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Go Big or Go Home - Part III

Alan F
Original Publication Date

Now, are you ready for the interview? I thought so!

AF: If you talk about questions like election integrity, or US government negligence in 9/11, you run the risk of being shunned, but by ignoring them, you fail to address a big gap in knowledge.

PJ: We're going to do good verifiable journalism, and we don't care about being shunned. We're a group of experienced professional journalists at the core. We'll go where facts take us. Will we do 9/11? You bet! But we're going to start the 9/11 investigation with things that are knowable. What I mean by that is, we know that Condoleeza Rice got a memo saying Bin Laden plans to attack the United States. We know that she went before the 9/11 Commission and said that 56 FBI officers already had open files investigating, and we know that wasn't true. The issue of accountability could at the very least start with what's absolutely verifiable - that she didn't tell the truth to the 9/11 Commission. Now whether she deliberately lied, misled... who knows, and it's almost irrelevant. What we know is there's an objective fact. There was a memo saying Bin Laden planned to attack, and we know nothing or next to nothing was done about it. So let's ask, "Why not?". Then, let's let the trail go where the trail goes.

Do I know whether there were bombs in the bottom of the building or not? Do I know whether a plane hit the Pentagon or not? I'm not afraid to ask the questions. I don't know the answers. I have not been persuaded from what I've seen, but only because I haven't investigated yet. There's nothing we're not going to look into.

And I have to say the most astounding thing for me is that these two stories are equated. What I mean is, how on earth is election integrity put into the same category as whether someone had put bombs in the bottom of the World Trade Center? For the sake of argument, let's assume this is an outlandish theory, that the Bush administration puts bombs in the building. Who knows what history will wind up telling us, but let's assume this is outlandish. EVERYONE knows that there has been fraud in the voting. There's nothing outlandish about that. We KNOW what went on in Florida. We KNOW the problems with the voting machines. We KNOW serious questions have been raised about what went on in Ohio. This is not conspiracy theory. The issue of election integrity and fraud in the voting is verifiable. We know the problems were not just in the machines, but in getting to the polls. We know about the unequal distribution of voting machines between poor African-American areas and rich white areas. We know about the nuttiness of Blackwell in Ohio saying how thick a registration card has to be, and on and on. These are verifiable pieces of information, and the fact that mainstream journalism and mainstream television isn't going after that story full-speed is maybe their greatest indictment, other than lack of accountability on 9/11. We may not be able to prove criminality yet, but there's way more than smoke here. So we're going to go after this election integrity story with great vigor. And I can't imagine being shunned as a result of it, to tell you the truth. On 9/11, if you try to entertain the thought of a direct role of the Bush administration in making 9/11 happen, if you entertain that idea, then yes, almost all professional journalists will not take you seriously. Not all, but most. But when it comes to election integrity, professional journalists know there's a story there. They know there's something wrong. In television newsrooms, they know the crap that happened, and they're not going after it because of the various kinds of pressure not to do it.

AF: What about third parties in the U.S. and elsewhere? Will you be covering them?

PJ: I produced the main debate show on CBC News World for ten years. For elections, of course, we had to deal with this problem over and over again. It's kind of a balance. There's more than a third party -- there's a fourth, fifth, fifteenth, twenty-fifth, and fiftieth, if you really look at how many parties are running. Maybe just in terms of what gets national profile, or what might affect the outcome, you might be just into a third. But then that opens the whole question, are you going to only report on parties that "affect the outcome"? That's the criterion they're using to not even report on a third party. It's a complicated thing, because you're performing a service for your viewers, and most viewers do want to know about the main parties.

We're going to make coverage of the US 2008 election our "coming-out party". We're going to redefine what news is in the context of the campaign. News is the problems and concerns that are facing the American people. Those are the issues that are newsworthy. We're going to be HOUNDING the candidates to address the real issues facing people. For a long time the Americans have called their president "the leader of the free world" (and these days that's almost the whole world), so we're going to say, "If you guys think you're electing the leader of the world, it's about time the world had something to say about it." We're going to create a dialogue between the English-speaking world and Americans. Our theme will be: we want to bring Americans to the world, and we want to bring the world to Americans. We're going to use the 2008 election to start that process.

AF: A lot of people will feel that's too late. [Note: Remember that I conducted this interview in September 2006, when things looked more bleak.]

PJ: If people want us to be doing this sooner, then they need to go bat for us. They need to send money, they need to help us raise dough, spread the word, build our lists. There are two parts to this: there's the objective logistical issue; how long does it take to build a studio? How long does it take to get the journalistic alliances in place, the technology in place? And the money issue. If you just look at the Daily Kos readership, it's probably enough to get this kick-started. We're producing  sample programming as we speak, so people get a better taste of what we're about.

One of the things that will also spring big donor money and foundation money is the success of the membership campaign. If we can say we've got 30,000-40,000 people giving us 10 bucks a month or more, those are very serious numbers to big donors. Then they can see that the promise of sustainability is a real promise.

AF: Recently, you put out a call for hosts for The Real News. What are the requirements?

One of the things we're going to do for the pilot, which we intend to roll out in January 2007, is a three-minute promo that gives a real taste of what the news show is going to be like. We'd like three or four hosts to front that. They either need to have real journalist credibility, or something similar. What I mean is, when they ask a question, there's a reason to think they know what they're talking about. They need to be uncompromising. They have to be tough. When they hear an answer that's bull, they need to not go on to the second question. I'd rather an interview stay on the first question for fifteen minutes and never go to question two, if they didn't get an answer to question one. It's ridiculous the interviews take place these days on TV. They ask the first question, it doesn't matter what the hell the answer is, they move on to question two, question three. You could have had a computer asking the questions.

We want to have diversity in age, in gender, in ethnicity, everything. [Except, in the initial phase, geographic location. For now, all hosts will have to work from Toronto. But it's a beautiful city, if you're considering a move. - AF] They've got to be talented and witty, to have attitude, to have personality.

PJ: And we'd like your readers [Daily Kos readers] to suggest to us who they'd like to see being the hosts. Send us actual names that we should try and get in touch with. Whether they're famous or not is not the point. We want them to be good.

If someone had a mastery of the history of the Middle East, for example, and could present well on TV, but hadn't done journalism, we'd still very open to them. We really want people who know what they're talking about. We're not looking for models. We're not just looking for faces or presenters. We want people who can really get their teeth into a story.

AF: What about advertising?

PJ: We want to make use of mass marketing methods. So we have made a deal with a marketing company, who know the techniques. A very interesting experienced group who are also tied into the music industry.

Because we're not for profit, some of these television companies do PSAs, and we might do some 30-second, 60-second spots. One of the things we're doing is a straightforward half-hour infomercial where we'll actually buy a half hour show, explain what we're doing, why we're doing it, and ask people to call a toll-free number. We're going to use many different methodologies to get to a mass audience, both for viewership and to build membership.

More to come. Don't touch that dial!