ALTERNATIVE MEDIA CONFERENCEBroadcaster slams media mainstream media corruption’Stefan Hard / Staff Photo
Syndicated radio talk show host Thom Hartmann addresses the crowd Saturday during the Alternative Media Conference at Goddard College in Plainfield.
PLAINFIELD — Goddard College summoned up a bit of its past while keeping an eye on the future during its Alternative Media Conference on Saturday.
If 1,700 people attended the first such conference in 1970, fewer than one-tenth of that number came for this year’s event, with a majority of those in attendance clearly of the age to have been on the scene the first time around.
After welcoming remarks by President Barbara Vaccar, who called on the audience to bring the same sense of spirit to the day that the original participants brought to their event, Goddard alumnus Larry Yurdin launched into a brief history of the initial conference.
Yurdin, a longtime radio disc jockey, brought the idea for an alternative media course to the college. It was agreed that he would teach it and that students would base the course around a project. They would either establish a radio station or hold a media conference. The 15 students voted for the conference.
Goddard agreed to hold the conference in late June after the semester ended.
“We promised Goddard that we would take precautions to make sure it wasn’t an out of control pop festival. We would send out specific invitations to people,” he said.
It being the 1970s, invitations went far and wide with Goddard even chartering a plane to bring participants from the West Coast. The deal was that those traveling on the plane were supposed to reimburse one student for their fares. However, that student had told everyone they could fly for free — so the college ended up footing the bill. By the time the event began almost 2,000 folks had gathered at the college with Wavy Gravy’s Hog Farm commune running a campground and providing free meals to the hungry.
The list of participants ranged from alternative cartoonists Art Spiegelman and Gilbert Shelton to Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee and rock ’n’ roll producer Danny Goldberg. Robert Altman of Rolling Stone magazine photographed the event, and “Yippee” Jerry Rubin, the social activist and anti-war leader, complained that someone stole $500 from his girlfriend.
Musical performers included Dr. John and the J. Geils Band, who went on to national stardom, as well as the lesser-known and shorter-lived hard rock band Cactus.
And to judge by the images shown at the conference, many people — as was often the custom of the time among those in the counterculture — eschewed clothing. While Ram Dass held forth, careers were launched and a good time was had by all.
Perhaps the single most lasting thing to come out of the initial conference, at least for the college itself, was the impetus for the formation of what would eventually become WGDR 91.1 FM, Goddard’s still-lively community radio station which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. (Several years ago, a second transmitter was established in the Hardwick area to extend the station’s reach further north with WGDH at 91.7 FM.)
But if Yurdin called up the ghosts of alternative media past, it was Pacifica radio host and former Montpelier resident Thom Hartmann who took the whole notion of what constitutes alternative media by the horns. In an impassioned address at Goddard’s Haybarn Theatre on Saturday, Hartmann, who hosts an eponymous radio program, ripped into the whole idea of mainstream media and alternative media.
“What is alternative media, and perhaps more importantly...how is it different today and what can we do about the corruption of the mainstream media?” he asked.
According to Hartmann, what we used to think of as the mainstream media — the television networks and big city newspapers — should now be referred to as “corporate media.”
“I’ll never forget when I was driving in my car and the news came on that the CBS news division was being moved into the entertainment division. I knew right then it was all over,” he said.
These days, he said, many news media won’t go near the issues that are confronting the culture. And issues that in the past would have caused a tidal way of press now come and go without even a ripple.
Hartmann took direct aim at the recent coverage of the hearings on the incident at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, during which Congressman Darrell Issa has on numerous occasions accused the Obama administration of incompetence.
“Last week Attorney General Eric Holder said to Issa, ‘Sir, what you are doing is shameful and not the behavior worthy of a member of Congress.’”
Hartmann then recalled the McCarthy hearings of 1954 when, representing the U.S. Army, Boston attorney Joseph Welch famously asked Sen. Joseph McCarthy, “Have you, sir, at last no shame?,” it became front-page news. As for Holder’s remarks about Issa?
“Nobody touched it,” he said. “You have to know that before something like that happens. That they have discussed it. They said, ‘We’re going to take this guy down.’ And it didn’t work.”
For Hartmann the twin nails in the coffin of quality news coverage were a dismantling of the fairness doctrine, which deemed that the media was a public trust and must provide fair and accurate news reporting as part of its mandate, and the erosion of the Sherman Act, which is intended to protect the country against monopolies.
“There isn’t a mainstream media,” he said. “There is a giant corporate media and it’s destroying democracy,” he said.
Hartmann went on to rally those in attendance, saying he hoped that an amendment to the Constitution might negate the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which has caused unprecedented amounts of money to flow into politics.
Calling upon another relic from the 1960s, Hartmann remembered the power of the Barry McGuire song “Eve of Destruction,” that said, in part, “You’re old enough to kill but not for voting,” as being instrumental in the passing of the 26th amendment that rolled back the voting age to 18.
“It took about a year for that to happen,” he said.
Could the same thing happen in the 21st century media landscape?
As Sonny and Cher sang back in the day: “The beat goes on.”
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