Jordan Flaherty’s Perspective on Contemporary Movements and Media

Jordan Flaherty

New Orleans   Jordan Flaherty in recent years has been based in New Orleans and has developed a singular, progressive voice and wide ranging critique of public affairs.  Jordan was the driving force behind “Left Turn” for some years until it ceased regular distribution.  He was the author of Floodlines which looked at post-Katrina New Orleans and events like the Jena-6 controversy in Louisiana, and more recently he acted as a producer of some shows on Al Jazeera television’s respected documentary “Fault Lines.”  As a self-described author and community organizer, Jordan was a perfect fit for the Fair Grinds Coffeehouse Dialogue series.  Jordan was offering his perspective on contemporary movements and their meaning as well as developments in the media far and wide, and many are worth sharing.

Interestingly, Jordan began his remarks with several observations about the “nonprofit industrial complex” and the debilitating and destructive impact of foundation funding in trying to use their support to direct the programs of groups on the ground and having succeeded in shaping programs of so many nonprofits who saw funders as their ultimate source of accountability.  Quoting everyone from Marcus Garvey to Ella Baker, he was making the argument essentially that too many nonprofits were allowing donors to de facto direct strategy and determine direction of their organizations and their programs.  As an example, he cited the unique storm of money into the New Orleans and Gulf Coast area in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the paradox that virtually none of the top 25 recipients of such funds were actually located in Louisiana, so unmoored in the area even as they presented themselves as vehicles for recovery and change.    He quoted Jay-Z that “charity was a racket” binding the poor to the rich and a disaster survivor’s comment on too many nonprofits that “our misery is their job” and the disconnection and alienation that produces.  Many of these points though were preamble to Jordan’s core observation that the defining movements of the last year in Occupy or the Arab Spring were both prime examples that the “end of history” has not arrived and that change is not driven on the ground by philanthropy and the “nonprofit complex.”  No argument there.

The other major discussion in the dialogue was the state of the media.  Much moaning here in the wake of local events with the Times-Picayune as well as the problems of “aggregator” models like Huffington Post and other on-line options.  Jordan offered that Al Jazeera and several other television and web operations were offering interesting perspectives on world and US issues and the opinion that “state” funding because it was public was preferable to corporate or foundation funding in the media, but he had little enthusiasm or commitment to his own position, so no one bogged down there.

The problem was that no one could see where future support was going to come for long form, deep investigative pieces that had marked the best of journalism.  The Times-Picayune claimed that it had assigned a reporter and support for their series on incarceration recently.  The diminished capacity and interest for such efforts by papers seemed obvious yet there was no belief that a substitute or business model was available that might change the bleak picture ahead.  Correctly, Jordan argued that many of the web-based and foundation funded efforts were neither replicable, sustainable, nor distinct than what they were replacing, since many seemed to be retreading the same people, journalism models, and conventions gained from the papers they had formally served.

This part of the conversation was somewhat bleak.  Jordan and others had an analysis but no antidote and were frank about it.  There was some nostalgia and almost some wistful, unspoken romantic wish that there were sugar daddies, private or public, that might be able to solve the problem, but that fit no one’s view of what was realistic.

Conversations like these and forceful critique’s like Jordan’s are important as they keep hacking away at the hard rock of these issues, but clearly we will be digging for awhile before we find gold.

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Watching Al Jazeera in Africa

Libyan woman being drug awayNairobi Al Jazeera was not the channel of choice for international news in Nairobi this trip over CNN or BBC, but it had become the only choice.  Frankly, it was a valuable, fascinating, and worthwhile experience.  It was actually more likable to hear American and Australian accents along with the British on Al Jazeera-English, and the news was important and objective with a very pronounced populist, ie. anti-government slant.

The announcer pressed hard in the Syrian spots about why there was not NATO intervention to protect civilians under attack in that country.  Were the civilians less important than in Libya?  Why was the international community not acting?

The stories on Libya were rooted in the rebel lines.  One of the most terrible television sequences I have ever watched was a rebroadcast Al Jazeera did of a cellphone clip of a government pickup filled with young rebel prisoners bound and tied together, all of their faces swollen and beaten, and the fear of almost certain death staring from them straight through the camera and searing your eyes.  I watched the Gaddafi soldiers allow a civilian to come into the unknown camera sight line and pummel a prisoner for a while, and as detestable as the sight, the worse horror was the sinking feeling of uncertainty as the pickup drove out of view that these were men on the way to their death, and they full well knew it.

An almost equally moving broadcast was from Tripoli where a young woman had been raped in her home by Gaddafi soldiers and desperate for justice had found her way to the hotel where international media was housed and told her story.  She was then arrested and in a translated version of a broadcast interview with her mother holding her picture from Al Jazeera Arabic, the mother called on any men who were still men in Libya to come forward to save her daughter and to punish those with the government who had done this shameful crime.  In a cultural rarity the family had come together to support the daughter in rage rather than shame.  Powerful stuff.

There was a report from North Dakota on the oil boom and fracking that interviewed Native American families and heard their concerns.  There was a report from Japan that focused on the cleanup, the nuclear fears, and the government problems.  There was a report from Buenos Aires of a former “disappeared” prisoner from the dictatorship period confronting his jailer in prison about the 6-months of torture he had endured including sodomy.

There was a report from the UN trials of a Pol Pot jailer trying to get a reduced sentence because he had done 11 years and didn’t want to do 30 because he was too low on the authority chain.

Somehow on that last story they found an observer who went on the record and said he didn’t care if the jailer did 11 years, 19 years, or 30 years, because “in a 1000 years all that will matter is that he was guilty.”

International years that cares about the long run test of time rather than everything in the weeds of the 24/7 news cycle is something I want see in America!

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