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Media reform movement seen as ‘bursting at the seams’

SHOWCASE | January 12, 2007

At Memphis convention, Bill Moyers and Jesse Jackson invoke the spirit of Martin Luther King in talks to a diverse crowd of more than 3,000 people

By John Branston

MEMPHIS—Invoking the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., in the city where he was slain, Bill Moyers, quite a speaker himself, rocked a diverse audience of 3200 media reformers here this morning.

The PBS icon drew a rousing, standing ovation and rave reviews from the likes of Roanne Robinson Shaddox of Arlington, Va., (“Wow!”), attending with a group of Native Americans for the first time, and Alethea Bonello of Atlanta, youth director for the Southeast Region of the NAACP.

Bonello, 30, is attending her first Media Reform conference with about 25 fellow young Atlantans. “It’s exciting, I was very impressed,” she said. Sitting with her was Johnnie Turner, head of the Memphis NAACP. “I thought it was great,” she said.

The convention center in Memphis is a little over a mile away from the National Civil Rights Museum, formerly the Lorraine Motel where King was killed in 1968. There seems to be something of the fervor of the civil rights movement in the media reformers, who have turned out in ever-greater numbers since their first convention drew 1800 people four years ago. The crowd estimate of 3200 is fairly reliable, based on registration and the standing-room crowd in the 2500-seat room where Moyers praised King and said “the bullet killed him but it couldn’t kill the story.”

Moyers's keynote speech opened the conference. Later, Jesse Jackson, in a second keynote address, referred to media ownership as a civil rights issue. He also hearkened back to King, saying the civil rights leader was “idolized by the white media” when he took a course of nonviolence but lost their backing when he criticized American foreign policy.

[A streaming video of Moyers’s talk is on youtube in two parts, here and here.]

[Click here for a Memphis Commercial Appeal story on Jackson’s talk; click here to find an audio of Jackson’s speech.]

The crowd was welcomed to Memphis by Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, who marched with striking sanitation workers in 1968 and wore a sign saying “I Am A Man.” Serving his 16th straight year as mayor, Herenton said if he were a media personality he would attend the conference himself. Then he urged the local media to take note of the diversity of the crowd and pay special attention to sessions on media bias. The mayor, who is sometimes booed at local events, got a nice round of applause. (Click here for a report on the local Memphis news media.)

Actor Danny Glover introduced Moyers and urged reformers to heed King’s advice to “exercise freedom by informing themselves and weighing alternatives” in their own communities and daily lives.

Moyers had the crowd spellbound from his first joke (“Benjamin Franklin said democracy is two wolves and a lamb deciding what to have for dinner”) to his closing promise to “get back into the anchor chair” and finish his latest documentary for PBS.

“This is a movement bursting at the seams,” Moyers said.

One who agreed with him was Bill Wells of Huntsville, Alabama, who works for the local PBS station WLRH. Wells, 63, was wearing jeans and a “go public” t-shirt and sported shoulder-length hair and a long white beard.

“Our American myths are channeled through the media,” he said. He hopes the conference will “inspire people to make our own choices by our own desires, not those we have been subliminally fed by commercial media.”

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