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TMC at Left Forum

Interview with Jeff Cohen - Founder of Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

by Geordie Gwalgen Dent

New York - The TMC interviews Jeff Cohen - founder of Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) and journalism professor with Ithica University.

Toronto Media Co-op: Why are you here?

Jeff Cohen: I’ve been here many years going back decades.  It’s a place where activists and academics meet; it’s a place where you can learn a lot in a short period.  There are very few places where the left can meet and Left Forum is diverse and broad in terms of the people who come and the topics covered.  Importantly, it’s not an adjunct of the Democratic party…you see other conferences where that happens; where you can’t criticize war unless the Republicans are in opposition.

TMC: What do you think comes out of Left Forum?

JC: I'm not sure. Actually, that’s always been a concern of mine.  I was part of this when it was the Socialist Scholars Conference and I used to always ask “How come there’s so little organizing going on?”

TMC: Do you feel the same way now?

JC: Obviously we’ve had a burst here in the US that ‘s very heartening with the occupy movements.

TMC: How does that relate to Left Forum this year?

JC: I think a lot of the Occupy activists are here and a lot of young activists that are starting the ‘Occupy’s’ of the future.  These kinds of events are very helpful as long as the understanding is that ‘changing’ is more important than ‘understanding’.  From my perspective in the field of journalism and in the world of media what FAIR has spawned is an idea that it’s not enough to criticize the big corporate owned media.  You have to create alternatives.  You have to teach the US public to be skeptical and to make demands of the big media. 

TMC: Have you ever heard of the media co-op in Canada?

JC: Yeah.  You're doing really great work.

TMC: What kind of media alternatives are developing in the US?

JC: We have a booming independent media sector.  It’s much bigger now compared to before.  If it was as big in 2002/3 as it is now then we might have had more impact…we had an anti-war movement at the time that just didn’t trust the media.  Now war promotion with Iran is being challenged quicker and more truthfully.

As long as we have a free internet, independent media will keep booming.  The internet has been crucial to independent media and not just print.  Documentary film makers are reaching new audiences and finding money.  It’s been crucial for muckraking authors like Jeremy Scahill (author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army).  Thanks to bloggers, before Blackwater had massacred civilians, they put it on the best sellers list.

Net neutrality is very important in this respect and is one of the many issues where Obama promised good and governed badly.

A direct quote form him during the campaign was: “I’m second to none when it comes to defending Net Neutrality.”  Then he appointed a buddy of his from Harvard to head the Federal Communications Commission.  That guy has been a complete weakling giving the corporations whatever they want.  If net neutrality goes independent media in this country will become a casualty. 

TMC: The Media Co-op network often runs into the problem of how to reach rural and/or senior populations given that many of them are not on the internet.  How does a reliance on the internet affect these groups?

I feel that in many countries, I think unless people get online (and a lot of seniors won’t) they won’t have access to important info into their lives.  Canada actually has good penetration into the rural areas when it comes to internet.  One of the things we’ve hoped from Obama was pushing broadband in rural areas.  Again, there’s been some movements in that regard, but nothing major.

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