Danny Glover and James Early at a Real News Town Hall discuss the role of the mainstream media from Baltimore to Venezuela
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in our Baltimore studio. I’m a host and producer here at The Real News. And I have the pleasure of being able to introduce our esteemed panel today to discuss the mainstream media and whose side they’re really on.
Now joining us here in-studio are our guests, James Early, to the left. He is the director of cultural heritage policy at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Prior to his work with the Smithsonian, Mr. Early was an administrator at the National Endowment for Humanities in Washington. He was also the host of Ten Minutes Left, a weekly radio segment of cultural, educational, and political interviews and commentary at Howard University’s radio station. He is also a former member of the board of TransAfrica.
Please join me in welcoming Mr. James Early.
JAMES EARLY, SMITHSONIAN CENTER FOR FOLKLIFE AND CULTURAL HERITAGE: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And next to him you might recognize his face. That is Danny Glover. He’s an actor and film director. Mr. Glover is well known for his roles in The Color Purple and action film series Lethal Weapon. In 1994 he made his directorial debut with the Showtime channel short film Override. He also, of course, is an activist who never fails to be on the right side of history when it comes to democratic rights of ordinary people.
Please join me in welcoming Mr. Glover. Danny Glover.
And right next to me is our CEO and senior editor, Mr. Paul Jay. So please welcome everyone here, the panel.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Thanks, Jessica.
So I’m going to do a little bit of introduction, and then our guests–we’re going to have a bit of a back-and-forth and then open it up for questions.
We frame this “Whose Side Is The Mainstream Media On?” It’s a bit of a softball question for us at The Real News. But I think the answer is fairly simple. The mainstream media is on the side of people that own the mainstream media. So, first of all, it’s on the side of who owns it. And then it’s on the side of who manages it. Managers, editors, publishers, and the journalists on the whole who work for them have their own interests. And that’s one of the great deceptions about media, the idea that there’s objective journalism and that the people doing it don’t have their own interests. Well, they do, and so do we at The Real News.
The issue of who owns it is the other–you know, in terms of whose side mainstream media is on, well, it’s about who owns stuff. The more stuff you own, the more mainstream media is on your side. And if you own a lot of stuff–in other words, if you own the commanding heights of the economy in finance or military-industrial complex or agribusiness or pharma or go on and on–then the mainstream media is more on your side. And I think everybody here probably understands that.
It’s no different at The Real News. Whose side is The Real News on? Well, we’re on the side of the people that run The Real News, first of all, which is us, ’cause we have our own interests, and we’re not above interest any more than anybody else is. The only difference with us is we earn very ordinary salaries–in fact, probably most of us think, less than ordinary, certainly in our profession–where we don’t take corporate money, we don’t take government money, we don’t sell advertising. We’ve tried to eliminate the kinds of things in our economic model that force you into a kind of self-censorship and when you decide whose side are you on. So, you know, we’re in a position where we can talk, you know, very frankly and, we think, as honestly as we can about the situation because of our economic model.
The issue of whose side you’re on–and, as I said, mainstream media is on the side of who owns stuff. Well, it’s true here. It’s true in Baltimore. It’s true in Venezuela, which our guest just came back from. And in some ways it’s more obvious in Venezuela, because, for those of you who know, there was a coup in 2002, and our guests are going to talk a little bit more about this. But it was almost a media-organized coup, to a large extent.
There was an interesting film that was done by Journeyman Films, and there was–in the documentary of the coup in 2002, they showed a group of the generals calling for Chávez’s resignation. This is because of the shooting of unarmed demonstrators by snipers. And because of the shooting of these anti-Chávez demonstrators and the killing of some of them, Chávez should step down. Now, the problem is is that was recorded two hours before the shooting. And that was depicted in the documentary. There was actually a correspondent from CNN Spanish who was invited to the taping ’cause they thought he would never spill the beans, and he did.
That’s an overt example. The less is in some ways more pernicious, is what happens here, is that, you know, you report on 30 murders in Baltimore, and it seems like, well, it’s just news reports, what else can we do, we’re reporting what happens. But how come they never have a history, the person that was killed? And how about the person that did the killing? Doesn’t have a real history. Why aren’t they human beings? And let’s talk about why there are so many murders in Baltimore. No, it’s like, this person got killed and that person.
And why? I had an interesting conversation the other day, and I think it’s clear. It’s ’cause if you look at local news in Baltimore, who are they playing to? White people in the county who want to say how screwed up Baltimore is and am I ever glad I don’t live in the city. And that’s where the money is. So you don’t have to tell the story of who these people are. You know, if a white person in the county gets killed, well, then you do get a back story and you find out who they are and it becomes the whole thing.
So we’re going to try to break that mold here. And if you want, later in the Q&A we can talk more about it. But you came here to hear our guests.
And so I’m going to start with Danny. Danny is, in my books, rather amazing for a lot of reasons, but not the least of which that he is always going where he’s asked to go to help in a struggle, from picket lines to protests to–. You know, he’s someone who is always–tell me if I’m wrong, but I think he’s always found his celebrity a secondary issue. I think even the acting [incompr.] sort of was. Like, he was a political being to start with. And his celebrity’s always been something in his tool chest to see how he can use it to help people.
So I guess my first question is: talk a bit about going around the country, the kind of struggles you’ve been involved with, and give us a sense of what’s happening.
DANNY GLOVER, FILMMAKER AND ACTIVIST: You know, as often as you get–.
JAY: I’m sorry. I’m going to add one thing to that, ’cause there’s a connection here. Why do people need Danny to come to these things? They don’t need another body. It’s ’cause the media’s ignoring these things. So you have to get Danny to come to get any media coverage, which is ridiculous. I mean, these–why do you need a celebrity? But you do, and he does. But go ahead.
GLOVER: Well, you start off it’s a point in your life. And for me–.
JAY: Talk to the crowd. Yeah.
GLOVER: As for me, I consider myself a child of the civil rights movement. And I was just recently in Jackson, Mississippi, which is one of these I’m going to talk about, and I met Bob Moses. I mean, Bob Moses was down there. Well, I did a movie, film, when I had the opportunity to do a story about SNCC workers in McComb, Mississippi, in 1960. Well, in 1960, I was 14 years old. My heroes at that time were those men and women who were part of SNCC, which had just formed.
But all of this changes with time. Certainly there’s been–whether I’m responsible for it or not, there’s been something of what they’d call a career. And we don’t have to go through that, the films that I’ve been able to do.
But each time within the industry itself and outside of the industry is giving me access, accessibilities [incompr.] sometimes the work that I wanted to do, the kind of projects that I wanted to do, [and also who] the conversation is with and who I can have a conversation with. And that was always important.
I come out of community development. I still consider myself, when I go to one city and watch and go to another city and watch [incompr.] consider myself a community developer, ’cause I’ve liked the interchange and the discourse that happens with people. And I came at a time in the early ’70s, working for the Model Cities Program and the office of Community Development in San Francisco, out of the mayor’s office in San Francisco, at a time where I saw this exciting, most amazing what I call organic grassroots democracy happening there. And connected to that, you know, I was connected to that as a student at San Francisco State College. And so I had an opportunity to be a part of that in my early maturation, in my early development after university.
And that translates. So how do I–how am I–be able to carry on and use my access, if we say, at this particular point in my time, to either talk about the antiapartheid movement, which I was very much involved in, the antiapartheid movement, when I worked for an African liberty support committee before I became an actor, and carried that on through the type of work, the choices that I made and the type of work.
My theatrical background is probably uncharacteristic for most black actors. Primarily all of it’s Athol Fugard, the great South African playwright.
So it began–so in some sense consciously, and I say consciously because it was a conscious effort. I was able to marry those two things, the world–the art of acting and learning the craft of acting along with my own understanding and passion about how I wanted to see the world, where I wanted to position myself in the world. Those things came. And then other things happened [incompr.]
Well, so, when I–but everything is dynamic. The issues that we’d talk about then or [incompr.] now are different issues that we’re talking about. We learned to talk about the move from the–as we’d say, the general to the specific. And the specifics that I’ve watched, that I’ve been able to talk about and been a part of the discourse are around what is happening in people’s real lives. I don’t care if it’s here, working people (we see what has happened to working people in this country), or whether–wherever it is in a place in the world. And to be a part of that discourse has certainly been, I think, along with various other people, as I’m saying, right here with James Early or with Don Rojas, and to be a part of those kind of discussions now at this point in my life [incompr.] critical moment where I’m able to kind of–I’m not able to–I’m not in a situation of, quote-unquote, building a career, as we may say, with all your handlers and all your agents and all your PR and everything else. It’s simply–it’s about where do we go from here, as Dr. King–where do we go from here? Chaos or community? And that’s where we–that’s where the conversation–whether it’s locally here in Baltimore, whether it’s where I’m involved in in Ras Baraka’s campaign in Newark, or whether it’s with Andy Shallal in D.C., or wherever I’m going over a period of time, to talk about that.
I believe we have an extraordinary moment right here to [incompr.] given that the dialect has changed and the dynamics and the contradictions change, we have an extraordinary moment to talk about how we could impact people’s lives in the political process.
Well, I really–I just came–I just returned from Mississippi, and what’s been really fascinating for me is the work that workers are doing in Canton, Mississippi, at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi. And I’ve been working in some context, in some sort of way with them for the last year and a half, directly with the workers.
But more importantly, with the group of students, Concerned Students for a Better Nissan, and also the Mississippi students alliance for justice out of Tougaloo College and out of Jackson State College. And they’ve been remarkable. We’re in the midst of a six-city tour, which involve that students and campuses in Chicago, New Orleans–we’ll be in Miami, Atlanta, Tennessee, and be at colleges talking with students.
But what’s incredible: they’ve been able to organize through their own vernacular, through their own language, through spoken word, and through the access to different forms of media, you know, to social media, to access people and to talk about the issue and get people engaged in the issue. I’m only an accessory to the whole process of what they’ve been doing as young students. And there in itself, it reminds me of those young students who 50 years ago went down to Mississippi and Alabama in Freedom Summer, or it reminds me of the young students that I’m with, the generation I was a part of, who were involved and engaged in community activism in levels in San Francisco and around the country as well. So these students have really expanded the whole dialog and put Nissan on notice.
Now, we don’t have the luxury of having The New York Times coming interview us and talk about what is really happening or Fox News or anybody else [incompr.] CNN [incompr.] action. But the information that they are able to generate through social media, through context and conversation, has been amazing. So, yes, Nissan is responding to what is happening here.
And we feel that even though the vote on Volkswagen was only a vote that was lost by 47 votes in order to have a union, that we’re moving in the right direction, ’cause it’s not–and we understand also and those young people are learning that this is not built overnight. You don’t often–as Dr. King would say, we’re going to have victories and we’re going to have defeats. You know. And the process of this has been really enlightening for me, to watch them, to watch them grow in their own way, in their own space, and create the kind of–the language that’s necessary for them to move forward, the language of social activism, the language of looking at their own lives in relationship to building community, all those [incompr.] things that I see apparent over the last–in my work with them. That’s been one thing that I’ve worked on consistently over this last period.
But access, and certainly access to this discourse, access to the conversation, is not something that we find–I have to come here to Real News and talk about that. I have to find other ways of talking about that. You know. Maybe there’s a local paper, or maybe there’s a school paper that talks about that. I have so many–and the event we had on Friday night with Common, brought Common in, Common, who is an activist and a major hip hop artist here, it brought them, and it just elevated people’s sense of themselves and the possibilities with bringing him in there.
And it is important lessons for all of us, you know, because while we see that the situation, as we see, in real people’s–people’s real lives become desperate and more desperate, we see this advance where young people are taking charge and being the architects of this whole process as well.
JAY: James, how much of this kind of spirit do you see when you’re–.
EARLY: Well, I was just thinking as Danny was talking, we are of the same generation. We’re seven years difference in our age. I’m from Tallahassee, Florida, in the South, where I too saw the black church, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, young people. And, you know, we are the stuff of media, all of us.
Without our lives, the intrigues of our lives, the successes, the failures of our lives, or just our lives where the media creates its own spin about our lives, then there is no such thing as news.
I once did a program on my Ten Minutes Left program at Howard University on what is news. And just listening to Danny and thinking about that period, one of the things about news, including The Real News, is an active citizenship. We can either be the inanimate objects being moved around, sort of the visual chess board of the media, or we can wait for The Real News to say, you know, you ought to be looking at these people, or we can be an active expression of democracy, as were these young people during the 1960s. And white people who crossed over, not abandoning who white people were but looking for a different kind of humanity, not to become black, but to build a new America out of black and white. We were not talking about Latinos or gay/lesbian people, or even [incompr.] people in that age.
So news is very much what we can make it, rather than what it can make of us. That’s one of the lessons, I think, coming out of the 1960s, that the rupture with American apartheid, on the part, particularly, of young and old black people coming out of the church, says we will not live in this society as it is organized any longer and force the media–. And we must remember television, we became the commodity of television, the stuff of television. Now, while they use that to say what was going on, it was the citizens that brought the morality to the story.
EARLY: It was the citizens who made them focus on the story.
Now we’re in a different era, a totally different era of social media, where you can look at your own navel, talk about your own earring, or you can talk about something more substantive, like what’s going on in the union or why there is so much violence. But we still have to grapple with these major convening focal points called mass media, even as we take advantage of social media.
And so I think it’s incumbent on us to draw some lessons from that period about whose side the news is on. We get in and we make sure that we are the active ingredient in that mediation, and that means even progressive, democratic-minded media like The Real News. Again, you can either wait for it to come and cover you, or you can engage it, as you see all of these young adults who are being hired here, who are behind these cameras, that this is a public, social space, not just a typical media space, where this is a town meeting, meaning that you, the demos, the active citizen, the ordinary people, are bringing your views and mediating, discussing, and debating. And the news then is a refractor and a facilitator for that. So I think it’s incumbent on us to do that. Otherwise, we will simply remain the objects of their intrigue.
And there’s all kinds of intrigue. We can see what’s happening with the Malaysian plane. No one knew what in the hell was going on. But it was an interesting way to take us off and away from serious matters like what’s going on right here with Nissan workers; what’s going on with violence in our streets, of why Ras Baraka, for example, in Newark is running about the issue of violence and he’s saying that what goes on here is not just in Newark, it’s something going on across the country; or Andy Shallal in Washington, that this is not just about who will be mayor of Washington, although that is the nation’s capital. But these issues are the same issues going on all over the country. And, therefore, what used to be sort of isolated–this city, that city–connects us.
Baltimore is a classic example. You know. We don’t know enough in this country about Baltimore. And I don’t say that simply because I’m sitting here, I live 30 miles away. But this is an extraordinary city, in both its virtues and both its failings, and we would hardly know that you were here.
Now, that places some responsibility on us vis-à-vis the news. We really have to be more creative and more active and less just personal and how we communicate through our social media. But we have to convene. This is a public space to convene. This is not the only public space. But we have got to make the news come to us and make the news open up, despite its own interests, to hear our voice. That’s what governance and mediation is about. Otherwise, we are the passive citizens.
And Venezuela is one of those areas where we see a lot of dynamism of a whole construct called participatory democracy and active citizenship, citizens saying, no, I will not wait every two to four or eight years to see what you’ve done with me; I’m going to be on your doorstep daily. And, of course, there are really strong, intense things going on, people standing on both sides of that divide, except somebody won. And, you know, it’s like the other side is like the Tea Party, saying: I don’t care who won; I’m not going to respect that; I’m not going to deal with the protocols; I’m going to call you nasty names, racial names; I don’t really care what women said at the voting box, your place is in the kitchen, waiting on the man to come home. You know, there are large numbers of people in this country who think that way. And these are well-educated people think that way.
So these are some reflections about who side the media is on, the news is on, and I think some lessons that we can draw from that great democratic moment called the civil rights movement, which is too often just posed as a black-white dynamic. There is no question but that black people were the catalytic force, but there is no question that white and latinos who decided they did not want to live in that world joined them not to become a part of the black community, but to become a part of a new American community. And the news was forced to reflect that.
JAY: Thank you.
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