“Danny Schechter, an outsider who got to the inside and came back out again, never forgot that news–far from being just another programming format–is the lifeblood of democracy.”
Danny Schechter was a frequent contributor to Global Research, with an incisive and pointed analysis of US politics and international affairs. Danny Schechter personified independent media and analysis. His passing is a great loss. He has been contributing to Global Research since 2008.
Below is an article by Jim Naurekas of FAIR recounting Danny Schechter’s lifelong contribution to independent media.
You can access Danny Schechter’s archive of Global Articles here.
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Danny Schechter, groundbreaking media critic and legendary producer for both corporate and alternative media, died on March 19 at the age of 72.
Danny got his start on Boston’s progressive rock station WBCN, doing media criticism on the air as “Danny Schechter, your news dissector.” As John Nichols recalled in The Nation (3/20/15), “He reported to listeners what was happening, then he explained why it was happening, and then he revealed why other media outlets did not tell the whole story.”
Fans of the show included Noam Chomsky, who told Common Dreams(3/20/15):
No one who was in Boston during the days of “Danny Schechter Your News Dissector” can ever forget the exhilaration of those marvelous broadcasts, their enlightenment and insight and humor, often in dark days, a legacy that Danny left behind him when he went on to a remarkable career of critical analysis and breaking through media and doctrinal barriers.
Danny Schechter (cc photo: Mohamed Nanabhay)
Remarkably, Danny went from critiquing corporate media to making it, becoming an Emmy-winning producer at ABC‘s 20/20 and later helping to launch CNN. FAIR founder Jeff Cohen points out how unique his role was:
When I launched FAIR in 1986, we had virtually no allies in the mainstream media. Except for Danny, then a producer at ABC’s 20/20. He was full of encouragement–telling us how important that we launch this group to monitor corporate media misdeeds. He gave us at FAIR crucial advice in those first years.
And we were amazed at the unique segments on economic or racial injustice he was able to get on 20/20–-overcoming many obstacles. From inside the belly of the beast in the late 1980s, he told us of his concern that FAIR might be overemphasizing corporate control, because it sometimes sounded as if we were letting mainstream journalists off the hook who he felt should have been fighting harder to get the big stories told.
As the space in corporate media to do independent work narrowed, Danny struck out on his own, launching Globalvision, a production company best known for South Africa Now, which chronicled the historic rise and triumph of the anti-apartheid movement. FAIR’s Steve Rendall remembers it as milestone:
I never heard Danny Schechter in his Boston “News Dissector” days. But South Africa Now, the weekly show on the anti-racist struggle in South Africa that he, Rory O’Connor and the crew at Globalvision produced, was an incredible achievement.
Testimony to its power was the tremendous pressure it came under from the right. Supposed free speech champion David Horowitz bragged to the Los Angeles Times about getting the show canceled by KCET, before popular pressure, aided by FAIR, got it returned to the air. (That episode has been my go-to wooden stake on occasions I’ve appeared opposite the vampire Horowitz.)
But, as usual, it was the fearful and unprincipled center that was the real problem. In initially caving to Horowitz’s twisted arguments, KCET announced that South Africa Now “does not consistently meet KCET standards for fairness and balance in news programming.” Apartheid proponents and other racists were underrepresented on the show.
Protest against the banning of South African political movements (Afrapix/Impact Visuals)
Danny wrote a piece for Extra! (Summer/89) on the success of South African press restrictions in reducing coverage in corporate meeting–and chilling global activism:
Media coverage of events in South Africa had fueled protests overseas, including calls for divestment and sanctions, turning the battle inside South Africa into a global cause. But when coverage fell off — especially the TV footage of confrontations between the army and the community in the townships — public pressure on Congress also subsided. Dwindling news attention resulted in the perception that matters were no longer in a crisis stage, demanding action.
That awareness of the interaction between control of media and control of the political agenda goes a long way toward explaining why Danny got into–and got out of–the commercial TV news business.
Monica Lewinsky testifying.
In another piece published in Extra! Update (4/99), Danny used the culmination of the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal as an emblem of the devolution of TV news:
You saw the pictures: camera crews surrounding grand-jury witnesses, hurling questions, often blocking their way to get a closer shot. Many witnesses needed escorts to get through what often looked like a pack of wild animals, shouting, shoving or even pawing the people they were there to cover….
The TV news machine…thrives on conflict and confrontation. If you consider news just another programming format, as the industry does, there isn’t much difference between news and other shows.
Have you noticed that as televised wrestling becomes more wild, so do the pundit shows, where yelling and screaming is now a staple? News divisions are increasingly accountable to entertainment executives; they utilize Hollywood formulas in their programming, e.g., three acts, character conflict and narrative arcs.
Danny Schechter, an outsider who got to the inside and came back out again, never forgot that news–far from being just another programming format–is the lifeblood of democracy.