FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

From the Streets Into the Studios

On a blustery Sunday morning outside the CBS studio in Washington, D.C., I shared a moment with veteran television journalist Bob Schieffer that spoke volumes about the sad state of democracy and journalism in the United States.

Schieffer was inside, behind the glass wall. I was outside on the sidewalk with an antiwar contingent organized by the women’s peace group “Code Pink” waiting to ask one of Schieffer’s guests on “Face the Nation” that morning — Secretary of State Colin Powell — questions about U.S. plans to invade Iraq.

For a brief moment, Schieffer approached the window to get a look at us. He smiled. I smiled back and pointed to my sign, “From the streets into the studio.” I gestured to him to come outside to talk. “I’ll explain my sign,” I said. He smiled, perhaps unable to hear me through the thick glass wall. “C’mon out,” I said, waving and smiling to reassure him we weren’t dangerous. “Let’s talk.”

Schieffer smiled again, waved, and walked away. Shortly after that Powell arrived, ignoring our request that he take a moment to talk with us. (At least Powell came in through the front door. We had started the day at ABC, where the guest for “This Week,” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, entered the studio in a car through the garage to avoid us.) About 15 minutes later, Schieffer began his interview with Powell by saying:

“Yesterday we saw tens of thousands of demonstrators converge on Washington. A fairly large crowd, I would say, a very large crowd considering that the weather was in the 20s. They say we should not go to war against Iraq. I would just like to ask you this morning, what do you say those people who say we shouldn’t?”

I couldn’t help but chuckle. Schieffer was invoking the antiwar movement and its sizable protest the day before, yet evidently he couldn’t see a reason to take even a few seconds that morning to talk with real live antiwar demonstrators outside his door.

If Schieffer had come out, I would have told him that the phrase on my sign was a condensed argument for opening up the dialogue on public-affairs shows such as “Face the Nation” to include more than just the voices from the halls of power. No matter which network you tune to on Sunday morning, these talk shows offer up a steady parade of government officials, military officers, retired government officials, retired military officers and the occasional academics or “experts” who mostly parrot the official view.

The previous day (Jan. 18), those of us on the sidewalk had been among the 200,000 protesters on the Washington mall, with tens of thousands more in cities all over the country, exercising our rights to assemble and speak. But if Schieffer — and the other journalists making choices about whose voices get amplified on television — were doing their job responsibly, they would bring antiwar voices from the streets into the studios. In addition to news stories about our demonstrations, they would include such critical voices in their shows.

But, one might counter, can’t journalists — who claim to function as watchdogs of power — ask the tough questions that opponents of the war might ask? Yes, they could, but most often they don’t. Throughout the interview, Schieffer let Powell frame the issue and avoid difficult questions. Perhaps the single biggest failure of the interview was that Schieffer focused entirely on inspections, which implicitly accepted the Bush administration claim that a war against Iraq will be about the threat from weapons of mass destruction. Schieffer never questioned Powell about the desire of U.S. policymakers to consolidate control over the flow of oil and oil profits in the Middle East. Might it not be relevant to ask the secretary if the weapons issue could be merely a pretext for an invasion to establish a U.S. client state in Iraq? It’s a question most of the world is asking.

At the antiwar rally on Saturday, that analysis was explored in speeches from the stage and conversations all over the mall. It was a grand display of democracy in action; people engaged in spirited conversation about public policy. But in a society where the majority of people get most of their information from television, it is crucial that such a more expansive debate make it on the air, that critics are not just tolerated in the streets but invited into the studio.

Not surprisingly, Powell responded to Schieffer’s questions with the same pat answers that Bush administration officials have been using for months as they try to explain why we need a war that virtually the whole world opposes. And, also not surprisingly, Schieffer never offered a serious challenge to Powell.

What might have happened if Schieffer had stepped outside to talk to us on the street? What might have happened if he had allowed a representative of the antiwar movement into the studio to challenge Powell?

From my vantage point as a former newspaper journalist, a professor of journalism, and a citizen, I think Schieffer would have been doing his job more responsibly. And the American public would have learned more from such a show than they did from Schieffer’s polite, and mostly useless, interview with Powell.

Journalists often are willing to cover antiwar protests, and that’s important. But, especially on television, those stories almost never explore our evidence and arguments in sufficient depth. Perhaps that is why much of America thinks our analysis is about as deep as the slogans on a sign at a rally.

What if we were allowed routinely into the television studios to speak for ourselves? Not only might the public’s view of protesters and the antiwar movement change, but the debate over the war would be enriched and the American people would be better informed.

My advice to Schieffer and his colleagues: Next time you see a group of people willing to wait in the cold outside your studio to make a political point, take a chance and open the door. We don’t bite, and we’ve got a lot to say.

ROBERT JENSEN is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, a member of the Nowar Collective, and author of the book Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream and the pamphlet “Citizens of the Empire.”

He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.

 

More articles by:

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of several books, including the forthcoming Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (Counterpoint/Soft Skull, fall 2015). http://www.amazon.com/Plain-Radical-Living-Learning-Gracefully/dp/1593766181 Robert Jensen can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online at http://robertwjensen.org/. To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to http://www.thirdcoastactivist.org/jensenupdates-info.html. Twitter: @jensenrobertw. Notes. [1] Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), p. 106. [2] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). [3] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, edited and with a revised translation by Susan McReynolds Oddo (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2011), p. 55.

April 19, 2018
Ramzy Baroud
Media Cover-up: Shielding Israel is a Matter of Policy
Vijay Prashad
Undermining Brazilian Democracy: the Curious Saga of Lula
Steve Fraser
Class Dismissed: Class Conflict in Red State America
John W. Whitehead
Crimes of a Monster: Your Tax Dollars at Work
Kenn Orphan
Whistling Past the Graveyard
Karl Grossman - TJ Coles
Opening Pandora’s Box: Karl Grossman on Trump and the Weaponization of Space
Colin Todhunter
Behind Theresa May’s ‘Humanitarian Hysterics’: The Ideology of Empire and Conquest
Jesse Jackson
Syrian Strikes is One More step Toward a Lawless Presidency
Michael Welton
Confronting Militarism is Early Twentieth Century Canada: the Woman’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Alycee Lane
On David S. Buckel and Setting Ourselves on Fire
Jennifer Matsui
Our Overlords Reveal Their Top ‘To Do’s: Are YOU Next On Their Kill List?
George Ochenski
Jive Talkin’: On the Campaign Trail With Montana Republicans
Kary Love
Is It Time for A Nice, “Little” Nuclear War?
April 18, 2018
Alan Nasser
Could Student Loans Lead to Debt Prison? The Handwriting on the Wall
Susan Roberts
Uses for the Poor
Alvaro Huerta
I Am Not Your “Wetback”
Jonah Raskin
Napa County, California: the Clash of Oligarchy & Democracy
Robert Hunziker
America’s Dystopian Future
Geoffrey McDonald
“America First!” as Economic War
Jonathan Cook
Robert Fisk’s Douma Report Rips Away Excuses for Air Strike on Syria
Jeff Berg
WW III This Ain’t
Binoy Kampmark
Macron’s Syria Game
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia’s Top Cop Defends Indefensible Prejudice in Starbucks Arrest Incident
Katie Fite
Chaos in Urban Canyons – Air Force Efforts to Carve a Civilian Population War Game Range across Southern Idaho
Robby Sherwin
Facebook: This Is Where I Leave You
April 17, 2018
Paul Street
Eight Takeaways on Boss Tweet’s Latest Syrian Missile Spasm
Robert Fisk
The Search for the Truth in Douma
Eric Mann
The Historic 1968 Struggle Against Columbia University
Roy Eidelson
The 1%’s Mind Games: Psychology Gone Bad
John Steppling
The Sleep of Civilization
Patrick Cockburn
Syria Bombing Reveals Weakness of Theresa May
Dave Lindorff
No Indication in the US That the Country is at War Again
W. T. Whitney
Colombia and Cuba:  a Tale of Two Countries
Dean Baker
Why Isn’t the Median Wage for Black Workers Rising?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia’s Top Cop Defends Indefensible Prejudice in Starbucks Arrest Incident
C. L. Cook
Man in the Glass
Kary Love
“The Mob Boss Orders a Hit and a Pardon”
Lawrence Wittner
Which Nations Are the Happiest―and Why
Dr. Hakim
Where on Earth is the Just Economy that Works for All, Including Afghan Children?
April 16, 2018
Dave Lindorff
President Trump’s War Crime is Worse than the One He Accuses Assad of
Ron Jacobs
War is Just F**kin’ Wrong
John Laforge
Nuclear Keeps on Polluting, Long After Shutdown
Norman Solomon
Missile Attack on Syria Is a Salute to “Russiagate” Enthusiasts, Whether They Like It or Not
Uri Avnery
Eyeless in Gaza   
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Then, Syria Now
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail