from any government, individual, private or professional organization."

A dissection of political campaigning in the post-Citizens United U.S. follows:

"Campaign spending in the 2012 U.S. election could reach six or seven billion dollars as outside groups pay for electoral influence. . . .

"Here we are in the middle of a deep recession that's getting deeper by the day, with austerity the unofficial slogan du jour, while Republicans scheme up new ways to trim, cut, and decimate government spending. . . . [A]s both parties slash spending that benefits people, they are in a manic overdrive effort to raise more for themselves and their campaigns. The pols don't talk much about their own spending, do they?

"In 2008, Barack Obama raised some $778 million for his presidential bid. The total cost of the national election, including Presidential and Congressional, was about $5.3 billion. Since then, court decisions like Citizens United have made spending by outside groups easier. . . .

"Campaigns are windfalls for broadcasters. The networks that oppose stimulus programs for workers with so many snarky stories don't oppose this stimulus for themselves. . . .

"Promoting elections has become an industry of its own and TV networks are at the center of it. They are not devoting much time to promoting voter registration or voter education. They don't provided many free ads and in fact often refuse to run issue-oriented ads bought by activists. . . .

"This agenda is wrapped up in the mantra of enabling democracy, but it is of course much more than that. Most of the coverage is about the horse race, not the issues. It focuses on personalities more than political organizing. There seems to be little concern with new measures like voter ID cards designed to suppress the vote or electoral fraud designed to steal it. . . .

"The Providence Phoenix reports, 'Political coverage on television is diminishing, and revenue from political advertising is soaring. Critics say free air time for candidates could help solve the problem.'"


And so we have an intense, progressive-oriented, picaresque history of 2010 and 2011, which embraces, as noted above, its past and future. And so much more. The organization of the blogs is effective and compelling, moving through all five dimensions, from this country to the world and back again, from history to mystery, from Schechter's life to ours and then humanity at large, from the individual to the masses--the years 2010-2011 become a microcosm for myriad issues, some of which we thought about, others we've encountered and, most compelling of all, those that are new not only to us but all readers, from working-class living rooms and what remains of Occupy encampments to the mansions of the Koch brothers and Warren Buffet's modest equivalent.

And now for the promised finale: in terms of his mentor Murrow's accomplishments, how does our News Dissector measure up?

1)  Too early to judge: as a recent film of his admits, he is still A Work in Progress;

2)  His scope is far wider, encompassing books, blogs, film (production, direction, screenplay), tv series, tv productions, and radio;

3) Murrow would be damn proud of him.

[1] Reference to a poem I wrote years ago about Nureyev's frustration at leaping toward, but never achieving the ultimate goal, the Platonic form that we earthlings can only reach toward.

Submitters Website: http://www.wordsunltd.com

Submitters Bio:

Marta Steele is an author/editor/blogger who has been writing for Opednews.com since 2006. She is also author of the 2012 book "Grassroots, Geeks, Pros, and Pols: The Election Integrity Movement's Nonstop Battle to Win Back the People's Vote, 2000-2008" (Columbus, Free Press) and a member of the Election Integrity movement since 2001. Her original website, WordsUnLtd.com, first entered the blogosphere in 2003. She recently became a senior editor for Opednews.com. She has in the past taught college and worked as a full-time as well as freelance reporter. She has been a peace and election integrity activist since 1999. Her undergraduate and graduate educational background are in Spanish, classical philology, and historical and comparative linguistics. Her biography was listed in "Who's Who in the East" in 2000.