Once upon a time, Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow (and some of their respective contemporaries) believed the mission of the media was to inform the American public about issues of national importance, and to do so without a hint of their own bias.
In 2009, news that challenges the status quo is kept under wraps. The owners of vast corporate media conglomerates like Rupert Murdoch are buddies with the guys in politics who want certain issues left alone, and certain opinions suppressed. This applies to liberals as well as conservatives in the media. The vast majority of news outlets, not just those on TV, cover the same issues, and most coverage is uniform. News today is designed to be inoffensive and entertaining.
But from time to time, one comes across an instance of daring, important, exceptional journalism.
Vocalo is an inspiring example of this. It is a unique endeavor in the field of public radio broadcasting. They experiment with the very ways in which the news is created and transmitted to the people. In their own words, Vocalo is “dedicated to pushing the boundaries of democratizing media and creating a truly public media platform where informed citizens like YOU engage in conversations, create dialogue, share ideas, express opinions and create an alternative to Big media channels.”
This past Thursday, Vocalo aired a 20-minute interview with “Freeway” Ricky Ross, fresh out of prison after doing 20 years for leading a massive crack cocaine distribution network based in Los Angeles. I found myself shocked by several things: the fact that a former drug lord would be given a public forum to offer his side of the story; how much time they devoted to the piece; and the very controversial nature of many of the questions and answers.
Interviewer and Vocalo contributor Tom: “Are you saying that you found out definitively that the people who were supplying you with what must have been huge quantities of drugs were representatives of the government?”
Freeway Ricky Ross: “Let me say this here — they was government operatives, meaning that they’re on the government’s payroll. They were not actual government agents, because they can’t work for the United States, because they’re not legal immigrants. They were what’s called operatives, meaning they would get a check. The CIA did know they were selling drugs in this country. That’s proven without a doubt.”
If an interviewee on CNN (or any other cable news channel — not to speak of the network news) started saying something like that, they would “leave it there” in a hurry.
I find it extremely important for all Americans to be aware of the fact that a government agency illegally employed undocumented immigrants to organize a vast, nation-wide drug ring that funneled crack cocaine into a poor black neighborhood in L.A., and which funded rebels in Nicaragua.
Ross has been out of prison for 8 weeks now. That statement is incendiary; media across the country should be all over this. And yet, a Google search for news stories containing “Freeway Ricky Ross” produced 4 results, all but one referring to the rapper of the same name. One could argue that it’s old news; but the fact is, most Americans still have no idea this happened.
On top of that, there’s new news here, too. Ross talks about how he self-educated himself and turned his life around while incarcerated. Today he has a new mission: to deter young people from making the same mistakes he did 25 years ago.
When asked what he would say to young people getting into the drug business, he doesn’t preach or read from a script. “When you sell drugs, you basically put everything that you love in jeopardy — family, freedom, your life. So, you know, when you get into the drug business, it’s very dangerous. I just served 20 years and six months in prison…When you get into the drug business, you have to be prepared to lose all that. And sometimes you have to be prepared to even take a life.”
This could easily be one of the most fascinating and important interviews of the year. But due to widespread fear, complacency and laziness within the American media, most Americans won’t even know it happened — at least, until the movie comes out.
Once again, I must ask: can you blame ’em? Look at what happened to Gary Webb and Dan Rather. Their careers were forever tainted by their diligence in pursuing this extremely controversial issue. Who would want to follow in their footsteps?
But I think we — the American people — can absolutely blame the media for not fulfilling their role as the unofficial fourth branch of government.
No, folks — as Dan Rather once said, Ed wouldn’t have done it that way.