Conservationist John L. Wathen aka “Hurricane Creek Creekkeeper” has been producing powerful videos of the BP oil catastrophe. He first went up with SouthWings pilots in early May. Now he’s released another video from June 21 that shows the Gulf Apocalpyse, including dolphins and whales dying in the open water. The day after this video appeared on Keith Olbermann’s show, the Coast Guard enacted new rules that prohibit media from getting close to the slick by boat or air.
“We saw this pod of dolphins obviously struggling just to breathe. Then we found this guy: a sperm whale swimming in the oil had just breached. Along his back we could see red patches of crude as if he’d been basted for broiling. Then we saw this pod of dolphins, some already dead, some in their death throes. It seemed they were raising their heads looking at the fires, wondering why is my world burning down around me, why would humans do this for me.”–John L. Wathen
“And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl [that] may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that [it was] good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.”–Genesis 1:20-23
It seems like I should draw some kind of helpful conclusion at this point; a summation. But, as Walter Brueggemann says of the prophet Ezekial, “Ministry has to do with grieving silence after the warning is unheeded.”
Simon Barrow at U.K.’s Ekklesia (an independent Christian news briefing service) has released an excellent analysis of how mainstream media is addicted to the dominant war narrative and how “alternative” media is better suited to report on the ongoing complexities of a story.
Using the example of the 2005-2006 kidnapping of Christian Peacemaker Team members in Baghdad, Barrow unpacks why the mainstream media was incapable of reporting a story that didn’t fit with their news formula.
While major news outlets failed, “alternative” media – primarily religious outlets who understood the alternative script in operation – were consistently better situated to report accurately and provide the best framing of the unfolding story. These alternative media sources included Ekklesia, Sojourners, the Mennonite Weekly Review, and even Vatican radio.
Barrow’s analysis is a must read for anyone involved in truth-telling in alternative media sources or anyone who wants to understand how to deconstruct the mainstream media. Barrow reveals the “story under the story.”
For the Western news media, North American and European hostages in the Middle East are big stories because they personalise and dramatise what may otherwise seem like one endless series of nameless tragedies in faraway places. They become, in fact, mini-soap operas with their own recognizable cast of heroes, villains, victims, and clowns. Their stuff is the daily drama of hopes and despairs writ large. Their setting is an exotic but mostly unexamined stage. No one knows how long the mini-saga will last, but everyone realizes there can only be two outcomes: tragedy or triumph.
In the meantime, minute attention is paid to the twists and turns of the story — or, in the absence of any real news, what people think the story is or ‘should be’. And it is in these terms that the conventions of ‘the narrative’ and ‘the script’ are written by those who have to keep people watching and reading. They are experts at their craft. They know what communicates and sells to a broad or narrow audience, and they know how to tailor the plot details to the kind of story that can be told — and the kind of story that cannot.
The ‘dominant narrative’ (the generally accepted version of events) is frequently established in the earliest stages of an event and this was certainly the case in the CPT Iraq hostage situation. At its starkest, it went something like this: “A well-meaning but essentially naïve and ill-prepared group of peace activists — Christians who are fish out of water in a conflict-ridden Muslim environment — have been kidnapped by a militant group after political advantage or money. By being there and being caught out, these Western activists have caused danger to those in contact with them. If they are to be freed, it will most likely be because of financial inducement, diplomatic effort, or military bravery. Some admire their intent to bring peace, but hardheaded realists know that they are at best misguided and at worst irresponsible. Their chances of getting out of this alive are limited, but if they do it will be a warning to fellow activists that they should keep their idealism out of the real grown-up world of politics and violence. This is a war on terror, not a playground for wishful thinking.” …
Again and again, the dominant narratives of our time, most especially what theologian Walter Wink calls “the myth of redemptive violence,” assert themselves in such a way as to write peace and peacemaking out of the script. This is only to be expected. Expending a lot of energy raging against the machine is likely to be futile. The appropriate response is not despair or collusion, but the cultivation of what the late Archbishop Helder Camara once called “small-scale experiments in hope.”
Such experiments arise from the constructive but vulnerable witness of persons like those who serve with Christian Peacemaker Teams in situations of seemingly intractable destructiveness — and above all in the local people whose ongoing resistance to the powers that be is the only final source of alternatives, when attempts to impose external ‘solutions’ by force inevitably break down. To be effective, however, alternatives need to spread. To spread they must be heard. And to be heard they must be re-inserted into the script, written out of it (in the sense of inscribed within and scribed without) — not written off, or written away. This is a vital ongoing task, both within the media environment, in terms of the practicalities of conflict transformation, and in relation to public policy on interventions in situations of conflict.
Tonight, PBS’s Frontline will air “The Hugo Chavez Show: An illuminating inside view of the mercurial Venezuelan president, his rise to power, and the new type of revolution he seems to be inventing – on television.” In the Washington Post review of the show, David Montgomery writes:
What Americans have been missing is a direct encounter with the temperamental, charming, fierce, cruel, seductive, whimsical and overwhelming personality that comes through on “Aló, Presidente.” When Chávez, 54, isn’t ordering troops to the border, he’s singing folk songs, riding horses and tractors, tramping through gorgeous countryside or castigating cabinet ministers who fail pop quizzes that he administers as the cameras roll.
In 2004, I was in the audience for Chavez’ “Aló, Presidente” … for 5 hours. And this was one of his shorter
shows! It was one of the most fascinating examples of political theater I’ve ever seen. He used media deftly to create a politically engaged populace.
Here are some of my journal notes from that day – January 18, 2004 – Caracas, Venezuela:
We were invited to be in the audience during the screening of President Chavez’ weekly television program. After coffee and about an hour’s wait, we were led to a tent behind the presidential house where the filming would take place (it is in a different location each week) and seated in chairs with our names on them in the midst of cameras and microphones and the “set” for the show.
Then Chavez sat at a desk “on stage” and for five hours hosted a program with only two short breaks. He talked about teachers in honor of National Teachers Day – honoring and joking with the Minister of Education who was present. He introduced an old prize fighter who was also present. He talked about the cross and scapular he wears. He chatted on the phone through a call-in mechanism with a number of people from around the country – a young girl about her school, one woman about the need for her to get involved in elections for mayor in her town, another woman about jobs for her sons and her nephew.
He talked about how unemployment was often the result of the neoliberal capitalist model and how Venezuela was creating a new economy – that they were going to initiate another revolution within the revolution by starting a new “mission” called Mision Vuelven Cara. This new mission will train and incorporate workers into development projects that will emphasize small farms and forestry projects, petroleum related businesses, tourism etc. The unemployed will be included as they build Venezuela’s capacity for productive employment. Then he recommended a book on the rebellion of 1840.
Then he went on to talk about how Venezuela has a deficit of beef and would be importing beef for a while from Brazil and Argentina, but that Venezuelans will be trained to raise beef, as well as for dairy farming. He said that it was good for poor people to eat more beef for the protein and that beef would be made available in poor neighborhoods for purchase in small quantities. He introduced the new Minister of Defense. He read from newspaper articles about the strengthened position of Venezuela in the world.
Then he spoke about the 1979 Puebla Conference of Latin American Catholic bishops which outlined the preferential option for the poor and he talked about the death of Oscar Romero. Chavez said that the challenge before Venezuela now is to take up the challenge of an option for the poor. Fr. Roy Bourgeouis was invited to make a statement. Fr. Roy talked about the School of the Americas and asked Venezuela to stop sending soldiers there for training. Chavez listened very intently. When Roy finished Chavez said quite a bit about the SOA. He had obviously done his homework. Then he moved on to talk about the writings of John Kenneth Galbraith. And so the program went on and on.
Chavez continues to be an ego-obsessed narcissist who doesn’t mind using his cult of personality to promote a particular political and social agenda and he’s not above taking direct, anti-democratic action against his enemies and to maintain his own power. So what else is new in the world of politics?
He is also “the peoples’ choice” in Venezuela’s fair elections. This week Chavez’ party swept most states, according to The Guardian, in Venezuela’s regional elections. The record turnout of 65% among 16.8 million registered voters shows the passion and antipathy elicited by this larger-than-life personality.
The Frontline show is tough, fair, and shows Chavez with his good points and his bad points. “The documentarians credit Chávez with being the first president in the 50-year history of Venezuelan democracy to elevate themes of poverty and social justice to the top of national discussion,” writes Montgomery. “But they suggest that his methods for addressing those issues have been uneven and over-hyped.”.