We’ve started talking in class about some more historical examples of dissident journalism – the more radical predecessors to Democracy Now and Talking Points Memo, if you will. Rodger Streitmatter, author of the also-excellent Mightier than the Sword: How the News Media Have Shaped American History, details in Voices of Revolution: The Dissident Press in America a wide range of advocate journalists who expertly and nobly used the press to further their passionate causes.

And one thing is common among nearly all of these journalists: at the time, they were ridiculed by the mainstream media. See William Lloyd Garrison of The Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper that contributed to the decline of slavery in the U.S. He was blasted mercilessly in the pages of mainstream newspapers, attacked for being extremist and abrasive. Or Susan B. Anthony, whose appearance was torn to sheds and sexual orientation was questioned when she fought for women’s suffrage and other rights. And Lucifer, the “free love” advocacy paper of the 1870s, was denounced as a “rotten concern,” a “fearful demoralizing sheet” and an “abomination” by various mainstream newspapers. Clearly, mainstream journalists believed, the only way to maintain the status quo and suppress the liberal revolutions was to personally attack the editors and writers and thought leaders behind those publications.

It got me thinking…who are the “dissident” journalists of today? Is Amy Goodman being arrested at the 2008 Republican National Convention akin to newspapers like The New York Times lambasting Ida B. Wells, head of the anti-lynching movement, as a “slanderous and nasty-minded mulatress”? Is Fox News dismissing the independent journalists who were opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq on the same level as Margaret Sanger’s birth control advocacy paper Woman Rebel being deemed “nauseating”?

The optimistic thing, at least, is that eventually, in almost all of the historical examples of the mainstream press ridiculing the indy, advocacy press, the coverage slowly but surely becomes positive, and the media forgets that they ever criticized the cause at all, refusing to apologize or correct itself.

Why the hell don’t we learn?

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