Your Roots Are Showing

Grassroots movements ain't what they used to be. In the old days, an issue or cause would cause a spark somewhere in the country and it would spread from person to person, community to community, until the heat became too hot for the politicians or media to ignore. At least that was the idea.

These days, it's more like astroturf with the pyramid reversed. The fires are started at the top and flow down, only to be sent back as some sort of organic expression of outrage. One really good example of this hit our inboxes today. You may remember the flap kicked up over the "60 Minutes" interview with former FBI Director Louis Freeh last weekend. Well, someone thinks there are issues that remain unsettled.

Here's an "action alert" sent out by MoveOn.org today:

Dear Media Action member,

Last Friday was a big day for anyone who believes regular people can positively impact media coverage.

MoveOn Media Action found out CBS' 60 Minutes planned to air a one-sided interview with former FBI Director Louis Freeh criticizing the Clinton administration's handling of national security but they refused to let President Clinton's national security team respond. Many of you leapt into action, making nearly 600 calls and emails to the producers of 60 Minutes. Your phone calls and emails helped convince CBS to balance this influential program before it aired.

On Sunday, 60 Minutes added a short rebuttal by Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger to the program. News reports indicate they didn't decide to include the comments until Friday afternoon, as your comments were pouring in.

The program featured former FBI Director Louis Freeh's allegations about a national security meeting he did not attend. Those allegations were directly refuted by at least five officials who were in the meeting, but CBS initially refused to include them in the segment.

60 Minutes' eventual inclusion of a brief rebuttal still doesn't compare to last year's 60 Minutes interview with ex-counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke criticizing President Bush on national security. At the time, CBS included a full rebuttal interview with a Bush administration official¬ far more time than CBS gave to Clinton's national security adviser.

This double standard raises concerns that CBS is caving to pressure from the right-wing in the wake of the uproar over sloppy reporting in the Bush National Guard story, so we'll continue to watch CBS closely. But last week proved the public can make a difference in promoting good journalism, and that's exactly why we've launched MoveOn Media Action.

Stay tuned, and thank you for all you do.

Noah T. Winer and Adam Green
MoveOn Media Action
Friday, October 14th, 2005
We addressed this issue last week and think that the "60 Minutes" segment should speak for itself. But this "action alert" provides a revealing look at how "grassroots" movements work these days.

The alert, which included PE's e-mail address and urged recipients to contact and within three hours, we had received 38 e-mails doing just that and dozens continue to trickle in. Many of the e-mails parroted lines from the alert. Many apparently never even saw the piece in question, with some e-mailers saying they never watch CBS and one referring to an "upcoming" interview. Glad they were able to make those individual judgments based on an "action alert."

I'm always a fan of anything that promotes "good journalism." Unfortunately, "good" is all too often dependent on the political agenda behind that effort. MoveOn.org is, of course, a political advocacy group, and one that has proven very effective in using the Internet as an organizing tool. Good for them. They are not, however, arbiters of what "good journalism" is.

Groups like this, anywhere on the political spectrum, serve useful purposes but are also prone to be top-down players as much as bottom-up facilitators. Political operatives, politicians and message-meisters rely on them to rally the grass roots, not to listen to them. They're more likely to hand supporters the torches than fuel real grass-roots movements. After all, they have a place in the big game.

It's not a new phenomenon, of course. Interest groups have been doing this for decades. What congressional office hasn't been deluged with telegrams from the AARP or e-mails from the NRA or groups like them?

It is manipulative of the individuals they claim to represent though. Anyone purporting to represent a large group of people ought to do more than tell them how to think. Maybe someday we'll see a true grassroots movement about that. That would really set this town on fire.
  • Vaughn Ververs

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