Pulitzer laureate, journalist Eugene Robinson, on the Obama presidency and U.S. media

01/31/13 Lenka Davis and Christopher Davis
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Eugene Robinson is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and associate editor of The Washington Post. During a speech last night in St. Petersburg he addressed media coverage of the 2008 election of president Obama. He also spoke about the issues of race that accompany the first African-American presidency.

Robinson spoke last night at the annual dinner for the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in St. Petersburg. It’s a non-partisan political club promoting dialogue about public issues.

Afterward, WMNF’s Lenka Davis asked Robinson about how the media has dealt with issues of the Obama administration like the frequency of drone strikes and targeted killing of American citizens.

"The question of the United States drone program which didn't begin under President Obama but has vastly expanded both in size and scope and mission under President Obama is a question that we have not adequately explored. Frankly the administration has tried to keep the press from adequately exploring. A lot about the program is secret, is classified, and is information that's not available to us. I think one of the things that we in the media need to do, should have perhaps been doing before, but we certainly should do now is get some more of this information out, and find out what we are doing and why we are doing it. I had a real problem when acts like torture were committed under George W Bush in my name as an American citizen and I have some questions about drone attacks committed in my name as an American citizen now."

Al Gore recently announced that he's selling his tv channel, Current TV, to Al Jazeera. He reasoned that Al Jazeera's news has been hard hitting, commercial free and that they also dedicated a lot of time to the coverage of climate change. He also noted that corporate media actually suffocates free thinking. His harshest critics are saying that what he's done is anti-American. Do you think he's rightfully judged?

"I don't think what he's done is anti-American. I don't think anyone is right or wrong in this argument. First of all, Al Jazeera is, as far as I can tell, certainly the English language version of Al Jazeera is very good. They have bureaus all over the world. Their coverage, not just of the Arab Spring, but of other big international stories like the Japan nuclear disaster after the tsunami, I found myself tuning to Al Jazeera because their coverage of that was excellent. I thought it was better than what I was seeing on CNN, better than what I was seeing on BBC. That said, it is owned by the royal family of Qatar. That's not exactly people's ownership and to say that the US media are strangled by it's corporate masters, that's not the case. What limits US media is a sort of relentless profit orientation which tends to incentivize a quick and easy grab for viewers. So if network executives who in my opinion can be small minded think that foreign news, for example, is difficult for people to get and Americans really don't want a lot of that so they don't put a lot of it on so it becomes a self-fulfilling kind of prophecy. We get less international news than we should, than we need and I think less than we want but I don't think if news outlets were all owned by Middle Eastern royal families I don't think they'd necessarily be better."

You were touching that for profits and media. In the time when 90 percent of American media are owned by six corporations what is the role of citizen journalism and community media?

"It's not easy for an individual to go on the internet and compete with the Washington Post or compete with the BBC or whatever, but in fact there's some people who do it. Andrew Sullivan is someone who became his own brand name on the web and who's now kind of on his own. This can be done. Arianna Huffington, I remember her telling me years ago that she was going to start this internet site and it's going to be interesting and this that you know, 'good luck with that Arianna' and well yeah, she did really well with it and so to publish something that could potentially reach millions of people you used to have to, once you had to buy a building and put a whole bunch of printing presses in it and buy ink, barrels of ink and big rolls of paper and then you had to find a way to print the newspaper and then distribute it to all these doorsteps, and now you design yourself a website and you write what you want and hit a button and you can still potentially reach actually a whole lot more people. This could become kind of a golden age of community journalism, I think."

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