The Nation

No Blank Check on Iran

The Iraq Study Group recommended that the Bush Administration engage Iran. Instead, the Administration chose to threaten it.

In recent weeks President Bush attacked Iran in a speech announcing his escalation in Iraq, deployed a second naval battleship to the Persian Gulf and ordered the raid of an Iranian consulate in northern Iraq, along with the arrests of six Iranians. The current march to war sounds eerily familiar.

Now members of Congress have launched their own pre-emptive strike on the Administration, introducing legislation requiring the President to gain Congressional approval for any attack on Iran. The effort is spearheaded by Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican who's emerged as a leading critic of the war in Iraq and a harsh opponent of confrontation with Iran. Jones has assembled a diverse coalition of lawmakers, ranging from conservative Republicans to liberal Democrats, who believe it's time to teach the Administration a lesson in government 101.

"Our constitution states that--while the Commander in Chief has the power to conduct wars--only Congress has the power to authorize war," Jones said at a press conference today. "It's time for Congress to meet its Constitutional responsibility...This legislation makes it crystal clear that no previous resolution passed by Congress authorizes such a use of force [against Iran]."

Such a basic expression of the separation of powers should be obvious. But with the Bush Administration, one never knows. So H.J. Res 14 spells it out. "This resolution says a strong message that Congress won't stand idly by and it won't get railroaded into another war that will only make America and the world less safe," said Rep. Marty Meehan. "A lot of people in Congress are fearful that this war will expand," added Rep. Ron Paul. Containing an expansion of the war, said Rep. Neil Abercrombie, is "the most important issue this Congress will face aside from Iraq."

Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, a decorated Vietnam veteran, was in boot camp when Congress approved the fraudulent Gulf of Tonkin resolution in 1964 that led to the war in Vietnam. Today he sees another possible war predicated on "ignorance, arrogance and dogma."

A fellow Purple Heart recipient, Senator Chuck Hagel, recently grilled Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing about whether the Administration was planning to push the war in Iraq into Iran's borders. Hagel sees echoes of Richard Nixon's secret bombing of Cambodia. "Some of us remember 1970, Madame Secretary," Hagel told Rice, "and that was Cambodia, and when our government lied to the American people and said we didn't cross the border going into Cambodia. In fact we did. I happen to know something about that, as do some on this committee.

So, Madame Secretary, when you set in motion the kind of policy that the President is talking about here, it's very, very dangerous."

Moments earlier, Senator Joe Biden asked Rice: "Do you believe the President has the constitutional authority to pursue across the border into Iraq (sic/Iran) or Syria, the networks in those countries?"

Rice responded that the President's constitutional authority was "broad as commander in chief."

After trusting the president on Iraq, the new Congress might be inclined to disagree.

The Triad

Last Sunday, at the Riverside Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once eloquently opposed the Vietnam War, Presidential candidate and former Senator John Edwards urged Congress to deny funding to President Bush's escalation in Iraq: "If you're in Congress and you know this war is going in the wrong direction, it is no longer enough to study your options and keep your own counsel. Speak out, and stop this escalation now. You have the power to prohibit the president from spending any money to escalate the war – use it."

Yesterday, on Capitol Hill, three Congresswomen not only spoke out powerfully on the issue of escalation, but also – with characteristic leadership, courage and determination – laid out a principled alternative to the Bush Way Forward into continuing human catastrophe. And, at this critical moment, it offers all citizens who care about peace the opportunity to rally around a single, rational proposal for withdrawal.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey stood with fellow Congressional Progressive Caucus co-Chair, Rep. Barbara Lee, and the Chair of the Out of Iraq Caucus, Rep. Maxine Waters, to introduce the Bring Our Troops Home and Sovereignty of Iraq Restoration Act.

"We are a triad to be dealt with," Rep. Woolsey said. "And we will be heard from."

The three Representatives outlined the first bill to comprehensively lay out the cost and framework for a withdrawal from Iraq. It calls for bringing the troops home within six months of enactment and describes in detail US involvement to help stabilize Iraq following withdrawal. It accelerates the training of a permanent Iraqi security force during the six month transition and provides funding as necessary to ensure the safety of the troops and contractors during withdrawal. It also authorizes – if requested by the Iraqi government – US support for an international stabilization force. Finally, it guarantees full health care funding – including mental health benefits – as our veterans deserve. And it does all of this for pennies on the dollar compared to continuing the occupation which is draining the nation of needed resources.

"This will be the centerpiece of advocacy for all of the peace groups that will converge on Washington on January 27," Rep. Waters said.

Rep. Woolsey added, "President Bush may not want to listen to the American people, but they are going to be here in the streets of Washington, DC and in the halls of Congress toward the end of the month."

All three Congresswomen cited the President and Tony Snow's challenge to come up with an alternative to the Bush plan – which, as Rep. Lee noted – is opposed by the American people, members of Congress, and the President's own former military advisors.

"They have said that the critics of escalation have a responsibility to offer an alternative, so here we are," Rep. Lee said. "And the word has to get out that there is an alternative. Yes, the administration and the President made a mess out of this war – it's illegal, it's immoral, it's wrong – and if they don't know how to bring our troops home and end it, well, we have some very concrete, practical, realistic suggestions."

"They are saying if you have a better plan come up with it," Rep. Waters said. "First of all, it is absolutely unthinkable that this President who led us into war under false pretenses, misleading information, distorted information… would now try to put the responsibility on someone else's shoulders to stop it. But we're up to it. Because we never believed in this war. We all voted against this war. And we are committed to ending this war."

Rep. Woolsey – who as Rep. Lee pointed out was the first member of Congress to introduce a plan for withdrawal – also reflected on their shared determination to stop the Bush administration's war: "When the three of us voted against going into Iraq in the first place we were considered anti-American, virtually. We were so criticized. And now the American people are with us, and Congress is lagging behind the American people and must catch up with them."

Rep. Woolsey said the bill now has 16 original co-sponsors and she is confident that it will gain further momentum as representatives continue to hear from their constituents and the co-sponsors press to recruit their colleagues.

Rep. Waters, too, believes that the "well thought through" plan will attract support – in the streets and then the suites of Congress. "Many of our new members were elected, and some old members re-elected, because of our commitment to end this unconscionable and immoral war in Iraq," she said.

"It's time to support the troops in a real way, and that's by bringing them home – bringing them out of harms way," Rep. Lee said. "Remove them from being the targets of a violent civil war. And then we can move forward as the legislation proposes to engage in regional stability efforts, reconstruction efforts, and diplomatic efforts."

You want to see real courage, leadership and seriousness of purpose in the Democratic party? You want to celebrate women who are excelling in positions of power (while the mainstream media obsesses over the Boxer-Rice exchange)? Look no further than the Triad.

And then read their plan. Come to Washington on January 27. And work to bring our troops home.

In Defense of Obama

Ever since Sen. Barack Obama announced the beginning of an exploratory committee to run for president in 2008, there has been a tremendous amount of excitement that has spread outside the traditional circle of pundits and political power brokers. The media is eager to dissect this excitement, to question it, to hold it up to ridicule. Make no mistake, this excitement is real and it is something progressives should be applauding, not deriding.

As Sen. Obama has said Americans "are looking for something different--we want something new." Obama is more than something new though. He is the first potential Democratic candidate who's mustered the charisma, energy and promise of Bill Clinton, unsurprisingly the last Democrat who won the presidency. He's an articulate and appealing speaker. He is the only serious contender for the nomination who has had the right position on the most important issue of the day (Iraq) since the very beginning of that conflict (he opposes the war and wants a redeployment of troops). He presents an opportunity to bring a ethnic diversity to the White House for the first time.

Yet progressives are skeptical. They assail his voting record, when it's actually one of the most progressive we have to choose from. They question his experience when two of our greatest presidents, Kennedy and Lincoln could barely boast of having more in their days. Even African-Americans have succumbed to negative doubts. Robert Ford, a black state senator from South Carolina who supports John Edwards said, "We in the South don't believe America is ready to elect a black President".

Well I am one black American who believes we are. I have met and known whites and blacks from all walks of life and from different political persuasions who are intrigued by and open to supporting a Barack Obama candidacy. A recent poll found that 93 percent of Americans are willing to vote for a black candidate. It should be 100 percent, but I'll take it as a vast improvement over recent years.

Is Sen. Obama a flawless candidate? No. Does he share a liberal-progressive's views on all the important issues of our day? Most likely not. Should he be served the nomination on a silver platter? Absolutely not. But Americans who are on the left of the political spectrum have been complaining for years now about a lack of an exciting alternative to the Republicans come election time. They held their noses as they cast votes for conventional, safe and experienced candidates like Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry. All of them were decent, qualified men who inspired practically no one. Why not now, just for a moment, bask in the adoration and admiration that Obama manages to generate, and instead of picking him apart, perhaps we should just be glad that he appears to be on our side.

Libby Trial, Day Two: Watch Out for Juror No. 0677

For coverage of the first day of the Libby trial and a deconstruction of Scooter Libby's I-forgot defense, click here.

The second day of the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was again devoted to selecting a jury. The task at hand remains finding sixteen Washington residents (twelve jurors and four alternates) who hold no harsh opinions about the credibility of the Bush administration--particularly that of Vice President Dick Cheney, who has been named by the defense as a possible witness for his former chief of staff. The quickest way off this jury has been to admit one possesses strong doubts about Bush crowd's honesty in selling the case for war in Iraq. Juror No. 1298 said that she liked "to think" she could be "mature enough" to allow her respect for the presumption of innocence to trump her concerns about the Bush administration. But when federal district court Judge Reggie Walton asked if a witness from the Bush administration would have a "strike against them," she replied, "Probably." He responded, "We appreciate you being here." In other words, you can go now. Juror No. 1980 bluntly said, "I cannot believe any statement from the Bush administration." She was told her services would no longer be needed.

Of the first 24 potential jurors questioned by the judge, the prosecutors and the defense attorneys, eight were dismissed. (Some had reasons for being let go besides being administration critics.) A few who mildly expressed questions about the Bush administration--but who claimed they could still fairly evaluate the testimony of Cheney or any other Bush administration witness--were allowed to proceed to the second round. Yet Libby's attorneys will later be able to remove them from the juror with preemptory challenges.

It could well be that the jury ends up with no members who suspect that the Bush White House deliberately misrepresented the case for war. Can someone who holds such a view not fairly assess the testimony and evidence in the case of a senior Bush administration official charged with lying to the FBI and a grand jury? What if a potential juror enters the courtroom with the firm belief that Cheney and other Bush aides are believable? Would that not be a bias that would create a disadvantage for the prosecution?

One potential juror who handles information technology business development at Lockheed Martin noted that she respects the commander in chief and Bush's "reasons for going to Iraq." She explained that citizens outside the government are not privy to enough information to second-guess such presidential decision-making. Is that not a prejudice (perhaps an unhealthy one) in favor of Bush administration officials? She also said that she is currently chasing a billion dollars in federal contracts for Lockheed Martin. Might she have an interest in pleasing administration officials? She was not kicked out of the potential juror pool; special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald ought to take a closer look at her in the next round.

Lawyers and philosophers can debate what comprises bias and how to vet assumptions held by potential jurors. But it's certainly a gain for Libby that Washingtonians who believe the Bush administration misled the nation into war are not permitted to judge his actions.

And then there's Juror No. 0677. She is a television producer. She claimed she had paid attention to the case in a "circumfery" manner, and she has booked some of the journalists involved in the case. She was questioned about her ties to these reporters and whether she could evaluate their testimony without favor. She said yes. As for Cheney, she said, "I don't have any objective feelings about whether he would be more or less credible in this case."

She also mentioned that she was once an intern at the National Journalism Center and then an intern at The Washington Times, the conservative newspaper owned by Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. There were no queries from the judge and lawyers about these connections. Yet might she be a conservative harboring pro-administration inclinations? Though the National Journalism Center has a bland name, it is a rightwing outfit that trains young conservative journalists and finds them jobs. Not all of its graduates are ideologically minded. But the group was launched in part by the American Conservative Union. It has received funding from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the John M. Olin Foundation, leading conservative foundations. (The John M. Olin Foundation funded itself out of business in 2005.) Several years ago, the National Journalism Center was taken over by another conservative group, the Young Americas Foundation.

Jurors ought not be blackballed for their political views. But if a National Journalism Center graduate makes it on to the jury, the Libby legal team would have reason to be pleased. Fitzgerald might want to ask her a few more questions.


DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

A Plan to Get Out of Iraq

Following George W. Bush's call to escalate the war in Iraq on January 10, supporters of the President immediately challenged Democrats to present a more convincing alternative. "Where's their plan?" read a ticking clock on Fox News directly after Bush's speech, insinuating that the President had a strategy and the opposition did not.

Today leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus decided to go "mano a mano" with the President, introducing a detailed plan to bring the war to a close. The "Bring Our Troops Home and Sovereignty of Iraq Restoration Act" would withdraw all US troops from Iraq within six months of its enactment, ban the building of permanently military bases and use the money saved by ending the war to fully fund veterans' health care. It would rescind the original war resolution passed by Congress and "prohibit any further funding to deploy, or continue to deploy US troops in Iraq."

"We come here not out of a sense of obligation to the President, but out of a sense of obligation to the millions of Americans who went to the polls in November to register their rejection of the failed policy in Iraq," said Rep. Barbara Lee, who along with Reps. Maxine Waters and Lynn Woolsey, introduced the legislation at a press conference this afternoon.

Unlike Bush's escalation, such a withdrawal strategy has majority support in both the US and Iraq. A new Gallup poll found that 56 percent of Americans want the US to leave Iraq within a year. In a survey last September by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, 71 percent of Iraqis wanted the same and 80 percent said the US military is "provoking more conflict than it is preventing."

The official policy of the Democratic leadership calls for the phased redeployment of US troops in four to six months without a firm timetable for bringing them home. The legislation introduced today goes further, by supporting a date for withdrawal and using the power of the purse to bring that about. Rep. Waters calls her legislation "the centerpiece of advocacy for all the peace groups."

Rep. Woolsey introduced the first Congressional plan calling for withdrawal back in May 2005. Since then, the war has only grown more and more gruesome--and the opposition of the American people stronger and stronger. A non-binding resolution expressing Congress's displeasure with escalation, while a clever PR move, is insufficient to bring the war to the close, says Woolsey. "While we're doing that, our troops are dying," she says. "We need to go beyond statements."

Bush Backs Down on Warrantless Wiretaps

Does it matter that Democrats took charge of the Senate this month?

George Bush seems to think so.

In a letter sent today to Senate Judiciary Committee leaders, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales writes that, "the president has determined not to reauthorize the Terrorist Surveillance Program when the current authorization expires.

"Any electronic surveillance that was occurring as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program will now be conducted subject to the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court," explains the attorney general's letter.

The FISA Court was created by Congress in 1978 with the specific intent that it would supervise electronic eavesdropping within the United States. But the Bush administration, which launched its spying program in 2001, had until today refused to obey the court's authority.

When it was learned late in 2005 that Bush had repeatedly authorized the monitoring of the phone conversations and emails of Americans, the president and his lawyers claimed that the White House did not need to consult with FISA courts before engaging in such surveillance.

With Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter, a somewhat critical but cautious player, in charge of the Judiciary Committee, the administration showed no inclination to seek proper authorization.

But Specter lost his chairmanship when Democrats took charge of the Senate after the November 7 elections.

With Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, a critic of warrantless wiretapping, now in charge of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and with Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, who proposed censuring the president for failing to obtain proper authorization for his surveillance program, now in charge of the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, the White House has suddenly developed a newfound respect for the rule of law.

This is not the end of the story, however. The Congress still needs to investigate whether the warrantless wiretapping program was used to monitor not merely terrorist threats but domestic dissent.

While there is much to celebrate in the administration's change of course, Feingold is right in his assessment. "For more than five years, the President has conducted an illegal program, including more than a year during which he publicly asserted that this violation of the law was absolutely essential to protecting the public from terrorists. I am pleased that the President has been forced to return to the law and that this program has been terminated," the senator says.

But, Feingold adds, "I continue to have many questions about what the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has decided and intend to scrutinize carefully how the Court has interpreted the FISA statute. In addition, while I welcome the decision to stop conducting surveillance without judicial approval, the President now needs to respond fully to legitimate congressional questions about the complete history of this now-terminated illegal program."

If the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping targeted American citizens who were involved in legitimate and legal activities, Feingold's censure resolution will remain a necessary option -- along, perhaps, with the more stringent sanction of an article of impeachment from the House.

It ought not be forgotten that the second article of impeachment against Richard Nixon, as authorized by the House Judiciary Committee in 1974, was concerned with the former president's "directing or authorizing [federal] agencies or personnel to conduct or continue electronic surveillance or other investigations for purposes unrelated to national security, the enforcement of laws, or any other lawful function of his office."

Of course, the same article of impeachment declared that Nixon had acted "in disregard of the rule of law" and had "failed to take care that the laws were faithfully executed." If those standards were applied today, the history of the warrantless wiretapping program over the past six years would provide more than enough justification for similar action against Bush.


John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal,Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into theintentions of the founders and embraced by activists for itsgroundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability.After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone politicalwriter Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "JohnNichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, TheGenius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less withthe particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and insteadcombines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and atwww.amazon.com

iPhone v iIraq

Last week saw the unveiling of two widely anticipated products from two stubborn, egocentric men. I'm speaking of course about Apple CEO Steve Jobs's introduction of the iPhone and President George W. Bush's announcement of his new New Way Forward™ in Iraq. And the similarities don't end there.

Jobs' iPhone combines three products: a touch screen mobile phone, an iPod, and an Internet device. Bush's speech combined a passive-voiced apology, a 20,000-troop surge, and a veiled threat to widen the war into Iran.

The iPhone locks the user into a two-year contract with Cingular. The New Way Forward locks America into two more years of a war run by Bush, a third-rate president.

Jobs announcement of the iPhone led to an ugly spat with Cisco, which owns the iPhone trademark. Bush's announced new plan led to an ugly spat between Barbara Boxer and Condoleezza Rice, who apparently owns no children.

Jobs will not allow the iPhone to be an open platform. On 60 Minutes Bush said he wasn't open to alternatives to his plan.

Job's announcement of the iPhone will not stop investigations into his backdated stock options. Bush's speech will not stop investigations into his mismanagement of Iraq reconstruction contracts.

The iPhone will cost more than other smart phones on the market. The cost of the Iraq War will soon surpass Vietnam.

The big difference, however, is you don't have to buy an iPhone and if you do you can always cancel Cingular's service. If only the same could be said about the New Way Forward in Iraq and the Bush administration.

Iraq: Counting the Dead

The new UN estimate of 34,000 Iraqis killed in 2006 made headlines around the world, but it's almost certainly far too low. The number, as the New York Times reported, was "the first attempt at hand-counting individual deaths for an entire year," and was based on information from "morgues, hospitals and municipal authorities across Iraq."

The first problem with the UN count is that refers only to civilians--and thus almost certainly omitted deaths of Iraqi policemen, soldiers, insurgent fighters, and members of private militias like the Badr brigade. News media failed to report how the UN separated "civilian" casualties from the total, and the UN notably failed to report the total including non-civilians.

The second problem is the UN's methodology, which relied mostly on tallying official death certificates. The UN, according to the Times, argues their methodology is reliable because "a vast majority of Iraqi deaths are registered" with officials because Iraqis want to "prove inheritance and receive government compensation." But many bodies found in mass graves or ditches are unidentified. And there's another problem: according to the L.A. Times, "Victims' families are all too often reluctant to claim the bodies. . . . for fear of reprisals." And of course chaotic wartime conditions in several provinces make it difficult for officials there to issue death certificates even when victim's families do not fear reprisals.

None of the reports in leading newspapers mentioned the other count of Iraqi deaths: the Johns Hopkins study reported last October in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet. They estimated that 650,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the war--600,000 from violence and 50,000 from other war-related causes. President Bush rejected that figure--"I don't consider it a credible report," he told a press conference last October--and most of the media seem to have agreed.

But The Lancet study used state-of-the art demographic techniques, the same methodology employed to estimate war deaths in Kosovo, Congo, and Rwanda, and in natural disasters around the world. World leaders have cited those figures repeatedly without questioning their validity. It's the same methodology used in political polls in the US: the random sample.

Instead of trying to find documentation for individual deaths, The Lancet demographers, led by Gilbert Burnham of Johns Hopkins University, interviewed 12,000 people in 1,800 randomly selected households across Iraq. At each household, they asked how many people were living their currently, and whether anyone who had lived there had died since Jan. 1, 2002, and if so, whether they died before or after March 2003, when the war began. That made it possible to compare wartime death rates with pre-war rates.

Critics like Fred Kaplan at Slate.com objected. They said 12,000 was far too small a sample for a country of 30 million. But in the US, as country of 300 million, 1,000 people are interviewed in the typical political poll, and nobody objects to that sample size.

Critics also questioned whether The Lancet demographers really were able to interview all the people selected by their randomizing methodology. The demographers respond that they employed Iraqi physicians rather than Americans to do the interviewing, and that the response rate was extremely high, much higher than with political polling in the US.

There's one caveat about The Lancet study--their estimate of 650,000 wartime deaths covers the period that ended in July 2006. By all accounts the violence has increased significantly since July--so The Lancet figure now itself is undoubtedly too low.

Bill Moyers: A Pillar of Democracy Is Under Attack

At the National Conference for Media Reform in Memphis last week, more than 3,000 people from across the United States cheered as Bill Moyers condemned the excesses and failures of big media, warning about "The Orwellian filigree of a public sphere in which language conceals reality, and the pursuit of personal gain and partisan power, is wrapped in rhetoric that turns truth to lies and lies to truth."

The crowd of media critics, media makers and media reformers rose to their feet to shout their enthusiastic endorsement of Moyers' call for the creation of new and alternative media outlets that speak truth to power. "We've got to get alternative content out there to people, or this country is going to die of too many lies," said Moyers, as he hailed Amy Goodman and Democracy Now and announced that he will be returning to PBS in April with a new public affairs program.

Here is Moyers' keynote address from January 12, 2007, the opening day of the conference:

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN ONCE SAID, "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner."

"Liberty," he said, "is a well-armed lamb, contesting the vote."

My fellow lambs -- it's good to be in Memphis and find you well-armed with passion for democracy, readiness for action, and courage for the next round in the fight for a free and independent press in America. I salute the conviction that brought you here. I cherish the spirit that fills this hall, and the camaraderie that we share here.

All too often, the greatest obstacle to reform is the reform movement itself. Factions rise, fences are erected, jealousies mount, and the cause all of us believe in is lost in the shattered fragments of what once was a clear and compelling vision.

Reformers, in fact, often remind me of Baptists. I speak as a Baptist. I know whereof I speak. One of my favorite stories is of the fellow who was about to jump off a bridge, when another fellow ran up to him crying, "Stop, stop, don't do it."

The man on the bridge looks down and asks, "Why not?"

"Well, there's much to live for."

"What for?"

"Well, your faith. Your religion."


"Are you religious?"


"Me, too. Christian or Buddhist?"


"Me, too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?"


"Me, too. Methodist, Baptist or Presbyterian?"


"Me, too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Savior?"

"Baptist Church of God."

"Me, too. Are you Original Baptist Church of God or Reformed Baptist Church of God?"

"Reformed Baptist Church of God."

"Me, too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God Reformation of 1879, or Reform Baptist Church of God Reformation of 1917?"


Whereupon, the second fellow turned red in the face and yelled, "Die, you heretic scum," and pushed him off the bridge.

DOESN'T THAT SOUND LIKE A REFORM MOVEMENT? But by avoiding contentious factionalism, you have created a strong movement. And I will confess to you that I was skeptical when Bob McChesney and John Nichols first raised with me the issue of media consolidation a few years ago. I was sympathetic but skeptical. The challenge of actually doing something about this issue beyond simply bemoaning its impact on democracy was daunting. How could we hope to come up with an effective response to any measurable force? It seemed inexorable, because all over the previous decades, a series of mega-media mergers have swept the country, each deal bigger than the last. The lobby representing the broadcast, cable, and newspapers industries was extremely powerful, with an iron grip on lawmakers and regulators alike.

Both parties bowed to their will when the Republican Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. That monstrous assault on democracy, with malignant consequences for journalism, was nothing but a welfare giveaway to the largest, richest, and most powerful media conglomerations in the world. Goliaths, whose handful of owners controlled, commodified, and monetized everyone and everything in sight. Call it "the plantation mentality."

That's what struck me as I flew into Memphis for this gathering. Even in 1968, the civil rights movement was still battling the plantation mentality, based on race, gender and power, which permeated Southern culture long before, and even after, the groundbreaking legislation of the 1960s.

When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Memphis to join the strike of garbage workers in 1968, the cry from every striker's heart -- "I am a man" -- voiced the long-suppressed outrage of people whose rights were still being trampled by an ownership class that had arranged the world for its own benefit. The plantation mentality is a phenomenon deeply insinuated in the American experience early on, and it has permeated and corrupted our course as a nation.

The journalist of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine, envisioned the new republic as a community of occupations, prospering by the aid with which each receives from the other and from the whole. But that vision was repeatedly betrayed, so that less than a century after Thomas Paine's death, Theodore Roosevelt, bolting a Republican Party whose bosses had stolen the nomination from him, declared: "It is not to be wondered at, that our opponents have been very bitter, for the line-up in this crisis is one that cuts deep to the foundations of democracy."

"Our democracy," he said, "is now put to a vital test, for the conflict is between human rights on the one side, and on the other, special privilege asserted as property rights. The parting of the ways has come."

Today, a hundred years after Teddy Roosevelt's death, those words ring just as true. America is socially divided and politically benighted. Inequality and poverty grow steadily along with risk and debt. Too many working families cannot make ends meet with two people working, let alone if one stays home to care for children or aging parents. Young people without privilege and wealth struggle to get a footing. Seniors enjoy less security for a lifetime's work. We are racially segregated today in every meaningful sense, except for the letter of the law. And the survivors of segregation and immigration toil for pennies on the dollar, compared to those they serve.

None of this is accidental. Nobel laureate economist Robert Solow, not known for extreme political statements, characterizes what is happening as "nothing less than elite plunder" -- the redistribution of wealth in favor of the wealthy, and the power in favor of the powerful. In fact, nearly all the wealth America created over the past 25 years has been captured by the top 20 percent of households, and most of the gains went to the wealthiest. The top 1 percent of households captured more than 50 percent of all the gains in financial wealth, and these households now hold more than twice the share their predecessors held on the eve of the American Revolution.

The anti-Federalist warning that government naturally works to fortify the conspiracies of the rich proved prophetic. It's the truth today, and America confronts a choice between two fundamentally different economic visions. As Norman Garfinkel writes in his marvelous new book, The American Dream vs. the Gospel of Wealth, the historic vision of the American dream is that continuing economic growth and political stability can be achieved by supporting income growth and economic security of middle-class families, without restricting the ability of successful business men to gain wealth.

The counter-belief is that providing maximum financial rewards to the most successful is the way to maintain high economic growth. The choice cannot be avoided. What kind of economy do we seek, and what kind of nation do we wish to be? Do we want to be a country in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, or do we want a country committed to an economy that provides for the common good, offers upward mobility, supports a middle-class standard of living, and provides generous opportunities for all?

"When the richest nation in the world has to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to pay its bill," Garfinkel says in his book, "when its middle class citizens sit on a mountain of debt to maintain their living standards, when the nation's economy has difficulty producing secure jobs, or enough jobs of any kind, something is amiss."

You bet something is amiss, and it goes to the core of why we are here in Memphis. For this conference is about a force, the media, that cuts deep to the foundation of democracy. When Teddy Roosevelt dissected what he called "the real masters of the reactionary forces" in his time, he concluded that, indirectly or directly, "they control the majority of the great newspapers that are against us." Those newspapers, the dominant media of the day, choked "the channels of the information ordinary people needed to understand what was being done to them."

And today, two basic pillars of American society, shared economic prosperity and a public sector capable of serving the common good, are crumbling. The third pillar of American democracy, an independent press, is under sustained attack, and the channels of information are choked. A few huge corporations now dominate the media landscape in America. Almost all the networks carried by most cable systems are owned by one of the major media common conglomerates. Two-thirds of today's newspapers are monopolies.

As ownership gets more and more concentrated, fewer and fewer independent sources of information have survived in the marketplace; and those few significant alternatives that do survive, such as PBS and NPR, are undergoing financial and political pressure to reduce critical news content and to shift their focus in a mainstream direction, which means being more attentive to establishment views than to the bleak realities of powerlessness that shape the lives of ordinary people.

What does today's media system mean for the notion of an informed public cherished by democratic theory? Quite literally, it means that virtually everything the average person sees or hears, outside of her own personal communications, is determined by the interests of private, unaccountable executives and investors whose primary goal is increasing profits and raising the share prices. More insidiously, this small group of elites determines what ordinary people do not see or hear. In-depth coverage of anything, let alone the problems real people face day-to-day, is as scarce as sex, violence and voyeurism are pervasive.

Successful business model or not, by democratic standards this is censorship of knowledge by monopolization of the means of information. In its current form, which Barry Diller happily describes as "oligopoly," media growth has one clear consequence. There is more information and easier access to it, but it's more narrow and homogenous in content and perspective. What we see from the couch is overwhelmingly a view from the top. The pioneering communications scholar Murray Edelman wrote that opinions about public policy do not spring immaculately or automatically into people's minds. They are always placed there by the interpretations of those who most consistently get their claims and manufactured cues publicized widely.

For years, the media marketplace for opinions about public policy has been dominated by a highly disciplined, thoroughly networked, ideological "noise machine," to use David Brock's term. Permeated with slogans concocted by big corporations, their lobbyists, and their think tank subsidiaries, public discourse has effectively changed the meaning of American values. Day after day, the ideals of fairness and liberty and mutual responsibility have been stripped of their essential dignity and meaning in people's lives. Day after day, the egalitarian creed of our Declaration of Independence is trampled underfoot by hired experts and sloganeers, who speak of the "death tax," "the ownership society," "the culture of life," "the liberal assault on God and family," "compassionate conservatism," "weak on terrorism," "the end of history," "the clash of civilizations," "no child left behind." They have even managed to turn the escalation of a failed war into a "surge," as if it were a current of electricity through a wire, instead of blood spurting from the ruptured vein of a soldier.

The Orwellian filigree of a public sphere in which language conceals reality, and the pursuit of personal gain and partisan power, is wrapped in rhetoric that turns truth to lies and lies to truth. So it is that limited government has little to do with the Constitution or local economy anymore. Now it means corporate domination and the shifting of risk from government and business to struggling families and workers. Family values now mean imposing a sectarian definition of the family on everyone else. Religious freedom now means majoritarianism and public benefits for organized religion without any public burdens. And patriotism has come to mean blind support for failed leaders.

It's what happens when an interlocking media system filters through commercial values or ideology, the information and moral viewpoints people consume in their daily lives. And by no stretch of the imagination can we say today that the dominant institutions of our media are guardians of democracy.

Despite the profusion of new information platforms on cable, on the Internet, on radio, blogs, podcasts, YouTube and MySpace, among others, the resources for solid, original journalistic work, both investigative and interpretative, are contracting, rather than expanding.

I'M OLD-FASHIONED. I'm a fogey at this, I guess, a hangover from my days as a cub reporter and a newspaper publisher. But I agree with Michael Schudson, one of the leading scholars of communication in America, who writes in the current Columbia Journalism Review that while all media matter, some matter more than others. And for the sake of democracy, print still counts most -- especially print that devotes resources to gathering news.

Network TV matters, he said. Cable TV matters, he said. But when it comes to original investigation and reporting, newspapers are overwhelmingly the most important media. But newspapers are purposely dumbing-down, "driven down," says Schudson, by Wall Street, whose collective devotion to an informed citizenry is nil and seems determined to eviscerate those papers.

Worrying about the loss of real news is not a romantic cliché of journalism. It's been verified by history. From the days of royal absolutism to the present, the control of information and knowledge had been the first line of defense for failed regimes facing democratic unrest. The suppression of parliamentary dissent during Charles I's 11 years of tyranny in England rested largely on government censorship, operating through strict licensing laws for the publication of books.

The Federalist's infamous Sedition Act of 1798 in this country, likewise, sought to quell republican insurgency by making it a crime to publish false, scandalous and malicious writing about the government or its officials. In those days, our governing bodies tried to squelch journalistic information with the blunt instruments of the law: padlocks for the presses and jail cells for outspoken editors and writers. Over time, with spectacular wartime exceptions, the courts and the Constitution have struck those weapons out of their hand.

But now they have found new methods in the name of national security and even broader claims of executive privilege. The number of documents stamped "Top Secret," "Secret," or "Confidential" has accelerated dramatically since 2001, including many formerly accessible documents that are now reclassified as "Secret." Vice President Cheney's office refuses to disclose, in fact, what it is classifying. Even their secrecy is being kept a secret.

Beyond what is officially labeled "Secret" or "privileged" information, there hovers on the plantation a culture of selective official news implementation, working through favored media insiders to advance political agendas by leak and innuendo and spin, by outright propaganda mechanisms, such as the misnamed public information offices that churn out blizzards of factually selective releases on a daily basis, and even by directly paying pundits and journalists to write on subjects of mutual interest.

They needn't have wasted the money. As we saw in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the plantation mentality that governs Washington turned the press corps into sitting ducks for the war party, for government, and neoconservative propaganda and manipulation. There were notable exceptions -- Knight Ridder's bureau, for example -- but on the whole, all high-ranking officials had to do was say it, and the press repeated it until it became gospel. The height of myopia came with the admission (or was it bragging?) by one of the Beltway's most prominent anchors that his responsibility is to provide officials a forum to be heard, what they say more newsworthy than what they do.

The watchdog group FAIR found that during the three weeks leading up to the invasion, only 3 percent of U.S. sources on the evening news of ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox and PBS expressed skeptical opinions of the impending war, even though a quarter of the American people were against it. Not surprisingly, two years after 9/11, almost 70 percent of the public still thought it likely that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the terrorist attacks of that day.

One Indiana schoolteacher told the Washington Post: "From what we've heard from the media, it seems what they feel is that Saddam and the whole Al-Qaeda thing are connected." Much to the advantage of the Bush administration, a large majority of the public shared this erroneous view during the build-up to the war, a propaganda feat that Saddam himself would have envied. It is absolutely stunning, frightening how the major media organizations were willing, even solicitous, hand puppets of a state propaganda campaign, cheered on by the partisan, ideological press to go to war.

But there are many other ways the plantation mentality keeps the American people from confronting reality. Take the staggering growth of money in politics. Compared to the magnitude of the problem, what the average person knows about how money determines policy is negligible. In fact, in the abstract, the polls tell us, most people generally assume that money controls our political system. But people will rarely act on something they understand only in the abstract. It took a constant stream of images -- water hoses, and dogs and churches ablaze -- for the public at large finally to understand what was happening to black people in the South. It took repeated scenes of destruction in Vietnam before the majority of Americans saw how we were destroying the country in order to save it. And it took repeated crime-scene images to maintain public support for many policing and sentencing policies.

Likewise, people have to see how money and politics actually work and concretely grasp the consequences for their pocketbooks and their lives before they will act. But while media organizations supply a lot of news and commentary, they tell us almost nothing about who really wags the system and how. When I watch one of those faux debates on a Washington public affairs show, with one politician saying, "This is a bad bill," and the other politician saying, "This is a good bill," I yearn to see the smiling, nodding, Beltway anchor suddenly interrupt and insist, "Good bill or bad bill, this is a bought bill. Now, let's cut to the chase. Whose financial interests are you advancing with this bill?"

Then there's the social cost of free trade. For over a decade, free trade has hovered over the political system like a biblical commandment striking down anything -- trade unions, the environment, indigenous rights, even the constitutional standing of our own laws passed by our elected representatives -- that gets in the way of unbridled greed. The broader negative consequences of this agenda, increasingly well-documented by scholars, get virtually no attention in the dominant media. Instead of reality, we get optimistic, multicultural scenarios of coordinated global growth. And instead of substantive debate, we get a stark formulated choice between free trade to help the world and gloomy-sounding protectionism that will set everyone back.

The degree to which this has become a purely ideological debate, devoid of any factual basis that people can weigh the gains and losses is reflected in Thomas Friedman's astonishing claim, stated not long ago in a television interview, that he endorsed the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) without even reading it. That is simply because it stood for "free trade." We have reached the stage when the Poo-Bahs of punditry have only to declare that "the world is flat," for everyone to agree it is, without going to the edge and looking over themselves.

I think what's happened is not indifference or laziness or incompetence, but the fact that most journalists on the plantation have so internalized conventional wisdom that they simply accept that the system is working as it should. I'm doing a documentary this spring called "Buying the War," and I can't tell you again how many reporters have told me that it just never occurred to them that high officials would manipulate intelligence in order to go to war. Hello?

Similarly, the question of whether or not our economic system is truly just is off the table for investigation and discussion, so that alternative ideas, alternative critiques, alternative visions never get a hearing. And these are but a few of the realities that are obscured. What about this growing inequality? What about the re-segregation of our public schools? What about the devastating onward march of environmental deregulation? All of these are examples of what happens when independent sources of knowledge and analysis are so few and far between on the plantation.

So if we need to know what is happening, and Big Media won't tell us; if we need to know why it matters, and Big Media won't tell us; if we need to know what to do about it, and Big Media won't tell us, it's clear what we have to do. We have to tell the story ourselves.

And this is what the plantation owners feared most of all. Over all those decades here in the South, when they used human beings as chattel, and quoted scripture to justify it, property rights over human rights was God's way, they secretly lived in fear that one day -- instead of saying, "Yes, Massa" -- those gaunt, weary, sweat-soaked field hands, bending low over the cotton under the burning sun, would suddenly stand up straight, look around, see their sweltering and stooping kin and say, "This ain't the product of intelligent design. The boss man in the big house has been lying to me. Something is wrong with this system."

This is the moment freedom begins, the moment you realize someone else has been writing your story, and it's time you took the pen from his hand and started writing it yourself.

When the garbage workers struck here in 1968, and the walls of these buildings echoed with the cry, "I am a man," they were writing this story. Martin Luther King came here to help them tell it, only to be shot dead on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. The bullet killed him, but it couldn't kill the story, because once the people start telling their story, you can't kill it anymore.

SO I'M BACK WHERE I STARTED WITH YOU, AND WHERE THIS MOVEMENT IS HEADED. The greatest challenge to the plantation mentality of the media giants is the innovation and expression made possible by the digital revolution. I may still prefer the newspaper for its investigative journalism and in-depth analysis, but we now have it in our means to tell a different story from Big Media, our story.

The other story of America that says, free speech is not just corporate speech. That news is not just what officials tell us. And we are not just chattel in the fields living the boss man's story. This is the great gift of the digital revolution, and you must never, never let them take it away from you. The Internet, cell phones and digital cameras that can transmit images over the Internet makes possible a nation of story tellers, every citizen a Tom Paine.

Let the man in the big house on Pennsylvania Avenue think that over, and the woman of the House on Capitol Hill. And the media moguls in their chalets at Sun Valley, gathered to review the plantation's assets and multiply them, nail it to their door. They no longer own the copyright to America's story. It's not a top-down story anymore. Other folks are going to write this story from the ground up. And the truth will be out that the media plantation, like the cotton plantation of old, is not divinely sanctioned. It's not the product of natural forces. The media system we have been living under for a long time now was created behind closed doors where the power-brokers met to divvy up the spoils.

Bob McChesney has eloquently reminded us through the years how each medium -- radio, television and cable -- was hailed as a technology that would give us greater diversity of voices, serious news, local programs, and lots of public service for the community. In each case, the advertisers took over.

Despite what I teasingly told you the last time we were together in St. Louis, the star that shines so brightly in the firmament the year I was born, 1934, did not, I regret to say, appear over that little house in Hugo, Oklahoma. It appeared over Washington when Congress enacted the 1934 Communications Act. One hundred times in that cornerstone of our communications policy, you will read the phrase "public interests, convenience, and necessity."

I can tell you reading about those days that educators, union officials, religious leaders and parents were galvanized by the promise of radio as a classroom for the air, serving the life of the country and the life of the mind – until the government cut a deal with the industry to make sure nothing would threaten the already vested interests of powerful radio networks and the advertising industry. And soon, the public largely forgot about radio's promise, as we accepted the entertainment produced and controlled by Jell-O, Maxwell House and Camel cigarettes.

What happened to radio, happened to television, and then it happened to cable; and, if we are not diligent, it will happen to the Internet. Powerful forces are at work now, determined to create our media future for the benefit of the plantation: investors, advertisers, owners and the parasites that depend on their indulgence, including many in the governing class.

Old media acquire new media and vice versa. Rupert Murdoch, forever savvy about the next key outlet that will attract eyeballs, purchased MySpace, spending nearly $600 million, so he could, in the language of Wall Street, monetize those eyeballs. Goggle became a partner in Time Warner, investing $1 billion in its AOL online service. And now Goggle has bought YouTube, so it would have a better vehicle for delivering interactive ads for Madison Avenue. Viacom, Microsoft, large ad agencies, and others have been buying up key media properties, many of them the leading online sites, with a result that will be a thoroughly commercialized environment, a media plantation for the 21st century, dominated by the same corporate and ideological forces that have produced the system we have lived under the last 50 years.

So what do we do? Well, you've shown us what we have to do. And twice now, you have shown us what we can do. Four years ago, when FCC Commissioner Michael Powell and his ideological sidekicks decided it was ok for a single corporation to own a community's major newspapers, three of its TV stations, eight radio stations, its cable TV system, and its major broadband Internet provider, you said, enough's enough!

Free Press, Common Cause, Consumer's Union, Media Access Project, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and others working closely with commissioners Adelstein and Copps, two of the most public, spirited members of that commission ever to sit there, organized public hearings across the country where people spoke deeply felt opinions about how poorly the media were serving their towns. You flooded Congress with petitions, and you never let up. And when the court said Powell had to back off, the decision cited the importance of involving the public in these media decisions.

Incidentally, Powell not only backed off, he backed out. He left the commission to become senior adviser at a private investment firm specializing in equity investments in media companies around the world. And that firm, by the way, made a bid to take over both Tribune and Clear Channel, two media companies that just a short time ago were under the corporate-friendly purview of -- you guessed it -- Michael Powell. That whooshing sound you hear is Washington's perpetually revolving door through which they come to serve the public and through which they leave to join the plantation.

You made a difference. You showed that the public cares about media and democracy. You turned a little publicized vote -- little publicized because Big Media didn't want the people to know -- a little publicized and seemingly arcane regulation into a big political fight and a public debate.

Now it's true, as commissioner Copps has reminded us, that since that battle three years ago, there have been more than 3, 300 TV and radio TV stations that have had their assignment and transfer grants approved, so that even under the old rules, consolidation grows, localism suffers, and diversity dwindles. It's also true that even as we speak, Michael Powell's successor, Kevin Martin, put there by George W. Bush, is ready to take up where Powell left off and give the green light to more conglomeration. Get ready to fight.

But then you did it again more recently. You lit a fire under the people to put Washington on notice that it had to guarantee the Internet's First Amendment protection in the $85 billion merger of AT&T and BellSouth. Because of you, the so-called Net Neutrality, I much prefer to call it the "equal-access provision of the Internet" -- neutrality makes me think of Switzerland -- the equal-access provision became a public issue that once again reminded the powers-that-be that people want the media to foster democracy, not to quench it.

This is crucial. This is crucial, because in a few years, virtually all media will be delivered by high-speed broadband. And without equality of access, the Net can become just like cable television where the provider decides what you see and what you pay. After all, the Bush Department of Justice had blessed the deal last October without a single condition or statement of concern. But they hadn't reckoned with Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, and they hadn't reckoned with this movement. Free Press and SavetheInternet.com orchestrated 800 organizations, a million and a half petitions, countless local events, legions of homemade videos, smart collaboration with allies and industry, and a top shelf communications campaign. Who would have imagined that sitting together in the same democratic broadband pew would be the Christian Coalition, Gun Owners of America, Common Cause, and Moveon.org? Who would have imagined that these would link arms with some of the powerful new media companies to fight for the Internet's First Amendment?

We owe a tip of the hat, of course, to Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell. Despite what must have been a great deal of pressure from his side, he did the honorable thing and recused himself from the proceedings because of a conflict of interest. He might well have heard the roar of the public that you helped to create. So AT&T had to cry "uncle" to Copps and Adelstein, with a "voluntary commitment to honor equal access for at least two years." The agreement marks the first time that the federal government has imposed true neutrality -- oops, equality – on an Internet access provider since the debate erupted almost two years ago.

I believe you changed the terms of the debate. It is no longer about whether equality of access will govern the future of the Internet. It's about when and how. It also signals a change from defense to offense for the backers of an open net. Arguably the biggest, most effective online organizing campaign ever conducted on a media issue can now turn to passing good laws, rather than always having to fight to block bad ones. Just this week, Sen. Byron Dorgan, a Democrat, and Sen. Olympia Snow, a Republican, introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2007 to require fair and equitable access to all content. And over in the House, that champion of the public interest, Rep. Ed Markey, is once again standing there waiting to press the battle.

A caveat here. Those other folks don't give up so easy. Remember, this agreement is only for two years, and they will be back with all the lobbyists money can hire. As the Washington Post follows George Bush into the black hole of Baghdad, the press in Washington won't be covering many stories like this because of priorities.

A further caveat. Consider what AT&T got in the bargain. For giving up on Net Neutrality, it got the green light from government to dominate over 67 million phone lines in 22 states, almost 12 million broadband users, and total control over Cingular Wireless, the country's largest mobile phone company with 58 million cell phone users. It's as if China swallowed India.

I bring this up for a reason. Big Media is ravenous. It never gets enough, always wants more. And it will stop at nothing to get it. These conglomerates are an empire, and they are imperial.

Last week on his Web site, MediaChannel.org, Danny Schechter recalled how some years ago he marched with a band of media activists to the headquarters of all the big media companies concentrated in the Times Square area. Their formidable buildings strutted with logos and limos, and guarded by rent-a-cops, projected their power and prestige. Danny and his cohorts chanted and held up signs calling for honest news and an end to exploited programming. They called for diversity and access for more perspectives. "It felt good," Danny said, "but it seemed like a fool's errand. We were ignored, patronized and marginalized. We couldn't shake their edifices or influence their holy business models. We seemed to many like that lonely and forlorn nut in a New Yorker cartoon carrying an ‘End of the World is Near' placard."

Well, yes, my friends, that is exactly how they want you to feel. As if media and democracy is a fool's errand. To his credit, Danny didn't give up. He's never given up. Neither have the early pioneers of this movement: Andy Schwartzman, Don Hazen, Jeff Chester. I confess that I came very close not to making this speech today, in favor of just getting up here and reading from this book, Digital Destiny, by my friend and co-conspirator, Jeff Chester. Take my word for it. Make this your bible, until McChesney's new book comes out. As Don Hazen writes in his review in AlterNet this week, it's a terrific book, "a respectful loving, fresh, intimate comprehensive history of the struggles for a ‘democratic' media -- the lost fights, the opportunities missed, and the small victories that have kept the corporate media system from having complete carte blanche over the communication channels."

It's also a terrifying book, because Jeff describes how we are being shadowed online by a slew of software digital gumshoes working for Madison Avenue. Our movements in cyberspace are closely tracked and analyzed, and interactive advertising infiltrates our consciousness to promote the brand-washing of America. Jeff asks the hard questions: Do we really want television sets that monitor what we watch? Or an Internet that knows what sites we visit and reports back to advertising companies? Do we really want a media system designed mainly for Madison Avenue?

But this is a hopeful book. "After scaring the bejeezus out of us," as one reviewer wrote, Jeff offers a policy agenda for the broadband era. Here is a man who practices what the Italian philosopher Gramsci called the "pessimism of the intellect and the optimism of the will." He sees the world as it is, without rose-colored glasses and tries to change it, despite what he knows.

So you'll find here the core of the movement's mission. You'll agree with much and disagree with some. But that's what a reform movement is about. Media reform -- yes. But the Project in Excellence concluded in its "State of the Media Report" for 2006, "At many old media companies, though not in all, the decades-long battle at the top between idealists and accountants is now over. The idealists have lost." The commercial networks are lost, too, lost to silliness, farce, cowardice and ideology. Not much hope there. You can't raise the dead.

Policy reform, yes. But, says Jeff, we will likely see more consolidation of ownership with newspapers, TV stations, and major online properties in fewer hands. So, he says, we have to find other ways to ensure the public has access to diverse, independent, and credible sources of information.

That means going to the market to find support for stronger independent media. Michael Moore and others have proven that progressivism doesn't have to equal penury. It means helping protect news-gathering from predatory forces. It means fighting for more participatory media, hospitable to a full range of expression. It means building on Lawrence Lessig's notion of the "creative commons" and Brewster Kahle's Internet Archives, with his philosophy of universal access to all knowledge.

It means bringing broadband service to those many millions of Americans too poor to participate so far in the digital revolution. It means ownership and participation for people of color and women. And let me tell you, it means reclaiming public broadcasting and restoring it to its original feisty, robust, fearless mission as an alternative to the dominant media, offering journalism you can afford and can trust, public affairs of which you are a part, and a wide range of civic and cultural discourse that leaves no one out.

You can have an impact here. For one thing, we need to remind people that the federal commitment to public broadcasting in this country is about $1.50 per capita, compared to $28 to $85 per capita in other democracies.

BUT THERE IS SOMETHING ELSE I WANT YOU TO THINK ABOUT. Something else you can do. And I'm going to let you in here on one of my fantasies. Keep it to yourself, if you will, because fantasies are private matters, and mine involves Amy Goodman. But I'll just ask C-SPAN to bleep this out. Oh, shucks, what's the use. Here it is. In moments of revelry, I imagine all of you returning home to organize a campaign to persuade your local public television station to start airing Democracy Now!

I can't think of a single act more likely to remind people of what public broadcasting should be, or that this media reform conference really means business. We've got to get alternative content out there to people, or this country is going to die of too many lies. And the opening rundown of news on Amy's daily show is like nothing else on any television, corporate or public. It's as if you opened the window in the morning and a fresh breeze rolls over you from the ocean. Amy doesn't practice trickle-down journalism. She goes where the silence is, and she breaks the sound barrier. She doesn't buy the Washington protocol that says the truth lies somewhere in the spectrum of opinion between the Democrats and the Republicans.

On Democracy Now! the truth lies where the facts are hidden, and Amy digs for them. And above all, she believes the media should be a sanctuary for dissent, the Underground Railroad tunneling beneath the plantation. So go home and think about it. After all, you are the public in public broadcasting and not just during pledge breaks. You live there, and you can get the boss man at the big house to pay attention.

Meanwhile, be vigilant about the congressional rewrite of the Telecommunications Act that is beginning as we speak. Track it day by day and post what you learn far and wide, because the decisions made in this session of Congress will affect the future of all media, corporate and noncommercial. If we lose the future now, we'll never get it back.

So you have your work cut out for you. I'm glad you're all younger than me and up to it. I'm glad so many funders are here, because while an army may move on its stomach, this movement requires hard, cold cash to compete with big media in getting the attention of Congress and the people.

I'll try to do my part. Last time we were together, I said to you that I should put my detractors on notice. They might just compel me out of the rocking chair and back into the anchor chair. Well, in April, I will be back with a new weekly series called Bill Moyer's Journal, thanks to some of the funders in this room. We'll take no money from public broadcasting because it compromises you even when you don't intend it to -- or they don't intend it to. I hope to complement the fine work of colleagues like David Brancaccio of NOW and David Fanning of Frontline, who also go for the truth behind the news.

But I don't want to tease you. I'm not coming back because of detractors. I wouldn't torture them that way. I'll leave that to Dick Cheney. I'm coming back, because it's what I do best. Because I believe television can still signify, and I don't want you to feel so alone. I'll keep an eye on your work. You are to America what the abolition movement was, and the suffragette movement, and the civil rights movement. You touch the soul of democracy. It's not assured you will succeed in this fight. The armies of the Lord are up against mighty hosts. But as the spiritual sojourner Thomas Merton wrote to an activist grown weary and discouraged protesting the Vietnam War, "Do not depend on the hope of results. Concentrate on the value and the truth of the work itself."

And in case you do get lonely, I'll leave you with this. As my plane was circling Memphis the other day, I looked out across those vast miles of fertile soil that once were plantations, watered by the Mississippi River, and the sweat from the brow of countless men and women who had been forced to live somebody else's story. I thought about how in time, with a lot of martyrs, they rose up, one here, then two, then many, forging a great movement that awakened America's conscience and brought us closer to the elusive but beautiful promise of the Declaration of Independence. As we made our last approach, the words of a Marge Piercy poem began to form in my head, and I remembered all over again why I was coming and why you were here:

What can they do

to you? Whatever they want.

They can set you up, they can

bust you, they can break

your fingers, they can

burn your brain with electricity,

blur you with drugs till you

can t walk, can't remember, they can

take your child, wall up

your lover. They can do anything

you can't blame them

from doing. How can you stop

them? Alone, you can fight,

you can refuse, you can

take what revenge you can

but they roll over you.

But two people fighting

back to back can cut through

a mob, a snake-dancing file

can break a cordon, an army

can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other

sane, can give support, conviction,

love, massage, hope, sex.

Three people are a delegation,

a committee, a wedge. With four

you can play bridge and start

an organization. With six

you can rent a whole house,

eat pie for dinner with no

seconds, and hold a fundraising party.

A dozen make a demonstration.

A hundred fill a hall.

A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;

ten thousand, power and your own paper;

a hundred thousand, your own media;

ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,

it starts when you care

to act, it starts when you do

it again after they said no,

it starts when you say We

and know who you mean, and each

day you mean one more.


John Nichols is a co-founder of Free Press, the nation's media reform network, www.freepress.net, which organized the NCMR.