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Instead of Checking Politicians, Corporate “Journalist” are Fine Dining with Them

As we crossed into the second decade of the 21st century, independent online news media stepped over a threshold as well. As to when, it had been building for a number of years so it’s not entirely easy to pinpoint, though the Sanders campaign of 2015-16 is a relatively decent marker. As to why, it may well be a combination of several things:

  • The increase in the capabilities and user-friendliness of the Internet and its adjacent devices
  • The ubiquity, flexibility and cost-effectiveness of social media
  • A shift in viewer/reader aesthetic tastes away from big budgets and towards media that looks and feels more homemade
  • The slipping of corporate media’s mask of impartiality
  • New ways for indy media creators to get paid and, sitting over all of it…
  • The undeniable citizen dissatisfaction with the wealth inequality that’s grown like kudzu under neoliberal capitalism

The truth of our reality is always made up of numerous percolating and overlapping forces, but as difficult as it is to separate these forces from one another, you can still feel the cumulative change. It’s palpable. Independent political websites and YouTube channels have exploded. Their creators have become genuine influencers on political thought for a not insignificant portion of the adult population.

Examples: Wikileaks, driven by its founder Julian Assange, has been using digital technology to create a primary resource-rich way of doing journalism that’s had a seismic affect on everyone, including corporate media. Jimmy Dore has been fusing comedy, journalism and political commentary. His show recently hit over 500,000 subscribers. Kyle Kulinski’s Secular Talk has over 600,000. Mike Figuerero’s Humanist Report has over 200,000. Abby Martin’s documentary-driven Empire Files program is closing in on 150,000 YouTube subscribers plus thousands more website visitors. And those are just a handful of the video channels. Indy news websites abound and their readerships continue to grow as well.

The influence wielded by these new media outlets has not gone unnoticed by our politicians and political candidates. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where many of them have begun accepting interview requests. And here’s where things are getting even more interesting, because, in these informal, off-the-cuff style media environments many of the unspoken rules of how a political candidate should be interviewed simply don’t apply. If you go back and watch some of recent interviews—Niko House with Tulsi Gabbard or Jimmy Dore with practically everyone—you’ll see some of these differences. An absence of gotcha questions. Less interruptions by the interviewer or commercials so interviewees can adequately articulate their point of view. No attempts to lock candidates into a particular narrative. To be sure, all of this is encouraging.

BUT

There’s an opportunity for indy media journalists to go much further in how they approach these interviews. I’m going to digress for a minute to illustrate what I mean.

Earlier this week, Abby Martin, the creator and host of The Empire Files, tweeted out this 2018 article from Liberation News that the Pentagon is the largest polluter in the U.S.

This info on the Pentagon has been knocking around for years. A quick search, for instance, yields this 2014 piece from San Diego Free Press about the Pentagon’s impact on global warming. Honestly, all of this stands to reason. Industrial-driven global empires can’t do the large-scale violence part of what they do without consuming a lot of fossil fuel energy—and creating a lot of toxic waste in the process.

Now, independent media journalists tend to be more aware, more well read, and more holistically-minded than their challenged counterparts in the corporate upside-down. In all likelihood, none of those well-paid folks would be willing to even acknowledge that the United States is a global empire. However, for many in indy media the reality of the U.S. status as an empire is portrayed as obvious.

Okay, digression over. Let’s get back to the original point about how indy media journalists can go further in their approach to interviews. I promise all this stuff about the Pentagon will factor in. So, let’s play it out. Tulsi Gabbard has been one of the politicians who has made the indy media rounds these past few months, so let’s take her as an interviewee example.

Currently, when being interviewed, Gabbard is bringing up her re-introduction of the Off Fossil Fuels Act, which is touted by some as being more aggressive than the Green New Deal. Admittedly, this isn’t that difficult, since the GND is merely a proposal and one that prioritizes private companies in its green energy transition ideas.

For reference, dig journalist and author Naomi Wolf’s dissection of the GND proposal:

So, getting back to Gabbard, here’s an opportunity for indy media folks to go deeper.

For instance, after allowing Tulsi time to explain the legislation, they could ask: “Congresswoman Gabbard, I’m very curious to understand…given that the Pentagon and the contractors who serve it are huge contributors to carbon emissions, does your climate legislation have anything built into it that addresses this unique and powerful sector of the government and the economy?”

Or: “Congresswoman Gabbard, one of the issues with carbon-emitting industries in the U.S. (big ag, big industry, oil-based energy use, fracking) is not just what its production and use pumps into the atmosphere. It’s also about the waste and pollution it leaves behind, which is linked to health issues, disease and shortened life spans for millions of Americans. As a part of getting off fossil fuels, how would you handle fossil fuels’ fallout?”

Or, on a tangentially related matter: “Congresswoman Gabbard, I appreciate your conviction about the need for the U.S. to stop engaging in regime change wars. This is a worthy goal. As I’m sure you know, the groups who benefit the most from this state of affairs have historically found ways to divert, stop or ignore a president’s directives when it comes to the Pentagon and the CIA. What strategy would you pursue, if you became president, to ensure that policies to end regime change wars would be followed and have their intended effect? Additionally, would you intend to reduce the size of the military budget? How would you go about doing that? What strategy do you believe would be successful?”

See what I mean? See how much deeper indy media could go? What corporate media person would even think or dare to ask such questions? Imagine how much more informed we’d be as citizens if candidates had to engage this way?

I offer up Tulsi Gabbard not to single her out, but merely as an interesting example, since she’s been the candidate to embrace indy media most overtly in her interview schedule. These types of questions could be replicated for nearly any politician that consents to an indy media interview.

I suspect, also, that if indy media journalists began to interview in greater depth—perhaps learning from Aaron Mate, who honed this skill for years as a part of Democracy Now and the Real News Network—that such interviews would gain even wider circulation through social media and other channels. Which, in turn, would bring even more viewers and readers to indy media—and hasten the demise of the corporate propaganda that now barely passes for genuine journalism in this country.

It would take more preparation. It would take some courage because it would alienate a certain amount of politicians and make them wary of accepting interview requests. But, overall, it’s a massive opportunity to inform the public and increase our level of political sophistication. We have reached the nadir of journalism where personalities have hijacked professionalism and replaced truth-speaking with validation seeking. #WHCD Click To Tweet

I’d love to see non-corporate journalists seize it and kick their practices into serious overdrive.

As always, thanks for reading.

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Stephen Boni
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Stephen Boni

Stephen Boni is both Ghion Journal's current editor and a contributing writer. His main interest is in analyzing the workings of empire and exploring ways to dismantle and replace systems of oppression. A conflicted New Englander with an affinity for people, music and avoiding isms, he lives in Oakland, California with his wife and young daughter.
Stephen Boni
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