Before she began working as the Grit TV producer-host, Blue Grit author Laura Flanders used to co-produce and host a non-commercial daily alternative morning news show called Undercurrents with Dennis Bernstein and Robert Knight of KPFA’s Flashpoints (http://www.flashpoints.net/) daily alternative evening news show. Following is the fourth part of a 1991 interview with Flanders that appeared in the June 26, 1991 issue of the now-defunct Lower East Side alternative newsweekly Downtown.
You’ve written articles about the war in Ireland which have appeared in In These Times, The Nation, different women’s publications. What’s your opinion of the British Establishment’s media coverage of the war in the North of Ireland and the U.S. Establishment’s media coverage?
Laura Flanders: The reason I got involved or interested in the subject of Northern Ireland was that I was going to school in Britain and the Northern Irish situation was the first time that I realized that the history I was being taught was only one side of the story. And that the history I was being taught about Ireland was not history from the point of view of the Irish. And that there was an enormous job of the Conquerors teaching the history going on.
So, as far as my experience of the British media, right down from the history books to the current daily press, obviously, how I would characterize it is: beyond political considerations, beyond fear of being associated in any way with “terrorism” and the Irish Republican Army, there is a level of anti-Irish racism that pervades the British culture in a way that somebody from outside Britain might not notice. It is a racism, I believe, as strong and as damaging and as blindfolding as anti-Black violence and white racism in this country or racism in any situation. The fact that the Irish are the butt of jokes is…used to put down the Irish as a whole and to minimize their experience. And once you have a culture which successfully minimizes the experience of another culture with which it’s in conflict, then it becomes thoroughly political.
In this country, the situation is different. In spite of the mainstream media, there is often the kind of human interest angle to the situation in Northern Ireland. But there isn’t in Britain. It’s not a human interest story in the same way there, as it is here. Because I think it is seen there as threatening and challenging. Most British people, like myself, were brought up with this fear of “IRA terrorism,” a largely irrational fear that was very successful in blinding most people to even looking at the situation in a city, say Belfast, that is just an hour away by plane. People didn’t even think of going there.
Whereas here, what tends to be the opposite, in the Irish-American community in particular, in their journals, is this very romantic image of the struggle—which is not very romantic. It is enormously painful. It is about economics. It’s not just about “the old sod.”…The Irish independence movement and the Irish nationalist movement in the North of Ireland are very connected to an internationalist, anticapitalist agenda and community. But it is not acknowledged by the Irish-American supporters of that movement, by and large, in this country.
You mentioned you grew up in Britain. What caused you to come to the United States? You’ve been here 10 years [as of 1991]?
Flanders: I’ve been here 10 years [as of 1991]…I originally came to the States to take up a job…between school and college. And once I had got kind of hooked into New York it seemed like a shame to leave the place. I realized that it was kind of hard to break into and I felt like I was just getting connected here.
You know a lot of people have said it, but it’s true. Coming from Britain, or certainly from London, I felt in some way liberated by the U.S. sense, or the New York sense, of possibilities…If you have an idea, it’s not the craziest thing in the world that you might try and pursue it. There might not be any money for you to pursue it, but no one can just tell you off the bat that it’s just a bad idea or that you shouldn’t try. Whatever it is. Whether it’s going to the beach right now, today. Or, you know, traveling across the country on a bicycle…There is something about a sense of possibility here and a sense of openness to those possibilities that was very attractive to me. And I ended up going to college here and staying here.
But I should also say that…my mother was from the U.S., my father was British. So there had always been a fairly Anglo-American, Mid-Atlantic sense, growing up in my background. It wasn’t the strangest thing in the world to come and live here.
Are there negatives about life in the United States compared to life in Britain, as far as you can see, compared to life in London?
Flanders: Compared to life in London?...Life in London, whenever I go back now, it seems like it’s getting more and more like New York, with the homeless, with the vast disparity between rich and poor, with the kind of isolated artistic community expressing less and less in the way of political opinion.
I miss the British sense of subtlety, the British sense of irony, British sarcasm, British satire. Definitely, I miss that. I think satire is something that’s sorely lacking in this culture.
But as far as day-to-day living? I love it that the subways run all night. I love it that you can buy something to eat at midnight. I go back to Britain and I forget that everything shuts at six, at least in most parts of the country. And I find the class structure even more obvious than I ever did and oppressive, in addition to the distinction that there is between the Southeast—between the London area—and the rest of the country.
When I go back now I try to spend a lot of time outside of London. And the disparity, the economic and cultural disparity between London and the rest of the country, is so enormous that it’s…almost like going to two different places. If I were to compare places outside of London with this country, or with my experience of New York, it would be quite different from comparing London to New York.
I have to say I don’t feel that I know this country very well. I haven’t traveled that much in the U.S. It’s only been recently, doing reporting say about the miners in south West Virginia, that I was able to connect to a community outside of New York in that same way that I’ve connected to some of the communities outside of London. And then I found that there were many connections and many similarities in sort of the same environment.
You’ve traveled to Nicaragua and some other Latin American countries as a journalist. What do you think of the media’s coverage of Latin America, both in Britain and the United States?
Flanders: Well, that’s a big question. I think in the U.S. the alternative media covers Central America much more than the alternative media does in Britain. As far as mainstream media…I would say the British mainstream press, as a whole, does a better job of consistent international reporting (including stories like coverage of Peru, or Colombia or Nicaragua on a daily basis or on a weekly basis or at least on a monthly basis), than does the press in this country, which I think picks up on a few countries…
Except on the issue of Ireland?
Flanders: Right. On the issue of Ireland…which is seen as a “domestic issue’…As are many other important domestic issues in Britain that are never covered…I’ve been out of Britain for a long while, but my experience is that the U.S. press is much more susceptible to trends in what areas of the world it is going to cover. And the British press is a little bit more consistent, at least in quantity, if not in quality. (end of part four)
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