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Saturday, January 13, 2007

National Conference on Media Reform

Friday, Jan. 11, 2007

The day was exhausting, and I did not have the energy to blog last night. It was an intense day starting with Dr. Willie Harenton, the Mayor of Memphis, followed by Bill Moyers. You know, I never knew Moyers is a Southern Baptist. It made sense, but it just never occured to me. His limited view of diversity was attributed to his status as such as I listened to him speak. Little did I know that it would be a common refrain in the rarified atmosphere of the conference.

After lunch, we were treated to Danny Glover, topped off with Jesse Jackson. I never clapped so hard in my life. Jackson's rousing style replete with the wonderful cadence that is the exclusive domain of Southern African American preachers was balm to my soul. I overlooked the occasional dampening of my enthusiasm over his references to Christianity in fair exchange for the lift to my spirit that he always brings.

Following that I went to a workshop on Big Media moderated by none other than Phil Donohue. Phil's 25 years as a pioneer in TV talk was a frequent source of inspiration for me in the mid-seventies. His groundbreaking topics brought previously taboo subjects to the fore for American viewers. We owe him a great debt of gratitude.

Entitled "Inside Corporate Media: Can It Tell The Truth?", they began by talking about Donohue's brief stint at MSNBC that coincided with 9-11 and the beginning of the war in Iraq. Jeff Cohen, author of Cable News Confidential, worked with Phil on the MSNBC talk show. They were quite honest about the fact that Phil was fired because of his criticism of Bush and the number of anti-Bush guests they booked.

I knew there had been something going on back then, but it just seemed like so much was happening so fast, that I had never delved into the why's and wherefore's of Donohue's quiet disappearance. As I look back, it makes perfect sense.

Cohen has an impressive progressive journalism resume, however I believe I admire him the most for spendng five years at Fox News. I identify with entering enemy territory to bring a message to the people. That is exactly how I feel frequently while working on LGBT issues in East Tennessee. Homeland or not, the natives are definitely hostile.

The workshop also featured Juan Gonzalez, a brilliant historian who probably knows more about Latino and Native American journalism in the American West during the period of atrocities otherwise known as Manifest Destiny as anyone on the face of the earth. I find him fascinating.

Laura Washington also sat on the panel. She is a free-lancer who writes for the Chicago Sun-Times and In These Times. She told an interesting story about her first interview with the Sun-Times early in her career. The job in question involved covering a beat that included low-income, dense housing areas that were populated predominantly by African Americans. The interviewer asked her if she thought she could cover that beat with objectivity. She looked him dead in the eye and asked, "Would you ask a white writer if they can cover the suburbs objectively?" Needless to say, she did not get the job, but says that ultimately it has worked out better for her in her role as free-lancer.

Saturday, Jan. 13, 2007

Memphis, TN

My day began with a workshop on civil rights after a quick breakfast at my hotel. I had planned to go to the Policymakers workshop, but the congressmen could not be there until after 2:00 p.m. I chose the civil rights workshop, hoping for more diversity that I saw on Friday. The presenters at this conference have whittled diversity down to one word - "raceNgender." Age, geographic ethnicity, religious diversity, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, ableism were all cast to the wind with raceNgender foremost on the minds of every speaker I heard on Friday.

In fact, not one single speaker addressed *any* form of discrimination/oppression except for raceNgender with an occasional bone tossed to the dog named economic justice. I guess I had forgotten where I was. I thought I had come to a conference to network with open-minded progressives. Instead I found myself in an Oz populated almost exclusively with middle class hippies of various ages aka the peaceNjustice folks along with a handful of political operatives and professional journalists.

I'm not here to trash the conference. Some important and creative work has occurred here, but as was noted at the Women and Media workshop that I attended for my second installation today, the only women speaking in the plenaries (the large banquet-hall-type room) were actresses, namely Geena Davis and Jane Fonda. I missed Geena and may not get to see Jane. All I've heard were men who talked about raceNgender until it came out of my ears.

In no way do I mean to disrespect the struggles of people of color. I have been alive in East Tennessee since 1952. I saw first-hand what they struggled against and how they continue to struggle in many ways.

Gender discrimination is very real. I am a product of the second wave of the women's movement. Without the brave women who cared for the psychologically-injured young woman who had lost her mother to a madman, I would probably not be here today. The universal war on women is the matrix from which I understand everything else. Our struggles have really just begun. Global justice for women is something that is very important to me.

But dammit, they're not the only ones who struggle. I take much more flak for being pagan than for being female in the circles I live in today. I lived for years in fear that I would lose my children to the foster care system because of who I love. I have lost jobs, apartments, and much more because I am lesbian, because I dare to love women and share my life with one woman. Since Sam has transitioned, many may question the latter statement, but let's just put it this way. All of my partners since 1978 were born female.

At any rate, the Media and Women workshop was great. It included a variety of speakers who were at least three different colors as well as geographically diverse. It contained no women much over forty and no lesbians.

The final workshop of the day was a Policymaker Roundtable with Congressmen Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Steve Cohen (D-TN). It was moderated by Frannie Wellings of the Free Press, sponsors of the conference. I am so offended by some of the things Wellings did that I cannot at this time write in detail about this workshop. I am deeply offended by the lack of LGBT voices at this conference. I am deeply disappointed by her lack of concern regarding that issue.

I felt that it would only be fair to get a statement from someone representing the conference with regard to this. Speaking with Outreach Coordinator Charlotte Capogna, I emphasized my gratitude for the willingness to dialogue around LGBT issues that she and the Women in Media organizers and presenters had shown. Her willingness to admit that this is an area that needs work has endeared her to me forever. I am also grateful to the young lesbian who was working at the information table on the Mezzanine. I did not get her name, but she was very helpful and sweet.

Hopefully I will have time to write more tomorrow or Monday. For now, I must call it a night.

1 comment:

drc said...

I'm sorry the conference wasn't everything you hoped it would be. i wish more people would realize how much religious discrimination there is in this land.

But I have to admit I am sooo envious that you got to hear Donahue.