Once a radical...always a radical:
I suppose I was first radicalized about 1965. In many ways it was simply the next move of a practicing non-conformist, a refugee from the 1950's love affair with television and the blatant denial of all things unpleasant. And too, by that sad point in history, the optimism; the warm hope of a young soul had been replaced by the stark realization that America will kill the messengers of any such broader ideals: Kennedy, King...another Kennedy; Gandhi, Jesus...the list is endless, the decision final.
Then came 1968. The draft notice, the week of rage that was Chicago. Rome dismantling the republicanism that was the peoples' senate. Kill the messenger was back with a vengeance, for the storm troopers of Chicago targeted the media -- the journalists assigned the Constitutional mandate to uphold a free press -- a press that was already under a new, and relentless siege. From that point on, I could never look at the American flag quite the same. And while time passed, a grudging conformity returned to my life...business goes on -- those moments, those feelings, never really escaped the shadowy outskirts of my conscience. In effect, I never surrendered -- instead, burying my soul in the comfort of a deep and enduring cynicism for all things now deemed the truth, or perhaps rooted in the nature of humans.
In my last posting I stated that, "authors and independent film makers are now the last bastion of America's free and open press." Perhaps that was a little naïve...a little narrow. Technology and globalization have now made media suppression a truly planetary-wide pursuit, particularly by those entities that appear to have a lot to hide. And so much easier it would seem. How else to explain the zealousness of one corporation's efforts to destroy one man and his short film about banana production in Nicaragua. No, it is not about bananas. It is about free speech as a threat to multi-national corporations of all stripes. Perhaps too, this relentless injection of the dilatory beast known as self-serving propaganda. And in the end, the ultimate destruction of choice itself.
Enter Swedish journalist and film maker, Fredrik Gertten.
His crime: Exposing the harm being wrought on Nicaraguan farm workers by the use of a banned pesticide. The who? Dole Corporation, a multi-national and one of the largest food producers in the world. A controversial film? Not really. Just another example of farm workers being poisoned by a bunch of greedy shits in the US. For corporations like Dole, just another day at the office. So why such a reaction? The film was scheduled to preview at an LA film festival around 2007. But even prior to that, Dole began sending letters, e-mails...all very threatening to Gertten and his producers, culminating in a 'cease and desist' order claiming that a fraud was being perpetrated against Dole's sterling image, and accusing the producers of malice, defamation of the company's character (a seeming oxymoron), etc. etc.. They also went after the film festival in a similar tone.
So anyway, we all know that corporations like Dole have more lawyers than Lima beans, so a whole bus load of legal machinations followed: eventually resulting in the film being withdrawn (via intimidation), from the festival, but screened at a private venue elsewhere in LA. Issue finally resolved? Hardly. Dole then went ahead and sued Gertten and his production staff anyway, folks who were hardly in a position to financially defend themselves. Not because they were guilty as implied, but because they could not financially defend such an attack. They could lose everything, including the roof over their heads. So, after some deliberation, Gertten and his production company, to the surprise of everyone -- including Dole -- filed a counter-suit. Then more legal nonsense, foot dragging in the courts...blah, blah.
Then something interesting happened. The Swedish Parliament, with a little prodding, entered the fray. Because the real issue wasn't a few dead Nicaraguans -- Dole had made that perfectly clear -- instead, the Swedish MP's viewed the suit as a pervasive attack on free speech, something that Scandinavians take very seriously. So much so that they held a private screening in Parliament. And the publicity was generating a wide-spread boycott of Dole products throughout Europe.
Long and short: Dole withdrew its suit in Sweden with all kinds of caveats, addendum's...obtuse disclaimers, except that wasn't quite enough for Gertten and his people. The film was still effectively banned in the US. So, more court time, more delays and frivolous motions that still had to be heard by the courts. But eventually the case came before a judge in LA -- after viewing the film, ended the charade right there. He found that the film had absolutely nothing in common with Dole's complaints...further, awarded Gertten and his production team $200,000 in damages. Course, we're not sure where that left the Nicaraguans, other than somewhat grateful to Gertten for not only bringing their plight to the attention of the world, but having the perseverance to fight for his and their truth.
So, back to this old radical. Aside from playing with horses all my life, I have also been a writer, author, journalist...born I suppose in the age of the 'new journalism' espoused by the likes of PJ O'Rourke, Hunter Thompson and others...who felt that objectivity in journalism was a little too much to expect if some level of compassion and humanity was to remain in the story. Made sense to me. However, two incidents occurred in my waning years of working in the print media -- both exemplifying what I would call the death of unbiased reporting in America...maybe even the world.
The first was about 1993. I was working for a newspaper in California while concurrently pursuing some renewed academic studies. I was doing a story on Stanford's LifeFlight...the hospital's helicopter transport system for critical or inaccesible cases. Spent two-weeks flying with some of most incredible and motivated people I had ever met. I had decided to approach the story in the 'new journalism' approach as there was simply too much emotion in the story to just wrap it in the cloak of who, what, where and how. Hell, people died, we were constantly at risk flying under all sorts of conditions, both in the air and on the ground; the energy of these great professionals defined in sweat and tears -- not ink on a page.
The editors tried three times to re-define my story. See, prior to going to press, I own it, not the newspaper. They were determined to eliminate the word death from the copy -- like telling a war correspondent to report only the glory of those that prevailed in the conflict. You see, the advertising department was concerned over the potential reaction to the story by the Stanford University Medical Center -- a major advertising client of the newspaper. At the third editorial board meeting, the issue was forced. I refused again; they killed the whole story. I packed my shit the next day.
The second issue arose around 1990. I worked for a well-known (and missed), trade journal dedicated to a certain, specialized area in the horse world. You might say we were the industry 'outliers' and in many ways cherished our niche. But a story emerged that was (or should have been), of great interest to our readers and the industry as a whole. Sadly, it was a 'dirty story' where the heroes and villains were hard to define clearly. We had to go up against a major, foreign multi-national corporation, one that happened to be one of our major advertisers. That created a moral dilemma for us, that in turn wrapped in a potential for a kind of economic suicide.
We sat on the story a bit, tried to find a way to take the high road without being murdered along the way. Like the film maker, Gertten -- when coercion failed, the threats began. And continued until they went from possible to a done deal. And in the end...the loyalties to our readers, the industry -- was never reciprocated. We were just one more publication deemed DOA. I never wrote in the print media again.
And that is why I say that authors, film makers; some bloggers perhaps -- these folks now represent what is left of journalistic standards and integrity in this country. News is relegated to the sewers of entertainment, corporations run the government and virtually own the very regulatory agencies once charged to temper the excesses of profit-seeking and greed. The kind of heroin that big business can never seem to kick. Education too is under siege -- the dumbing-down of America running at full throttle. And much to my chagrin...my numbing fear perhaps, is that very soon we may lose "that last angry man." The one guy that stands between our claim to humanity and the animalistic extinction we just might deserve. We've been adrift for decades on this vile, dying ocean of blind ambition -- a wandering disease that is no longer welcome on any distant shore. A despondent shark, awash with the realization that he has finally eaten the last fish on the planet.
No, it is not just about bananas anymore.