BARNSTORMING: Kill the Message 

The Commercial Appeal repeats telecom propaganda concerning Network Neutrality.


"The conference's organizer was Free Press, a nonprofit that advocates for local ownership of media, community and public broadcasting, and "Net neutrality," which prohibits telecom companies from charging individuals or companies to provide superior Internet service."

-- Excerpted from "Fonda Wraps Up Media Conference," The Commercial Appeal, January 15, 2007.
It would be easy enough to read Monday's Commercial Appeal and walk away believing that The National Conferencefor Media Reform is all that's standing between you and a " superior" internet. But according to just about everybody not currently shilling for the telecom industry, nothing could be further from the truth.

In separate interviews with The Flyer last week Democratic FCC commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein spoke at length on the issue of net neutrality. Neither described it as a "prohibitive" measure, and Copps specifically dismissed the notion that corporate interests have a "better internet" in the wings as a kind of propaganda, reasoning that any corporatization of the web will begin with the redistribution of available bandwidth on a pay to play basis. Both commissioners described the de-neutralized internet as something resembling cable TV, wherein service providers like Comcast and Time Warner wield incredible control over both the content and distribution of digital media. A de-neutralized net would allow telecoms rather than consumers to determine which search engines work best; which sites provide the best news,shopping, comics, porn, etc. It would almost insure that smaller, less capitalized sites would be difficult, perhaps impossible to access. Both commissioners more or less agree with National Conference to Reform the Media founder Robert McChesney's assessment that ending Net Neutrality is a Hail Mary play by big corporations who've clumsily chased independent innovators on the web, and who now hope to set up a double-sided "toll booth" on the great information superhighway.

Trevor Aaronson, a CA staff writer and veteran of the New Times chain of Alternative Weeklies, begins his account of the media reform conference on a strangely familiar note: "Van Jones came home angry," he writes, correctly debunking an impassioned, but unfortunately unfounded implication that Shelby County prisons are on the verge of privatization. Why did Jones, who addressed the assembled conferees on Sunday afternoon, carry so much post-ovation animosity home with him? Aaronson never completely explains, though we are left with the impression that it might have something to do with the misinformed speaker's dislike of President Bush.

"Billed as a nonpartisan event, the conference looked at times like a farcical political rally," Aaronson writes, shifting from reportage to editorial with the naive assumption there are other kinds of political rallies. He then proceeds to belittle a Latino activist's efforts to insure that language barriers don't prevent immigrants and Spanish-speaking Americans from understanding the finer points of public policy, before closing with a Parthian pot shot aimed at silly ol' recycling bins.

There's no question that Van Jones' oratory was hotter than his research or that the "nonpartisan" conference, which brought 3,500 people to Downtown Memphis, and attracted an additional 60,000 online participants, often looked and sounded like a full fledged leftist pep rally. As one attendee jokingly observed it had to be, "The only place on Earth where Dennis Kucinich can get more applause than Danny Glover." That does little to change the fact that media consolidation and the elimination of Net Neutrality are relatively sophisticated issues that tend to split based on stock portfolios rather than traditional party politics. Neither does it excuse the CA's use of Jones's glaring mistake or the infinite mockability of the "angry left" to spread and give legitimacy to its own glaring disinformation.

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