With a pivotal presidential election just around the corner, attendance was robust at the panel dubbed "Media and the Elections: Covering 2008" at the National Conference for Media Reform. The discussion didn't produce any silver-bullet solutions for immediate improvement of political coverage, but the panelists offered substantial food for thought as Barack Obama and John McCain head for a November showdown.
The starting point, naturally, was the dismal state of mainstream media election coverage: the off-the-charts obsession with remarks made by Obama's pastor, the Rev. James Wright; the racism and sexism on display in coverage of the Obama and Clinton campaigns; the gaping media blind spots on issues of race, the environment, and unemployment; and the marginalization of third-party and lesser-known candidates. John Nichols, Washington correspondent for the Nation magazine and author of the book Tragedy and Farce, put the problem in stark terms: "We're not just seeing bad media. We're seeing assault and battery on our democracy."
Robert "Biko" Baker, a community activist with the League of Young Voters in Milwaukee, brought a more street-level perspective to the topic, describing the poverty and disenfranchisement of the youth he works with—and the vast distance between them and the talking heads on CNN and Fox. "Corporate America runs the media and will continue to run the media until we stop it," he said before concluding with a clarion call: "The world is in peril. We have to challenge our contradictions."
Sirota, author of The Uprising, added a fresh twist to the discussion. Many of us, he noted, see the media as a monolithic force, and we await the news sent down from "Media Mount Olympus." But that passive role is exactly what has strengthened the role of the "paternalistic" media. "We have the chance to be our own media," he says, and we ought to seize it. For another audience, this might have sounded like a simplistic bromide. But for this crowd, made up largely of indie media activists and advocates, it sounded plausible, and when they filed out of the room, you suspected they might just go out and do it.
For more on the National Conference for Media Reform, click here.