Queen Arianna Wins Big

Arianna's Media Moment #1

Arriana Huffington, the tsarista of the last week's Shadow Conventions, has quickly emerged as the most visible "woman of conscience" on the American media scene. The Shadows, held concurrently with the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, are meant to draw attention to issues that the two main political parties largely ignore -- campaign finance reform, the poverty gap and the drug war. With the help of prominent friends, Hollywood allies and a somewhat raptourous media, Arianna has positioned herself to influence the public dialogue about those key issues.

Andrew Gumbel of the London Independent, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, offers this description of Arianna: "Peppy, witty, shamlessly contrarian and eternally combative ... Count on her to keep things lively ... If anyone is going to shake the over-rehearsed stiltedness out of this summer's political conventions and capture the imagination of the voters -- then surely Arianna is the woman for the job."

How Arianna has ascended and what it all means is worth some serious thought. Underlying her success at the Philadelphia Shadow Convention was the fact that she attracted stars like Jesse Jackson, John McCain, Al Franken, Jonathon Kozol, Ben Cohen and Harry Shearer (notice that they are all men) to her stage. She also offered substance. During the Shadow Convention session that focused on America's failed drug war, numerous family members of drug war victims graced the stage to speak about their incarcerated loved ones and broken homes -- the Masher thought it was one of the most moving political experiences in quite some time.

Arianna also invited maverick Republicans to Philly, like Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico and California Senate candidate Tom Campbell (who puts his opponent, Democrat Diane Feinstein, to shame on the drug issue). Their presence underlined Arianna's philosophy of transcending party lines to seek common ground.

And, of course, Arianna worked the media with enormous savvy. Throughout all three nights of the Shadow, she had prodigious energy and was always on message. She was articulate, calm and steady. For reporters and pundits in attendance, it was a winning combination.

Los Angeles should be even riper territory for the second round of the Shadows, which will run from August 13 to 17. The issues being put forth -- campaign corruption, poverty and drug war madness -- are much closer to the agenda of many more Democrats than Republicans. There will be delegates inside LA's Staples Center whose hearts will be with the Shadowers. Stay tuned.

Dog Day Afternoons

On the other hand, sadly, the coalition of R2K demonstrators have little to show for their efforts in Philly, despite their enthusiasm. Starting with the sparsely attended Unity 2000 march and rally on Sunday, R2K organizers were on the defensive for most of the week. The only message they ended up communicating to most observers was that they were victims of a brutal Philly police force.

Unfortunately, the American public has too much tolerance for rough cops. By setting two protest leaders' bails at $1 million each, the cops tried to demonize the demonstrators. Hopefully it's not a message that gets repeated by the LAPD, which is known for its brutishness.

As one longtime observer of progressive protests pointed out, "the R2K protests were a classic case of tactics getting ahead of strategy. For most people a political convention is not a sufficiently evil event to come out for and demonstrate. With most of Labor inside the convention hall, I fear that their message will be even more muddled in LA."

The lesson from Philly should be that blocking traffic and hoping to inconvenience convention delegates is not a winning message. Protest organizers have to get smarter about what they want to accomplish, before the momentum from Seattle is squandered. They face an uphill battle. Since all subsequent actions have been measured against Seattle's spectacular success, the media can easily paint everything else as a failure. And by choosing every major political event on the calendar as a target, protestors throw themselves into situations they can't possibly control or even influence. The result is that the protests are treated as a sideshow or, even worse, an irrelevant annoyance. Again, stay tuned.

Brill Stumbles, Tasini Saves His Butt

The National Writers Union got very lucky last week. And, to their credit, they seized the political moment. Contentville, Steve Brill's new, hundred-million dollar online shopping mall for all things written, had come under some serious heat. Journalists and dissertation writers were accussing Contentville of stealing their work, which was for sale on the site. Threats of lawsuits were mushrooming.

The savvy Jonathan Tasini, President of the National Writers Union (affiliated with the UAW), saw in this situation an opportunity to save Brill's butt, put his previously low-visibility organization on the map, and reap some cash for freelance writers. He reached out to Brill to talk turkey.

Brill, no dummy, jumped on the chance to make nice with Tasini and solve his huge PR headache. After all, he was screwing some of the very writers who would be writing about Contentville. The result: a signed agreement between the two parties that will give freelance writers 30 percent of the fees paid by Contentville customers (Contentville has been selling articles for $2.95, so writers have to hope that the public buys a lot of articles.)

The big coup for Tasini is that Brill agreed to have the previously underutilized Publication Rights Clearinghouse distribute that 30 percent to the writers. A project of the Writers Union, the Publication Rights Clearinghouse is a mechanism for protecting freelancers' rights and distributing royalties for their work. Overnight this put the Union in a credible position to act as a liasion between thousands of freelancers and the media corporations dependent on their content.

The Masher suggests that this story will still have some twists and turns before resolution, but mark this one as a win for the workers.

Are the Indy Media Centers Missing the Target?

Most progressives agree on the acute need for broader coverage of the issues that protesters will raise outside the Democratic Convention in LA. But sources close to the LA Indy Media Center report that antagonism toward Pacifica Radio, its local LA affiliate station KPFK and Marc Cooper, host of the popular show Radio Nation (originating at KPFK), have led to discussion among local media activists about banning Pacifica and Cooper from the LA Indy Media Center.

The antagonism toward Pacifica and Cooper runs deep among the IMC crowd. Cooper, who is one of the most prolific and distinguished journalists on the left, earned the ire of some media radicals when he questioned conventional wisdom about the Pacifica radio battle, and also when he suggested that activists might be too preoccupied with the struggle to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, to the exclusion of other important battles.

The Indy Media Centers seem to swing back and forth from highly cooperative ambition to irrelevance. It gives the Masher agita. In Philly, enormous effort went into producing live television coverage of the protests, which was sent via satellite to dish owners and public access stations across the country.. Amy Goodman's Democracy Now was televised through the satellite network as well, along with additional evening reports. This was a significant first for independent media.

Yet almost simultaneously, one of the lead stories on the IMC's Web site was a completely scurrilous, totally factless rant about how the left, labor and Nader were advocating the killing of disabled people. Apparently anyone could post whatever they wanted to the Web site and it became journalism. (A system of voting and ranking stories for the site has been since instituted.)

There are a couple of ironies here. Goodman's Democracy Now show is welcomed at the IMC, but the other Pacifica and KPFK shows aren't -- even though they all get funded from the same sources, especially money contributed by the local stations. At KPFK, Cooper's show is the biggest money earner at fundraising time. Furthermore, Cooper recently received the Radio Journalist of the Year Award from the Greater LA Press Club, in part for his strong coverage of -- you guessed it -- the WTO demonstrations in Seattle. There are times to squabble and times to struggle together against common foes. Does the IMC know which is which?

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