The Heart of Journalistic Mythology
Paul Jay Speaks at The Labour College of Canada
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: After 9/11, the US media capitulated completely and became, essentially, a public relations firm for US White House policy in Iraq. The Canadian media was a little better on Iraq because we stayed out of it, but I don’t think weï¿½veï¿½been a heck of a lot better when it comes to Afghanistan. Once the troops are over, the patriotic drums start beating and the media goes along with it. What we saw happening in the US, was not just the capitulation of the media, but with the Patriot Act and with the kind of chauvinist fervor that was taking place in the US and the attack on people’s democratic rights and the whole Bush-Cheney neocon policy ofï¿½. How many people in here are familiar with a document called ï¿½Project for the New American Centuryï¿½? It began as a letter to Clinton in the late ’90s, and then they created this programmatic documentï¿½ï¿½theyï¿½ being Cheney and [Paul] Wolfowitz, and I think Norman Podhoretz is one of the fathers of neo-conservatism, [Donald] Rumsfeld – the whole gang that came to power with Bush, and some others. The basic thesis of this document was that firstly, we’re now living in a one-superpower world, and we don’t have to abide by the norms that existed in the post-World War II period. In other words, international law no longer matters, because international law was part of a contention with another superpowerï¿½you made use of this law to kind of control and propagandize against each other. But now that we’re one- superpower, you don’t need international law anymore, which is why you can have pre-emptive war in Iraq, which is well-known to have violated every norm of international law. Secondly, and, this is a very important part, which was that because we’re in a one-superpower world, we should now project US military power to shape the world as we think it should be. In other words, you no longer have to use policy of containment against your regimes you don’t like; instead, you should go ahead and have a regime change. This was all 1999. And for those of you that follow the conspiracy stuff on the Internet, one of the famous quotes is from this document, because in this document they actually say, we won’t be able to really get the American people behind this unless we have ï¿½a new Pearl Harbor.ï¿½ And, of course, when 9/11 came, everyone connected these two dots. Now, I’m not saying one and one equals two, but still, it was convenient. The Real News project began as a need to do something about the state of media, starting with the US, in the sense that if the US descends intoï¿½I mean, I think between 9/11 and Katrina, when the media finally got a little bit of guts and started to critique Bush, you had a vision of what a kind of tyranny would look like in the United States, this kind of alliance between neo-conservatism, corporatism, and religious evangelicalism. During that period, you saw the seeds, and it’s certainly not gone when you take a look at what’s happening with the kind of promotion of Sarah Palin and the kind of movement around Palin-type politics. So the Real News project stated, well, if you look at what’s really at the heart of what’s wrong with the mainstream news, are two basic things: First being, the way the economics of news is based on, first of all, advertizing, profit motive; the problem of monopoly ownership of media. It creates an agenda. We said with the Internet there’s now the possibility of changing the economics of television news, that if millionsï¿½if you could fund a news network the way Obama funded much of his election campaign, you could have a global independent news network. Number two, which is the biggest deception of mainstream newsï¿½and this goes for television and the newspapersï¿½ at the very heart of the deception or the mythology, is they report as if we don’t live in a class society. I believe, it’s absolutely the heart of the problem. Everyone knows we do. Every reporter knows we do. Everyone they report on knows we do. In fact, when Obama ran his campaign, it was all about we’re for the middle class. How can you have the middle class if you don’t have some other classes? They don’t talk about them. And the same thing happens in Canada. During election times you hear all kinds of talk about the middle class. But if you have a middle class, you also have elite. However, you may want to describe that elite, you have to have one else, you don’t have the middle class either. And everyone that does news knows that every story you approach, you have to decide where is your starting point, who’s your audience, who you speak to. And the people who are most honest about this are people that report for the business pressï¿½to some extent The National Post, a little bit The Globe and Mail, but even more honest are, say, The Wall Street Journal or some of the other financial papers. What’s honest about them is they know their audience is a section of the elite that has the most capital, and they write for them, and try to write more or less as realistically as they can for them. But there’s no independent journalism who says straightforwardly, we’re not going to report or side with or be an appendage of one section of the elite or the other, because what’s called diversity of opinion here is diversity of opinion amongst the elite, ’cause there are very competing interests amongst the elite. But if you try to say, okay, well, we want to represent what’s in the interest of workers, well, then you’re marginalized, you’re utopian, you’re naive, you’re a lefty, you’re this or you’re that. So The Real News says unabashedly, we’re not an appendage of any section of the elite. And there’s a wonderful quote from George Will in the American electionsï¿½people that watch The Real News know I quote this over and over again, and I probably will until this isn’t true–on the George Stephanopoulos show on Sunday morning in a debate during the election campaign, and Donna Brazile said that McCain has seven houses, and they went on and on about why should people support McCain when he has seven houses. And George Will, if people don’t know, he’s a very well-known right-wing columnist. And he got angry and turned redder and redder in the face. He lost it finally, and said, look, everyone that’s run for presidency of the United States is essentially from the American aristocracy. He says, quote, unquote, ï¿½let’s not get sentimental about all of this; what you get to decide in elections is not whether the elite’s going to rule but which section of the elite’s going to rule.ï¿½ Now, he said this onï¿½he would never say it if he wasn’t so angry at Donna Brazile, because they don’t usually talk so honestly about this. What we don’t have is a news organization that can do daily television news that’s not an appendage, representative of one section of the elite or the other. And that’s what we are trying to do.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: I guess I was a little blown away by the professionalism of this news and how Iï¿½but I’ve never heard of it before. If I had known, I’d be watching this every morning as getting my news, instead of going to Fark.com because that’s the best I can do to get, you know, an unbiased look at what’s going on in the world. So I just kind of want to know what you are doing to spread the news.
JAY: Clearly not enough. We’re still really small and not nearly yet financed at the level we need to be. In the short term, we’re creating a group of volunteers. We’re up to, I think, about 40, but we want to get it to, like, 400 or 500 who every morning will blog about us, get on to websites, post our videos, make use of all the social media to start making a lot more noise. The other major step we’re taking is we’re making a big push to try to get on television this year. The thing is, for ordinary people right now it’s still more about television, especially when it comes to video, and partly ’cause of how lousy so much of the broadband still is. You need a good speed to watch what feels like a TV experience. And then the other thing is we need help. We need people to let people know. We’re doing daily news in the sense that we do a news story every day, since the spring of 2007. So we’ve done around 4,500 stories up to now. We want that to flesh out into a full 24-7 network.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: What you said about the presidency in the United States and how they all come from an elitist area really hit home with me. I guess my question is, what section of that do you see Obama representing, and what section of that do we need to be supporting in order to push more left-wing, you know ideals?
JAY: That’s the question, really. I mean, in terms of working people, that is the question. If you go back to that quote from George Will, what you do is you get a choice between these two sections of the elite. It’s really a question for the unions. I’m firmly of the belief that the only possibility of a people’s movement in North America is going to come out of unions. It’s not coming out of anywhere else. It’s not come out of the peace movement, and it’s notï¿½you know, civil rights movement had a lot of heat behind it, but it had modest objectives. It kind of achieved some of them, but it’s not going to create this kind of change that people want. It’s going to come out of unions, which means there’s going to have to be a big fight in the unions. Almost all of the unions’ participation in politics in Canada and the US is simply to be an appendage of one section of the elite or another. You’ve raised the question of how do you have independent people’s politics, working class politics, and participate in elite politics, ’cause you actually have to do both, ’cause right now there is no party that you can say really represents working people that have a chance of winning. You cannot ignore that right now there are some things that you need to do. At least what we have to do now, as journalists (’cause that’s what I can speak about, but I think it’s the same thing for you as activists in trade unions), is to make sure that people don’t have illusions when you say, okay, maybe Obama’s better than Bush; but don’t have any illusions that Obama is a creation of Wall Street, ’cause he is. Everybody that studies where Obama money came from, it’s no surprise that he did what he did in terms of the financial bailout. He’s been mostly a manufactured personality by Wall Street money right from the beginning. Now, this isn’t to say he isn’t significantly better and different than the Bush guys, ’cause he’s rational so far, where as the other guysï¿½. I don’t think we should discount the psychological piece of this. These other guys are sociopaths, and they will turn into the kind ofï¿½some form of a kind of neofascism if they ever have a chance to. But people shouldn’t have illusions. Before the American elections, we interviewed Chomsky and Zinn, and they both said more or less the same thing. They said vote for Obama, but don’t have any illusions about Obama.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: We have a message that we need to get out. We have challenges communicating with our 160,000 members, and more especially, communicating with the Canadian public. So I see a partnership type of thing where, you know, like, we get you into our organization, we get our message out, you interview us. I try to get interviewed on The Citizen orï¿½you know, they don’t return my calls. You know, stuff like that. So I’m not getting that exposure. I need to get that exposure. But I think that that probably applies to all of my sisters and brothers here.
JAY: There’s no journalism without being on one side of the barricades or the other. Like, you’re either kind of with the elite or you’re not. That being said, and we’ve said clearly, we’re not going to, you know, side with one side of the elite or the other; our phrase is we’re going to do news with ordinary people’s interests in mind. That doesn’t mean we’re going to be propagandists for anybody, ’cause I think it’s in the interests of working people that they have journalists who will go after the truth and the facts, no matter who it hurts or helps and where the chips fall. In the United States after 9/11, the president of the machinists union came out and said, we want revenge, pure and simple, calling for an attack on Afghanistan. And how many of his members are, working in military production? So we’ll say that. And one thing we will doï¿½we really want to find the resources for thisï¿½we want to report on the fight that’s going on in the unions, because I think it’s probably, from any objective news point of viewï¿½like, if you came from outer space and just said, "What’s really newsworthy?" if you really understand the society, I think you’d actually say the fight going on in the unions is maybe the most newsworthy thing happening in North America. Is there going to be a fight against conservatism in the unions? Is there going to be a progressive force that takes on the right wing of the union movement? That’s a story we want to cover all the time. And we’ll cover it fairly. However, what you choose to be a story says a lot. So, yeah, we want financial support. The CAW gave us a pretty generous donation when we first got started. We haven’t done anything to pay it back, in a sense. We don’t go out and, you know, try to stroke CAW. We’ve done stories that are about CAWï¿½s strike struggles, and we’ve done others. So the answer is, yes, but know what you’re getting when you get us.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Where are you now in terms of where you’ll need to be, I guess, in the future? Like, how many subscribers do you have? How many do you need before you can be at that place you want to be?
JAY: Right now we’re at a model we more or less sustain, which is essentially one story a day. But what Angela said right off the top, which is why don’t more people know about us, is because we don’t have a PR budget. We spend now about $60,000 a month, which compares to, I don’t know, the toilet paper budget of CNN. To do a television model or an Internet news model that would be more like television, we should be about three times where we are. What we need to do is kind of consolidate where we are right now. A full TV budget would probably be in the range of about $6-$8 million a year. We could do a 24-7, modest 24-7 show with that. We just negotiated a deal with Al Jazeera. We think we can do something similar with some of the other ones, like France 24. To get some international coverage, we can make deals, practically for free. What we want to do is, we want to have a flagship debate show like we used to have with CounterSpin. We want to have a flagship news show. Our budget’s about $60,000 a month. We raise about $20,000 of that through small donorsï¿½$5, $10, $20 donors. That’s, like, $20,000 a month. So, $40,000 a month is coming from bigger donors. Mostly it’s from people that just found us over the Internet. There’s one guy who inherited some money, and he didn’t want to touch it, ’cause he’s quite progressive politically, so he figured he should earn his own living, and he didn’t know what to do with what he inherited, so he started giving it away to causes he liked. He donates a chunk of money to TRNN. So there are little bits and things we scramble around for. To be sustainable, we need, like, 5,000 people donating $10 a month. It’s not that big a number, really. That would consolidate where we are now. The ideal situation is something like 250,000 people. If you just look at Canadian union membership alone, if you could get, 5 or 6 percent of union members in Canada giving $10 a month, we’re practically sustainable just on that basis alone. The other big thing we really want to take up, and, I would say, the most important thing we want to deal with, other than stories like this, is we really want to talk aboutï¿½we want everybody to become economists. Everybody should understand why the economic crisis is happening. We want to try to answer two questions: Why is this happening to me; and what can I do about it. People need to understand what the shenanigans on Wall Street are. But I think the most important thing people have to understand isï¿½and, of course, this is a debate, and we will also express the debate. But in my opinion, after talking to many, many economists, the root of all of this is low wages. It’s just this enormous transfer of wealth. You don’t have real purchasing power in society. You can stimulate all you want and you financially regulate and everything else, but if the issue ofï¿½. What’s wrong, I think, is how they’re waging the strike in Sudbury. This goes back to how people in unions communicate better to the media. The unions need to vigorously fight that the solution to the economic crisis is higher wages, because in fact what’s happening now, when you go talk to community people in Sudburyï¿½or, we’ve done stories from Windsor and Detroitï¿½from non-unionized workers, the resentment against unionized workers, how often you hear, you guys are paid too much, you’re causing the problem, you’re making us uncompetitive with workers in other parts of the world, what’s wrong with–what do you need a nickel bonus for, you’re making $25 an hour, the resentmentï¿½. When you hear economics debated and talked about in mainstream television or media anywhere, it’s all from the point of view of investors. So of course low wages is good, and they never even discuss the issue of wages. But forget any morality of it. If you actually wanted to solve the economic crisis, other than taxing wealth, the real ongoing sustainable model is people have to get paid properlyï¿½and then some; you can go further than that, but that’s the starting point. I don’t think unions themselves have a good enough handle on why the crisis is taking place and what the solutions are. I hear so much of empty moralistic rhetoric generally coming from unions, coming from the strike. "They’re bad people; the guys at Vale are bad." It doesn’t wash unless; you’re already a union supporter. Okay, so they’re bad. Who cares? Everybody knows; everyone says to themselves, well, if I owned Vale I’d do the same thing, so then I’d do that. When it becomes this moral argument it doesn’t persuade anybody. And the unions rely so much on the, we’re good guys and they’re bad guys. And we have to explain the economic crisis. People have to really understand why this recession’s taking place. People have to use this language, ’cause they seem, the unions and their politicians that are supposed to be affiliated with the unions, they’re so timid (to be kind, to use the word timid) to talk about class and talk about how deliberately aggressive these policies of keeping wages low are at the political level, never mind what happens at the company level, and if you talk the way I’m talking, to say, "Oh, you want to wage class war," well, they are waging class war, and why don’t we say so? Only, they’re conscious about it, and everybody else is sleepwalking. The union message needs to have a clarity connected with reality, ’cause when it’s moralistic, everybody says it’s just the same old rhetoric. The unions have three things they’d better fight on, and which we would like to report on. One is we’re not going to pay for the consequences of the crisis, which involves, on the societal level, issue of social spending, Social Security, health care, and all of that, vis-ï¿½-vis company, we ain’t taking cutbacks and so on. Second is, organizing the unemployed, which I do hear next to nothing about in union movements in both countries. They just had Labor Notes Conference, which is a sort of this lefty labor news thing that comes out of Detroit and New York. They have a conference every year and American trade unionists much like the people here, they have workshops, all day long, workshop after workshop after workshop. And I said how many have you got on organizing the unemployed? Zero. The other big issue is organizing the unorganized. I spoke at a CAW national convention two or three years ago, and at the convention was the big resolution on organizing the unorganized. I said, the same thing: by any objective news standard, if you guys actually go out and organize, hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers, that would be one of the biggest stories of the year. That would be socially transforming, which is news if you have any real news standard.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Well, you talk about organizing the unorganized. Well, the people here won’t be surprised, those that know me. The union needs to organize itself, to start with, okay, because everybody’s got their own living room, their own little stories, but nobody’s getting together. I think in Canada, at least, we’re kind of missing the boat. We’re letting the media telling all kind of bad story about the union, how they’re sleeping all over the place. But I was in Jonquiï¿½re working on the Wal-Mart story, and the people are bashing us, the union, the people that tried to keep that store open, and the media’s lying, saying how that store wasn’t bringing in any money, how theï¿½. But the real story: that place brought in a lot of money. Wal-Mart came in with a Learjet loaded of accountants and lawyers to tell everybody why they closed. As soon as the store closed, Wal-Mart had these big advertisements how good they are, buying locally, provincially, what they do good for Quebec. But the union, the one that spent millions to try to organize these people, as a result had two suicides, you know, in the community, thousands of people lost their job. And after they organize these guys, where are they? You know, it’s hard for me to go in the media in my region and say, come on, the union is there. So what I’m saying is that before we start organizing the unorganized, we need to get our act together.
JAY: The reason I phrased what I said a little earlier in a very specific way, which is, that fight about getting your act together, has to take place about something. It can’t just be, we’re better than those guys. It’s got to be about something. It’s about how are we going to organize the unorganized, how are we going to organize the unemployed, ï¿½ over specific issues. It’s going to get fought out. But the story is what you’re saying. It is the internal fight that’s the real story. The other piece of it in terms of, like, a Wal-Mart story and why we’re doing what we’re doing is, the power of news is, that it’s daily. It’s the repetition of it that’s its power. It’s like advertising. You know, it’s white, it’s white, it’s white, it’s cleaner, it’s cleaner, it’s cleaner. It’s when you hear that over and over and over againï¿½and that’s what they do ï¿½even if they had one decent story on this same Wal-Martï¿½if, and I don’t know that they didï¿½it would get drowned out by the other 364 days a year of all the other crap. So this is really what we’re trying to do here, is create something that’s daily with the repetition of a news cycle. And it’s not like what’s going to happen, just because we do this, and then slowly everyone’s going to say, oh, I see the light, and the world changes, but what happens is there’s certain moments in history that are so dramatic that they cut through the narrative of the mythology. So 9/11 was one of those moments. Katrina was one of those moments. There’s just moments that are so dramatic that everybody stops and says, okay, my daily life, which normally consumes 99 percent of my consciousness, all of a sudden I’m getting that these big things affect me, and I’d better start worrying about these big things, ’cause most ordinary peopleï¿½and it’s not true for– activists clearly areï¿½ see the bigger picture and are trying to get involved in it. Most ordinary people are trying to survive every day and deal with their personal problems and kids and love life and everything else. But every so often these moments occur. So we need to be there in that moment. When people are flipping around a TV dial or looking on the Internet and they’re seeing the same, the same, the same, and then they get to us and they say, "Oh, shit, did they just say that?" that’s what this model’s about. We have to be there for the moments when we can start to penetrate a really mass consciousness.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: You talked about things we can talk to the general public about and get out in our messages from unions. What about trying to get a message out to our members? Because, they’re our unions, and I think all of us are having trouble getting messages out to our rank-and-file members.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: That’s kind of the question.
JAY: No, I’m asking you why ’cause I’m not involved in it. Why are you having so much trouble?
AUDIENCE QUESTION: I’m not sure.
JAY: Like, what’s an example?
AUDIENCE QUESTION: There seems to be a lot of apathy. People think that someone else is going to represent them and do all the work for them and they’re going to benefit.
JAY: Have you asked them why they’re not listening?
AUDIENCE QUESTION: No.
JAY: Why don’t you start there? I mean, ask them why they’re not listening. Maybe the message is tired. But I think, what’s holding the message back is the ideologically not breaking with this impotent role the unions are playing politically. If the unions can’t really see themselves as an independent force, then it holds back all the thinking. It becomes tired slogans when people get talked to, and people who’ve heard it say, like, "Oh, I already heard that." But the main thing is to get young workers going. As apathetic as probably some young people are, with a little bit of work I bet you could turn it into its opposite, because as apathetic as young workers are, they’re also bored with what they’re doing. So if you can create a situation where it’s invigorating to get involved, intellectually invigorating, challenging, and people can really feel like they’re going to start growing intellectually and think in terms of the society, not just in terms of our membership. Part of the reason this resentment comes from lower-paid workers is the feeling that unions are just looking after themselves. I know that’s not true, especiallyï¿½it’s more true in the US than it is here. Unions here have been a lot more involved in fighting for better social policy for everybody. There’s more of that in Canada. Like, UAW in the US is terrible. They didn’t give a damn what happened to anyone that wasn’t in the UAW, and it came back to bite them.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: I kind of want to know that two-tiered thing, where if I volunteer, what is asked of me, and then also, like, where do you see your guys’ï¿½your role in local media.
JAY: There’s a great need for local media, and there’s a big debate about local media, but at the moment we can’t do anything about local media. The local media in and of itself is not a great virtue if it’s crap. So if it’s just car chases and conventional coverage of city council and this and that, I personally wouldn’t spend a minute fighting for it. That doesn’t mean thereï¿½s no need to be good local media. But right now the issues, that are facing us are primarily national, so that’s what we’re working on. That being said, we’re going to do some experiments in a few places to try to combine the national issues with some local ones in some actual specific geographical areas as examples. But the volunteering and the local media and what we’re doing connect this way for now. People can start Real News chapters in their cities. They can do several things. One is, they can join a blog squad to help us spread what we’re doing. They look for local stories that will help people understand national issues. So find something in your workplace. I’m really juiced by the fact so many people here are from the public sector. The reason is, the Canadian public sector has a lot to teach the world. With all its faults and everything, the public sector here, most Canadians think, does a really good job, and it’s a good model of how public ownership, public sector can work. The stuff that’s working should also be a news story. Like, I actually think the LCBO should be a news story. It’s a great story for Americans to hear. They wanted to privatize it here and they couldn’t; like, Ontarians didn’t want to privatize it. I’ve seen the comparisons between Alberta liquor stores that they privatized and Ontario, and you wouldn’t want to go to an Alberta liquor store. You getï¿½what is it?ï¿½like, a third of the choice you get here. Three, if you want to go another step and you’ve got the time, we’ll train you. If you’re really interested, we’ll train you how to shoot, we’ll train you how to edit, and you can start learning how to produce stories. The other thing we want to do, which everybody can get involved with pretty quickly, is we want to have what we’re calling people’s editorial committees, where you invite some friends over to watch one of our stories and then concretely tell us what you like, what you didn’t like, and very importantly, tell us what we should do next on this story.