Monday, August 2, 2010

local columnist reaches national audience

West Chester University's Larry Davidson, a professor of history who specializes in Middle East issues, has taken on a new role this summer: one that is earning him a national reputation as a political pundit.

Since early June, Davidson has published six columns for the Reader Supported News, one of the internet's most highly regarded independent new services, an off-shoot of His columns provide the sort of thoughtful political analysis that has been missing from the nation's newspapers for the past 10 years. His writing voice is acerbic and provocative; his columns are thoroughly researched, highly readable and based on a historical perspective that makes them hard to refute. In just two months time, his columns for RSN have become a must read for politically progressive thinkers.

One published today is about a 29-year U.S. citizen named Ray Knaeble who has been working for ITT Systems, Inc. in Kuwait since 2006. Knaeble was put on the nation's "no fly list" because he recently converted to Islam and has started a blog to try to convince Americans that Islam is misunderstood by Americans and misrepresented in the American press. Knaeble's central premise is that -- like all of the world's primary religions -- Islam preaches peace. (Read it here:

Of particular interest to me as a professor of journalism is Davidson's perspective on mass media in America and his assertion that media has abandoned its traditional role as a watchdog of politically powerful elites -- especially multi-national corporations and the people who run them.

In a column published on July 25 ("Free Speech Takes a Hit") Davidson writes about the Supreme Court's decision to uphold a federal law that "defined any interaction with members of groups designated as 'terroist' by the United States government as 'material support' for criminal activies. Punishment can include a prison sentence of 15 years." The case was about an organizxation called the Humanitarian Law Project, had been teaching members of a Turkish group to have their grievances heard through accepted United Nations channels. Read his column here:

Davidson writes: "For the present, the First Amendment is an emasculated facade behind which the government operates to severely limit what the Amendment is designed to protect....this emasculation has been going on for almost a decade and the Court has now confirmed the 'legality' of the process. This part of the Patriot Act has already been used to harass and destroy a number of benign Muslim charities, nonviolent supporters of Palestian rights and even the American lawyers of individuals charged with terrorism.

"One of the important factors that makes possible this history of assaults on free speech is that most U.S. citizens do not care that they occur, or welcome them. This accounts for the remarkably sparse media coverage of the Court's decision and the almost total lack of public concern... For the majority within a democracy, the legal right guaranteeing freedom of speech is only an abstraction. On a daily basis most citizens are not conscious of either the existence of or the need for such a right...the speech of such a majority is by definition normative speech, and as such is not felt to be in need of protection."

On July 10th, in a column entitled "The Right-Wing Thought Police" Davidson asserts that the nation's right wing is "achieving its long-standing goal of becoming America's thought police". Conservative outbursts threaten the careers of American journalists who contradict any part of theiconversative political agenda. How do they get away with propagating such slander?

Davidson explains.

1) Americans are apolitical, they don't care about left or right politics because it doesn't seem to have much to do with their local lives.

2) This audience does not live in an apolitical media enviornment. "There are no 'objective media' much less a 'liberal' one," he writes. Media outlets are two kinds: "a) overtly conservative because they are owned by right-wing ideologues who are interested in inserting their ultra-conserative worldview into the heads of their audience (the Murdoch/Fox news bunch) or b) they are 'politically neutral' media operations (often owned by bigger businesses liek Westinghouse and Disney) whose foremost interest is making a profit (CNN and its ilk)."

3) Since the end of World War II, leftist ideas have become "demonized almost out of existence and since 9/11 the 'commies' have been transformed into Muslims. These simplistic stereotypes set the parameters for correct and patriotic thinking...and they are delivered to you at different levels of intensity by both the conservative and 'neutral' media systems. No matter how apolitical one might be in one's daily local life, these notions are in the media air. You take them in almost by osmosis. They mess with your mind without you realizing it." Read the entire column here:

Anyone who is interested in getting a dose of reality, written with clarity, wisdom and panache, should be on the lookout for Lawrence Davidson's column.

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