‘Democracy on Deadline’

The power of the media as a make-or-break element in a functioning democracy sets the foundation for a journalist’s struggle to seek out and report the honest truth. But how does the role of a free press factor into the vitality of a free society?

These concepts are examined vividly in the exceptional documentary, Democracy on Deadline by director Calvin Skaggs (Go Tell it On the Mountain) and co-producer Jed Rothstein. The documentary puts the audience in the position of several of the world’s finest journalists, complete with candid interviews and not-seen-before-in-America footage that is in one way reminiscent of Control Room, the 2004 documentary on the Arab-language satellite network, Al Jazeera International.

The filmmaking and production of “Democracy on Deadline” is outstanding, mixing uniquely regional experiences with candid exchanges and graphic footage over the course of two hours. In one memorable instance, the audience is literally in the back seat of a car driven by Ha’aretz correspondent Gideon Levy, delayed at a checkpoint at the West Bank border crossing. This is not business as usual, we’re assured, when Levy gets on his cell phone, enraged that the border guards were not previously notified and waiting for him to cross with American journalists in tow.

“Democracy on Deadline” examines issues and struggles regarding press freedom around the world through an examination of six unique (and high-profile) case studies in progress. The film profiles various journalists in different settings — all taking relatively radical approaches to reporting and exuding a vociferous enthusiasm for their responsibilities as guardians of democracy.

In one segment, Dana Priest of the Washington Post is followed by a camera as she works security insiders (watch quicktime video) at what appears to be a press event regarding the status of detainees in December 2004. We watch Priest at her desk taking notes as she digs deeper and deeper for dirt on her CIA black prisons article, nearly a year before she would publish the core piece in her package that landed her a Pulitzer.

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Shaking Hands With Barack (Star) Obama

Having lived in Chicago and having voted for Senator Obama, I grew very leery of the exposure he was receiving since his 2004 speech at the DNC — which occurred BEFORE he was even sworn in as a freshmen senator.

In recent weeks I’ve grown comfortable enough to agree with many people who would bring up Obama as a potential president, only to demur — “it’s too early for him.”

“It is too early,” I’d say, “give it until at least November 8.”

I let out a sigh of relief when he announced his interest in running for the presidency for the first time, last weekend on Meet the Press. (the video’s here if you missed it). Topping that, WSJ reporter John Harwood followed Obama on MTP claiming a former top Clinton Administration aide told him Obama would run and Hillary wouldn’t (thanks for pointing this out, Brad).

Fast forward to this afternoon — a rally for Phil Angelides at USC. The several hundred people gathered on the lawn in front of Doheny Library were as passive as just about every Los Angeles crowd I’ve experienced at even some of the more sensational rock shows. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had to emphatically cue the audience — which wasn’t much more than 50% students (campus is emptier on Fridays) — to react to the catchphrases, corruption killer lines and education health care environment saving proposition 87-bombs. Angelides, not surprisingly got little crowd reaction himself, although he did say the right things, but when he began with “only 10 more days” I couldn’t help but complete the sentence in my head “… and I’m done with this shit forever.”

Enter Obama and it WAS like being at a rock show — the blue rope keeping the crowd a good distance from the stage area was trampled camera’s flashed and girls were screaming. Obama had already taken off his suit jacket while listening to Angelides with the sun beating down on him.

For five or ten minutes, Obama recited, pretty much verbatim, the speech he’s given since the 2004 Democratic National Convention (watch) — Villaraigosa almost fell over laughing when Barack pulled the “Yo’ Mama” line and I had to wonder if Mayor Tony ever has time to read the paper, not to mention the dozens of magazines that have re-told the my mom’s from Kansas — that’s where I get my accent from lines over and over.

Just as I was getting concerned about his near-term political future — as in campaigning beyond Illinois state lines — he finally broke through to the next level and addressed the issues facing the country today. He spoke with the vision and hope one would expect and I’m glad he has several months to get to a point where he won’t have to spend five minutes on the same ol’ intro.

He lambasted the Bush administration and touted the values of the California Democratic party and — though he did not say much about the issues at hand (he did mention prop 87) — I definitely noted that he regularly referred to “Phil,” but repeatedly referred to Villaraigosa as simply, “the mayor.” Either Obama is really intimidated by Spanish pronunciation or just felt like putting Tony in his place (see the envious look on Tony V’s face when Barack gets with Speaker of the California Assembly Fabian Nunez

He closed with the hopeful sentiments that things can and will turn around, ending — not ironically — with FDR’s “fear itself” line from his First Inaugural Address.

As Obama got into his car I shook his left hand — he’s a lefty, like Bill Clinton — thanked him and wished him the best. Satisfied, I’m going back to the silent treatment. Don’t wanna jinx the man.

Here are some of my photos from the rally:

Sufjan Stevens Live in L.A. — Listen to Entire Show

sufjan stevens photo by Jeremiah GarciaAccordingn to his publicist, Sufjan is down with bootlegging his shows… so here goes:

Sufjan Stevens, Wiltern LG, Los Angeles, October 9, 2006 (read Ice Cream Man’s great review here).

1. Sister
2. The Transfiguration
3. The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts
4. He Woke Me Up Again
5. Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)
6. The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us
7. John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
8. A Good Man Is Hard To Find
9. Majesty Snowbird
10. Casimir Pulaski Day
11. Jacksonville
12. That Was The Worst Xmas Ever
13. Chicago
14. The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders: The Great Frontier/Come to Me Only

-Encore-

15. To Be Alone With You
16. The Dress Looks Nice On You

or download all files as one ZIP file (130 MB). Please contact me if you can seed a torrent of this and I’ll post the link! Thanks!

recorded from the center row M floor level with Sony ECM-MS907 binaural stereo mic–> Sony Hi-MD MZ-RH910 –> some tracks optimized with Audacity, others with Adobe Audition, and some not at all (I’ve been slammed)!

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