When Doug Porter asked the writers at the San Diego Free Press to share their thoughts about our project during the first anniversary of this site, I remembered the column I wrote upon returning from a trip up to Northern California where I had learned of the death of Alexander Cockburn. My reflections on his life’s work made me think about what the Free Press should be, and what I believe it has been at its best:
More than anything else I left Petrolia with a sense that Cockburn was fighting a rearguard action against the barbarism of civilization from his undisclosed location in utopia, lobbing verbal bombs at the people who were wrecking the world. While I didn’t agree with everything he wrote, he was indeed one of the few heavyweight polemicists of the left who wore the mantle with pride. As Geoffrey Wheatcroft recently noted in the New York Times, we seem to need to import them from Britain as the H.L. Mencken legacy in America has been killed by “a solemn cult of accuracy and balance, fearful of even a hint of honest opinion, to the point that statements of the obvious must be sterilized by such quaint circumlocutions as ‘analysts say that . . . .‘” This summer we have also lost Gore Vidal, another left contrarian with the courage to wish ill on the hegemonists. They will both be missed.
If the San Diego Free Press can learn anything from the likes of Cockburn and Vidal, it is that we should unapologetically leave the sham of objective media coverage to the commercial outlets—mainstream and “alternative.” Progressive media is only worth a damn when it has the courage to think bad thoughts and consistently afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. It’s not our job to prove how fair we are to the right or to make the Democrats feel better about selling us out. Our job should be to call out bullshit from a principled progressive position, not to substitute snarky hip for real creative resistance. We need to have the courage to be utopian and not let stale convention in the guise of pragmatism limit the range of our thinking. Otherwise, we’ll just be more information glut. Yawn.
Along those lines, it was my pleasure to have the first official SDFP column, “End San Diego’s Shadow Government,” just before the primary election for mayor in which I made the case for Bob Filner noting that, “if the Democratic base comes through for Filner, San Diegans will have a real choice in the fall. Filner with his great, long progressive record on everything from labor and the environment to education and veterans’ issues versus the pure product of the right-wing think tanks bent on busting unions, privatizing the commons, and turning San Diego into a Petri dish for every libertarian scheme and give away of public monies to private hands imaginable.”
Hey, go figure, I was right. And Filner won, and we are now in the midst of a predictably battle-filled initial term for San Diego’s first-ever progressive mayor.
Here at the Free Press we have been the only media source in town that has consistently had the mayor’s back in his struggle against the powerful moneyed interests that are bent on discrediting him and stopping the historic realignment of political power currently going on in San Diego.
This is precisely the kind of thing we should be doing—supporting progressives when they fight the good fight, afflicting the comfortable, calling out the right and/or the corporate Democrats when they sell us out, and consistently contesting the frame put forward by the bullshit machine at the Union-Tribune and much of the rest of the great wasteland that is the local and American media landscape.
And yes, we need to talk about culture and politics beyond the stale hegemony of the present. Onward.
So thanks and solidarity to my partners in crime and happy birthday San Diego Free Press!
Note: I will be out of the state at an undisclosed location for the next month or so, so the Free Press will be running a series of my previously published columns on the media and the manufacturing of consent locally and nationally.