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June 04, 2006

Pacifica: Can It Be Actually Good?

In response to my endless carping, sk points out that Sam Husseini has written here about Pacifica, one of the most important existing alternatives to our current media. Sam asks: "Can Pacifica Live Up to its Promise?"

Imagine a Pacifica that has reporters going to the major news conferences: At the White House; at City Hall; at the State Department; at the Pentagon; at the place they call the Department of Justice; at the big think tanks. All asking tough, timely questions...

Imagine a Pacifica that does not merely pretend to be brave, that and that avoids the cheap shots of demonizing Bush supporters as "brownshirts"; instead, actually building a news and information infrastructure that will help change the world for the better -- by providing information that changes hearts and minds.

Imagine a Pacifica with programmers who have the knowledge and wit to regularly bring on officeholders, mainstream pundits and others and expose their fallacies on the air.

Imagine a Pacifica that, rather than bringing on people who agree with each other, or at least pretend to, actually have open discussions. Advocates of different movements, say liberalism and socialism, can and should be in dialogue; should be critically examined, including by each other. The worst elements of all should be exposed; the best aspect of each should proliferate...

Imagine a Pacifica and WPFW that helps organize people around Washington, D.C. so that the collective conscience of the people around the nation's capital is felt on a daily basis by federal government officeholders. Imagine WPFW being used to announce timely protests at crucial events and places in DC...

Imagine a Pacifica that organizes "town hall" meetings between the people of various cities in the U.S. and the people of cities around the world where our government is exerting its violence and threats of violence. Imagine a Pacifica that builds on this and uses the power of the Internet effectively, that builds local and global connections.

The rest is here.

Posted at June 4, 2006 11:47 AM | TrackBack


But no organization blogged about by a guy who is refferring to himself on his blog as osama huseinni is every going to gain mass acceptance.

The solution will be grwon bottom-up rather imposed top down. The fact we are discussing Pacifica on your blog rather than discussing you at one of their forums is all that needs to be said of Pacifica. Will the ultimate solution incorporate them as a useful sub-part? Maybe, but they need to prove their worth first by actually reaching people with their message, something you Jonathan have done without really trying.

Posted by: patience at June 4, 2006 03:53 PM

Why it rained on Thursday but didn't rain on Thursday otherwise known as fair and balanced or how I learned to love not getting the news from the news that did but did not report anything at all if there was anything to report but I will let you decide because I will or will not decide if I should or should not decide not that this is an actual decision:

CJR Daily spoke with Lehrer about his coming PBS program, "Free Speech. Jim Lehrer with Ben Bradlee," in which he talks to Bradlee about anonymous sources, journalistic integrity, celebrity journalists and other issues facing journalism today. "Free Speech" premieres June 19.

Liz Cox Barrett: You have sat down with Ben Bradlee before -- for the NewsHour -- and talked to him about Watergate and such. How was this sit-down different? What was your aim for this program and what inspired it?

Jim Lehrer: When the Deep Throat story broke a year ago -- that it was Mark Felt -- I did an interview with Ben on the NewsHour about that -- 10, 12 minutes, in television terms a long time but in NewsHour terms not a long talk. We got into some to some of the issues of anonymous sources and my wife, Kate Lehrer, said to me, "You oughtta sit down with Ben at some length and talk about journalism, maybe for PBS or even a longer DVD for journalism students." So I called Ben and he said,"Yeah, why not?" And then I called our folks at MacNeil/Lehrer productions and that's how it all came about ...

LCB: I was interested in your exchange with Bradlee about how, as you said, to "keep lies out of the newspaper." At one point, Bradlee said that newspapers are obliged to report what the president says and if the president says something that isn't true you have to "learn how to handle that." When you asked Bradlee how one handles that, he said that "you assign a special story to it and [write]: 'When the president said, 'A,' he flew in the face of (there are a lots of little euphemisms you can use-) much of opinion which says the opposite. You can highlight the controversy which seems to me to be an intelligent way to do it."

At CJR Daily, we spent a lot of time during the 2004 presidential campaign criticizing just the sort of story that it seems Bradlee is describing -- stories that "highlight the controversy," report this claim versus these competing claims, rather than providing facts for the reader and helping them navigate toward the truth. What are your thoughts on this? How do you approach reporting what a public official has said something that is blatantly untrue?

JL: I don't deal in terms like "blatantly untrue." That's for other people to decide when something's "blatantly untrue." There's always a germ of truth in just about everything ... My part of journalism is to present what various people say about it the best we can find out [by] reporting and let others -- meaning commentators, readers, viewers, bloggers or whatever ... I'm not in the judgment part of journalism. I'm in the reporting part of journalism. I have great faith in the intelligence of the American viewer and reader to put two and two together and come up with four. Sometimes they're going to come up with five. Best I can do for them is to give them every piece of information I can find and let them make the judgments. That's just my basic view of my function as a journalist.

LCB: That goes beyond presenting a claim and several counter-claims that appear to call into question the original claim?

JL: That's part of it. Absolutely that's part of it. I mean, if somebody says -- doesn't matter if it's the president or who --if somebody says, "It rained on Thursday," and you know for a fact it didn't rain on Thursday, if the person was of a nature that you felt you should quote him, "It rained on Thursday." Second paragraph, third paragraph -- or in television terms second or third sentence -- you would say, "However, according to the weather bureau it didn't [rain Thursday]." But you don't call the person a liar. The person who would call that person a liar would be the person who'd read that story and say, "My god, Billy Bob lied." But I'm not doing that. I'm providing the information so that the person can make their decision. People might say, "Well the weather bureau has lied. Or I was out that day and it was raining ..."

Most of the stories I have covered in 45 years have been gray stories. There are very few really stark black and white stories. On a daily basis there are some huge ones that are, sure, from time to time, but it is helping the reader sort through all this sort of gray stuff out there. It's not about, "This guy is a liar, this guy isn't a liar." I wish it was that simple. It seldom ever is.

LCB: Is there any place for writing, "Billy Bob said it rained Thursday. The weather bureau said it didn't. I was out that day and I say it didn't."

JL: I would never do that. That's not my function to do that.

LCB: Is it a newspaper's function?

JL: Look, I'm just telling you what I do, ok? I'm an expert on the NewsHour and it isn't how I practice journalism. I am not involved in the story. I serve only as a reporter or someone asking questions. I am not the story.

LCB: At one point during the interview, Bradlee said he considers embedding "a mixed blessing." And you?

JL: I think it's a terrific thing. We have increasingly fewer and fewer journalists who have any military experience and understand what life is like in the military and in combat. It isn't the only reporting that needs to be done, but it's a part of the reporting on the war and I think it's a very legitimate thing to do. A lot of good stories have come out that wouldn't have come out otherwise -- mostly about what it's like for these young men and women who are engaged in combat in your and my name and our country's name. And that, to me, is a very, very legitimate function of journalism. Now, of course, that's only part of the story.

LCB: One of your questions to Bradlee was, "Why do people not want journalism any more?" What did you mean by that, exactly?

JL: I don't remember ... I really don't feel that way at all. I may have been asking about ...

LCB: I think you were talking about newspaper circulation going down -- it was in that portion of the interview. Any thoughts on what you might have had in mind?

JL: I must have been talking about circulation and ratings. My own view, there is a need for and a demonstrated need for more journalism now than there ever has been. The serious, real journalists of this country are more needed now than they ever have been because the blogs and the mp3s and the iPods, they're all talking about the news, but where does the news originate? It originates with a reporter. It originates with a news organization. And whether it's the NSA surveillance story or the Randy Cunningham story ... all those started with reporting. And so there is increasingly evidence that the folks are understanding that, yes, it's a terrific thing to be able to go on a radio show and shout about something or to exchange strong opinions on a blog and all of that, but in the beginning there has to be a story. All of that original reporting is being done by journalists.

LCB: About a month ago a Chicago Sun-Times reporter wrote, in a piece about Katie Couric moving to CBS, "Let's face it: Most of us would rather hear the news from Survivor's Jeff Probst than Jim Lehrer any day." You thoughts on that?

JL: Be my guest. I don't care what anybody like that says.

LCB: Do you think it's true? What about the whole entertainment-ification of the news?

JL: I haven't even got time to consider [that]. Look, we have a considerable audience for our program. We do serious journalism. We've been on the air for 30 years. We just celebrated our thirtieth anniversary and I have every [indication] we'll be here for at least 30 more. Whether somebody says some stupid thing like that -- be my guest, I don't care. People can say anything they want to. If they don't want to get the news from me, get it from somebody else. It's not something I'm going to worry about, I'm sorry.

LCB: You have described the NewsHour as a forum for "civil discourse." Can you elaborate? And, do you see any value in the often uncivilized cable shoutfests?

JL: Look, I'm a believer in all of it. I think all kinds of discourse is good for our democratic society -- civil discourse, uncivil discourse, screaming, hollering, poetry, however you want to have a discussion is fine with me. I'm in the civil discourse business. I think it takes all kinds. And more power to everybody.

LCB: After too much exposure to cable news programs with sound effects, news crawls, triple-split-screens, flashing graphics and such, watching the NewsHour can be a shock to the system -- the ability to focus, singly, on the story being presented without other images and noises competing for your attention. Do you see anything useful for the viewer in all these bells and whistles?

JL: I'd repeat what I said. People can get their news any way they want. What I love about what's happened is that there are so many different avenues, there are so many different outlets, so many different ways to debate and discuss and to inquire about any given news story. If people want bells and whistles and all of that, there are bells and whistles available. If they don't want bells and whistles there are places to go where they are not available. I am in favor of everything. Everyone should get their news however they want to and in whatever form they want. I'm not going to sit back in judgment of other people and the way they do it.

If Letterman tells a joke with a piece of information in it that you didn't know before, that's fine with me, that doesn't bother me. I mean, my God, you've got to get it off a serious news program or it doesn't count? I don't believe that for a second ... If we don't have an informed electorate we don't have a democracy. So I don't care how people get the information, as long as they get it. I'm just doing it my particular way and I feel lucky I can do it the way I want to do it.

LCB: So you think there's often information to be had from the cable shoutfests?

JL: Well, I assume. I don't watch them myself, so I'm no expert. I don't watch that, so I don't know. But I assume there is. Whatever there is, at least they're talking about things that matter. As I say, I'm a discourse advocate. What form it comes is less important to me than the fact that there is discourse.

LCB: Finally, Katie Couric's move to CBS has inspired a lot of talk about what it takes to anchor the news in the evening, and one word that inevitably comes up is "gravitas." What is it and do you have it?

JL: I have to let other people decide that.

LCB: How would you define it?

JL: I don't know what it means.

LCB: Is it a necessary ingredient to anchor the evening news?

JL: I don't know. ... I'll leave that for others to talk about. That's not my subject. I started as a print reporter. I'm a journalist and that's what I do. My function is an anchorperson, but it's in a journalism context, and gravitas and coats and ties and haircuts and all that sort of stuff, I'll leave to others. My thing is just to do my job the best way I know how and as I say I'm very fortunate to be able to do it the way I want to do it.

JL: What qualities do you bring to it, then?

LCB:You'll have to ask other people that. Look, I've been doing this for 30 years. ... This is it: I'm available five nights a week and have been for 30 years. For me to sit back and say, "I bring this, this and this," forget it. I'm not going to waste my time on that sort of question. Sorry.

Posted by: rob payne at June 4, 2006 06:55 PM

"Sorry, But no organization blogged about by a guy who is refferring to himself on his blog as osama huseinni is every going to gain mass acceptance."

My son's name is Osama. He was born in 1992. I had not heard of Osama Bin Laden at that time. It is a name. Sam Husseini's full first name may actually BE Osama (it is a very, very popular name in the ME and has been popular ever since the time of the Prophet).

Have Americans stopped naming their sons Timothy, too?

Posted by: Anna in Cairo at June 5, 2006 01:02 AM

Hell, I hear people are still naming their sons 'George'.

Go figure...

Posted by: floopmeister at June 5, 2006 01:17 AM

Dick Cheney's first name is Dick.

It fits.

Posted by: rob payne at June 5, 2006 01:36 AM

Yeah, but where exactly does it fit?

Posted by: floopmeister at June 5, 2006 01:52 AM

Just ask George,

...he knows.

Posted by: rob payne at June 5, 2006 02:13 AM


Sam isn't referring to himself as Osama Husseini. That's his name. Which of course has made the last few years particularly enjoyable ones for him here in the U.S.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at June 5, 2006 08:57 AM

Tell me about it!

Posted by: Adolph Mussolino at June 5, 2006 09:16 AM


But don't you think that name will ultimately affect the success of the project(s) he is advocating? Clearly this is a huge negative.

It would seem that if you are evangelizing an idea your name should be worthy of consideration, being that you are representing what you are selling. Seriously. But then again here we are talking about Pacifica on your blog rather than talking about you on their forum.

Posted by: patience at June 5, 2006 12:28 PM

So... because Americans are ignorant jerks, people should abandon their identity and give up, for example, their very own fucking name? Also Sikhs should lose their turbans and shave their beards so people don't mistake them for Osama bin Laden when they go to business conferences, etc.?

This sounds like a good idea to me. Please put me in touch with the supplier of the extremely potent hallucinogen that inspired this incisive notion.

Posted by: saurabh at June 5, 2006 06:49 PM

So... because Americans are ignorant jerks, people should abandon their identity and give up, for example, their very own fucking name?

I should mention that (as I understand it) in everyday life Sam has always gone by Sam, rather than Osama. And he set up his site like he did to make an interesting point. Maybe I can get him to write something at some point about the whole subject, of which there is more to it than this.

Also, I don't think there's anything negative about cultural assimilation per se. It's standard human behavior. In fact, everyone's family has assimilated about a thousand times in a thousand different places in a thousand different ways.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at June 5, 2006 10:48 PM

There is a Canadian made documentary that follows 4 guys whose names happen to be Osama, called "Being Osama," that you might want to check out. I have not seen. But yeah, it's really just another example of the extreme ignorance Americans have about the Middle East - assuming Middle Easterners should change their names to suit American feelings as if the name has anythign to do with anything. To repeat, this is a VERY common name in the Middle East.

Posted by: Anna in Cairo at June 6, 2006 12:05 AM

Also, Sam is a nickname, and a lot of Osamas go by Sam or Samy or Simsim (the nickname for my son, which actually means "sesame") or Samsuma or any other cute-ification of the name. There is an added reason to go by the shortened form in the US, of course, but like someone upthread said, this is primarily because Americans are ignorant jerks.

Posted by: Anna in Cairo at June 6, 2006 12:08 AM

Not true, we invented ketchup.

Posted by: rob payne at June 6, 2006 03:42 AM

Cultural assimilation is fine, and someone named Osama choosing to go by Sam is okay by me. But assimilation is not a must, and people should be able to choose what aspects of their traditions they want to retain. No comment on Sam Husseini, who I don't know either way - but Patience's implication that everyone needs to adjust to avoid prejudice is galling irregardless.

Also, with regards to the name 'Osama' itself, I heard a particularly disturbing anecdote from my mother, who recieved a patient of that name a few days after 9/11. He had a psychotic break after spending the night of 9/12 in FBI custody for having the wrong name.

Posted by: saurabh at June 6, 2006 10:32 AM

...which, I meant to add, sort of makes me a little tetchy on the subject.

Posted by: saurabh at June 6, 2006 10:33 AM

Hi folks. At 18 when I applied for US citizenship (they have a space on the form for this, or did at the time), at my father's urging, I changed my name legally to Samuel Hennessy. Crazy guy wanted his son to have a relatively easy life -- racism against Arabs is hardly a post-9/11 phenomenon. Around the time of the Gulf War, I partly went back to Sam Husseini in my writing and activism. Now I suppose I'm gradually "reverting" back to the original, Osama (or, more properly, Usamah) Husseini (Hussayni, really). I should say that in some places, where I felt comfortable, like the Park Slope Food Coop, in the early '90s I'd always been Osama Husseini.

Anyway, so were it not for my name, would there be any discussion here on the, um, substance of my article?

Posted by: sam -- err -- osama at June 6, 2006 12:12 PM

Trust me, we're working on it. I think this is a time when public radio and more generally left media is getting its act together slowly. The center left publications / outlets seem to be a little bit more open and there seem to be more voices like this one about what can be done if we can shape up a bit in the more radical spaces.

So, no time for discouragement. Onwards, revolution :)

Posted by: wbai worker undercover at June 7, 2006 03:32 PM

I listen to Democracy Now!, the KPFA Morning Show, and Flashpoints nearly every weekday. I find these all to be indespensable most of the time (except maybe when what they happen have on the Morning Show doesn't quite apply to the coast I'm on).

Sure, Pacifica could be a hell of a lot better. Sure, internal dysfunction is it's middle name. But who else covers Haiti or Palestine, for Gods sake?

I'm trying to make some good left media myself, and I could do a hell of a lot more. But people like Marc Cooper and others who hold such hostility for Pacifica stick in my craw. Let's set aside these arguments, support what we have, make it better, and make it ourselves.

Posted by: Eric at June 11, 2006 02:25 AM