All posts tagged “Saswat Pattanayak

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When women journalists prevailed over New York Times

By Saswat Pattanayak

New York Times faced a class-action lawsuit in 1974 brought against it by 600 of its own women employees. An affirmative action plan mandating progressive hiring practices was to be the outcome of its settlement, four years later. Who were these courageous women and what were their professional commitments like? Today’s New York Times digs into this history and offers a tribute to those times when women staff writers contributed to a page named after its four themes – Food, Fashions, Family, Furnishings. They wrote about culinary interests and peculiarities in fashion (the only radical writings cited by the report include profiles of Richard Avedon and Diana Vreeland). According to the NYTimes reporter Amanda Svachula, The four F’s page ran from 1955 to 1971, and “around 1971, the header was changed to Family/Style”.

But that is not entirely accurate. Ms. Svachula has written an exceptional piece, no doubt. It is a much-needed peek into the 70’s, and how journalism has evolved since. At the same time, some fact-checks need to be done, and a critical approach to the understanding of the evolution adopted.

Firstly, contrary to the report, the “Food, Fashions, Family, Furnishings” page was not retired in 1971. Indeed, it was very much active even in 1974. It was eventually renamed, but the chronological accuracy is of essence. It is of essence, also because the NYTimes article today completely overlooks the pattern of reporting that was conducted by its women reporters throughout the 70’s. I will use Enid Nemy as a case study to argue that the same “Four Fs” page (and subsequently, Style) was consistently also used by women reporters to address women’s rights and issues surrounding feminist movement of the time.

For instance, on December 9, 1974, Enid Nemy’s wrote a piece titled, “A look at Sex Roles in Blue-Collar Jobs”. It is true that her story appeared as a two-column story, whereas the main lead for that page on the day with a five-column spread was titled “Cosmetics Gift Race Goes On”. But Nemy’s story was clearly the more powerful one – it highlighted a class analysis related to blue-collar workers – both women and men. She quoted Professor Alice Cook from Cornell University describing female work force as possessing unique characteristic of the phase of re-entry into the workforce. “This is a special problem, because women’s work is interrupted and men’s is not.” She also quoted Professor Sheila Tobias in a panel on “white blue-collar workers and feminism”, as saying, “Not every issue is purely male-female. Most issues impinging on blue-collar workers, male and female, may very well be class.” Nemy explored the concerns of the black women as the “group that suffers most from unemployment.”

In 1975, Nemy’s report on November 8, titled “Feminists reappraise direction and image” was an analysis of the entire women’s rights movement in the backdrop of Equal Rights Amendment which had failed to pass. Nemy offered a platform to a diverse range of voices. Whereas one feminist said the movement had “ignored or misunderstood a lot of women”, another said, “a large number of women didn’t trust the present movement and the present leadership.” Yet another said, “We have to reach out to the housewife. The movement pays lip service to them, but their work should be honored and respected.” Nemy depicted the conflicts and the “bickering” and the “fight among ourselves” that had become the mainstay of feminist movement of the time. Like a sincere reporter, a chronicler, and unlike most professional journalists, as an interpreter of the events, Nemy continued her work.

For several years, Enid Nemy reported on issues of women’s rights within the Style page. She extensively covered the “second stage” of the women’s movement in New York Times. She described a panel that would make Selma James proud today. A panel titled “Helping the Homemaker, New Needs, New Problems” in 1979 had argued that the women’s movement had “denigrated the role of homemaking.”

A panel titled “Marriage as an Economic Partnership” challenged the amount of discretion allotted to judges in divorce proceedings, and discussed marital property reforms aiming to empower non-wage earning spouses to obtain credit.

After quoting Alvin Toffler at the panel envisioning a “demassified third wave” in the following century, where considerable amount of work will be shifted to home, and Isaac Asimov at the panel predicting the takeover of mundane jobs by machines, Enid Nemy brilliantly concludes her report in an irrepressibly witty manner with a feminist in the audience who smiled and said, “We just got out of the house, and they’re putting us back in.”

What is instructive in this context is that the Fashion/Style page was being subverted with women’s rights issues by the women journalists of the day. Nemy reported on a Fashion Group Inc. seminar, no doubt, but because it focused on how professional women could benefit from awareness around credit line and credit history. Nemy conveyed the advices of panelists which rings true to this day for many professional women, who should “Establish a financial identity in their own names, not just their husbands; have some bank assets in their own names; have charge account cards in their own names, rather than their husbands’ name or as Mrs. Someone; and, establish a line of credit at a bank before it was needed, since it would cost nothing if it wasn’t used.”

The female reporters were not simply “kept upstairs” by the Times, as the headline today suggests. These journalists attended and covered the women’s movement, interviewed feminists, and shared opinions. After attending a women’s forum at the Russian Tea Room, Enid Nemy shared some radical feminist thoughts with her readers. She quoted Dr. Suzanne Keller of Princeton University as arguing that the stereotypical images of gender are harmful even when there is a depiction of fantasy superwoman. In Dr. Keller’s words, “To assume that a conventional family life can be combined with unconventional achievements means that you have only yourself to blame if this is not so for you. The notion that it is up to the woman to find way exempts social institutions, and men, from their responsibilities, and self‐blame serves the status quo.”

Not all events covered by Enid Nemy were necessarily radical, and by being so, they provide unique insights into the history of feminism. In one conference, she writes, subject of reverse discrimination was introduced by Nobel Laureate (in Medicine) Dr. Rosalyn Yalow who chastised the purposes of a women’s organization which she said was merely to “self-destruct….there is no such thing as equality if there is a need for women’s organizations.” Likewise, Professor Judith Stiehm hypothesized that if women entered armed forces, then the men may have to enter the realm of infant nurturing because “when the role of the warrior is no longer exclusively masculine, much of its luster will be lost.”

In a sense, Nemy’s reporting reflected highest journalistic values of objectivity – in that, she did not limit herself to her own sets of beliefs; but it was more importantly, subversive. She refused to remain within the confines of traditional expectations from someone assigned to the beauty care and style page.

On a page where a story on John Weitz’s designs for women (“From a Men’s Designer, Easy Clothes for Women”) took up most space, Nemy ran a five-column feature on “the Urban Widow”. She interviewed several women for this article and ended with the “widow with the modest fortune” as someone that summed up the piece with these words, “Marriage is lovely, but I’ve enjoyed just about as much as I can stand.”

Civil rights were not gained overnight by a change of heart in the authority, or via threats of lawsuits. Progressive people from all walks of life engage in constant struggles against the status quo in order to improve it for the next generations. Female reporters of the Times were perhaps assigned a specific floor and a specific theme, but as Nemy’s and her peers’ works demonstrate, they did not simply wait for a change to happen. They became part of the movement that forced the establishment to change the page’s header and to accommodate writings about women’s rights and feminism. The headline is not that they were confined, but that they prevailed.

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A Closer Look At “The Enemy of the People”

By Saswat Pattanayak

American liberals love to compare Donald Trump to Joseph Stalin because liberals are generationally brainwashed, historically ignorant, and repugnantly clueless. They outdo the conservatives in their irrational belief in American exceptionalism and in their irrevocable faith in their corporate media which they grandiosely exhibit as some sort of a “free press”.

It does not have to take a Stalin to characterize corporate press of the USA as an “enemy of the people” (which he never did anyway). The warmongering media like CNN, Fox, New York Times and Washington Post – all of which accord significant space to, and act as conduits for racist, xenophobic views of Trump at present, and for militarist war cries of Obama and Clinton in the past – indeed, are the enemy of the people – if, by people, we mean human beings with capacities to revolt against an unjust racist capitalist status quo.

Every time the peace-loving American people have organized themselves against any war, it is the corporate media led by CNN which has twisted the narrative and projected a need for the war. Only the most grotesque form of journalism could have successfully normalized war cries even during the tenure of a president who was already awarded Nobel Prize for Peace.

After rejoicing Libya’s fall and Syria’s, CNN and New York Times have been rabidly crying for North Korea’s blood and for Iran to be attacked. It is almost as if they are losing patience at how slow is Trump in declaring wars against one country or another. Because these media empires have nothing but profits on sight, for them, nothing sells like war stories emanating from xenophobic rants. Till now Trump has been more a man of words and less of action, and the liberal press simply cannot wait any longer. The corporate greed that funds these channels must continue to provoke Trump and caricature his lack of a concrete war plan. Trump had no courage to wage a war with Russia and so he had to be depicted as a puppet of Vladimir Putin. And now he has still not bombed the heck out of North Korea and so his fingers are too little for the nuclear buttons. Trump is not being presidential enough for the American people vying for some red blood, believes the liberal press. And certainly, he is not anti-communist enough. In fact, Trump is a communist himself. He is the Stalin of America. This is the kind of utter garbage being published by the likes of Washington Post.

The ghost of Stalin continues to haunt the American liberals, some of whom are even Trotskyists. They are desperately twisting the statements of Stalin and at times entirely manufacturing words never uttered by him, in an attempt to discredit Trump. Since Stalin is the epitome of evil for decades in American textbooks, it is quite effective to portray Trump as an incarnation of Stalin. Trump must demand war with Russia and North Korea, because that is what Stalin would have wanted with America anyway, goes the pitch.

The reality is, the average American is hopelessly misinformed about Stalin’s contributions and efforts towards restoring global peace, let alone about Stalin’s assessment of the United States and its people. Ignorance unfortunately is the ground for propagandists, and it is the corporate media outlets which use this ignorance to their benefit. And the reality is, Stalin never wanted a war with the USA. Nikita Khrushchev (who is now being glorified by liberal media for banning “enemy of the people” phrase they are readily but inaccurately crediting to Stalin) was at the center of the cold war crisis. Stalin was not. Not even before the Second World War before the alliance was formed. In fact, when in 1932, Stalin was asked by Ralph B. Barnes if possible armed clashes could occur between the USSR and the USA, Stalin had this to say to the American people –

There can be nothing easier than to convince the peoples of both countries of the harm and criminal character of mutual extermination. But, unfortunately, questions of war and peace are not always decided by the peoples. I have no doubt that the masses of the people of the USA did not want war with the peoples of the USSR in 1918-19. This, however, did not prevent the USA Government from attacking the USSR in 1918 (in conjunction with Japan, Britain and France) and from continuing its military intervention against the USSR right up to 1919. As for the USSR, proof is hardly required to show that what its peoples as well as its government want is that “no armed clash between the two countries should ever under any circumstances” be able to occur.

What Washington Post’s Foreign Assignment Editor Will Englund described as “Stalin’s savage rule” today in order to unfavorably compare him with Trump, is a reflection of the pathetic state of the propaganda press of this country, which is yet to get out of its Red Scare tactics. If the journalists must aspire to represent the people and be their sincere friends, and not enemies, they need to take a cue from this present crisis, and indeed spend time researching and revisiting cold war rhetorics, and fix their understanding of history in order to locate who was on the side of the so-called “savages”, and who was on the side of the peace. They need to get out of their war fetish zone and support any president who can delay any war to any extent possible. Because no working people of any society wants a war. If American journalists truly aspire to be friends of those people, and not only of the wealthy parasites, it is imperative that they recognized their will and what is in their best interests.

(Published in iMixWhatILike!)

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Revolution 2.0

While the Snowden episode raises the alarm bells on privacy, Saswat Pattanayak questions whether the state clamping on freedom is anything new. Was it better in the past? If yes, for whom was it better? Is it good now, then for whom is it good?

By Saswat Pattanayak

Possibly the greatest myth about the world we inhabit today, is that things are just getting worse everywhere. Apparently, the claim goes, things were all flourishing until a couple of decades ago. People used to be nicely employed, owned houses, had the finest of healthcare, made tons of savings, expressed themselves freely without fear, and were generally happy-go-lucky. And that, things are just plain ugly today, with uncertainties looming large, with privacies encroached upon, people falling prey to corporate propaganda, and intellectual vacuum looming large.

Alas, even the worst myths have some credibility. So let’s start from there – yes, things used to be great for some folks, back in the days. In those good old days. In those abjectly feudal, and overtly colonial eras. Since there was slavery, the plantation owners had it good. Since there were princely states, the royals had it good. Since there were colonial empires, the colonialists had it good. Since there was Apartheid, the racists had it good. In fact, the myth has so much credence that the ruling class of every epoch believed they all had it so good. Quite naturally then “You’ve never had it so good!” became the US Democratic Party campaign slogan in 1952 and was swiftly adapted by the UK Conservative Party five years later. The myth of goodness apparently existed until the advent of the 60’s, if not until the end of the 70’s.

What in the world suddenly changed?

Here’s the shocker: nothing perhaps has changed. Maybe the world is still the same. Whether things were nice and dandy back then depends on who we seek that answer from. Usually, a white privileged male in the US, an upper-caste landlord in India, a French right-wing supremacist in Algeria, among numerous other categories may find things getting worse over a period of time. Whereas a black Afrocentric radical, a feminist of colour, a gay man, a disabled woman, a Dalit activist – may in fact claim that either things have remained just the same, or they in fact, have improved. People who were being lynched in the public because of the colour of their skin or women who were treated as no more than dishwashers are not the ones to complain about the gradual turns of events. They may rightfully complain about the viciously slow growth, but they are in no rush to turn back the clock and tune into the halcyon days.

History of the world can be written through the lens of the ruling class, or it can be narrated from the perspectives of the oppressed. From the lens of the latter then, the world could indeed be making progress. It is making progress when we witness women demanding wages for house work, it is making progress when men join protests against rape culture, it is making progress when outcastes reject the dominant paradigm, it is making progress when the racial minorities establish academic departments in hitherto elite universities. And these progresses do not happen merely incidentally, they do not happen because of sudden change of hearts; instead they do, because of concerted efforts and revolutionary movements of the working class – a vital credit which the ruling class deliberately refuses to concede, lest such experiments become too commonplace to be suppressed.

Even greater in significance than the myth are the means. How exactly do the historically oppressed manage to make progress? After all, they traditionally lack not just power, but also access; they start out disadvantaged, with entry behaviour knowledge, skills, and abilities compromised. The dominant understanding of emancipation is that the ruling structure empowers the oppressed through greater facilitation of resources. The truth is way unsavoury: the historically oppressed invariably always turn ungrateful towards their ruling masters. They take time to gain the knowledge to challenge the status quo, make efforts to acquire skills to equip themselves to face eventualities, and finally work in solidarity to dismantle the oppressive structures, at times gradually, and at other times suddenly. What usually seems spontaneous in revolutionary framework is invariably always a result of prolonged preparations and wait for the opportune moment.This is an inevitable process pertaining to historical stages of development. The greed of the ruling class, the tactic of the oppressed class, and the revolution as the synthesis.

Media of all kinds are only extensions of that irresistible weapon of education, that ineluctable tool of emancipation.

The historically oppressed have always tried to seize the media and to make them work in their mission to overthrow the systems of oppressions. At times, they have succeeded. And at other times they have been defeated. This was true for print media, it was true for electronic media, and it is true for digital/online media.

Concerned by the NSA and its corporate partners such as Verizon, Brazil has become the first country to propose rejecting America’s web authority. President Dilma Rousseff has recently ordered a series of measures to ensure Brazilian online independence and security to defy NSA interceptions.

The ruling class interpretation however has been starkly different. Obsessed as it remains with keeping the oppressed duly invisible, and focused as it remains with its own profit charts, the ruling class interpretations are concerned only with the conversation its own team members have with each other. As a result, both liberal and conservative publications entirely leave out narratives that have direct impacts on the racially oppressed, for instance. The need for black underground press in the US rose specifically to challenge the prevailing discourses between educated whites who shaped media agenda while entirely ignoring existing racial tensions as a structural given, not as a symptomatic aberration. Most of the researches conducted at elite schools focus therefore, on media monopolies and the gory sketches of their battles to redraw the maps of territorial conquests. They remain oblivious to the underground rebellions by innumerable insurgents, at times deliberately oblivious because they are convinced that the noisemakers are not aspiring for a takeover. And more often than not, they are right. A political analysis will draw the parallel between the nature of the colonizers and the nature of the colonized. Whereas the colonizers worry about expanding their territories, the revolting masses only are interested in their own emancipation.

And so is the case of media. Huge majority of the world possibly has no interest to become media moguls. Rupert Murdoch is neither their competition, nor their enemy. The anti-poor, racist, casteist policies furthered by their oppressive governments are their concerns. Reclaiming a country’s past (sic) glory is not something they remain bothered about, especially since that system never worked for them anyway. Besides, the majority rightfully demands for a life with basic needs fulfilled, and not everyone thinks that unlimited greed is a good thing. And so they are interested in subverting the dominant paradigms without needing to reinforce those very undesirabilities themselves. From radical comic strips to basement mixtapes, from underground hip-hop to homemade newspapers – the creative subversion of media over time has been aimed at being emancipatory without being necessarily competitive. The producers of these media have been jailed by the authorities, harassed by the communities, and ostracized by the advertisers. But the quest to challenge the dominant media narratives has never ceased anywhere in the world at any point of history.

And so it is with the Internet and online media.

Started as a militarist project, aided by money from the capitalist regime, Internet has been subject to sustained appropriations by hackers, hobbyists and housewives. In the times of big corporate media engaged in mergers and acquisitions, Internet has enabled a plethora of independent bloggers, many remaining anonymous, and most continuing to update their platforms without necessarily fear of authorities or expectations of profits. They are aware of their state of being othered, marginalized and oppressed. And they are in no hurry to make compromises, while steadfastly remaining glued to making revolts. Many of them are even found micro-blogging on Facebook and Twitter, making alliances with strangers all around the world, generating consensus with hashtags, and creating alternative universities in the virtual world where conventional, institutionalized truths are massacred and unfounded claims are doubly, nay, innumerably checked for veracity. Internet has provided Afrocentric literatures that could never be found in public libraries or dominant media’s breaking news, it has allowed for interviews with those freedom fighters to be shared and archived, who would never get an invitation from any of the four estates of democracy.

There are challenges to Internet of course; enormous ones. Just as there were challenges to all previous and contemporary forms of media. But there are opportunities too on Internet; enormous ones. For one, it provides access to those who can access it, which is far greater an empowerment compared to, let’s say, writing a letter to the editor of a print newspaper, while waiting for it to be published uncensored. Secondly, the social media bring people together, virtually if so desired, and for real, if so. It allows for more people to get informed about and to participate in a protest rally, an Occupy demonstration, an awareness march against sexism. All one needs to do is post an event, provide a backgrounder, interact with the audience to answer any question, make changes to the plans real time, cover the event for those who could not attend, and archive it for future references. Not to discount the difficulties or even impossibilities of such networking at the face of enormous digital divide that has rendered majority of people without access to Internet, to begin with. But to underline the fact that Internet, when enabled, emerges greater as an accessible form of media than any other. The need therefore is to democratize it and to make it universally accessible, to make it truly participatory.

For the teeming millions, the question is often not about ownership. The question is about participation. The joy lies not in monopolizing. It lies in distributing. Maybe it is how most of us have simply been raised – amidst the sheer joys in, or necessities of sharing. And therefore it becomes our second nature to simply enjoy the very fact that we are able to share new information with each other, through blogging, through micro-blogging, through file-sharing. Maybe that something which appears to be unproductive by the ruling class is something we just tend to be doing over and over again. In an otherwise individualistic, secretive world reveling in distrust, suspicion and increasing abandonment of neighbours, maybe the virtual media is what boldly caters to our needs. Who knows if it is good, bad or ugly? For sure, at least for now, the authorities think it is threatening them. This coming together of people who disregard their carefully assigned social locations and organise themselves for a common cause that transcends boundaries set by the ruling class. Maybe that is what is a constant irritant to the historically oppressive ones, and for that reason alone, it must continue as a revolutionary tactic.

No wonder, Obama’s NSA is after these people, these global ungrateful netizens. In the most recent development, Verizon which at first denied, and later admitted to having turned over the call records of millions of American citizens to the NSA has, only this September, testified in the court that it wants to prioritize those websites and services that are willing to shell out for better access. Verizon has made it clear that the company would block online content from those companies or individuals who do not pay its tolls – obviously undermining Net Neutrality principle. Concerned by the NSA and its corporate partners such as Verizon, Brazil has become the first country to propose rejecting America’s web authority. President Dilma Rousseff has recently ordered a series of measures to ensure Brazilian online independence and security to defy NSA interceptions. The way Brazil wants to do this is by compelling Facebook, Google and other US companies to store all data related to its citizens locally on Brazilian servers and by pushing for new international rules on privacy and security through the UN General Assembly. Its potential effectiveness, or even viability, is yet to be evaluated, but it is certainly something that may encourage other countries to follow suit. This suspicion also underlines the refusal on part of the international community to be convinced by Obama’s assurances regarding user privacies. The bigger concern of course is if the anti-Americanism itself may then give way to invincible national repressions. Will it be any more ethically sustainable on part of other countries, to filter contents or to keep a watch over their respective netizens domestically?

Answers to that already exist within the US, where many a domestic horror stories remain untold until after a case reaches a court of appeals. The most invisible ones are related to Internet freedom, precisely because any expose of that would discredit the country’s long standing, albeit hypocritical, claims on free speech, while equating it with let’s just say, China. Or, for that matter, with India. When two girls landed in trouble over commenting on Facebook about Bal Thackeray, it made world headline last year. And yet the US has been persecuting its own citizens for much lesser Facebook activisms that go unnoticed. In 2009, six employees at the Hampton Sheriff’s office in Virginia lost their jobs after registering their ‘likes’ on the Facebook page of the person who contested their boss in an election. Two of those employees, Deputy Daniel Carter and Robert McCoy, filed a lawsuit claiming they were fired by Sheriff B.J. Roberts specifically for liking a Facebook profile for Roberts’ opponent, Jim Adams and as many as four years later, only last month, a court of appeals decided that liking something on Facebook was the “Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard” and hence it would be considered protected speech.

While the cat-and-mouse game persists, losing sight over the pattern would be a travesty. Harassment of the audience based on their media consumption, or arrests of producers based on their media activism is not a new trend. Neither is encroachment on individual privacy rights as is being largely claimed following Snowden’s grand revelations. The entire saga of FBI is nothing, if not one state sponsored and violence-laden surveillance program. The Red Scare, the infamous Smith Act, McCarthyism, the war on Black Panthers are all among numerous systematic assaults on privacy rights in the US.

The truth is there never were any golden days of freedom and equality for the world in the past, as is being felt nostalgic about these days. Only when we take the starting point of analysis as one where the status quo is considered to have remained virtually the same, if not emerged better, we can recognize that more people – even purely quantitatively speaking – are able to join global resistance against capitalism and express themselves today, than ever before. And this political opportunity has opened itself up, because as the bearded old men have hinted at, the Internet may indeed be what the capitalism has produced to further its own gains, and yet, it may eventually become its own grave-digger. As more desperate measures are taken to control Internet and as even more resistance surfaces to free it – through the radical voices of the hitherto underrepresented – the fall of ruling elites and the victory of hashtaggers will become equally inevitable.

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Lesson from Snowden: Myth of the Free Press

By Saswat Pattanayak

The sudden rise in whistleblowers in the US could be a new phenomenon, but the governmental scrutiny and penalization process surrounding them, is hardly so. Apart from the widening scope of social/virtual media’s sphere of influence, there is hardly anything unique about the circumstances unraveled by Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning.

Political radicalism, underground media activism, and alleged unpatriotic nature among conscientious citizens in the United States are what have indeed uniquely shaped this country. It has always been the case of the powerful ruling class elites duly supported by the judiciary, military and corporate media constantly engaged in wars against progressive activists and causes. Because the blazing speed with which various official and classified documents now reach a diverse global audience is something new, the use of technology in bridging the gap between ruling class and the formerly clueless audience certainly appears to be groundbreaking in our times.

But to claim that there are spectacularly outrageous misdeeds that the Obama and Bush administrations uniquely are culpable of when it comes to attacking free speech rights, is to get the peoples’ history entirely wrong. It might suit our times to highlight what appears to be bizarre and unacceptable to us from a legal standpoint, but to view that as historically decisive moment that is unprecedented, would be to trivialize the various ongoing struggles against ruling class monopolists.

To begin with, there is clearly nothing novel about collection of vital information about individuals. In many cases, it may not even be illegal. We have been willfully submitting information related to our private lives to corporations such as Google and Facebook since years now. Unless it is a special dislike we harbor towards the government as an institution, the privacy rights argument appears quite weak at the outset. But what is important to remember while expressing shock and disbelief at PRISM is that such experiments have been core to the way governments have always functioned in collaborations with business houses.

It is only after Daniel Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers that enormous importance was attached to the idea of a whistleblower, and by extension, to the idea that it is crucial to expose an administration when they lie. There’s no denying that it is important to leak official documents with an intent to secure individual rights, but what is equally critical is to not get all shocked at the findings of classified information. What is essential is to recognize what I.F. Stone used to say: that, all governments lie. All administrations resort to lies. That, international diplomacy is nothing but a systematization of lies. What is crucial is to acknowledge that individual freedom is always going to be limited so long as a state exists. That, it is not just the communist and overtly authoritarian regimes which manipulate individual rights to free speech and privacy, but the western liberal democracies have also always done so.

After rising to fame, Daniel Ellsberg has declared that Snowden’s are the most remarkable contributions in recent times. He said, “I definitely have a new hero in Edward Snowden, the first one since Bradley Manning, and I’m glad it didn’t take another 40 years. People who respect or admire what I did, they may not realize it right now, but before this is over, they’ll recognize that he deserves great admiration.” Whereas Ellsberg is right in calling Snowden, Manning or Assange as heroes of our times, they are not the only ones in the span of last forty years, or if Ellsberg’s claim to fame is considered, in the history of the United States.

Nothing could be farther from truth. Only in recent times, prosecution of Judith Miller clearly revealed to what extent journalists could be penalized for concealing their sources. As a New York Times reporter, even as she did not publish any article about the Plame Affair, Miller had to spend twelve weeks in jail for refusing to reveal her source. Miller clearly is not a hero in the sense that Glenn Greenwald or Bob Woodward are, but the lesson that needs to be drawn is that not all journalists are equally privileged in order to get away with what would be considered a “crime” for others. Race, gender, accessibility, networking, political rapport among many other factors influence the heroisms.

Even as Woodward has made millions of dollars off the sales of his investigative journalistic books – works that have ideologically helped the Democrats – during those very times, every other underground paper in the country were being shut down by the government. Woodward or Ellsberg were champions for a change of power in Washington to suit their political beliefs, not activists for press freedom on behalf of publishers and editors of radical media.

An Underground Press Syndicate (UPS) was formed just to address the assaults on press freedom in 1967. Managing editor Ron Thelin of Oracle wrote, “Well, here we all are, Uncle Sam on the verge of death. A sleep-stupor symbol-addicted environment haunts our hearts, and what are we going to do about it?” Jeff Shero who had campaigned for the abolition of segregated toilets at the University of Texas founded ‘Rat’, a major left-wing underground newspaper. New York’s ‘East Village Other’, California’s ‘L.A. Free Press’, ‘Berkeley Barb, Detroit’s ‘Fifth Estate’ – and at least thirty other small radical publications had together formed UPS as a means to organize, educate and agitate the masses, to make investigative journalism accessible and to make investigations that truly exposed the contradictions within capitalism.

UPS was inspired by the Black Panthers and shared information with the public that would help challenge the duopoly of phony democracy. They were also vehemently anti-sexist. One of their resolutions ran, “That male supremacy and chauvinism be eliminated from the contents of the underground papers. For example, papers should stop accepting commercial advertising that uses women’s bodies to sell records and other products, and advertisements for sex, since the use of sex as a commodity specially oppresses women in this country.” As a result of the underground media activism in the United States, as Abe Peck wrote, “DDT was banned, abortions were legalized, the draft ended, U.S. troops finally left Vietnam, the American Psychiatric Association “de-diseased” homosexuality, and draconian sentences for smoking plants were reduced.”

Scandals like Watergate were the bread and butter of the underground press, while New York Times and Washington Post were busy covering nuclear power stations. I.F. Stone and Hunter S. Thompson, Max Scherr, John Wilcock, were among the more prominent names in the underground media scene. It was only after the UPS became so impactful that it attracted FBI’s campaigns to shut it down, that the kinds of Bob Woodwards and Daniel Ellsbergs rose to prominence. With big media, pulitzer prizes and partisan favors monopolizing over investigative norms, the revolution found itself stalled. Ellsberg failed recently to appreciate his predecessors, maybe because the underground journalists were not just opposed to Nixon, but to the entire system of political economy that benefited the liberals and the white left. Whereas, “Actuel” published regularly investigative reports on FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s murderous rampage, some sampled stories from a typical issue of “Fifth Estate” included: a strike by illegal Mexican American immigrants in the Californian vineyards; the MC5 tel
ling stores that wouldn’t stock their records to go fuck themselves; the white left: can you take them seriously?”

Berets and black leather jackets, Afro hair, military salutes, and iconic poster images – the underground press raised its fist; self-defense and communal self-sufficiency spawned new organizations such as the IBA (International Black Appeal) which appealed in the pages of the Inner-City Voice for help in distributing food in the ghettos of Detroits, suffering in the aftermath of the 1967 riots.

Thirty years since, underground press no longer exists in the United States. Instead of asking what led to the demise of an activist-oriented news coalition that not just made investigations and made classified information accessible, witnessed its publishers getting jailed and offices ransacked, and virtually experienced first-hand the murder of press freedom – if we continue to glorify four white men in last forty years for merely leaking information that would have otherwise kept our private lives private, then we are missing the mark entirely.

Long before the UPS came to fore, when the American administration was attacking radical newspapers, W.E.B. Du Bois already had attested in 1953, “It is not a question as to whether these facts and opinions are right or wrong, true or false. It is the more basic question as to who is going to be the judge of this, and as to how far honest people can remain intelligent if they refuse to listen to unpopular opinions or to facts which they do not want to believe. There is a determined effort today to put papers like these out of existence, to harass and harry them, to make readers afraid to subscribe to them or to buy them on news stands; to keep newspaper distributors from handling them; and in these and other ways to make their continued existence impossible.”

Snowden’s episode followed by Lavabit exposes what should have been long known, had we been paying attention to the history of the underground press. Cops have confiscated typewriters, cameras, darkrooms, graphic equipment, business records, books and posters; editors have been convicted of false obscenity charges, on charges of immorality, their cars firebombed and their offices infiltrated by plainclothed officers. Starting from the “red scare” to the “witch hunt” to the underground press, anticommunist arrests of journalists and sustained harassments targeting anyone, black or white, that exposed the racist administrative policies, press freedom in the United States (and much of Europe) has been a sham all throughout the recorded history.

Ellsberg, Woodward, Assange, Manning, Snowden are merely those who have relatively survived the assault.

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Do not Separate Press Freedom

By Saswat Pattanayak

For those of us, who are advocates of Press Freedom, I have something to say. And I am not using my right to free speech, to say this. I am using my sense of deep and prolonged sense of despair at the lack of equal human standards of dignity, to say this.

It is in this sense, that the fundamental means of saying what I have to say becomes more crucial than all the vested “rights” I may have, to say.

Press Freedom does not need to be a separate sense of elated state. Press Freedom does not need to exclusively be privileged in a greater sense than any other freedom that we know of, including but not limited to, freedom of life with basic standards of living in a world where, given the present resources, no other must live on a greater scale than the adequate.

As journalists, indeed, we have to reflect the odor of the ghetto and the slums as we smell; the visual acuity of depraved homelessness here there and everywhere as we see; the worn-out rugged rough and the workers class as we feel; to listen to the anger and frustrations of the people long forced to rationalize to live irrational lives; and to have our mouthful of words to express them back to the society. If we fail to carry out the obligations of our senses, we would rather not call ourselves any more representatives of the public than those of the opportunistic politicians, bureaucrats and the members of business class, who live gloriously off majority’s wretched lives.

In an age where Press Freedom seems to be encroached upon by the politicians, by our own definitions and descriptions, journalists for more reasons than one, need to find vehemently supportive voices among the public. Unfortunately most members of the Press today are among the most distrusted. No wonder it is a tough and formidable task, whenever it comes to safeguarding the class interests of journalists in any country.

For example, if the Government in the United States passes a bill restricting journalists to blog about politics alone, how many of the readers are going to take to the streets in protest? Logically speaking, every mainstream media organization has all those “loyal” readers who feel very depressed at the slightest changes made even to the weekday layouts. But how many of them will come out to fight the Government to take the side of the slighted scribes?


This is a time to ponder. To introspect, how have we so far used the freedom granted to journalists, making us more equal among the equals? Have we earned enough respect and admiration from the public whose name we have used to ride the ladders of exclusive freedom? In our pursuits of attaining limitless freedom in accessing public information, twisting them for our own purpose, and winning big prizes and deals from the publishers, a slot on airtime and few positions as expert analysts, how much have we fought for the freedom of the very public that we claim to represent?

It is time also to humbly admit that in the name of elitist objectivity which we have afforded to enjoy, owing to the more powerful lifestyle (if not directly a luxurious one, although exceptions are significant), we have since inception of the media in every culture, only succeeded in evading the actual issues. One of the major issues for us, is definitely not Press Freedom; it is the way we have decided to utilize it so as to enjoy the more-than-thou freedom.

A lot of debate surrounds the question of “Who is a Journalist?”, “What is Journalism?”, and “How has been the history and tradition of Journalism?” The question we need to pose for now, is: What are the roles of a Journalist?

If one of the roles is being representative of the public we seek to serve, how well are we performing it. To this end, we can demand for the unbridled freedom, not just for ourselves (indeed this comes later), but for the peoples. Our roles, far from being informers and entertainers, must be that of active participants in the mutual community building with social justice as the goal. For, if we represent the public, we must do so with selfless endeavor, not just as public relations officers of the ruling government or its branches of police stations, but also as advocates of the peoples’ concerns which need outlets of expression, which need to be heard, and which need to be followed up till the demands are met.

‘Tis time we took a stance, to become the actual freedom fighters. Freedom for the majority of people of this planet. Not some selfish attempt at seeking a daily pass to the White House and feel proud of parroting the administrative voices. But to take the extra effort and the pain associated with exposing ourselves to the harsh realities within which the peoples today survive, and make sure that we are fighting for their freedom of speech as well.