Longtime friend and media gadfly Danny Schechter passes on

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DannySchechterSpeaksAtAsiaMediaSummit2008By Patrice Greanville, Publisher

(Photo:Danny Schechter speaking at the 2008 Asia Media Summit.)

I first met Danny Schechter in the late 1970s, during the ramping up of a Westport-based organization called the New England Communications Task Force (NECTF), which I had founded as a tool for radical press criticism. In 1982, the NECTF spawned Cyrano’s Journal, the first radical media review. Lacking the deep pockets of rightwing (or centrist/liberal) organizations for that matter, neither project survived too long, but the concept was exciting enough to attract Danny who promptly offered his support. We briefly discussed a collaboration in the late 1980s when he was already involved with Globalvision, but the alliance did not bear fruit for a variety of reasons, primarily again due to the fact that our budgets were extremely limited for the magnitude of the work anticipated. So we went our separate ways, although the feeling of comradeship, reinforced by our belief that the left had grossly neglected the media field, virtually conceding it to the enemy, never vanished, and we wished each other well. Of course those were pre-Internet days.

Now I hear he’s gone, which is certainly terrible news at a time when we need truthtellers with his indomitable spirit more desperately than ever. No one could hope to summarize a man of such complexity in a few words, but this much can be said with certainty: Danny’s central passion was justice and his signature, at the personal level, profound empathy. He belonged to that thin, unbroken line of people, who, down the ages, have stood up for decency, truth, and compassion in a world awash in deceit, self-seeking and brutality.  He always knew he was playing against long odds, but that fact never fazed him. Given his character, he really had no choice.

—Patrice Greanville


 Two obits, in his honor.

By Mark Perigard, The Boston Herald

When PBS rejected Danny Schechter’s ground-breaking TV series “South Africa Now” in 1988, the network accused him of being an activist, not a reporter — for creating a show that was explicitly anti-apartheid.

Schechter and his longtime friend and partner Rory O’Connor distributed the series themselves to more than 150 independent PBS and cable stations — and then around the world.

Schechter, an iconic Emmy Award-winning TV producer, filmmaker, author, blogger and critic, who began his career at the counterculture radio station WBCN as the “News Dissector” in the 1970s, died of pancreatic cancer in New York on Thursday. He was 72.

He spent his working life combining his love of media with a drive to champion social justice.

“He was a protean figure,” O’Connor told the Herald yesterday, recalling the early days of Globalvision, a television and film production company he co-founded with Schechter in New York in 1988.

“We were working very hard under extreme circumstances. And we didn’t have a lot of money,” O’Connor said. “We would go home, and the next day I would find out he would have written a 5,000-word article in his spare time. He was relentless. It was beyond energy. It was a need to express himself as widely as often as possible in as many forms as possible.”

Perhaps no subject animated Schechter more than apartheid. While studying for a master’s degree from the London School of Economics in the 1960s, he met South Africans involved in the liberation movement. He later gained the trust of Nelson Mandela and made six documentaries about him. He also wrote the book “Madiba A to Z: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela.”

Schechter was instrumental in forming Artists United Against Apartheid, which culminated in a popular 1985 music video, “Sun City,” that included Steven Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen, Pat Benatar, Miles Davis and Run-DMC, among others, calling for a boycott of the South African tourist spot.

Schechter won his Emmys while producing ABC’s “20 20” and later worked in the early days of CNN.

He became a counterculture hero in Boston during the Vietnam War, when he manned the mic at ’BCN as the self-styled “News Dissector,” covering the day’s events with his own irreverent and unapologetically lefty spin.

On the Danny Schechter Memorial Page on Facebook, his onetime ’BCN colleague Charles Laquidara said, “Goodbye my friend and former co-worker … A billion alohas, raised fists and honorary salutes to you — the inimitable, incredible, wonderful, controversial, brilliant and legendary News Dissector.”

Another ’BCN alum, Carter Alan, the author of “Radio Free Boston: The Rise and Fall of WBCN,” posted, “When I think of Danny, I will always think of the word ‘truth.’ We could all hope for such an honorable eulogy.”

Schechter revisited the struggle in South Africa in a book released in January titled, “When South Africa Called, We Answered: How the Media and International Solidarity Helped Topple Apartheid.”

Former NPR foreign correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault posted: “Danny was consistent in his commitment to Human Rights all over the world, and used the media as Edward R. Murrow defined its mission: To teach, illuminate and inspire…. Long live, Danny, Long Live!”


 

About Mark Perigard / Boston Herald
Mark A. Perigard is an executive arts editor and the TV critic for the Boston Herald. His favorite all-time TV shows, in no special order, are: “Rome,” “Farscape,” “St. Elsewhere,” “Dark Shadows,” “The Wire,” “The Shield,” “Star Trek” (classic and next gen), “Battlestar Galactica” (the remake) and “NYPD Blue.”

@MarkPerigard


 ¶

FAIR BLOG

Danny Schechter, ‘News Dissector’ and Creator, Dies at 72

Danny Schechter interviewing John Lennon and Yoko Ono at WBCN radio.

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 20/20and 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.

Children at a "resettlement" village in South Africa.

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.


Jim Naureckas is a senior editor with FAIR.

 

Simultaneously published with fraternal site The Greanville Post.

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