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The big story (continued)

FIRST CAME the blog, www.newsdissector.org/weblog. Then came the book, Embedded: Weapons of Mass Deception — How the Media Failed To Cover the War on Iraq (see "Media," This Just In, June 27, 2003). Now, and possibly coming soon to a theater or cable channel near you, is veteran media activist Danny Schechter’s film-in-progress, WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception — Inside the Media War You Never Saw.

"This goes back to the beginning of the war, writing about it every day and embedding myself at my house," says Schechter, executive editor of Mediachannel.org, who’s well-known in Boston from his days in the 1970s as the "News Dissector" at the old WBCN Radio (104.1 FM). He explains that he found himself "growing completely enraged" not only at the "collusion" between media and government, but at "the gap between what other people were seeing and we were seeing."

Schechter has already put $50,000 into WMD, including $20,000 of his own money; he estimates he needs $75,000 to finish it. To that end, he’s produced a slick trailer narrated by actor and anti-war activist Tim Robbins. He is also distributing a 104-minute rough cut via DVD, which he has shown to test audiences at the University of Wisconsin and Ithaca College, and is screening this week at a cultural festival in Barcelona, Spain. It is scheduled to make its official premiere at the Nantucket Film Festival on June 16.

WMD is a departure for Schechter in that it often places him at the center of the action. This isn’t just about media coverage of the war in Iraq — it’s about his experience of that coverage, and of how its unskeptical tone contributed to public support for the war and the marginalization of the anti-war movement.

Schechter’s journey takes him from inside the studios of the Fox News Channel, in New York, to the Arab Media Summit, in Dubai, to the front of Federal Communications Commission headquarters, in Washington. A key argument offered by Schechter and those he interviews is that much of the media’s supine behavior during the pre-war period can be explained by the fact that they were seeking deregulatory favors from the FCC — an agency headed by Michael Powell, the son of Secretary of State Colin Powell. "This was not a great time to criticize the government or antagonize it, especially when this government engages in so much bullying — ‘You’re either with us or against us,’" Schechter says. Besides, he adds, "War is good for business. War brings in audience. I don’t think this war would have happened, and couldn’t have been sold, without the cooperation of media companies — without their enthusiastic, jingoistic participation."

Schechter also has footage from British, German, and French television services as well as Al-Jazeera, which helps him underscore a point made by communications consultant John Rendon. Filmed speaking at a UN conference, Rendon explains that there were five wars: the actual war; the one seen through the media by Americans; and the ones seen by Europeans, Arabs, and the rest of the world. "I’m able to offer a global perspective on this with footage that many Americans have not seen," Schechter says.

IN AN EFFORT to boost circulation and provide more comprehensive coverage of homelessness and poverty, the Cambridge-based Spare Change News has hired its first editor with a journalism background. Twenty-three-year-old Sam Scott, who earned a journalism degree from Boston University, and who has worked as an intern at the Boston Globe and as a reporter for the Boston Courant, put out his first issue of the every-other-week paper last Thursday.

Featuring a redesign and a newsier layout, the issue includes such stories as an account of the Bl(A)ck Tea Society, an anarchist group planning street demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention; a census of homeless people conducted by Cambridge officials; and poetry by the homeless and others living on the margins.

"I think they were looking for someone who was young and energetic, and I hope I fit the bill," says Scott, who works out of a basement office at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church. Down the hall, Fran Czajkowski, executive director of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which publishes Spare Change News, calls Scott’s hiring "stage two of our history, which is to become more professionalized."

Spare Change News, begun in 1992, and Whats Up, a monthly magazine founded five years after that, are among 50 or so street newspapers in the United States and Canada. The local publications are hawked by homeless vendors who sell them for $1 and keep 75 cents. Spare Change News claims a circulation of about 10,000. Whats Up, published out of Haley House, in the South End, has more of an arts-and-culture focus, and has a circulation of about 5000, says Kyle Robidoux, a top aide to Boston city councilor Felix Arroyo and a member of the Whats Up steering committee.

"Just like every minority group needs its own publication to get the word out about the issues they’re concerned about, Spare Change and Whats Up serve to educate the general public about poverty issues," says Michael Stoops, treasurer of the National Association of North American Street Newspapers.

And unlike more-commercial publications, Spare Change News and Whats Up play nice: Czajkowski praises Whats Up’s "youth-oriented" approach, and Robidoux says Whats Up vendors are encouraged to sell Spare Change, too, so that they earn more money.

SOURCES AT the Boston Globe said on Monday that there have been no further repercussions following publication on May 12 of a photo of Boston city councilor Chuck Turner (see "Talking Politics," page 1) and black-community activist Sadiki Kambon showing pictures at a news conference that they said were possible depictions of American troops raping Iraqi women.

The pictures, which turned out to have been copied from a pornographic Web site, were visible in the photo, creating a brief but intense media storm. The issue was covered extensively last week in Media Log, on BostonPhoenix.com.

Dan Kennedy can be reached at dkennedy[a]phx.com. Read his daily Media Log at BostonPhoenix.com.

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Issue Date: May 21 - 27, 2004
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