A Tale of Two Alternative Media Conferences
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In June 1970, a charter flight was on its way from San Francisco to the Alternative Media Conference at Goddard College in Plainfield, VT. The passengers consisted entirely of attendees. Larry Bensky, then KPFA news anchor, recalls, “It was one of the craziest trips ever taken by anyone, anywhere, I’m sure. Many on the plane were tripping on acid.”
Photographer Robert Altman was sitting next to an old friend, Dr. Gene Schoenfeld, also known as Dr. Hip for his weekly countercultural advice column, syndicated to underground papers around the country. He shared a joint with Altman, who said, “It stimulated the good doctor with enough brashness and playfulness that he took over the plane’s entire audio system. As he sent raucous rock’n’roll from his portable player through the plane’s microphone, we were dancing, and the crew loved it.”
In addition, KSAN commentator Scoop Nisker played his signature news collages, and Michael Goodwin from Rolling Stone (then a skimpy 25-cent tabloid) remembers somebody reading Allen Ginsberg poetry. “It might even have been me,” he admits, “and if it was, I hereby apologize.”
Forty-three years later, a few months ago, another Alternative Media Conference took place at Goddard. The keynote speech was delivered by Thom Hartmann, topflight progressive radio talk-show host. When he was fifteen, in 1966, he published an underground newspaper, The Jurist. “Our first issue called for the legalization of pot and for teachers to let us smoke cigarettes in classrooms. That got us really in serious trouble, and we were told, ‘Don’t ever publish this thing again.’ But the next issue was about the military-industrial-complex. That got us kicked out of school.”
Hartmann emphasized that, “Before Ronald Reagan stopped enforcing the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, it did not say, ‘If you carry an hour of Rush Limbaugh, you have to carry an hour of Thom Hartmann.’ That’s the mythology that Limbaugh and the right have put out all these years, and what they’ve used to beat up the Fairness Doctrine. But it said that the station has to serve public interest.
“In ’88, I was driving down the street, listening to the radio, and a news report came on that CBS had just moved their news division under the vice-president of entertainment. And I thought, ‘That’s it, this is the beginning of the end of any kind of media that is genuine.’ All the networks had been losing money on their news divisions, because they were necessary for radio and TV stations to keep their community service component of their license now that Reagan was saying, ‘Hey, that doesn’t matter anymore.’
“In addition, in ’82, Reagan stopped the force of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which said that any organization that gets big enough to basically dominate an industry can’t do that, it’s a crime, two years in prison and a big fine, something like that. So between those two things, and then Clinton just put the nail in the coffin in ’96 with the Telecommunications Act.
“It used to be that nobody could own more than forty radio stations, and so what we’ve seen is that local media has become national media, national media has become corporate media, corporate media has eaten everything, and alternative media has been increasingly marginalized as a consequence of that. And then came the Web, and now much of the alternative media is on the Web. We’ve moved our shows onto the Web, as well as livestream, and we have YouTube channels.
“But if we want to have vibrant media again –- real media, functional media –- there should be no mainstream media, that is, the concept of mainstream media, the concept of one corporation basically owning the programming -- the Limbaugh show, the Hannity show, the Beck show -- then owning the points of distribution. This should not be. This was done away with in television in the 1970s or 1980s. The networks had to have at least two hours of prime-time television programming that did not come from the TV networks.