As 15,000 journalists converge on Boston for the Democratic National Convention, the FBI says protesters are plotting to attack the media. We speak with Danny Schechter executive director of MediaChannel about the corporate media’s coverage of the convention. [includes rush transcript]
Over the past several weeks, Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge and other Bush administration officials have put forward several warnings of possible terror attacks during the Democratic National Convention. And though there has been no concrete evidence that such attacks are likely or real, they have been consistently reported in drumbeat fashion in the press. Then last week, the so-called threat barometer took a new twist. The FBI said it had received credible information that a domestic group, characterized as terrorist, was plotting to attack journalists and their equipment here in Boston. Over the weekend, all of the networks reported on this threat and several reported on the precautions they were taking. In response, the DNC erected a huge mesh net over the media tent area on the grounds of the FleetCenter to prevent any possible attacks on journalists. On FOX News, the network’s correspondent assured viewers that she was taking precautions. She held up a gas mask and declared herself prepared.
The media scene here in Boston is quite stunning. More than 15,000 journalists have poured in. They outnumber the delegates more than 3 to 1.
- Danny Schechter, executive director of MediaChannel. He writes a daily blog called "The News Dissector" You can read it at MediaChannel.org
AMY GOODMAN: Welcome, Danny Schechter.
DANNY SCHECHTER: Well, I have been doing these conventions for many, many years. It’s sort of a media reunion. A media convention as well as a political convention. A lot of people who know each other '88 from 1992 or 1996 or 2000 are here kind of catching up with each other. There's more schmooze going on so far than news. And the whole terror threat seems to be driving a wedge or an attempt to drive a wedge between the media and the protesters, less the media become too sympathetic, I believe, with the protesters or, you know, give them a platform for their views rather than simply their presence as a symbolic force here. And what’s interesting is that a survey in National Journal found that not too many people really take this seriously at all. It doesn’t have a lot of legs, so to speak, or traction with the media, but yet, in the national media, it’s become the big issue but I have had people tell me watch out, be careful and all the rest of it. But I think the real media story here; this is a lack of media coverage of the convention on network television.
Yesterday here in Boston, all the news anchors from ABC, NBC, and CBS, Rather, Brokaw and Jennings here at a panel discussion at Harvard along with Jim Lehrer of the News Hour, and what emerged in an interesting way is that Jim Lehrer, who is often the most conservative and restrained of all people on the planet, you know, found himself becoming the critic of the networks saying as a citizen, not as a journalist, my God, you know, but as a citizen, he was very concerned about the lack of coverage. Have you an article in the "New York Times" today, I can hold it up here, of all the anchormen and their comments and here you have the head of ABC News, David Weston who is a lawyer, by the way, not a journalist, saying if thought was important, he would go to Disney and demand more air time. But of course he doesn’t. This is only the most intense political race we have had in this century, certainly probably in our country’s history, the most decisive one and the networks are responding by covering it less, not more. Because they believe that the only news is the horserace between Bush and Kerry. But what about all the constituencies and the progressive forces who are being marginalized and not covered? This shows news a way how media has become sort of an undermining of democracy rather than a facilitator of it. That’s what concerns us. At Media Channel we set up Media for Democracy which is a new network of 25,000 members who have been writing e-mails to all the networks that are concerned about this as we see the lack of coverage as another sign that media does not take democratic debate seriously.
AMY GOODMAN: And also, you know, have you the same network saying well, it’s scripted that’s why we aren’t going to cover it. But when they go to the prime time at night one hour, what they are going to end up with is the most scripted access of this convention rather than the investigation of the money trail behind the scene.
DANNY SCHECHTER: These are the same networks that spent a full week on the Ronald Reagan funeral. Hardly a news event of great moment. They created it into a news event. They blew hot air into it, they created, you know, a week of mourning unprecedented in our history, really, to have that type of media attention devoted to the death of a former president. It was totally uncritical, it was, as you know, you reported it fully, but you know, here the same networks have now turned around and are saying that political debate that the kind of under-the-surface tensions in this political process is not worthy of coverage. And I think that’s scary, but it’s also consistent with the kind of coverage we have been seeing throughout the Bush administration. Uncritical, one-note coverage, coverage of the war that was more about selling than telling. You made a film about it and I made a movie called WMD, Weapons of Mass Deception. This is the key issue. Do we have an independent and responsible media or not?
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about making a film, "Weapons of Mass Deception". Is this film going to be seen across country?
DANNY SCHECHTER: Well the fight of independent film makers first is for the funding to make the film. I have managed to do that. Now the fight is the distribution to get the film seen. We just previewed it last night here in Cambridge. Got a great response. I have shown it at a few festivals and now I am I trooping to work out the distribution details.
AMY GOODMAN: So as the same time as the media is flailing it self, how did we get is t. So wrong and they talk about well we aren’t lie detectors. When you have critical document this like yours, it seems as difficult as ever to get them out.
DANNY SCHECHTER: Well, the Michael Moore success has opened a door. At least, it’s shown that there’s a large market for independent documentary film making. It has shown that you can make money as he is doing with a film that’s hard hitting and the like. Now will this penetrate into the market-driven values of the media business? That remains to be seen. The indications, you know, are encouraging. We have "WMD" at the film.com, we have Tim Robbins did the trailer are for the film. We are trying to get it out and get it seen. That’s our struggle right now. You know, years ago, we talk about we need the means of production. Well, we have the means of production now. Do we have the means of distribution? Democracy Now! is demonstrating that distribution is possible with persistence and hard work to get more outlets for your broadcast.
AMY GOODMAN: One last question, Danny. That is on this issue of protesters being painted as terrorists. Now, journalists being told who they have to be concerned about here are protesters because they could be disguised terrorists. Do you think this is a dry run for the Republican Convention in New York?
DANNY SCHECHTER: Well, it’s another wedge issue and unfortunately the Democratic Party which seems to want to tone it down here in Boston want to coop the issues muted as much as possible, keep protest voices stilled, is going along with this. We haven’t heard the part elders speaking out for the right to dissent and for the right of people to be heard. That is shameful, in my view.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us Danny, the news dissector, his film is "WMD." His new film is "Weapons of Mass Deception." Danny, answer that phone.
DANNY SCHECHTER: Thank you very much. My next appointment. [laughter]
AMY GOODMAN: It maybe one of the networks calling to ask to air your film. [laughter]