Welcome To The New Underground Press

I’ve seen this once before.

LA Free Press October 27, 1968

Back in the ‘Sixties, when we all believed that the news was actually “fair and balanced” and that the New York Times WAS all the news that was fit to print. And then, having ingested various psychedelic substances, the old Left realized that all the real news was just bunkum. And the great underground newspapers began, exploding from the Village Voice to the Boston Phoenix, the Los Angeles Free Press and the Berkeley Barb. We even had, in my hometown, The Santa Fe Sun, which was sold by hippies on Canyon Road, as a way of supplementing their brown rice.

Because, as became apparent, the “Establishment” news only printed press releases about how great cigarettes were and how wonderful and just the War in Vietnam was, and how noble the President (Johnson AND Nixon) who wouldn’t spy on Americans and believed in the First Amendment and people’s right to assemble. Nixon rode the Middle American horror at the scruffy, hairy Vietnam protests into the White House and we all know how THAT turned out.

Except, Woodward and Bernstein were not solely responsible for keeping the story in the public eye. The Establishment press tried to eighty-six the Watergate burglary, and dutifully scoffed at each and every new allegation that came to light. But the Underground press didn’t. They told the stories that the peckinsniffs of the Establishment deemed unfit to print and, in the end, the writers and spirit of the underground press were absorbed INTO the Establishment media and the underground papers winked out, one by one until a single large corporation owns nearly all of the “free” papers that the underground papers morphed into.

When I got to LA in 1976, you could still buy a Freep at newstands all over town. Within a year or so, it mysteriously vanished, never to reappear. (I later met the principals in that, and it’s a story worth telling, but not today.)

As, one by one, no longer with a monopoly on real news, the underground papers morphed into the “advertiser driven” free papers of today. (Again, my first job in publishing was in one of the first papers to adopt that model, working for Phonograph Record Magazine in the Max Factor Building just across the street from Sid Graumann’s Chinese Theater.

They’d gotten the major FM stations (FM was just undergoing its explosion) in the main markets to “sponsor” the monthly music magazine, which was then distributed for free in record stores and elsewhere in their markets. (Prior to that, you almost always PAID for literature worth reading, religious tracts excepted.)

And, since each FM station got four interior pages of advertising THEY could sell to either defray costs or make a profit, I was hired to come in in the middle of the night, and work long, bizarre shifts, pasting up the thirty-two separate four-sheet (two board) ad pages every month.

And that became the model for the free papers. The advertising paid for the papers, win-win. But, over time, the free papers have become as bland and characterless as the modern daily newspapers have. And we take our nooz from teevee.

The old establishment “megamedia” still define the narrative — of course, for years, lazy talk show hosts and teevee news took their cues from the New York Times, nationally, and when we HAD local radio talk shows (before the Limbaugh putsch), they invariably took their cues from the local newspaper.

But, whatever the reason, the old “Gatekeepers” have done us wrong, and everybody knows it, right and left. When they deem a scandal unworthy of note, it vanishes down the memory hole, with the most famous exception having been — ancient history already — Trent Lott’s comments about how the country would have been better off with Strom having won the presidency (in 1948, when he ran on the Segregationist ticket), and the MSM refused to take it up. A pointless slip of the tongue, it was adjudged, and it was the refusal of the old Usenet and the still-aborning blogosphere to drop it that forced it into front page news, with Lott stepping down as Republican Majority leader in the Senate.

And now, as the crucifixion of John Edwards, once the Vice Presidential nominee in 2004, proceeds for no useful policy reason but politics as spectacle by the inevitably prudish bourgeouis Establishment press (although, when you really get to know them, you would be shocked at how “moral” they actually are, vis a vis how moral they posture.)

Let me tell you a true story from Los Angeles in the 1980s. T’was in another wifetime:

My then-wife worked at a certain Three Letter Acronym network, preparing electrical equipment for a major upgrade the network was doing. And, in that same building, right in good old Hollywood — just about a mile or so from that wonderful police station that was so corrupt they decided that rather than try to reform it, they would just shut it down and send everybody to trial — the local  affiliate news was broadcast.

In cranky old police state of Los Angeles, the evening news was particulary vehement any time that there was a prostitution or pornography or sex scandal, and they went apoplectic on DRUGSES, resulting in high ratings.

The Male Anchor was one of an endless line of LA Anchors who never quite cracked the Big Leagues at network but who were well-known locally and did the usual appearances at charities and sporting events. He was particularly accomplished in spewing righteous indignation and sputtering outrage — albeit not with the Heston-as-Moses grandiloquence of George Putnam, the model for a generation of LA Angry Moral Men and Ted Baxter on the Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Said Male anchor was having a nooner in his girlfriend’s spacious and darkened windowed car, in front of the Three Letter Acronym building when a citizen made a miscue in Hollywood traffic and hit said girlfriend’s car. Since it was right outside, the news camera guys yanked out their cameras and took footage, which happened to include a very embarrassed Male Moral Angerman.

Said footage vanished in some irrevokable manner, but there was quite the hue and cry silently through the building, and to cap it off, they showed and reported the car accident, safely scrubbed of the damning footage that would have identified the flagrantes just post delicto, a scene that the Male Moral Angerman’s wife would have surely gone ballistic over.

Thus are our arbiters of news gatekeepers of our morality, without having ever practiced it themselves.

Which means, sadly, in the present day that we have to take our news from the “underground press” of the blogosphere. The media will be carpet-bombed with bait & switch “arguments” ginned up every day by the old Rovian footprint: control each and every day’s news cycle, and keep the “discussion” focused on your issues — look how well the distraction of the “Obama eats dogs” meme is doing:

Politically, the most interesting phenomenon last night was the dog jokes. The President himself made three jokes about eating dogs. This represents a victory for new media and especially for Jim Treacher, since liberal news sources like the New York Times and Jon Stewart had studiously tried to pretend that the dog controversy didn’t exist. Obama and Kimmel evidently recognized that Twitter made such pretense impossible. (The New York Times, however, is still holding out.)

That last is from John Hinderaker, latest Board Member of the CATO Institute, installed fiat of the Brothers Koch.  He also reportedly does lobbying work for his firm, which has the Brothers Koch as clients.

Isn’t that special?

It’s at the top of the page, presumably saying precisely what the Brothers Koch would like said. After all, they’re notorious for becoming piqued when someone in their “foundational” employ doesn’t toe the line … as the current CATO dustup is but an examplar.

My point being only that every form of media is overrun with media quislings, doing the bidding of their corporate masters.

If the presumptive GOP Nominee for President of the United States commits a felony under state law, on camera, isn’t that news? Somewhere?

Well, certainly not in the “Establishment” and “Bought and Paid For Blogs” media. Here’s an example of how media is bent to the will of the overlords by grabbing institutional credibility (presumably to say precisely what needs saying from a certain point of view):

… So what happens when partisans like the Koch brothers get their hands on an institution that exhibits flashes of independence? In Cato’s case, we can expect that independence to evaporate. They have already tried to pack the board with people like self-proclaimed neoconservative John Hinderaker, who once wrote, “It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.”

Does anyone think guys like that are going to preserve any hint of independence at Cato?

That was Robert Greenwald on FireDogLake. Greenwald is a very astute documentary film maker whose prior projects have done a lot to open talk about subjects Verboten in the Establishment press. Like the Koch Brothers, or the institutionalized bias and intent of Fox News in “Outfoxed.”

Just one more little example and we’ll be on our way:

… For the past 30 years, the Murdoch empire has sought to undermine and destabilise elected governments, and independent regulators, in pursuit of a political agenda that, while hiding behind a smokescreen of free market orthodoxy, is in the end nothing less than a sophisticated attempt to optimise the power and influence of News Corporation and its populist, rightwing agenda.

That’s to say low (or better still, no) corporate taxes, minimal state regulation and the creation of an aura of “exceptionalism” sufficient to convince and recruit many of the most senior politicians in the western world to either turn a blind eye or actively help the company to achieve its commercial objectives.

The strategy is well-honed and, as Murdoch himself once admitted, brutally simple. “You tell the bloody politicians what they want to hear and once the deal is done don’t worry about it,” ran one quote in Thomas Kiernan’s biography, Citizen Murdoch. “They’re not going to chase after you later if they suddenly decide what you said wasn’t what they wanted to hear. Otherwise, they’re made to look bad and they can’t abide that. So they just stick their heads up their asses and wait for the blow to pass.” [The Guardian (UK)]


So, welcome to the underground press, which, while it may get out of control and crazy, like the old underground newspapers, is still your best shot at finding out what’s really going on behind that “Pageant” of the daily newsdaze and its Barbie® doll newsreaders of slowly increasing cleavage shown.

Just remember, Wikileaks isn’t anything new:

1969 Freep story that outed undercover officers all over the place

For better or worse, it’s what we’ve got left, since radio, television and print media all belong to The Man (or Men or Brothers or What-Have-You.)

Or you could take a look at this, which documents what I’m talking about:

Come Saturday Morning: What Fifty-Plus Years of a Business-Bigot Alliance Gets Us — The Modern GOP
By: Phoenix Woman Saturday March 31, 2012 6:45 am

… How did this all happen? How did it come to be that what once was the Party of Lincoln is now the Party of David Duke and Strom Thurmond? […]



A writer, published author, novelist, literary critic and political observer for a quarter of a quarter-century more than a quarter-century, Hart Williams has lived in the American West for his entire life. Having grown up in Wyoming, Kansas and New Mexico, a survivor of Texas and a veteran of Hollywood, Mr. Williams currently lives in Oregon, along with an astonishing amount of pollen. He has a lively blog His Vorpal Sword. This is cross-posted from his blog

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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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