Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fear and Loathing in 2012, Another Report from the Digital Frontline: Words of Power Interviews Nicole Belle of Crooks and Liars

Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans. -- Robert F. Kennedy, Speech, University of Kansas at Lawrence, March 18, 1968

Fear and Loathing in 2012, Another Report from the Digital Frontline: Words of Power Interviews Nicole Belle of Crooks and Liars

By Richard Power

How many of you remember that speech? How many of you (who don't listen to the Thom Hartmann Show) have been reminded of this speech, even once, at any time over the last forty-plus years? And perhaps more importantly, how many of you who were not alive in 1968 (or not old enough to be cognizant its meaning) have ever heard it, or read it, or had it referenced to you in any way? A man died because he embodied the message he delivered in that speech. In this era in which the political establishment and the corporatist media want you to forget everything that happened before Ronald Reagan, there is nothing more important than that you be provided with context and continuity, i.e., a narrative that accurately reflects the most tragic and transcendent elements of our political history, as well as the maddening unreality of what is and is not happening now. After all, the Power of Nightmares has been unleashed upon us.

That is why I do what I do, and why many others like me stay awake late at night -- to keep the beacons lit.

This issue of Words of Power is the second in a series of brief Words of Power interviews with some prominent individuals in progressive media, The first was with Mark Karlin, Editor of Buzzflash, the second is with Nicole Belle, Editor of Crooks and Liars, another of the great bastions of reality-based news and analysis, since it was founded by John Amato in 2004.

Words of Power: How do you see 2012? What do you see as the role of our progressive, alternative media in general and Crooks and Liars in particular? What is your sense of the consensus among many true progressives that you are in communication with?

Nicole Belle, Crooks and Liars: Do you mean vis-à-vis the general election or more sociologically? Let me answer it from the latter that leads to the former. I see the US as being in a cyclical transition. If you read the writings of Strauss and Howe, we are still in the midst of a generation of chaos. I think there’s a lot of truth to that. There’s a lot of misinformation and disinformation that people have to weed through to make sense of where we are. We’re slowly finding our way out of it, but we’ve quite a ways to go. So that’s why I think you see a lot of Fear of the Other in our society. That translates to a difficult re-election for President Obama, because he is continually being painted as ‘the Other’ by the conservative noise machine (an indisputable fact when you consider that in the Bible Belt, almost half of voters polled continue to think that Obama is a Muslim), although ultimately, I think he will win re-election. I see alternative media like the progressive blogosphere and internet radio networks as outlets for progressives to hear and contribute voices that counter the conservative establishment that dominate our airwaves. Certainly, in the dark days following 9/11 and the Iraq invasion, just being a reader of (before I started contributing) helped me stay sane when I heard and read news reports that I knew were not true. I’d like to think that C&L does its own small part in shaping the national dialogue by virtue of the fact that our whole raison d’etre was to show the inconsistencies by using video of politicians and pundits contradicting themselves from day to day. We’ve been able to both create and amplify progressive memes that are finally breaking through to the mainstream media. Before the Occupy protests, how often did you hear news shows or pundits mention income inequality? Never. That’s due to the success of the progressive blogosphere of demanding accountability. Seriously. Think about the number of anti-war protests that occurred over the last ten years that didn’t register a bleep in news coverage. I actually remember CNN covering the 200 tea party counter-protesters over the estimated 75,000 or more protesters in Washington advocating immigration reform. But here you had these organic, authentically grassroots protests being reinforced and advocated by the progressive blogosphere and suddenly “income inequality” is a phrase being used by Wolf Blitzer.
As to your last question, I don’t see consensus with my fellow progressives, sadly. Like herding cats, you see a lot of special interests within the progressive community, all clamoring for as big a piece of the pie as they can get. Generally, I think progressives see a lot of wasted opportunity with President Obama in terms of championing progressive ideals of equality, peace, justice and ecological conservation, but I haven’t really figured out how much of that was our own projection of what Obama stood for and a lack of realism of the politically divisive environment.

Words of Power: What do you see as the future of Occupy Wall Street movement? Do you see it evolving? What should its relationship be with the progressive movement as a whole?

Belle: The Occupy movement must evolve to survive. But I think it already has and will continue to. Occupy Wall Street is fine and necessary, but now we have Occupy Our Homes fighting unfair and possibly illegal foreclosures, we have ‘mic checks’ at political townhalls, Occupy the Media demanding accountability of our news media, etc. I’d like to see the Occupy movement to empower people to actually run for office as the tea party has done. But other than participating in it, I don’t think that the progressive ‘movement’ should officially do anything with the Occupy protests. Folding it into existing power structures will not help the Occupy movement. It goes beyond the binary equation of Democratic vs. Republican Parties. It’s about fundamental equality in society.

Words of Power: Tell us a little bit about the history and background of Crooks and Liars, and the challenges involved in keeping such a resource going? What has been the hardest aspect of the struggle? What has been the most surprising?

Belle: Crooksandliars was created and founded by John Amato in 2004. At the time, John was a touring musician who was recovering from an injury and watching a lot of television news. He realized that there was a niche not being explored in the fairly young progressive blogosphere of hoisting politicians and journalists by their petard simply by showing video of them saying something one day and then something else another day. So John became the ‘vlogfather’ of the progressive blogosphere. I joined up in 2006 initially to do copy-editing, but John realized that I was opinionated enough to do my own posts. I was Managing Editor from 2006 to 2008, and then stayed on as Senior Editor. Today, we have about 30 people on staff, but it all started from one guy with a TiVo and a computer in 2004. Our challenge remains monitoring the sheer number of outlets.
Our focus has spread as well to developing sister sites (VideoCafe, Newstalgia, OccupyAmerica) and our PAC, Blue America. We also have some other new developments coming down the line, but we’re still laying the groundwork backstage before we unveil them. However, I’m especially proud of Blue America. We have raised significant amounts of money for real progressive candidates and campaigns. I think that our success in fundraising has been the biggest surprise to me. This has been a really tough economy for most Americans. I see comments at C&L daily of regulars who have lost jobs, had to relocate for lower-paying jobs, struggling to make ends meet, yet they still dig deep and give to push Congress towards more progressive solutions. They understand that the way out of this morass is to get more strong and unapologetic progressives in Congress.

Words of Power: What do you see as the future for alternative, progressive media in the USA? What are the greatest threats we face? What are most glaring weaknesses? What are our hidden strengths? What impact has social media, like Twitter and Facebook, had on alternative, progressive media? What about progressive talk radio? What about Current TV's new progressive cable news lineup, and of course the few hours a day of programming on MSBC? Where are we headed?

Belle: I love the fact that despite the continual drumming of the “liberal media bias” by all these conservatives that have multiple hours of public airwaves, there are progressives not hearing voices like theirs and creating their own media. I listen obsessively to progressive radio and podcasts: in the car, while I work out, while I’m taking the dog for a walk. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and we no longer have a progressive radio station, so everything I listen to I have to stream through my smartphone and iPad. So I am eternally grateful to WeActRadio, Sam Seder, Nicole Sandler, Thom Hartmann, Amy Goodman and the like. It is often a necessary antidote to the amount of conservative media I monitor for C&L. I think the greatest threat and most glaring weakness are one and the same: lack of corporate ownership. You can’t tell me that there wasn’t a market for progressive talk here in San Francisco. But apparently, the ability to monetize progressive talk was not yet there. However, it’s more than that. Many of these radio stations that used to run Air America shows and hosts switched formats that are simply bewildering if you believe this is all about ratings. There was an Air America station in Central California that switched formats to HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS coverage. That’s not a ratings call. That’s silencing a point of view. But our strength is in our resourcefulness. Our voices are there, and we find ways to have them heard. I’ve met some amazing progressives through social media who find ways to get their point of view out there. And the other benefit to social media is that it’s a conversation. On Twitter, I’ve followed and been followed by mainstream media types. And I’ve had interactions with them. I’ve heard them frame questions to their subjects similar to the framing of our conversations. I won’t name names, but I’ve actually watched a prominent news reporter repeat almost verbatim posts I’ve written and then tweeted or tagged on Facebook to him/her. That’s a direct effect on the dialogue in this country and I think that Twitter and Facebook have greatly democratized the dissemination of information. That’s threatening to mainstream journalists, who want to pretend that there’s so special skill or ethos to what they do, but you know what? I’d line up something I’ve written up against any David Broder or David Brooks column ever written. Because I don’t make assertions without showing you my proof via a hyperlink to another article, paper, .pdf, video, etc. You can evaluate the truth of what I’ve written by looking at what I’ve sourced. Broder used to come up with some mythical guy in a mythical coffee shop that posed a mythical question that conveniently confirmed Broder’s preconceived notions, all with nary a source. (For the record, I consider myself more of an op-ed writer than a journalist. I strive to be fair and get my facts correct, but I never, ever call myself a journalist. I fully admit to a bias. I look at issues and the coverage of said issues and give my opinion on it.)
As to Current, I don’t know what to say about that. I don’t get Current through my cable system, but what clips I do see via our video team, I do think Olbermann had a point on the low rent look of the production. I’d love to have an opportunity to class up the joint, so to speak. It’s hard to gain viewership and credibility when you have so many technical problems. There’s a huge potential with Current; I just hope that they find a way towards it. And no matter what anyone says, MSNBC is hardly a liberal bastion. As much as I love Rachel Maddow (and I do) and the other hosts, MSNBC is still the outlet that gives Joe Scarborough a three hour daily platform and up until just recently had Pat Buchanan as the go-to guest. Unfortunately, I do see the continuing bifurcation of our media into partisan outlets in our future—and the consequential erosion of trust in the media. I’m not sure how that stops, though. People are demanding not to be informed, but to have their biases confirmed. They self-select those partisan divides, even when it actively misinforms them. My only hope is that as we find our way out of this generation of chaos towards a generation of rebuilding and then prosperity (as I wind my way back to Strauss and Howe in the first question), that we learn that not all ideas should be considered equal. That there are some inherent truths which demand that the opposite not be given equal weight. So at some future point, we’ll accept that evolution is a given and those candidates who are unwilling to acknowledge that cannot be considered legitimate candidates. That those who deny global climate change don’t get a seat at the table of ideas because the science overwhelmingly disproves their beliefs. Unfortunately, I just don’t see that happening for a very, very long time, if at all. There’s far too much money on the other side. And until that time, I think we’re doomed to creating our own alternative media and having very binary understandings of the world.

I urge you to support and contribute to Crooks and Liars, Buzzflash, Truthout and the other bastions of progressive media. (Yes, even Words of Power.)

There are wild rapids ahead of us all.

See Also

Reflections on My Twitter Spat with Keith Olbermann, the Future of Current TV, and "A Responsibility to Something Greater than Ourselves."

Fear and Loathing in 2012, A Report from the Digital Barricades: Words of Power Interviews Mark Karlin, Editor of Buzzflash at Truthout

SDS Founder, Veteran Activist Tom Hayden on Participatory Democracy from Port Huron to Occupy Wall Street

Thom Hartmann: Does this Generation have a Rendezvous w/ Destiny?

Thom Hartmann: Atlas Shrugged - Bizarre Philosophy at Work

Do you know why 350 is the most important number in your life and the lives of everyone you love? Go to for the answer.

Richard Power is the author of seven books, including Between Shadow and Night: The Singularity in Anticipation of Itself and True North on the Pathless Path: Towards a 21st Century Yoga. He writes and speaks on security, risk, human rights and sustainability, and has delivered executive briefings and led training in over 40 countries. He blogs at and