Welcome to Activist Land!

Activist Land provides tools and a pragmatic forum for the progressive activist community. It aims to complement traditional political blogs by emphasizing how you can get involved in specific issues and how to integrate activism into your life in an effective and sustainable way. Therefore, in addition to calling for action on a particular issue, it encourages people to post "activism opportunity" posts that describe the nuts and bolts of how one would, or did, take action in a particular instance.

My main area of focus is media reform. I've been working with Save Boston's Progressive Talk to help bring progressive talk radio to Boston, and I've written interviews to publicize "The Real News", an independent international news network. My secondary area of focus is election integrity. I maintain a set of Voting Rights pages with an emphasis on an election integrity timeline. I've written pieces on these and other subjects for Daily Kos and my local newspaper. For more info, see my first post. Come and join the community!

Friday, July 27, 2007

"The Real News" Junkies Get a Fix

SUMMARY: Introduction to "The Real News", an exciting independent daily news outfit under development.

[cross-posted at Daily Kos, Political Cortex, COAnews, Booman Tribune]

Withdrawal symptoms are brutal, especially when they last for decades. And we've been jonesing for something approaching journalism on the evening news for a long, long time.

What would you say if I told you that there's a network bursting onto the scene that's going to present you with real journalism untainted by corporate or governmental money -- because it refuses to accept any? That's staffed with "unbought and unbossed" journalists from around the world -- Pakistan, Brazil, Canada, India, as well as the United States? That could have told you in real time that Colin Powell was making things up before a war broke out? I hope you'd respond as I did...


In January, I posted a five-part interview with Paul Jay, the founder of Independent World Television network and its flagship daily news show, The Real News. Paul is a wonderfully insightful person and extremely persuasive. After speaking with him, I was convinced that this network knew what it was doing. This month, I've finally had the satisfaction of seeing an explosion of people who are suddenly finding out for the first time what The Real News is all about.

And I do mean explosion. I've watched the The Real News group on Facebook grow by literally hundreds of members from one day to the next -- and it's still going. I've seen the number of viewings of their video "The Promise" on YouTube go from 1590 yesterday to 2560 today -- and that's before each and every one of you clicks on the video below, uprates it, marks it a "favorite", and tells your friends about it, thus sending the number of viewings through the roof and into the "Director Videos" circle. Right? Right??

Last week, I interviewed Paul again. He had already given us all so much to chew on in the first interview that I didn't need to ask him about the whys and wherefores of the network. Instead, I wanted to focus on what's going on now and what we can expect for the rest of the year. So here's Paul!

A: It looks like there's a lot happening at "The Real News" right now. Would you say that you've entered a new stage?

P: Yes. For one thing we really just started our public membership campaign. We emailed our list and we got 140 donations in the first four days. Before this, the site was not changing much, so we would only get two or three a day. But more importantly, we're starting to produce content that will lead to a regular daily news in September. That's when we think the membership campaign will take off. There are three things we'll be doing regularly by then.

One will be to start the day with five or six minutes of news headlines. We want people to get into the habit of going to us to find out what are the big stories today in the world.

And we're going to do a show called "The Real Story", where we take one, maybe two of the major stories of the day. We'll take a look at how other television news is covering it, both in the US and other parts of the world. Then we'll go to journalists that are on the front lines and see what they have to say.

The third thing we're doing is something we're calling "The Real Raw News". We have a feed we bought from Associated Press Television News. It's really quite interesting coverage of breaking stories. You're lucky to see eight seconds of a four-minute APTN story on a normal newscast. And when you do, the reporters who cover the story never stop talking. You don't get a chance to actually just see and feel what's happening. We're going to give written context for these clips, but then we're going to let them play the way we get them over the wires. People can come to their own conclusions about what they're seeing.

We'll add to that some of the specific segments, coverage of climate change through "Global Warning", political corruption through "Skewer!", and "Follow the Money", questions of global corruption. Then the other segment we'll be working on in the fall will be "Organize This!", about working people and unions. If people watch our promos on the website, they'll get a pretty good idea of what's going on.

A: I see that you have a big focus on Ning.com, which is a social network site. Looks like there's a huge amount of content, and a lot of people posting messages. It seems as though it's a real place to hang out.

P: The news will be on the main Real News site, which is our home base. But we have a Ning community and a Facebook site. We already have a lot of our content on the Real News YouTube channel. And every day, we're going to be putting up everything new we have. YouTube actually contacted us to propose that we become a content partner. That means they give us extra functionality on our web channel on YouTube, and they also promote us. For instance, our promo next week will be one of their director's choices. When we start doing daily material, they'll be promoting us every day. All these platforms, from YouTube to Ning, to Facebook, to MySpace, are important to us. In fact, we've hired some staff who are solely focused on developing them. But people will wind up coming to the main site to watch the programming. However, we don't care about where you see it, as long as you see it.

A: Do you think that the political climate has changed in a way that's either better or worse for "The Real News" since last year, when we last spoke?

P: There's a funny thing that's going on in the U.S. right now. People are more engaged politically because the presidential campaign has started so early, but on the other hand, people are almost already getting tired of it. But the main thing for us is that we want to connect with people's real concerns, not just at the level of following the horse race of political partisanship. The real question facing us is finding our voice. Finding a way to speak to ordinary people, and take complex issues, make them understandable, and make them connect with people's sense of their own interest.

The desperation on the part of viewers who saw the media were shielding Bush regardless of what he did -- that's lessened. But most of the people who are likely to support us early on, such as your readers, understand that the media offering any critique is a temporary phenomenon. The way the media rally around the flag and can support a war based on lies -- that's a structural problem that won't change. And it will happen again. So most people will see the necessity for us. And then when they get a taste of our programming, they will find they're getting insights and a picture of the world they won't get anywhere else.

A: What I saw of that AP feed really brought home to me how filtered the news is. It was just showing a funeral in Bosnia, but you heard the people speaking in their original language, you saw the people grieving for more than just a quarter of a second at a time. It was pretty remarkable.

P: We got a lovely comment from somebody on the website who said that for the first time she got to feel the emotion of the story. She hadn't realized what this constant talking of the journalists does to remove you from the emotionality of the moment. They actually dehumanize the experience because they don't shut up.

A: That's right.

P: And that funeral was an experiment for us that really proved something for us. Just settling into that footage was like a minidocumentary. This experiment with the Bosnian piece was like a foot in both worlds. You get that emotional connection you would do in a documentary, but it's short, it was produced the day the thing happened, within the news cycle.

A: Are you finding that there are people who are becoming "Real News groupies", even outside of your Toronto office? People who have really latched onto it and communicate with you all the time?

P: Yes. People all over the world. We have hundreds of people who are e-mailing all the time. A majority are and will be Americans, but it gives Americans a chance to connect, not just with Canadians, but with people from all over the world, who are already starting to come into the social network.

A: Have you started to see defensive moves from more traditional media, or do you think that will happen once you're a bigger presence?

P: We're not really on their radar yet. What's interesting is that they're doing reports with a bit of critique in them, a bit of oppositional feel. I must stress "a bit". But clearly they know people want it. These are the same networks that were parroting the pro-war arguments for so long. Now that the majority of Americans want that war to end, the networks follow public opinion. But public opinion says "We don't want to be lied to anymore." And I don't think the CNNs and ABCs, because of what they are structurally and economically, can really answer that desire for truth. So if we do it right, the situation's very good for us.

The other thing that's very good for us, which has changed since we last talked, is the maturing of YouTube and Facebook and these other social content platforms. Because now it's not just a question of trying somehow to get people to our website. It's now relatively easy for us to go where people already are. And we can do it in a way conventional news sources can't. If CNN or NBC starts regularly putting their stuff on YouTube, how do they make money on it? The advertising goes to YouTube, not to them. They want to bring people back to their site or TV network to watch the advertising that they make money on. But because our model is not based on advertising, we don't need you to come see our advertising. All we need you to do is to see our content and like it.

We think only about 2-3% of the people who watch us will actually need to give money. We need the more advanced people, like your readers, to give money in much higher percentages. But when we get to the more general population, we just need a lot of people to watch, and then the more conscious people will understand the necessity of supporting it. Our nonprofit, non-advertising model is perfect for the exploding social content on the net.

A: That's great. Is there anything you want to say before we conclude?

P: I would just say that now is the time we really need people who think this is necessary and see the importance of it to donate and get engaged. Tell their friends, spread the word. Go watch us on our site, watch us on YouTube, join the Facebook site, come to our Ning site. Donate. If possible, sign up for automatic monthly donations. We really need a kick-start now. In the early stage, we need big donor funding to get to the next level. But we can't trigger that money if we can't show that there are ordinary people who are willing to make regular contributions, whether it's ten bucks a month or more. Now's the moment that will make a difference.

A: Okay. Let's see whether people rise to the challenge. It's been a pleasure speaking with you, as always.

P: You too, Alan.

And here are some links to send to your friends:

- "The Promise", The Real News's video on YouTube

- Real News YouTube channel

- The Real News (main website)

- "Go Big or Go Home" (my first interview with Paul, posted January 1-6, 2007)

- The Real News group on Facebook

- Ning community

- UPDATE: July 24 BuzzFlash interview with Paul

Now let's make sure the world can get The Real News!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Robin's Testimony at the FCC Hearing

SUMMARY: A written version of the testimony delivered by the leader of the Boston progressive talk radio group at the FCC hearing in Portland, ME, on June 28, 2007.

(Please see Little Miss Sunshine at the FCC Hearing for background.)

FCC Hearing
Portland, ME
June 28, 2007

Good evening... I'm here from Massachusetts to testify, as this is the only FCC hearing scheduled in New England.

As happened similarly, more recently, here in Maine, on December 21, 2006, our only Boston all-Progressive-Talk-stations (two simulcasting Clear Channel AM stations, WKOX and WXKS) were suddenly cancelled, without warning. In Boston, which is about 70% liberal, there are numerous right wing conservative talk stations, programs with centrist talk, but no progressive talk. Does this serve our local and public interest?

I would like to present the Commissioners with a copy of our petition with more than 2400 signatures and comments that illustrate that indeed there is an enthusiastic audience and willing advertisers for progressive talk despite being told the opposite. It is not surprising that there was little local advertising on the stations. We've heard from local businesses that tried to advertise only to have their calls ignored or refused. Station management admitted they had no interest in local advertisers; they preferred to sell one package to national advertisers for large numbers of their stations at the same time. A group of active listeners is currently working to get a progressive talk station back on the airwaves.

There are six large media companies who own virtually all of the stations in Boston. The few remaining privately owned stations are mostly on the auction block, feeling squeezed by ever-spiraling costs and fees continually being driven upward by the big corporations. Additionally, many of the large radio corporations who own the conservative programming they broadcast would be reluctant to compete with their own programming so would naturally act to protect their own market shares. Does this serve our local and public interest?

Many corporate media giants look to make short-term profits, running stations by satellite feed from a closet with virtually no local personnel at the expense of local, independent programming. Does this serve our local and public interest?

Progressive programming is thriving across the country, where it gets a decent signal, includes local programming, is given adequate time to grow the audience, AND if it can find available stations to carry it.

We ask the FCC to:

1. Hold a similar FCC hearing in Boston.

2. Limit the number of stations and other media outlets a company can own in one market and roll back the consolidation caused by the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

3. Create incentives & protections to nurture more small, locally owned stations.

4. Prioritize enforcement of "serving the Public Interest" by allowing the public to be part of the licensing process and review renewals more frequently (every three years rather than the current eight years).

5. Ban repeated propaganda and false news presented as real news and fact.

A thriving Democracy requires dialogue and an exchange of ideas to inform its citizenry. "We the People" own the airwaves, and it's time for radio to serve the local and public interest first and renew its role as the fourth estate!

My Testimony at the FCC Hearing

SUMMARY: The revised text of the testimony I delivered at the FCC hearing on localism in Portland, ME, on June 28, 2007.

(Please see Little Miss Sunshine at the FCC Hearing for background.)

FCC Hearing, Portland
June 28, 2007

I came from Massachusetts today to testify about why localism and diversity are life-or-death matters.

But before I begin, I want to thank the commissioners for offering the public a chance to provide their input. I especially thank Commissioners Copps and Adelstein, not just for being here, but for doing their best to prevent the disaster that almost ensued in 2003, when a majority of the FCC under then-chairman Powell voted to further roll back the media ownership rules that have been undergoing erosion for decades. Fortunately, the public and Congress were so irate that a bipartisan group of legislators passed a law undoing the damage. I want the commissioners to know that their efforts were noticed.

Now back to localism and diversity, life and death.

In January 2002, a train derailed in Minot, North Dakota, spilling its load of anhydrous ammonia. As fumes filled the city, a train operator called 911 so the city's inhabitants could be warned to stay indoors and close the windows. But there was a problem. All six radio stations in this city were owned by the same company, Clear Channel, which ran them remotely. So no one could get a lifesaving emergency announcement out to the people. One person died, and hundreds were injured or hospitalized. That train wreck should wake us up and prepare us for emergencies. September 11, 2001 prompted changes in homeland security. But what does it mean if a town like Minot can't protect itself against a chemical spill?

There are other kinds of train wrecks, such as the war in Iraq. Now, many people at the time thought it was a bad idea to start a war against a country that COULDN'T have attacked us in order to get back at a group that HAD. Or that if we WERE going to go in, we needed enough troops. But they couldn't get on the air. Clear Channel was busy mounting pro-war rallies and censoring opponents, as were the other media.

Now this evening, I've seen an unending parade of Maine broadcasters march up to the microphone and tell us how, even though many of their bosses are not local, they take localism very seriously. They live here, as one after another has pointed out (and one even added that her infant daughter lives here, too). They bravely covered the ice storm of 1998, and they generously support local charities. In fact, they've even managed to persuade members of those charities to testify here.

A handful of people testifying in that vein might be persuasive. But by the time you have a solid column of twenty broadcasters in a row offering identical testimony, it begins to have the opposite effect. It's like a microcosm of our current TV and radio, when you turn the dial, but nothing changes. You have to ask yourself questions. Isn't there something strange about an official from a public library coming to an FCC hearing on localism to sing the praises of the TV station that acts as the library's patron? Or to have a woman from the Barbara Bush Children's Hospital attempt to tug the audience's heartstrings with the tale of a nine-year-old cancer patient who is grateful to the local broadcasters for their beneficence? Isn't it chilling for a nonprofit to beg for favors from a media oligopoly while ignoring the societal ills that force public libraries and hospitals to scrounge for money in the first place?

Even if Maine was better served by its broadcasters during an ice storm nine years ago (predating a hefty amount of media consolidation, by the way) than Minot was five years ago, they have done nothing to show us that they'd do anything to help this country avoid the Iraq train wreck that took the lives of soldiers from their community.

What do I want the FCC to do? That's pretty simple. No need to come up with brand-new policies. It just needs to enforce the ones it's already supposed to enforce, and in fact did enforce, not so long ago.

For instance, the license review process can't continue to be a rubber-stamp process conducted only once every eight years. It needs some teeth and public input, and it needs to be performed every three years.

And we need to make sure that a lesson was learned in 2003, when the public told Congress loud and clear that it didn't want loosening of the media ownership rules, and a bipartisan group of legislators wrote this into law.

Finally, we need to make sure that when the FCC uncovers threats to localism, the chairman cannot bury the findings simply because he finds them inconvenient.

I want to close by paraphrasing Commissioner Copps from 2004: We have enough studies, we have enough comments. Now we need action.

Thank you very much.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Activist Opportunity: New Report on Talk Radio

SUMMARY: Starts with a suggestion by "daulton" from Columbus, OH, that we write a report that talks about all the strengths of the progressive talk radio is. Uses this as starting point for an "activist opportunity analysis".

A Daily Kos diary by "daulton" from Columbus, Ohio, begins as follows:

The Center for American Progress released a 35-page report in June, full of facts, charts, and statistics incontrovertibly demonstrating:

1. 91% of commercial talk radio is right-wing.

2. Right-wing bias is directly tied to ownership; and mega-ownership = mega bias.

These are two sharp arrows in the quiver for those in D.C. arguing for ownership rules.

BUT I WANT ANOTHER STUDY for those of us in the trenches (such as at OhioMajorityRadio.com ) appealing to local station owners to carry progressive programs.

Sure, we can tell them about the unfairness--but they don’t care.

What WE need is a study that proves something else we all know; that PROGRESSIVE RADIO KICKS ASS!

I suggested contacting ePluribus Media, since the people there are experienced at writing such reports. I also posted a link to the article on the Save Boston's Progressive Talk message board.

Activist Opportunity: Abe Foxman Must Go

SUMMARY: Takes a blog post critical of the director of the Anti-Defamation League and uses it as a starting point for an "activist opportunity analysis" (analysis of what could be done and whether it is worthwhile).

Yesterday, I came across the post Abe Foxman Must Go, by blogger "Red Sox" on Daily Kos. The diarist was critical of Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, for failing to support efforts to induce Congress to pass a resolution acknowledging Turkey's role in the genocide of the Armenians from 1915 to 1917. He thought that Foxman should be fired. I posted the following comment:

So what are the action points?

How should pressure be applied? How is the director s/elected?

I went to the ADL site and looked at their annual report, but didn't see that info. However, the ADL's national chair's name is Glen S. Lewy. If you are looking for someone high in the organization who can apply pressure, that might be the one. Didn't see any individual contact info for Lewy, but it might be possible to ask for him by name at one of the numbers listed in the report.

I think the media route could be effective. Develop a mailing list. (My e-mail address is in my profile; you can collect other addresses from other commenters' profiles.) Consider forming a Yahoo! message board (go to http://www.yahoo.com to find out how to do it). Get people organized to write editorials and, once they're published in newspapers, send copies of them to the ADL (and to you). I'll think about doing one myself. Then you can write follow-up diaries.

If you want, I can post the text of this diary (credited to you) on my brand-new blog, Activist Land. This type of campaign is just the kind of activism that the blog was designed for.

Good luck!

"Red Sox" responded:


Not sure exactly how best to go about applying pressure. My guess is that unless some major donors were to get involved, nothing much would come of it. If you would like to post this diary on your blog, I think that would be great. I appreciate your contribution here.

If "Red Sox" or anyone else would like to take this further, please let me know.

This is an example of the kind of thing I'd like to do on this blog. I want the blog to be not only about outrages, but about how to combat them. The mental exercise of evaluating how we would build an activist campaign is useful even if the evaluation results in our deciding not to take on the cause at the moment.

Community and Communication (and Phone Trees) by Kate Donaghue

SUMMARY: Guide to building political community with an emphasis on phone trees, written by Kate Donaghue (active in the Massachusetts Democratic Party).

Ideas for Committees - It's about Community and Communication

I grabbed this from Kate Donaghue's "Democratic Dispatch", which she sends to thousands of Democrats across Massachusetts. Kate is one of the most politically effective people I know. She really gets how to connect to both the grassroots and the establishment. I'll tell you a story sometime about how she got me to lead Kerry meetups after the Dean campaign came to a halt.

This hint could have been entitled "Phone Trees", but it is much more than that. I'm urging you to build a phone tree as a way of building community. You can use e-mail to communicate with a lot of people. But a personal phone call increases the effectiveness of your communication, by a full order of magnitude. In addition to effectively conveying the message that your organization thinks an issue, meeting or event is important enough to make a call, you build COMMUNITY when people TALK TO EACH OTHER.The mechanics of building an effective phone tree:
1) You need an administrator committed to maintaining a list and making sure that calls go out.
2) You need team leaders who are ready to call the people to whom they are assigned.
The Committee Chair determines when the phone tree is utilized. Once that decision is made the administrator sends out an e-mail to each of the team leaders. The team leader then calls the people on the list by the deadline listed.
a) The complete list for the whole committee should be sent to all the team leaders when the phone tree kicks in. The easier you make it for people to do their job, the more likely that it will get done.
b) The administrator should ask for an e-mail response by a specific time from each team leader. The idea is that the leader will say, yes, it will be done or no, turn my calls over to someone else. It the administrator doesn't hear back, then the administrator tries to reach the team leader. If the team leader can't be reached, then that team is called by someone else.
c) Each team leader should be assigned five to ten calls. The idea is that you want to encourage chatty communication, as well as disseminating information. Like in so many efforts, you need to balance how many people you want to manage. The more effective you are in getting people to take on smaller tasks, the stronger your team will be.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Little Miss Sunshine at the FCC Hearing

SUMMARY: Description of my impressions on an FCC hearing on localism held in Portland, Maine. Includes links to testimony from me and the leader of the progressive talk radio group.

Last Thursday, a group of members of the Save Boston's Progressive Talk coalition drove to Portland, Maine to testify at an FCC hearing. Little did we know that, like the desperate family in the movie Little Miss Sunshine, we'd end up having to push our car to get there. Nor did we realize the degree to which the hearing would resemble the pageant depicted in the film. But, in the best Hollywood tradition, we learned a lot from our little road trip.


First, a little background. In my diaries "Invisible Airwaves Crackle with Life", "Who (Almost) Killed Progressive Radio?", and "Grassroots Meet Rainmakers: Boston Progressive Talk Radio", I've told the tale of the demise of progressive talk radio in Boston and our group's struggle to bring it back. Clear Channel began broadcasting progressive talk in the Boston area in 2004, but tried to run it as cheaply as possible: weak signal, virtually no local staff or promotion. Sometimes the computer-in-a-closet that was running the station would simultaneously broadcast two different shows. Clearly, no one was home. Although progressive talk attracted a loyal following among those who managed to discover it, Clear Channel switched it off abruptly in 2006, replacing it with a Latino music format ("Rumba"). Despite the fact that Clear Channel suddenly managed to find local staff for Rumba, Rumba has done worse in the ratings than progressive talk. This pattern that has been repeated across the country. As an added insult, in Columbus and elsewhere, the "placeholder" format now broadcast on the former progressive talk station is conservative talk. Even though ratings have been abysmal, management has openly admitted that at least it serves the purpose of keeping competitors from broadcasting the same hosts. Meanwhile, on those stations that give progressive talk a decent signal, such as KPOJ in Portland, Oregon and WHLD in Buffalo, New York, it does remarkably well.

By law, broadcast radio and television are regulated under the "scarcity rationale". The number of stations who can broadcast within the available bandwidth is limited in order to prevent interference between signals, so the government issues licenses to broadcasters, who must demonstrate that they are serving the public interest, which includes diversity. To protect the public's access to information, there are restrictions on a company's ownership of multiple stations, or cross-ownership of print, radio, and television outlets. Finally, until fairly recently, the Fairness Doctrine limited the ability of broadcasters to attack persons or to editorialize on the air without offering the opportunity for rebuttal.

However, over the past few decades, all of these types of regulation have eroded. The Fairness Doctrine has been effectively dead since 1987, though some argue it was never taken off the books. (Its removal was certainly a boon to conservative talk, but many -- perhaps most -- fans of progressive talk actually don't want it back. What about you?) Media companies have consolidated to an astonishing degree, leading to a situation in which only a handful of companies control most of the country's airwaves.

Although the FCC, under its Republican chairman, has stalled as long as possible in terms of holding public hearings, it has been forced to hold a few in the recent past. Members of our group assumed that the liberal Northeast would never get a hearing, but in fact, pressure from Maine's moderate Republican Senators as well as its Democratic Congressmen apparently did the job. So when we heard from Common Cause and Free Press that there'd be a hearing, we made plans to attend.

Although our love of progressive talk radio was what compelled us to make the trip to Portland, it almost did us in. I had argued that we should take my car, but our leader Robin ("rougegorge" on Daily Kos) wanted to listen on the way to Air America on XM Radio, and her connector required a tape deck, which my car doesn't have. We were doing fine on the road until Robin noticed that the car was having trouble accelerating. (Later, we discovered that there had probably been water in the tank.) As long as we kept up our speed, we were okay. But five miles from our destination, we ran into a traffic jam. This is where "Speed" meets "Little Miss Sunshine". We didn't explode, but we did stall. Repeatedly. Only by traveling in the breakdown lane were we able to keep on moving. We stalled three times on the hill leading off the ramp. Then, when we were about half a block away from our destination, the car stalled again. George and I jumped out of the car and pushed it the last few feet into a parking place, and then I ran inside to sign us up, fearing that we were already too late.

I burst into a room full of people to ask whether we were too late to sign up. "Oh, no," a woman reassured me. "Just go over to that table in the hall." I did. The woman at the table warned me that we'd have to offer my testimony in the second batch rather than the first, but I was just relieved that we'd be able to testify at all.

However, I didn't realize just how long it would be until we got a chance to do that. The hearing began twenty minutes late, the commissioners spoke, politicians had their turn (via either aides or videos) and then twelve panelists spoke for five minutes apiece. Some were impressive (most notably Chellie Pingree, former president of Common Cause and now candidate for Congress -- I know I'd vote for her!), but some were not. And it would be about an hour and a half before any private citizens could offer their opinions. Poor Bill in Portland Maine, who also attended the hearing, had to leave before then, so all he heard were the men and women in suits. And I'd been looking forward to meeting him. Oh well, another time...

In fact, "private citizens" was a bit of a stretch. Many of those who took their turn at the microphone were broadcasters, executives, or representatives of charities who happened to get donations from the big media companies. They put the pageant in the movie "Little Miss Sunshine" to shame. As Dan Kennedy writes in a Media Nation post that vividly describes the atmosphere:

The industry folks who took part in the hearing addressed this in several ways — by stressing the amount of local coverage their TV and radio stations offer; by soliciting testimonials about how cooperative they are in covering such local stories as severe storms, disasters and health risks; and by gushing, endlessly, about their devotion to charity.

Let me deal with the last point first, because, after a while, it started to give me a queasy feeling. Surely the next-to-last refuge of a scoundrel, after patriotism, is to boast about your charitable endeavors. Think of how loudly Don Imus beat the charity drum when he was trying to salvage his career.

Well, there was plenty of that last night. One industry executive waxed enthusiastically that broadcasters have "a public-service gene." Cary Pahigian, president and general manager of Saga Communications' Portland Radio Group, whose past includes running a hate radio station on Cape Cod for the late car dealer extraordinaire Ernie Boch, added, "We're here to contribute to the community at all times."

The bottom was reached when a woman from the Barbara Bush Children's Hospital, speaking from the floor, told the commissioners about 9-year-old Joshua, described as a cancer patient, who supposedly said the local broadcasters' charitable efforts were invaluable "because there are kids here and they want to go home."

Thus was a seriously ill young boy drafted into the cause of preserving Big Media. A later speaker got it exactly right when he called the constant references to charity "distasteful" — a demonstration of "a complete lack of humility ... not in touch with the humble folks of this state."

The only thing missing from Kennedy's description was the feeling of being bored to death by a gang of broadcasters armed with cheery smiles rather than billy clubs. Due to the order in which they signed up, one came right after the other, and they had absolutely no problem with essentially repeating each others' testimony. It was almost like, well, scanning the radio and hearing the same thing no matter where you turned.

The private citizens who made the most impression on me came from an organization of homeless people. They testified about what it was like to know that some national syndicated morons were actively inciting their listeners to attack the homeless. The idea that this hatred was being piped in from out-of-state to dissociate Mainers from their own neighbors encapsulated everything I thought was deadly about national conservative talk radio.

I had written up testimony that was going to focus heavily on the case in Minot, North Dakota, where the operator of a derailed train carrying anhydrous ammonia was desperately trying to warn the community to stay indoors and close the windows. The problem was that all six radio stations belonged to Clear Channel, which was running them all remotely -- and no one could be reached. But after hearing so many broadcasters pat themselves on the back for the way they responded to the 1998 ice storm in Portland, I thought that might not go over as well. I also felt bad for the commissioners, whom no one had explicitly addressed as individuals. So when the time came (probably somewhere around 9:30 p.m., after most of the suits had gone home) to deliver my testimony, I put my notes aside and winged it. I began as follows:

... I came from... Massachusetts today to testify about why localism and diversity are life-or-death matters.

But before I begin, I want to thank the commissioners for offering the public a chance to provide their input. I especially thank Commissioners Copps and Adelstein, not just for being here, but for doing their best to prevent the disaster that almost ensued in 2003, when a majority of the FCC under then-chairman Powell voted to further roll back the media ownership rules that have been undergoing erosion for decades. Fortunately, the public and Congress were so irate that a bipartisan group of legislators passed a law undoing the damage. I want the commissioners to know that their efforts were noticed.

I did see Copps and Adelstein sit up. In fact, an aide had chosen that moment to walk up behind Copps and start whispering to him. I can't read lips, but if I understand facial expressions (and if I remember The Pink Panther correctly), Copps' response to the aide was along the lines of "Not now, Kato, not now!"

One consequence of winging the testimony was that I didn't manage to get in everything I wanted to before my time was up (and two minutes is a really short time). In fact, I said I was going to talk about two train wrecks, but only mentioned the first. Still, I think Copps and Adelstein appreciated the fact that I spoke to them directly.

You can find a synthesis of my planned and actual testimony here.

As I stepped away from the microphone, still awash in adrenalin, I heard Robin and George, my fellow travelers (and I use the term literally since we all made the nerve-wracking trek together) deliver Robin's testimony (which they split between them). I was proud of them both.

Outside the hearing, we talked to a local guy who listened to progressive talk in Portland before it was canned. Then we headed home. Thankfully, Robin had had some dry gas added to the tank and the car worked fine. So our apprehension about whether we would get home at all began to subside, and we began to analyze the heavy brew of emotions that were left: disillusionment in the way our political process can be gamed, pride in the efforts of those who are trying to save it. At 2 a.m., I crawled into bed.

To learn more about what you can do to promote progressive and independent media and halt media consolidation, see these resources:

If you live in the Boston area, please check out Save Boston's Progressive Talk, where we're organizing to buy a station of our own. If you live elsewhere, please see:

Progressive radio stations

and while you're at it, take a look at:

Progressive radio timeline

Also see:

- StopBigMedia.com
- NonStopRadio.com.

and if you're interested in organizing nationally to promote independent and progressive media, please let me know!