I stopped reading my local newspaper, the Des Moines Register, more than ten years ago. When I read Derrick Jensen’s interview with Robert McChesney [“Free Press for Sale,” September 2000], I wasn’t surprised to learn that media giant Gannett had fired staff at the Register in order to enhance the bottom line. I added this information to my arsenal of complaints against the paper.
Last weekend, I met someone who has worked at the Register since before it was sold to Gannett in 1985. When I questioned him about McChesney’s comments, he told me that they were incorrect. There were never full-time reporters stationed in each of Iowa’s ninety-nine counties. There were “correspondents” who were paid if they provided a tip to the paper that resulted in the publication of an article. And that policy is still in effect, although my source admitted that it was not exercised very often. Also, although cutting the staff in the Washington, DC, bureau was considered, it was never implemented. A secretary was laid off about three years ago, and one of the staff has retired, but that is all.
This employee readily admitted that Gannett had instituted some egregious policies and actions, but these two accusations simply were not among them.
The interview with McChesney struck a chord with me. I want to agree with him, and I do believe that advertising and profits control what is published. But the factual errors in his comments call the entire interview into question: what other material facts or examples are incorrect?
Robert McChesney responds:
My source was a Gannett employee, and when I discussed this point with Midwest journalists, they all agreed that this had taken place. In fact, however, Bustell may be correct, and I may be wrong, so his skepticism is well placed. I will do more investigation on this point before I cite it again.
I should add that I have never used this anecdote in my writing; there, my analysis of Gannett goes only as far as my published source material will take me. In the course of a long interview, where talk flows off the top of one’s head, errors are sometimes made that wouldn’t have occurred in a formal article with references.
Robert McChesney’s ideas and opinions mirror mine. There truly exist no news media, but only entertainment. I found proof of this here in San Diego when the local television news began plugging shows that would later be broadcast on the same station. Apparently, what is happening on a sitcom is now news. At that point I surrendered, canceled my cable service, and sold my television set. Back to reading.
But, in my county, which is home to around 3 million people, there is only one daily newspaper. Just as McChesney says, this paper is full of crime stories, business news, human interest, gossip columns, and comic strips, but nothing of any real substance. San Diego has many homeless people, mostly Vietnam Veterans and individuals suffering from mental illness — not alcoholism or drug addiction — but they are invisible in the media.
What is offered as news (not to mention entertainment) serves only to sell more junk to more people. I am especially disturbed by the underhanded marketing to America’s children by the rapacious Madison Avenue selling machine. To me, selling designer clothing, cosmetics, and supposedly “hip” attitudes to children as young as five years old not only robs them of their childhood, but also shows how oblivious we adults have become as we sit staring at the tube, slurping ever bigger soft drinks. (Sixty-four ounces!) Even our health is going down the tubes thanks to the more-is-better philosophy that is sold to us.
Personally, I would like to find (or start) a grass-roots organization that helps Americans understand the destructive power of corporations’ disregard for the people they impoverish and the earth they consume. It is time for the government to start being our government again.
I read “Sy Safransky’s Notebook” in the September 2000 issue, admiring once again the precise way he expresses complex thoughts and subtle feelings. I was still reflecting on his writing when I came across Lisa Conway’s negative letter in Correspondence about “Sy Safransky . . . using his position to publish his journal, as if it made interesting reading.” Journals, in her opinion, were not meant to be published.
Earth to Lisa: Some journals — maybe not those written by you and me, but those written by truly gifted thinkers and writers — become classic works of literature and have great relevance to generations of readers. I personally find Sy Safransky’s journal entries meaningful (not to mention lyrical), and I trust that many other readers, present and future, will feel the same.
The English language takes a fresh breath as it walks around “Sy Safransky’s Notebook,” pausing here and there to taste the sweetness of the truth. My neighbor’s dog had cancer, too. My glasses don’t always correct for my bias. And my dog is sometimes frightened by the storm. But we comfort each other, as Sy’s journal does us all. Please, keep writing.
When I got my September 2000 issue, I was excited to see that you have a new anthology coming out. I was surprised, however, by the ratio of male to female contributors. Leaving aside the names that are not gender specific, I counted thirty-one males and only twelve females.
Those depressing figures made me curious, so I gathered all of my copies of The Sun since January 1999 and made a count. What I found disappointed me. Only eighty-one out of 241 photographers were female. The figures look better for literary works, but there are still 16 percent more male writers than female. What saddens and angers me most is the number of women that you have interviewed: out of seventeen interviews, only one was with a woman.
As sensitive as Sy Safransky seems to be, I’d think he would be aware of the unequal number of men and women in The Sun. If you do not receive an equal number of submissions from both sexes, then I suggest you specifically solicit work from women. As far as the interviews go, there is no excuse. There are plenty of interesting and talented women out there to interview, and I hope you will make an effort to correct this imbalance.
Paul G. Hawken’s essay “Skeleton Woman in Seattle” [April 2000] is the most comprehensive and informative we’ve read on the protests against the WTO. Hawken, however, ruins a great essay by saying, at the very end, “Skeleton Woman . . . believes that the right to self-sufficiency is a human right; she imagines a world . . . where families do not starve, where fathers can work, and children are never sold, where women are not impoverished because they choose to be mothers not whores.”
If the author intended to recognize women’s right to self-sufficiency, he should have said, “people can work,” instead of “fathers can work.” He should have said, “Where women are not impoverished because they don’t marry; where women can have children because they can get decent work; and where no woman is forced into prostitution.” Perhaps this was what Hawken meant, but it is not what he said. The essay is humanitarian and progressive in its outlook — except, of course, when it specifically mentions women.
Paul G. Hawken responds:
My essay has been widely reprinted and read by more than 1 million people around the world. This is the first time someone has given those sentences that interpretation. And yet I agree with Sparrow and Natale. Their wording is more elaborate, and thus clearer, than mine. I did mean fathers, but that does not exclude other people. I was speaking specifically of the nearly 500 million fathers who are economically destitute. As to women, I utterly agree, of course: A woman having a child should not be forced into poverty or prostitution. Women need equal economic opportunity, whether married or not, whether they are mothers or not.
Though I’ve appreciated some of the articles in The Sun, I’ve decided not to renew my subscription for two reasons: First, Art Meyers’s photographs of topless breast cancer survivors [March 2000]. I agree fully that breast cancer survivors should find strength in their struggles, and I commend them for their effort to rebuild their self-esteem. But nudity is still nudity and the noble intent does not elevate it. To me, there is no such thing as “pornography for a purpose.”
Second, I love the Readers Write section and read it eagerly, but I am concerned by the regular inclusion of letters from convicts. While an occasional letter may serve to round out your responses, the regular nature of these letters amounts to an effort to diminish the social stigma of the authors’ offenses. I do not agree with that agenda.
At age fifty, I decided it was time to follow a lifelong dream and sail around the world alone. I am more than a year and a half into my journey, and it will be another year and a half before I return. On the boat, I have no television, movies, or radio. When I occasionally tune in to the news while in port, I hear about the same violence as before I departed — just new locations, new names.
The only subscription I look forward to — when mail catches up to me every three or four months — is The Sun. After so much sea, wind, clouds, and sky, I find all other media distorted and unreal. Even my cherished sailing magazines feel the need to turn ordinary sailors into stars. The Sun is the only voice that continues to ring true as I travel more deeply toward home.