- Juan GonzálezDemocracy Now! co-host and award-winning columnist at the New York Daily News. He is the former president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. His previous books include Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America.
- Joseph Torressenior adviser for government and external affairs for Free Press, the national media reform organization. He is the former deputy director at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
After seven years of research, the groundbreaking new book, “News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media,” examines how the media has played a pivotal role in perpetuating racist views in the United States. It recalls lives of the unsung pioneering black, Latino, Native American and Asian-American journalists who challenged the worst racial aspects of the white-owned media. It also tells the untold story of how the fight over who controls the internet is just the latest chapter in a centuries-old debate on the role of the media — and the technologies used to deliver it — in a democracy. Today, in a Democracy Now! exclusive, we speak with the book’s authors, Democracy Now! co-host and award-winning journalist Juan González, and Joseph Torres of the media reform organization Free Press. “One of the things that we’ve uncovered is that this fundamental debate that is constantly occurring is: does our nation need a centralized system of news and information, or does it need a decentralized, autonomous system? And which serves democracy best?” González says. “It turns out that in those periods of time when the government has opted for a decentralized or autonomous system, democracy has had a better opportunity to flourish, racial minorities have been able to be heard more often and to establish their own press. In those periods of the nation’s history when policies have fostered centralized news and information, that’s when dissident voices, racial minorities, marginalized groups in society are excluded from the media system.” On the role of civil rights groups in the digital age, Torres notes that “the internet is an open platform. [Internet service providers], up to now, have not been able to interfere with your web traffic. You can access any site you want without being slowed down. What they want to do is … have a pay-for-play system, where if you have a website at Democracy Now!, Democracy Now! will have to pay more to make sure the public can see your site at the fastest speeds, otherwise you’re going to be slowed down. For people of color, it is critical, because of the low barrier of entries, the internet, that we keep the internet open — a free platform — because we don’t have the economic wealth to be able to pay ISPs to make sure our sites are loaded faster.” [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: In Washington, a battle over the future of the internet appears to be intensifying. The Federal Communications Commission recently issued a series of rules on net neutrality dictating how internet service providers manage their networks. One aim of the rules is to bar companies from giving preferential treatment to content due to considerations such as political or financial interests.
The rules are facing opposition, and a string of lawsuits have already been filed. Telecom giant Verizon has sued to overturn the net neutrality rules, while a coalition of public interest groups have filed lawsuits in an effort to strengthen and eliminate loopholes that could allow phone and cable companies from dividing the internet into fast and slow lanes.
Today we spend the hour on a groundbreaking new book that examines an untold story about the American media system, that looks at how the fight over the internet is just the latest chapter in a centuries-old debate on the government’s role in regulating new technology. The book is called News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media. It is written by our very own Juan Gonzalez, co-host of Democracy Now! for the whole 15 years of its existence, and Joe Torres.
The book also examines how the press, dating back to the very first newspaper in the United States, has played a pivotal role in perpetuating racist views among the general population. In addition, the book recalls the lives of many unsung pioneering black, Latino, Native American and Asian-American journalists who repeatedly challenged the worst racial aspects of the white-owned media.
Juan Gonzalez and Joe Torres join us today in studio for the hour. In addition to being co-host of Democracy Now!, Juan is a prize-winning columnist at the New York Daily News, former president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Among his previous books, Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America. Joe Torres is the senior adviser for government and external affairs for Free Press, the national media reform organization. He’s the former deputy director of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
It’s great to have you both with us. And Juan, usually you’re sitting next to me.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, I know. It’s difficult on the other side of the table for a change. Yeah, it’s unusual.
AMY GOODMAN: But it is my delight. You both have been working on this for more than seven years, and of course bringing our life experience to this, as well. Juan, start off by laying out the thesis of News for All the People.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, one of the things that I’ve tried to do after about 30-something years of working in the corporate media, as well as obviously 15 years here with Democracy Now!, but even before that as someone who was always on the media aspect of community and labor organizing for—going back to 45 years, I never was able to clearly understand why our media system is the way it is. The American people love to hate the media, in terms of their constant frustration with how newspapers and television and radio don’t provide accurate coverage. But it’s especially true among people of color. African Americans and Latinos and Native Americans and Asians have always felt denigrated and somehow misrepresented, deeply, by the American media system. But I didn’t understand quite why there’s been so much resistance to change by the system, so Joe and I decided about seven years ago we were going to get to the bottom of this by really examining the entire history of the American system of news and how it developed.
And we were shocked, as we delved deeper into the archives all around the country—presidential archives, the National Archives in Washington—we began examining a lot of the old press—that there had never really been a cogent theory developed of how the system has developed. And so we’ve come up with a theory that we try to explain in the book, but we also have a lot of documentation of how things have happened with our media system.
The basic theory that we’ve come up with is that, one, that the media system has never been a free market system, per se, but that the government has played critical roles throughout the history of the development of news and information in the United States in adopting policies that affected how our system would develop. The government subsidized many of the technologies that eventually developed, whether it was the telegraph, satellite broadcasting, the original research into the internet. So taxpayers funded a lot of the research and development that created our different media platforms. And at critical junctures, this new technology always subverts the existing order.
And we’ve identified actually five major periods in American history, whether it was a new technology developed, and that affected how the system was going, was operating, and Congress had to step in and rewrite the rules of the system. And so, you know, other scholars have called these the constitutive moments in the history of the media system. So we’ve tried to outline how that developed, from the early Post Office for newspapers; the rise of the telegraph, that gave rise—that really made possible the wire services that dominated news throughout the late 19th century; the rise of radio, then of cable television, because television was really just an extension of radio, the rise of cable television; and finally the rise of the internet. Each of these new technologies has created a huge debate over what is the role of the media in a democracy and what is the role of the government in establishing the rules of operation by which all the different groups in society will be able to have access or be heard or produce news.
And so, that’s the general—and one of the things that we’ve uncovered is that this fundamental debate that is constantly occurring is, do—does our nation need a centralized system of news and information, or does it need a decentralized, autonomous system? And which serves democracy best? And it turns out that in those periods of time when the government has opted for a decentralized or autonomous system, democracy has flourished—has had a better opportunity to flourish, racial minorities have been able to be heard more often and to establish their own press. And in those periods of the nation’s history when policies have fostered centralized news and information, that’s when dissident voices, racial minorities, marginalized groups in the society are excluded from the media system, so that the issue of centralism versus localism is critical to a democratic media system. So that’s the overall theory that we’ve developed in terms of how the role of government constitutive policies, the seminal moments when new technology subverts the existing order, and the role of the battle between localism and centralism, as the fundamental battle in whether we have a democratic media system or a controlled and authoritarian media system.
AMY GOODMAN: And Joe Torres, why did you write News for All the People? And how did you come up with that title?
JOSEPH TORRES: Well, the title is a—it took a long time to come up with this title. And actually, it’s a title that we kind of agreed upon at the end and we actually kind of like now. So, titles are tricky things, as you probably know. But we decided to write this book because when Juan became president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in 2002, there was great upheaval going on in that year. Bush came into office, and Michael Powell was the chairman of the FCC. And in that year, he decided to—he wanted to relax our nation’s ownership rules. He wanted to basically get rid of—
AMY GOODMAN: This was Michael Powell.
JOSEPH TORRES: Michael Powell, the son of Colin Powell. What he basically wanted to do was get rid of most rules. He wanted to allow one company in the largest market to own the newspaper, up to three television stations, eight radio stations, and a local cable franchise, all in the same market. And working for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and when Juan became president, we basically understood that consolidation is not good for the newsroom, is not good for the quality of journalism. So, as journalists, we should care about the quality of journalism.
But as people of color, what Juan is talking about—centralization versus decentralization—when you have greater centralization of medium, this means that we cannot tell our own stories, that people of color cannot own radio stations, can’t own television stations. When other people tell our stories, they tell it wrong. And so, what is the greatest promotion you can have as a journalist is to actually own your station and to be the boss. And when we have other stations or when we have other folks telling our stories, this is why we get the kind of coverage that—historically where we’re marginalized. And we believe we need—so, as journalists, we believe we needed to get into that battle. It was a tough battle, because journalists are naturally not inclined to want to take on their bosses. They will get involved in issues like free speech issues, but when it comes to get in the way of their bosses trying to get bigger and please shareholders, that’s another thing. So, but we got involved, and that’s how we started off.
And then, in 2004, basically, we wanted to educate our members and journalists of color about this issue. We wrote a pamphlet called “How Long Must We Wait?” we distributed at the UNITY Convention in 2004. From there, we got some funding from the Ford Foundation, and it led to—to work on this book. So that’s how we got—we wanted to take the lessons we learned, even in that pamphlet, and expand upon it. So, that’s what we did.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to go back through the history of the U.S. media after break, and we’re going to talk about some of the great crusading journalists—Ida B. Wells, who crusaded against lynching, Frederick Douglass. Even we’ll talk about where José Martí fits into this. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Our guests, Joe Torres and Juan Gonzalez, have just completed their epic work, News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media. Back with them in a moment.
AMY GOODMAN: “Sueños de Oro,” “Dreams of Gold,” by Pedro González. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Our guests today are, well, Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez and Joe Torres. They have just completed a masterpiece: News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media_. This begins their tour”>tour around the country, as they speak in New York, in the Bay Area, in Los Angeles, in New Mexico, in Colorado and Washington, D.C., to tell the story of race as a central theme in the development of the U.S. media.
Now, that song you were just listening to was not just any song. Juan, not that you’re related, but can you talk about who Pedro González was?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Pedro González was one of those unsung heroes of American media and journalism. He was a radio host—a singer, actually. That was—originally, a telegraph operator in Mexico, who then came to the United States and became a radio host in the 1930s in Los Angeles. And he had a morning show, Los Madrugadores, where basically he was talking to and playing songs for the migrant workers who were working in the fields early in the morning. And in the 1930s, President Herbert Hoover instituted a mass deportation program to ship Mexican immigrants back to Mexico. It was at the height of the Depression, and the media was stirring up, just as they are now, anti-immigrant fervor. And so, there was a massive deportation program where about a million Mexicans were shipped back to Mexico. And Pedro González was one of the few radio announcers in those days who was constantly condemning these raids, these immigration raids, and deportations on his radio station.
He was suddenly arrested by the Los Angeles district attorney and charged with—on a fabricated rape charge, and sentenced to San Quentin Prison, where in 1939 he actually organized a hunger strike of the inmates of San Quentin against conditions in the prison system. Sounds very modern, doesn’t it, in terms of his activities? Eventually, it turned out that his accuser recanted and admitted that she had been put up to the charges by authorities, and Pedro González was released from prison, but immediately deported to Mexico, where he ended up in Tijuana for many years as a radio announcer, eventually came back to the United States, where he died here at the age of 99 several years ago.
But he was one of these early heroes who used his media platform to try to stand against injustice for immigrant workers. But he’s virtually unknown. I mean, there was a PBS documentary that was done on him several years ago. But largely, in most media histories, you never hear about him. Some of the songs that you’re playing are from one of his albums, because, as I said, he was a popular singer of his day. And there are actually corridos, ballads, written about the injustices of the jailing of Pedro González in the 1930s.
AMY GOODMAN: Go back to colonial times, the first newspaper in the United States, its significance, and then take us forward.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, see, this is what people don’t—it’s true that African Americans and Latinos and Asian Americans were not employed by the media until really—in large numbers, 'til the 1970s. But race has always been a major topic of the American media, from the start. And we went back to the first newspaper in North America, Publick Occurrences, in 1690 in Boston. It was a three-page sheet and the first newspaper. And it was suppressed by the Massachusetts Council after one issue, because it had some provocative articles in it. But when you read the first newspaper, you realize that the bulk of the content—five articles in that newspaper—is intelligence to the settlers about what the Native Americans are up to. Basically, to quote the—Benjamin Harris, who was the editor and publisher of the paper, he says at one point, when he's talking about the Mohawks and the battles of the Massachusetts colony with the—with Canadian settlers, he says, “If Almighty God will have Canada to be subdu’d without the assistance of those miserable Savages…we shall be glad.” And all of the articles were about the threats of Native Americans, except there was one positive article. And that was about how some Christianized Indians in Plymouth were giving thanks to God on Thanksgiving. But generally—and so, Publick Occurrences set the prototype for how race would be covered in America, because every newspaper subsequent to that, throughout the colonial period, a huge portion of the content of newspapers was for the settlers to know what the Indians were up to.
AMY GOODMAN: And then we can go to the quote in Joe and Juan’s book from the New York Tribune editor and publisher Horace Greeley. In an 1854 account of his trip to the Western frontier, Greeley wrote, “I have learned to appreciate…the dislike, aversion, contempt, wherewith Indians are usually regarded by their white neighbors, and have been since the days of the Puritans.”
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, well, interestingly, Greeley was well known in the 19th century as one who was opposed to slavery. He was a publisher who constantly railed against slavery. But when it came to Native Americans and when it came to the Chinese immigrants, he was incredibly racist in the kind of coverage that his paper, which was the New York Times of its day—the Tribune in the mid and late 19th century was the paper of record in the United States. And Greeley was amazingly racist toward Native Americans and toward the Chinese, while at the same time advocating abolition of slavery.
AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of Native Americans, Joe Torres, can you talk about Ora Eddleman Reed, known as the “Sunshine Lady”?
JOSEPH TORRES: Sure, she’s—her family, or her mother, owned a newspaper in Oklahoma, and she ended up taking over the business and running a magazine called Twin Territories, which really became the—a place where Native American literature really thrived. And she went on to—in Casper, Wyoming, to a station in 1924, to really be really the first Native American to be a broadcaster. And it just shows that—it is an example how, early on, how there were several people—there were several journalists of color who actually worked in the mainstream. Her mother owned, and her sister and her, they worked in the mainstream press. And there’s a few examples of that, not too many, but there are a few examples, you know, 100-150 years ago, where people of color actually worked in the mainstream press. And she’s a prime example.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, another example of that, totally unknown, John Rollin Ridge, a Cherokee Indian writer, novelist, wrote a novel about Joaquín Murieta, the California so-called bandit. But John Rollin Ridge ended up moving to California and becoming—founding the Sacramento Bee and being the first editor and publisher of the Sacramento Bee. Now, he eventually sold the paper to James McClatchy, one of his employees. And, of course, McClatchy developed the Sacramento Bee into the flagship newspaper of the McClatchy newspaper chain.
You go to the McClatchy history on their website, their official history, there’s no mention that a Cherokee Indian was the founder of their flagship paper. They make it seem like James McClatchy actually started the Bee. But it’s this kind of expunging of the actual history of African Americans and Latinos and Native Americans in the development of the American press that is what really—another major theme of our book is to resurrect that history and have a more inclusive history of how our press developed, that there were all kinds of folks who have played pivotal roles, and actually heroic roles, in the development of a free press in America that have been expunged from the official histories.
AMY GOODMAN: Joe Torres?
JOSEPH TORRES: Yeah, may I add something, you know, that was interesting about the book, is that Juan talked about the Publick Occurrence, and here you had a positive story about Native Americans who were actually fighting with the white settlers on the same side, is that we have another story in the book where there’s a Seminole woman who came to the aid of a white settler, a teenage woman, and saved a white settler’s life. We have—when we were at NAHJ, we had a study, a Brownout study, showed that really the only positive coverage of immigrants, to this day, is when they fought in the military. And so, it’s like a theme that has been constant for 400 years, when we’re fighting alongside the settler—or here, the U.S. military, we found in the Brownout reports—that’s really the few times where you actually see a positive portrayal of people of color. And that is a constant theme.
And also, too, the issue of expansion, as these papers really were writing about—very supportive of U.S. expansion. And that’s a theme that stills plays out today. You know, with The War and Peace Report and everything, and how the U.S. media really is very supportive of military operations, and that is a theme that continues to play out to this day, too.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And I think also the role that is rarely acknowledged of the press by people of color of being antiwar and anti-imperialist. And one of my favorites is Frederick Douglass, who not only was the editor of several African-American newspapers throughout his lifetime, but who was also one of the most vocal opponents of the U.S. war against Mexico and was constantly, in his papers, railing against it.
I just want to quote one article that appeared in one of Douglass’s papers. This is 18 months into the Mexican-American War, and he says, “We have seen for eighteen months, the work of mutilation, crime and death go on, each advancing step sunk deeper in human gore. By every mail has come some new deed of violence. Cities have been attacked, and the cry of helpless women and children has risen, amid the shrieks and agony of death and dishonor. The living have gone forth, and dead corpses encased in lead have returned. Thousands of widows and orphans have sent up to the heavens their pitiful wail…
“And yet all is quiet as under the most perfect despotism. There is no united appeal, which would make the rulers tremble; no thronging voices of petition, no indignant rebuke, no prayer, 'Lord, how long?'”
He was basically chastising the rest of the press and the leaders of the country that—the silence over the continuing slaughter that was occurring in Mexico as a result of the Mexican-American War, which of course was a war that sharply increased the size of the United States by all the territories that were taken after the U.S. victory.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Frederick Douglass owned his own paper. Tell the story of who Frederick Douglass was, his significance. I mean, the most famous abolitionist in the United States, born a slave. But from there, why he chose the media as his form of liberation?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, he was an amazing—anyone who’s read any of the works of Frederick Douglass knows what an incredible writer he was. But he was an escaped slave and actually was hidden away, when he arrived in New York, by another journalist, David Ruggles, who was the editor of the Mirror of Liberty and who—Ruggles not only was an editor of a newspaper, he was always constantly hiding fugitive slaves in New York from the slave catchers. And Douglass was one of the people who Ruggles saved, and he then—Douglass then went on to edit several newspapers and became a close friend of William Lloyd Garrison, obviously, who published The Liberator, as well.
But, so—but Douglass was incredible in not only in his opposition to imperialist war, but in his championing the rights of women. He had many women writing for his newspaper. He was always advocating the equality of women. So he was far ahead of his time on many issues, one of the really great journalists of the 20th century—of the 19th century. And—but then again, except in the African-American community, he’s rarely talked about as the critical figure that he was.
JOSEPH TORRES: Can I—
AMY GOODMAN: Joe?
JOSEPH TORRES: Can I—so, what’s really incredible about everything Juan is saying is the fact that there were African Americans and people of color actually writing stuff and were brave enough to actually put word to print in a time of oppressive discrimination in our country. And it goes to the point that Juan made when he began the discussion about centralization versus decentralization. The reason these guys were able to put out papers, because the U.S. postal system was a decentralized system. The delivery of mail was heavily subsidized, where it made it easy—the vast—basically the postal system was the delivery of newspapers. But it allowed, because it was decentralized, African Americans, people of color, Native Americans, Latinos—first Latino Spanish-language newspaper, 1808—to distribute newspapers. And that’s why we argue, to this very day, that decentralization is really what’s been critical, that would allow us to be able to tell our stories, whether it—from radio, television, and now the internet. So I think that is the primary lesson, that these guys were able to even exist at the time, because of postal policy.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And that was a result—because this—I mentioned earlier the seminal debates. The first seminal debate in American history over the media was the debate over the creation of the Post Office in 1792 in Congress, where different—different leaders, among the founding—the founders of the country, had different viewpoints, because the Post Office—Jefferson, Washington were in favor of the government delivering newspapers to the people for free. Madison and others were saying, “No, let’s do it at market rate, whatever it costs to deliver them.” Because—understand the importance of newspapers in America. Printers and editors were critical to the American Revolution. Without the editors and printers who got involved in spreading the word of opposition to England, it’s conceivable that the Revolution would not have developed as quickly as it did. So the printers then played a critical role—several of them—in the founding of the country, and then they pressed for a postal system that would deliver papers, because, remember, the United States was a country that had a territory that was settled. People lived far apart in their farms all around the country. News and information for a new country was critical to keeping the country together. So that’s why Washington and Jefferson favored free delivery of newspapers. And the postal system became the first internet, really. Wherever there was a settlement, there was a post office. And the government built a road, a postal road, to get to that post office and to deliver the mail. But 90 percent of the mail was not letters. It was newspapers.
AMY GOODMAN: Didn’t the Post Office at first refuse to mail abolitionist newspapers?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, yeah, that—but that came later, as the battle over slavery occurred. But when the founders created the postal system, a requirement was that it had to deliver all mail, and also that, eventually, the compromise that they reached was the creation of a second-class postal system, where basically papers were delivered at subsidized cost. So that you had a situation where the United States quickly developed the most—most newspapers per capita of any country in the world.
And, you know, I have, like, one example, the town of Jacksonville, Illinois, right? In 1830, Jacksonville, Illinois, which was the largest town in Illinois at that time, had 446 residents. But those 446 residents, virtually every one of them was receiving at least one periodical in the mail. Eighty-nine of them were receiving two. And that didn’t—and those were only papers from out of town; that didn’t include the papers that were being published within the town. So that, basically, Americans read newspapers constantly, because the government was subsidizing the delivery of the newspapers, and they were doing it because our founders said that the widest possible dissemination of news and information is vital to the preservation of the republic. So, there was a government policy that said the people need to have news, and it should be local news, and it should be subsidized news—very different from the market advocates of today who say, “Keep the government out. Let us handle the internet, and we’ll assure that the public gets the news and information it needs.”
JOSEPH TORRES: [inaudible] statistic today. By the end of the 1700s, within a 10-year period, the number of newspapers climbed from around 90 to 200, around 200, 230. By 1830, it was 1,400 newspapers. That shows you what postal policy did to really grow newspapers as a country, to allow for the creation of newspapers in cities throughout the country and local towns. So—
JUAN GONZALEZ: And that’s why you had—for instance, before the Civil War, there were close to 100 Hispanic newspapers in the United States—before the Civil War. The city of New Orleans alone had 25 Spanish-language newspapers, including a daily. That was a result of the government-subsidized postal policies that made it very easy, if you could print a paper, to get it delivered. And so that there was a fostering of local press and local information. But that, of course, changed dramatically in the late 19th century with the development of the telegraph.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to get to that after this break. And I want to talk about Ida B. Wells and Rubén Salazar and where we are today, with the internet and the battle over who controls the internet. Our guests are Juan Gonzalez, usually here interviewing others on Democracy Now!, but today, with Joe Torres, talking about their new epic work, News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media. This is Democracy Now! If you’d like a copy of today’s show, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. We’ll be back with Juan and Joe in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media is our subject today. Bill Moyers says, “We have needed this book for a long time.” Our guests are the authors: Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez, columnist with the New York Daily News, award-winning journalist for decades, and Joe Torres. He works with freepress.net, senior adviser for government and external affairs, and before that, with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Juan Gonzalez was president of the NAHJ.
Ida B. Wells, very quickly, if you could tell us. Then I want to take this to Rubén Salazar and to today, the internet.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Ida Wells was one of the early muckrakers, that is not known as a muckraker in the official histories. But in the late 19th century, she was the editor of a paper in Memphis, and three of her friends were lynched by a mob. And she began a crusade against that lynching. And her newspaper was burned down while she was out of town. And she then went across the country, exposing the epidemic of lynching in America of African Americans, and became a really crusading, the first crusading journalist on this issue. And she’s known, again, in the histories of the black press, as one of the giants of the press, but is, again, rarely mentioned or talked about in official histories of the press in America. But she was a key figure, and not only was involved with the NAACP later on, met with presidents over issues of racial discrimination, was a major figure in the late 19th century and early 20th century. But again, she started as a crusading editor of a small newspaper in Memphis.
AMY GOODMAN: Crusading editor, journalist, also could be called advocacy journalist, which is a way of putting down journalists today, Juan.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Right, although you note that the muckrakers of the early 20th century—Upton Sinclair and Ida Tarbell and Lincoln Steffens—are today seen as heroes. But these are the—largely, the white muckrakers. The people of color who were doing the same thing, even earlier on, are rarely mentioned. Jovita Idar is another one in Laredo, Texas, constantly opposing racial discrimination and using her newspapers, and even standing off against the Texas Rangers, who came to close down her paper in 1914. But people like Jovita Idar, Ida B. Wells, you rarely hear about them.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk about Rubén Salazar for a minute, one of the best-known Latino journalists of the 20th century. On August 29th, 1970, he was killed after being struck in the head by a tear gas projectile fired by a sheriff’s deputy into a bar during a massive antiwar protest that he was covering is East Los Angeles. He was 42 years old. This is Rubén Salazar in his own words.
RUBÉN SALAZAR: I’m only advocating the Mexican-American community, just like the general media is advocating, really, our economy, our country, our way of life. So I’m just advocating a community within a community, which, by the way, the general community has totally ignored. And so, someone must advocate that, because it’s easy for the establishment to say, “Aren’t we all the same? Aren’t we all Americans?” Well, obviously we’re not. Otherwise we wouldn’t be in the revolutionary process that we are in now.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Rubén Salazar from the documentary short story Since Salazar by the filmmakers Leilani Montes and Victoria Fong.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, well, Salazar clearly was the pivotal figure in the mid-20th century. He not only was a reporter for the L.A. Times, a foreign correspondent for the L.A. Times, but then he moved over to Spanish-language television, was a news director at a Spanish-language station in L.A. And he was also an organizer. He organized conferences of Latino leaders around the country, tried to appeal to the editors and publishers of the various publications to open up their newsrooms, change the nature of the coverage. So his death in 1970 was a real blow to the media reform movement.
AMY GOODMAN: Killed by police?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, killed by a sheriff’s tear gas projectile—was a major blow to the media reform movement of the early 1970s, a movement, by the way, that really was the democratic revolution. We point out in the book that between 1970 and 1973 there were more than 340 license challenges to the licenses of television and radio stations across the country. As thousands of African-American and Latino community leaders—forgotten—people like William Wright in Washington, D.C., Emma Bowen in New York, Lonnie King in Atlanta—all marched into the television stations and the radio stations and said, “We are fed up with your failure to cover our communities. We want you to hire more African Americans and Latinos. We want you to have shows that speak to our communities.” And they launched a massive movement all across the country challenging licenses. And as a result of that movement is when you had the newsrooms opened up to people like Ben Bradley—I’m sorry, to Ed Bradley—
AMY GOODMAN: 60 Minutes.
JUAN GONZALEZ: —and to Geraldo Rivera—
AMY GOODMAN: Fox.
JUAN GONZALEZ: —and to all of these first generations—Gil Noble, Gloria Rojas. The first generation of African-American and Latino journalists came into the newsrooms as a result of this massive community movement of media reform in the 1970s.
JOSEPH TORRES: And on policy, it was because of the famous WLBT case that allowed citizens to have legal standing to challenge a license. The reason there is a media reform movement, even to this day, is because of that court case happening. Citizens leveraged to actually challenge a license. So again, policy allowing people to try to decentralize media.
AMY GOODMAN: And LBT was, WLBT is?
JOSEPH TORRES: In Jackson, Mississippi, in which a white supremacist ran the station, and he only had white supremacist views on integration, and didn’t allow people like Medgar Evers to have any voice.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to talk for a minute about the campaign against the popular radio show Amos 'n' Andy that aired during the Depression. The show featured two white actors portraying two uneducated black men. I want to ask about the Pittsburgh Courier’s campaign against the program. Just take a listen.
AMOS: Tell me this. Why can’t they have a Democrat and a Republican president at the same time? Let Hoover be president one week and Al Smith be president the next week. Ain’t no use to have a lot of hard feelings.
ANDY: Amos, the president of the country don’t have nothing to do now. The trouble with that is, the Republican would get everything messed up for the Democrat, and vice versa.
AMOS: And what?
ANDY: Vice versa.
AMOS: He ain’t runnin, is he?
ANDY: Who ain’t runnin’?
AMOS: Bryce Vizzers.
ANDY: I didn’t say “Bryce Vizzers.” I said “vice versa.”
AMOS: Is he a Democrat or a Republican?
AMOS: Well, I don’t know Bryce Vizzers.
ANDY: You don’t know nothin’. Vice versa ain’t no man.
AMOS: Well, what is he doing in the White House then?
ANDY: He ain’t in the White House. Boy, you is dumb.
AMOS: I ain’t no dumber than you is.
ANDY: You is just as dumb as I is, though.
AMOS: Now, tell me this. How many votes do it take to elect a president?
ANDY: Well, one of them has got to have the majority.
ANDY: And the other has got to have the plurality.
AMOS: Both of them is bad, ain’t they? My grandpa had the pleurisy, but I ain’t never heard nobody having that other thing.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s white actors, blackface minstrels, Amos and Andy. Talk about the campaign to get them off the air, Juan Gonzalez.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, people must understand that in the 1930s Amos 'n' Andy was the most popular show in America on radio. It was a huge hit and—among white—in the white population.
AMY GOODMAN: How many people listening each night?
JUAN GONZALEZ: As many as 40 million people a night—
JOSEPH TORRES: Half the radio audience.
JUAN GONZALEZ: —were listening on the radio to Amos 'n' Andy.
AMY GOODMAN: 7:15 every night?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. So what happens is that the Pittsburgh Courier, Robert L. Vann, one of the giants of African-American journalism in the 20th century, in 1931 launches a campaign against Amos 'n' Andy, against the racial stereotypes, the demeaning images, that Amos 'n' Andy was producing every night. More than 700,000 African Americans sent letters in to the FC—to the Federal Radio Commission, and that the Pittsburgh Courier collected in a huge campaign the first, really, media reform campaign on a national level. And you think, that’s about 10 percent of the entire black population of the country, protested the Amos 'n' Andy show. The Federal Radio Commission completely ignored the protest.
AMY GOODMAN: This is under Herbert Hoover?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, yes. This was in the period after—yes, Herbert Hoover, 1931. But the key issue was that this was a national effort. And when you read—and we quote some of the letters that came in—the devastating impact that this show was having on how African Americans were viewed, it was incredible.
AMY GOODMAN: Internet—please talk about the battle over the privacy issues, over the privatization, rather, of the internet, Joe Torres.
JOSEPH TORRES: Well, quite simply, the internet is an open platform. Anyone—ISPs can—have, up to now, have not been able to interfere with your web traffic. You can access any site you want without being slowed down. What they want to do is create—they want to be able to have a pay-for-play system, where if you have a website at Democracy Now!, Democracy Now! will have to pay more to make sure the public can see your site at the fastest speeds, otherwise you’re going to be slowed down. For people of color, it is critical, because of the low barrier of entries, the internet, that we keep the internet open, a free platform, because we don’t have the economic wealth to be able to pay ISPs to make sure our sites are loaded faster.
AMY GOODMAN: The role of civil right groups in this?
JOSEPH TORRES: Well, unfortunately, this is where—it’s a big departure from history, where they always fought for decentralization. The civil rights groups have sided with the telecom companies, for various reasons. Some are not—in my opinion, some don’t understand the issue that well. And when the telecom companies say this is going to hurt people of color, they believe them. Some are just ideologically aligned. They think what AT&T thinks is best for our communities, they think is best, too. And, you know, they—I know a lot of them don’t like when we say this, but, I mean, money is a factor. Comcast has given $1.8 billion in cash, in-kind contributions over the past decade, to civic organizations, including civil rights groups. AT&T in 2010 gave $150 million to civic organizations and civil rights groups. And the head of the political arm in Washington for AT&T is the chair of the AT&T Foundation that doles out this money. So, unfortunately—
AMY GOODMAN: Ten seconds.
JOSEPH TORRES: So, unfortunately—there are a lot of groups of color and media justice groups that support an open internet. It’s an ongoing debate.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, this is part one of our conversation. Congratulations on this remarkable work, News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media , by Juan Gonzalez and Joe Torres. They’re traveling across the country. They will be in New York next Thursday night. We’ll be having a major event with them at Cooper Union, then to Friday it will be in Oakland. You can go to our website for all the dates—Santa Cruz, Fresno, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Northridge, Los Angeles, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, San Antonio, Houston, Denver and Washington, D.C. Go to democracynow.org for all of those details that document the book tour of Juan Gonzalez and Joe Torres.