Media Reform Conference- Saturday

“Battlin’ the bastards is the most fun you can have with your clothes on.” Jim Hightower, from his keynote speech at the MRC, May 14, 2005.

Which is true, but damn tiring. I’ve often reflected that one of the things that makes me feel like I’ve got a fantastic job is that I get to fight for what I believe in and win more often than conventional wisdom says I should. Wouldn’t you like to play too? It’s fun . . . .

Anyway, finishing up day 2 here at the conference. Mostly panels and strategy sessions with folks on upcoming issues. I also regret to say that a press tag is not a “chick magnet,” whatever real reporters may have tried to make you believe.

A few personal observations. While I love being here and talking to folks, doing this on Shabbos sucks. First, I miss my family. Second, I am in a hotel where you need an electronic key to go anywhere, so once I leave my room, I am out until after sundown. Also, I am in a hotel two blocks from the conference, so I can’t carry anything. By about 1 p.m., I was quite peckish, and doomed to another 8 hours of free water (must get them to have better snacks next time). OTOH, if I want a country where the schedule agrees with my religious rules, I need to move to Israel (assuming it’s still there, I haven’t been keeping up with the news).

Day started at 6 a.m. so I could make a strategy session on the upcoming Comcast acquisition of Adelphia before doing my panel. Sadly, I had no idea what my panel was about until I actually got there. I was supposed to have been on a conference call about it last week, but the congestive heart failure of my good friend and housemate Greg Rose kinda got in the way. (I love our system of healthcare. Rather than pay to give him the right heart meds, we wait until he is sick enough to go to the emergency room and get major surgery. Lets hear it for Pharma, folks!) Fortunately, the panel is all friends who can talk about the real world– Mike Calabrese from New America Foundation on spectrum, Roanne Shaddox, talking about Tribal issues (she is a member of the Hopi tribe and on the board of the Native American Telecom Project), and Antuan Wallace, now on the funding side but formerly of BT Partners doing work bringing sustainable broadband systems to minority communities in the Boston metro area. About 30 people show up.

After that, I go to a panel on how to fund this stuff. Sadly, it is not very helpful to my particular situation (i.e., no money falls out of a clear blue sky on my head). I do get minorly annoyed over the fact that everyone loves us but so few people fund us, because funding lawyers to do policy is not as fun or as cool as other stuff. (This is also a good time to mention my resentment on how my boss Andy makes me wear a suite at these things. I am so out of place that someone asked me where the gift shop was. When I stared at him blankly, he said “don’t you work here?”)

Then lunch meeting watching other folks eat while we talk wireless broadband deployment. Then more panels and break out sessions, followed by more discussion of Comcast.

Then the big plennary/Keynote for the evening. While I am unfamiliar with Pati Smith, her music was good and I gather she has a following here. Al Franken hosted. Bob McChesney spoke on how this is a broad movement not just limited to left wing progressives. Of course, 90% of the audience *are* left wing progressives. So when he rhetorically asked “Are we just trying to tear down Rush Limbaugh and put Al Franken in his place?” Some folks got confused and shouted “YES” and big applause.

But Bob, and others who made the same point, are right. This isn’t about censoring media or restricting it or just switching one party tyranny for another. But It think I glogged that horse yesterday.

Other speakers were two Democratic FCC Commissioners, Jonathon Adelstien and Michael Copps, who have been true champions at the agency on media reform. They both got standing ovations for their warning that more efforts to gut the ownership rules were on the way and that we must stand fast.

After the FCC guys was Davy D, a Hip Hop activist, who spoke of the struggle in radio to break the grip of a few white owners, disconnected from the communities listening to hip hop, and deliberately programming music that catered to the worst kinds of stereotypes. (He told of a meeting where the top executive of one of the major ownership groups said they could not stop using “the N word” because “they didn’t want to lose their bottom demographic.”

Davy D is right that it is a victory to move the criticism from the DJs and musicians to the owners who make the programming decisions. As we saw with the indecency thing, when owners want to clean up their act, they can do it pretty damn quick.

The last speaker I stuck around for was Jim Hightower. I’d never heard him speak before, and he was funny and inspiring. I believe he is right that the majority of people in this country believe something has gone wrong. We don’t all agree on what that something is, or who is responsible, or how to fix it. But there is growing discontent with the non-stop corporate consumer echo chamber trying to convince us all that everything is wonderful and if you don’t think so you better keep quiet ’cause everyone else does and they’d say you’re a looney and besides, you can’t do anything about it anyway. (Have you ever noticed just how much media content is devoted to teaching us helplessness and the failure of the political process? We are to extol the virtues of the vigilante brooder, but real political work for political change doesn’t happen on TV or in the movies anymore).

Well, gotta crash out and get some rest for tomorrow.

Stay tuned . . . .


  1. “Andy makes me wear a suite at these things”. . .

    Is that a suite from the hotel? How many rooms? And are you really allowed to wear it on Shabbos?

    (Note to Andy: Lighten up! You’re not helping your cause!)

    As always an interesting piece. The intersection of keeping kosher and doing what you do (I’m not going to call it “your work”) is a theme that one is unlikely to see in many other blogs, and I like to think it gives TotSF a “wetmachiney” feel.

    I’m kind of astonished at your ignorance of Patti Smith. You should fix that, if you don’t mind my saying so. Starting with her music, of course. But also not neglecting her legend.

    I don’t have any money, but if I did I would certainly help support Media Access Project. It’s hard to overstate how important MAP’s work is. If we’re going to preserve/reclaim our democracy we’re going to have to have a free press, and we know that don’t come for free.

    Finally, on the subject of Shabbos conflict, have you seen The Big Lebowski? It’s brilliant.

  2. Andy Schwartzman

    You do not have to wear a suit. . You can wear a sport jacket and slacks (i.e, long pants not made of denim). And a tie. And the shirt should have a collar. I’m a tyrant, after all.

  3. I should make clear that I was merely tweaking Andy on this, as I frequently do. Andy and I are friends and have been for years, even if he is technically my boss. Also, he has been enormously flexible on structuring the works schedule around my religious holidays and family scheduling. And I don’t wear the suit around the office, the way I needed to when I was in private practice.

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