Sunday, June 30, 2019

Is Radical Love Possible in the United States?

For a video summary of this post, click this link. 

Author/activist/spiritualist Marianne Williamson made some waves at the first "debate" between Democrats running for president by deviating from the traditional script for such gabfests. Traditional candidates use televised debates to go into full Aaron Sorkin "West Wing" mode: they spew stump speech platitudes, impress us with their knowledge of Spanish, display maximum outrage at child separation policies at the border, baffle us with bullshit when they can't dazzle us with brilliance, and take passive aggressive cheap shots at the alleged front runners. Williamson in contrast comes off more like Seinfeld's holistic healer: whatever wisdom she expresses gets undermined by stylistic quirks too easy to satirize

I'm not likely to support Marianne Williamson for president, but I found it telling that for the establishment, only her performance was "bonkers." Williamson may not be the person best able to inject a Martin Luther King style message of love power into a national political campaign, but on the other hand it's not clear to me that ANY person choosing to center on love, compassion, healing, etc. would get treated as anything other than a flake by the major party establishment and the cable profiteers running these so-called debates. 

Williamson's closing remarks, in which she directly addressed Donald Trump, made the establishment's collective head explode: “Mr. President, if you’re listening, you have harnessed fear for political purposes, and only love can cast that out. I am going to harness love for political purposes. And sir, love will win.” Even writers sympathetic to Williamson are not capable of writing about her without characterizing her sentiments as "weird,"  "bizarre" or "oddball." 

But is Williamson's love message REALLY all that weird? If situated only in terms of the wretched norms governing mainstream political discourse in the US, then yes of course her message is weird to the point of sounding like it comes from some mysterious astral plane. Put in a global context however, the message is not weird at all and might actually represent a realistic way of handling Trumpian-style polarizing populism. 

Consider the recent mayoral election in Istanbul, Turkey. Reform candidate Ekrem Imamoglu won the election in March, but after allegations of voting irregularities the election was held again in June. In the second election Imamogly won by over 800,000 votes against the candidate supported by Turkey's polarizing populist President  Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan has in the past claimed that whoever runs Istanbul effectively runs Turkey, though it remains to be seen if Imamoglu's victory represents an end to the divide and conquer politics of Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party. 

Imamoglu's Republican People's Party (CHP) did not run for office the way opposition parties typically do. Instead of angry denunciations of Erdogan, the AKP, and Erdogan's  "deplorable" supporters, they took a stand for "Radical Love." In a fascinating 50-page document, the writer argues that "The main difference between radical and normal love is that the former denotes giving your love not only to those who already love you, but also to those who do not." 

"Radical Love" goes further and urges political activists to avoid "hubris," "sarcasm," "high politics," and "haste." The writer then provides candidates with a ten-point program for running campaigns, most of which are the opposite of how we run campaigns in the States: 

  1. Don't get provoked, don't be pulled into arguments. 
  2. Don't talk conceptually, be concrete. 
  3. Introduce yourself. 
  4. Talk less, listen more. 
  5. Don't use insults. 
  6. Don't make insinuations. 
  7. Don't lord over people, don't wag a finger. 
  8. Don't have an idea. (By which they mean that candidates should recognize that ideas are rooted in communities, not in the individual mind of the candidate.). 
  9. Smile. 
  10. Don't forget that you're with the People's Party. 

Williamson channeled some of these principles in her debate performance, principles so rare in American political discourse that the candidate will almost necessarily sound "weird." (South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg sometimes espouses Radical Love type views, especially when he talks about fixing our broken democracy, but like Williamson he might be hurt by having a style that's too easy for more polished candidates to dismiss and for ill-motivated opponents to lampoon.). 
Radical love needs to be strong. United we stand. A nation that stands strong, and loves each of its members is a nightmare for hate-mongers.--From the pamphlet "Radical Love"

The "Radical Love" pamphlet calls hatred the "disease of our times," and says that "hatred cannot be overcome by hatred." It says that hatred is "easy to produce" and is "lucrative," and that "The only way to beat people who feed on hatred is to defend love with patience and perseverance."  "Radical Love"  is rooted in the idea of treating political opponents with deep respect--something that might seem impossible in the United States until we consider that it was considered to be impossible in Turkey until Imamoglu's successful campaign. 
The Turkish cover of "The Book of Radical Love." The book takes a spiritual approach to politics that seems increasingly out of reach in this era of bitterness and polarization perhaps best illustrated by the Trump phenomenon in the United States. Of all the Democrats running to replace Mr. Trump, Marianne Williamson most clearly states an intention to "harness the power of love" in politics. Williamson's style is easy to mock and make fun of, but there's a long history in the world of making fun of messages that challenge us to deal with things we would rather not deal with. 
Does the United States need a "Radical Love" style transformation in order for Donald Trump to be defeated in 2020? No. Given our 18th-century electoral rules, the Democrats merely need to find a way to flip some swing states (e.g. Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania) that surprisingly went for Mr. Trump in 2016 but in which his popularity is low and the Republicans did not do well in the 2018 midterms. But even if Trump is defeated, "Radical Love" teaches that unless there is some kind of transformation in the way we do politics, Trump-style scapegoating and demonizing of "others" will continue to play a large role in governing at all levels no matter who wins individual elections. 

Marianne Williamson is not going to be elected president of the United States, but she does deserve credit for trying to expose the fact that the man currently occupying the big house on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in DC is more a symptom of our sickness than a cause of it. Williamson's Seinfeldian New Age Guru style makes it easy to laugh off such views, but as Elvis Costello once sang (and the author of the Turkish "Radical Love" pamphlet would echo), "What's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?"

Thursday, June 27, 2019

About that for profit scam . . .

I recently argued that Senator Elizabeth Warren's refusal to participate in a Fox News Town Hall because she did not want to support the network's "hate for profit scam" was understandable, though I wondered why she was not as bothered by the for profit scam that is at the root of all other corporate networks' coverage of the Democratic presidential primary season. As I put it: a for-profit scam is only marginally less offensive than a hate-for-profit scam, and it's still a scam. 
Last night was the first "debate" between contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination. Patience Haggin and Nat Ives in the Wall Street Journal give us a sense of how much MSNBC stands to cash-in from these events: 
Advertisers were asked to pay up to $100,000 for 30-second spots on MSNBC during the Democratic presidential primary debates this week, according to people familiar with the matter, signaling that the network anticipates high viewer interest for its kickoff to the 2020 campaign season.
The figure represents a significant premium from the network’s usual sticker prices, according to the people. The actual purchase price wasn’t clear and could be lower, depending on a host of factors . . . NBCUniversal has been pitching marketers on research it says shows high engagement among viewers of political coverage, including during ad breaks.

The "historically diverse" group of moderators for the debate certainly understand profit: 

*Jose Diaz-Balart, the "Brian Williams of Telemundo," has a net worth of $5 million. 
*Savannah Guthrie, who took over as co-anchor on the Today Show after the network execs threw Ann Curry under the bus, has a net worth of $20 million and makes $8 million per year. 
*Lester Holt, who received mixed reviews for his 2016 moderation of a Trump/Clinton debate, has a net worth of $12 million and makes $4 million per year. 
*Rachel Maddow, an extremely competent journalist who unfortunately treated the Trump/Russia story in a manner that was like a center-left version of Glenn Beck, has a net worth of $20 million and makes $7 million per year. 
*Chuck Todd, who literally spoke more than 7 of the candidates in the first debate, has a net worth of $2 million. 
(Note: These folks are paupers compared to Fox's Sean Hannity, who has a net worth of $220 million and annual salary of $40 million.) 

The average journalist in the USA makes about $40,000 per year. My suggestion would be to allow at least one local journalist on the stage with MSNBC's millionaire celebs so as to increase the possibility that a voice of real people has a chance to be represented on the stage. 

Are we better off with these debates than without them? All things considered, probably yes. But let's not kid ourselves about the manner in which commercialism controls the structure of such events and severely limits their value in serving representative democracy in a truly meaningful way. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Back in the Day: Commentary Highlights

In the early 1990s a UW Oshkosh media student named Chris Lee approached me and asked if I would like to work with him to produce and host a public affairs TV program for the campus "Titan TV" channel. Chris had been in one of my classes, enjoyed my takes on the need to elevate public discourse in broadcast and cable media, and essentially challenged me to "put up or shut up." I had become friends with former Oshkosh Mayor James Mather, and I asked him if he would like to co-host. He said yes. Chris suggested we call the show "Commentary."
The late Don Mocker (center) was Provost at UW Oshkosh in the early 2000s. Don was one of the few administrators who appreciated the program, I think in part because he was an Education professor by trade and he understood deeply how grassroots media when done well can serve a powerful educational purpose in a community. The picture above was taken in March of 2001. Mr. Mather and I had earned a "National Communicator" award, and Don came on the program to present it to us. He praised the show for its "scholarly treatment of public issues." 
Commentary was remarkably successful from around 1991-1995; Jim and I interviewed a range of candidates for public office, community activists, academics,journalists, and many others. We used to close the program with "parting shots," brief statements offering opinions on affairs of the day. After Chris graduated we had a number of students who volunteered to work on the program. The UW Oshkosh administration never liked the show, largely because of my tendency to tell the truth and name names, so it always seemed like a struggle to remain on the air. (Someday if I am up to it I will write about this in more depth.).

I suspended the program in 1996 because I was recruited to run for the state assembly--a major time commitment while continuing to teach full-time at the university. I lost the assembly race, but then became chairperson of the Department of Communication in 1997--another huge time commitment. So I thought Commentary was over for good.

Around 1998 or 1999 Doug Freshner, a UW Oshkosh videographer, asked me if I would like to re-start the program. Doug had been a fan of the show in its original inception, and he had a nice little studio in Dempsey Hall. I was able to get Mr. Mather to come back, and so we had another successful run from about 1999-2003.

The video below is a compilation of photos from some of the 1998-2003 shows. The highlight for me personally was 2002, when we were able to get most of the Democrats running for governor that year to actually come to Oshkosh for an interview. We also interviewed Ed Thompson (Tommy's brother), who was running as a Libertarian that year--he was one of the most engaging and funny people I've ever met.

Commentary was a good example of how to do local cable access media that matters. Mather and I took the program seriously, showed respect towards our guests by asking them questions that they perceived as thoughtful, and we stuck with it even in the face of petty bullying by administrators and other "powerful" people in the community.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Ten Bold Cover Tunes, Part I

In the history of popular music solo artists and bands have probably recorded thousands of cover tunes. There exists no completely accurate accounting of the most covered songs in history, though rock standards like the Beatles' "Yesterday" and the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" tend to rank high on most lists.

What makes for a great cover tune?  Like anything else related to the arts, it might ultimately just be a matter of personal taste. Talk to members of any local cover band in your town, and they will tell you that audiences pressure them to sound as much as possible like the original artist and tune being covered. In other words, audiences want karaoke versions of the songs. A lead singer of a local band once told me that she decided one night to perform AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" as "Highway to Heaven" and got met with a HELLISH response from the crowd. I'm guessing that's typical.

For me, a great cover tune has to be BOLD. By that I mean a few different things:

*In choosing to cover a song already identified with another artist, the cover artist risks professional humiliation. Just DARING to cover certain songs is an act of boldness.

*Taking the original version of the song and performing it in a unique way is one of the boldest moves an artist can make. When done well, the cover version takes on a life of its own and almost sends the original into obscurity.

The opposite of boldness when it comes to cover tunes are situations in which the cover artist merely mimics the original or simply records the cover for commercial reasons. That's called "selling out"  or exploitation and gives the whole business of covering other artists' tunes a bad name.

I know everyone reading this can name dozens if not hundreds of cover tunes that meet my boldness criteria. Here I'm only going to name ten (in no particular order):

#10: Elvis Presley's cover of Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right Mama". I'm fully cognizant of how racism in the music industry and the USA at-large resulted in phenomenal singer/songwriters like Arthur Crudup never getting proper recognition or royalties for their compositions. A good summary of the relationship between blues, rock-and-roll, and racism--written by sociologist David Szatmary--can be found here.

The reality of racism, however, does not diminish the impact of Presley's version of "That's All Right Mama." Of all the songs mentioned in this blog post, Presley's "That's All Right Mama" is actually the most karaoke-ish in the sense that Elvis is clearly channeling Crudup's attitude and style. But try to appreciate how RADICAL that music must have sounded to uptight white youth of the 1950s. Top hits in 1954 included sentimental ballads like Sinatra's "Young at Heart" and Eddie Fisher's "Oh! My Pa-Pa." When put in that pop-music context, Presley's "That's All Right Mama" was a kind of caffeine boost in a youth culture not quite awake yet.

#9: Peggy Lee's cover of Little Willie John's "Fever". "Fever" was written by R & B giants Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell, and recorded originally by Little Willie John. The song's  been covered extensively, including by Elvis, Madonna, Christina Aguilera, and Beyonce. Most of these artists perform the tune as an expression of lust; a raunchy tune designed to get the crowd rowdy during live performances.

Peggy Lee I think was the only artist who grasped that "Fever" is really about DESIRE, an emotional state that when experienced in a fully human way sees the object of said desire as an equal person. Pure lust, in contrast, is about seeing the other as strictly someone to fuck. To put it in terms of the song's lyrics, desire more than lust is a "lovely way to burn." Peggy's performance revived her career in 1958 and became her signature song.

#8: Nirvana's cover of David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World". In the early 1990s a myth developed around grunge-rock bands that they somehow had a contempt for earlier progressive rock. Pearl Jam's embrace of Neil Young and Nirvana's spectacular cover of one of David Bowie's more esoteric tunes effectively destroyed that myth. Nirvana introduced the tune to a new audience in a way that honored the original while signaling the obvious pain that would lead to singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain's suicide not too long after the recording.


#7 The Mamas and the Papas cover of Ozzie Nelson's "Dream a Little Dream of Me". This pretty ballad of love and longing is deceptively easy to sing, making it ripe for covers. I would advise readers not to listen to too many versions of it, because the butcheries of it can almost ruin the song. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong's 1950 cover of the song is first-rate outstanding, but Cass Eliot's rendition in 1968 is for me the definitive version against which all others should be judged. I'm especially partial to this version of the tune as a tribute to Mama Cass, who was the victim of some vicious, Trump-style misogyny and trolling decades before the Internet. (The lie that she "choked on a ham sandwich" for many years took attention away from her powerful vocal legacy and also the fact that she was a beautiful person.).

#6: Eric Burdon and the Animals cover of the traditional "Rising Sun Blues". The Animals'"House of the Rising Sun" was released in June of 1964, and fifty-five years later the opening guitar licks, eerie keyboards, and Eric Burdon's soulful vocals keep you hooked. The Rolling Stones are usually given credit as representing the grittier side of the British invasion in contrast to the cheerful pop of the Beatles, but I've always thought that credit should be shared with Burdon and the Animals. "House of the Rising Sun" proves the point.

 #5: Dick Dale and the Del Tones cover of the traditional "Misirlou". Dick Dale died in March of this year, just shy of his 82nd birthday. Some would argue he was the original guitar hero, known for soaring surf riffs and pioneering the use of the loudest amplification possible. He was a big influence on Jimi Hendrix and many others.

"Miserlou" was and is a remarkable example of how to take a Middle Eastern folk tune and rock it into another world. When Quentin Tarantino put "Miserlou" in his 1994 "Pulp Fiction" he exposed a new generation to the tune, and demonstrated how an audio track can grab a film audience's attention as much as a shocking visual.

#4: Linda Ronstadt's cover of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas "Heat Wave". In some ways Ronstadt's 1975 cover of a 1963 Motown classic is the boldest of the bunch. Imagine the audacity of even trying to cover such an acclaimed tune, sung with searing intensity by Martha Reeves, and backed up instrumentally by the Funk Brothers--arguably the greatest rhythm  section in the history of the world. But sometimes audacity is necessary for great art and, while Ronstadt does not surpass the original, her "yeah yeah! . . . yeah yeah!" shouts come off as her simply saying "I just love this song and I aim to sing it as best I can!" Andrew Gold's guitar playing does not try to upstage the Funk Brothers' horns in the original, but it gives the song a mainstream rock twist that perfectly complements Linda's vocal.

Heat Wave became Ronstadt's most requested song at concerts, to the point where she pretty much got sick of singing it. Sadly, she developed Parkinson's disease in the 2000s and since 2011 literally cannot sing at all. Even though she cannot sing, she still gives voice to human rights causes, including her passionate advocacy on behalf of migrants.

#3: Ike and Tina Turner's cover of Creedence Clearwater's "Proud Mary". I don't think there's a guitar playing storyteller alive who does not owe a debt to Creedence's John Fogerty, and one could also argue that there's some Tina Turner in pretty much every major female pop/rock artist of the last twenty years. So when Tina Turner tackled "Proud Mary," it was like one giant paying homage to another.

Due to legal hassles, Fogerty did not perform his own songs for many years. He claims that a conversation with Bob Dylan changed that. Dylan told him that if he did not start performing the songs again, the world would forever think that "Proud Mary" was Tina Turner's song. That's probably true, as Tina's version is so dynamic and unforgettable that it's almost hard to believe someone else wrote it. Fogerty and Turner did tour together in the year 2000 and performed "Proud Mary" as a duet.

#2: Richie Havens' cover of the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun". Beatles' songs are notoriously hard to cover, in large part because the band's recording studio innovations and distinct vocal styles make it difficult for even the most talented artist to tackle a Fab Four tune without bringing it down a notch. Richie Havens' cover of "Here Comes the Sun" is a dramatic exception to that rule.

Written by George Harrison, "Here Comes the Sun" is an extraordinary song both lyrically and melodically, one of two Harrison classics on the Beatles' "Abbey Road" album (the other was "Something"). The only way to cover successfully an extraordinary tune is to counter it with something at least equally extraordinary. Havens actually pulled that off, stripping the song down to guitars, bass, and conga drums from the Beatles' orchestral arrangement. Havens sings the song with such raw emotion and plays his guitar so free-wheelingly that the original song almost comes off as over produced. I love both versions of the song, but Havens' does strike me as a remarkable artistic achievement which really set a high bar for anyone attempting to cover a Beatles' tune.

#1: Johnny Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt." I think I'll let Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails front man and writer of "Hurt," do the talking on this one:

"[Johnny Cash's producer] Rick Rubin has been a friend for a long time, and he called me asking how I felt about Johnny covering "Hurt." I was flattered, but frankly, the idea sounded a bit gimmicky to me. I really didn't put much thought into it, as I was working on something at the time and was distracted. A few weeks later, a CD shows up with the track. Again, I'm in the middle of something and put it on and give it a cursory listen. It sounded... weird to me. That song in particular was straight from my soul, and it felt very strange hearing the highly identifiable voice of Johnny Cash singing it. It was a good version, and I certainly wasn't cringing or anything, but it felt like I was watching my girlfriend fuck somebody else. Or something like that. Anyway, a few weeks later, a videotape shows up with Mark Romanek's video on it. It's morning; I'm in the studio in New Orleans working on lack De La Rocha's record with him; I pop the video in, and... wow. Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps... Wow. I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn't mine anymore. Then it all made sense to me. It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. Some-fucking-how that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning-different, but every bit as pure. Things felt even stranger when he passed away. The song's pur-pose shifted again. It's incredibly flattering as a writer to have your song chosen by someone who's a great writer and a great artist."

There you have it, Part I of Media Rants' identification and interpretation of ten bold cover tune. Part 2 will appear when and if I get inspired to come up with another list!

Saturday, June 01, 2019

For Profit Scams: Media and the Democratic Party Primary Season

Democratic Massachusetts Senator and candidate for president Elizabeth Warren made waves recently when she rebuffed an invitation to appear at a Fox news town hall forum. In a tweet, Warren said that Fox executives run a "hate-for-profit" racket and that she was not going to allow them to use her to raise advertising dollars. Appearing on The View, Warren expanded on her decision, calling what Fox does a hate-for-profit "scam" while arguing that Fox executives invite Democratic candidates to forums so that they can demonstrate to advertisers who don't want their brand tarnished by being associated with hate that they (Fox) are in fact "balanced." (Ironically, Fox's Tucker Carlson praised Warren's economic plan.). 
A few years ago I wrote about how Fox magnifies the worst tendencies of American news media while twisting political conservatism into little more than hyper partisan trolling. So I completely understand where Senator Warren is coming from. Where she misses the mark is in her inference that executives at all other cable and broadcast outlets are not also scam artists. Execs at CNN, MSNBC and other establishment mouthpieces may not be pushing HATE-for-profit scams (although the families of innocent victims of our regime change wars might beg to differ with that assessment), but it's difficult to see their approach to the presidential race so far as being guided by anything other than PROFIT. To put it bluntly, a for-profit scam is only marginally less offensive than a hate-for-profit scam, and it's still a scam. 

The Democratic Party Primary Season Coverage Scam 

As I write, there are over 20 declared Democrats running for president, with a distinct possibility of more getting into the race. And why wouldn't they? Anyone who declares seems to at a minimum get a cable TV town hall forum, interviews on the cable and broadcast network shows, some write ups in national publications, numerous podcast invitations, and some social media buzz. For the rest of their lives they get to put "presidential candidate" on their resumes. 
Ladies and Gentlemen: Your declared Democrats running for president in 2020
If most of these candidates were serious about running for president, they would be hunkered down in Iowa and/or New Hampshire (two predominantly white states that have an over sized impact on selecting the nominee due to the major parties unwillingness to divorces themselves from a tradition that insults the diversity of the modern electorate), building a grassroots network of enthusiastic supporters, and making a mature decision to LEAVE the race if said network fails to materialize. 

Keep in mind that the Iowa caucuses do not start until February 3, 2020. But thanks to the establishment media scam artists (who have been hyping presidential politics since January of 2017) most of the declared candidates don't even have to visit Iowa or New Hampshire. Some candidates (Pete Buttigieg and Beto O'Rourke might be the best examples) seem to have as part of their overall strategy an effort to channel national media attention into local organizing in Iowa, New Hampshire, and other states, but for many of the others running for president appears to be more about: 

*building or reinforcing a personal brand that can be marketed for other opportunities 
*auditioning for a cabinet position or VP
*auditioning to be a future Democratic National Committee chair 
*laying the groundwork to become a featured pundit or media source 
*simply getting the adrenaline rush that comes from 15 minutes of fame 

The scam goes fully national later in June, when there will be two nights of televised "debates" featuring all of the 20+ candidates who've met the Democratic National Committee's arbitrary threshold of polling numbers and fundraising. The DNC's threshold has been a boon for social media platforms, who profit handsomely from the frantic, nonstop ads placed by candidates pleading with us to "donate even a dollar so I can bring my uplifting message to the debates." 

From a civic perspective (note: presidential campaigns are supposed to have something to do with civics, right?), the only way these national "debates" would make sense is if we had a National Primary Day. That is, instead of 50 individual primaries and caucuses spread from February - June, we would simply do them all on one day. The main argument against a national primary day has been that it inherently favors wealthier candidates who can afford to expend resources in many states. There's obviously some truth to that argument, but on the other hand the wealthier candidates already dominate the current system. That will be even more true in 2020, as California--a state which is virtually impossible to campaign in without spending vasts sums of money--is now an "early primary state" that will be dominated by well financed candidates. 

Besides the major political parties, you know who else doesn't want a national primary day? If your answer is, "the executives running for-profit scams at the establishment media corporations," you would be correct. In 2016 these characters milked what Matt Taibbi called the GOP Clown Car Republican primary for months. Turned out that Donald Trump was good for the media business. The nonstop hostility aimed at Bernie Sanders is, I reckon, at attempt to try and turn the Democratic primary season into a circus like the Republicans in 2016. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, an op-ed columnist with establishment Democrat leanings, has already taken to calling Sanders the "Trump of the left.

My point is that national campaign coverage has little to do with informing voters and everything to do with enhancing the media bottom line. It's a for-profit scam that reduces politics to a kind of Netflix series featuring a handful of A-list stars surrounded by a gaggle of B-listers looking for ways to upstage them. 

An Alternative to Scamming 

Imagine with me a hypothetical world in which establishment media, when it comes to presidential primary campaign coverage, were guided not by a for-profit ethic, but a for-the-people one. What would that look like? 

First, the major establishment media would greatly LIMIT the amount of campaign coverage until a month or two before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. No more automatic televised town halls for any billionaire, governor, mayor, etc. who announces an intention to run for president. Town halls and/or debates would begin shortly before Iowa and New Hampshire, and they would be limited only to those candidates who are generating a serious buzz on the ground in Iowa and/or New Hampshire. 

Serious buzz on the ground does NOT mean poll numbers or how many campaign offices opened in each county--those are things that any well-financed campaign can pull off quite easily. Rather, serious buzz on the ground means attendance at rallies, unpaid volunteers, unsponsored social media activity, and other signs of a campaign connecting with the average voter. Yes, it would take some REAL JOURNALISTIC EFFORT to go out and find which candidates are actually having that kind of impact. 

Second, all campaign journalism should use a "citizens agenda" approach to coverage. NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen has written and spoken extensively on this topic, and he provides a nice summary here. At its root the citizens agenda approach is simple: instead of focusing on meaningless horse race coverage and stupidity ("who's ahead in the polls?" "Can Sanders catch Biden?" "Is Warren likable?"), media should actively find out FROM VOTERS what they want candidates to be talking about as they compete for their votes. It's pretty certain that not many voters are going to say, "I want the candidates to tell me how much money they can raise." 

Third, independent or third party candidates deserve equal time in campaign coverage. However, the coverage of such candidates in the national press should begin ONLY after the candidates are on the ballot in enough states so that they in theory could receive enough electoral votes to become president. In most states, getting a third party or independent candidate on the ballot is a herculean task (because of state laws biased in favor of the major parties) requiring lots of grassroots support. Candidates able to generate that level of support at the grassroots level have earned the right to be in the national debate. Failure to include them only builds more cynicism within the electorate and further depresses voter turnout. 

In summary, I think Senator Elizabeth Warren's decision to refuse to appear at a Fox News town hall event on the grounds that the execs are running a "hate-for-profit" scam provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the values that guide major media as they cover the presidential campaign. It is my contention that while Fox's competitors may not be as bad as them, still they are involved in a for-profit scam that calls into question their ability to play a meaningful civic role in the election of the president of the United States. 

The fact that millions of Americans rely on media that are engaged in a for-profit scam to learn about presidential candidates is not a problem easily solved. Yet it's a problem that major media should try and solve soon, as their protests against Mr. Trump's calling them "fake" have limited credibility when it turns out that media moguls are themselves Trump-style grifters and manipulators.