London Recruits: The Secret War Against Apartheid
Edited by Ken Keable, Merlin, 321 pages, $27.95
Blogothon: Reflections and Revelations from the News Dissector
By Danny Schechter, Cosimo Books, 257 pages, $17.99
Occupy: Dissecting Wall Street
By Danny Schechter, Cosimo Books,139 pages, $9.99
By Mark Sommer
News Staff ReVIEWER
Media critic and agitator Danny Schechter’s life was shaped by his involvement in “the “Movement” of the 1960s – particularly civil rights and opposition to the Vietnam War.
A passion for social justice would also lead this son of a Jewish garment worker and a poet to go undercover in South Africa on behalf of the revolutionary African National Congress, which was challenging the dehumanizing system of apartheid in the summer of 1967.
That experience would become an important spoke in the ever-spinning wheel that’s taken the Harvard Nieman Fellow in Journalism on a “lifelong journey from activist to journalist.”
Schechter was 25 then, and attending the London School of Economics. He flew from “swinging London” to apartheid Pretoria, his assignment to make mail drops to anti-apartheid activists and set off harmless “poster bombs” at prearranged times to demonstrate the ANC remained a political force despite that country’s harsh repression.
Schechter’s recollection, entitled “The Day I Joined the Revolution” – which includes a poem he wrote at the time – is one of 37 revealing, firsthand accounts offered by people with similar assignments in “London Recruits: The Secret War Against Apartheid.”
Schechter’s deep involvement with South Africa led him over the years to report on that country in the muckraking Ramparts magazine, put together the anti-apartheid “Sun City” album with Little Steven Van Zandt, make five documentaries on and with Nelson Mandela, and co-create the “South Africa Now” series shown in 40 countries during the last years of that regime.
In recent years, Schechter – dubbed “Danny Schechter the News Dissector “during his days as news director at WBCN in Boston, in the days of underground rock radio – has been a tireless voice for reform of Wall Street and corporate-owned media, subjects that figure heavily in his 15 books and 30 documentaries.
The former Emmy award-winning producer for ABC’s “20/20” has for the past 11 years also continued to present a counternarrative to the conventional wisdom of the day through a daily blog at www.newsdissector.net.
The blog often reaches 3,000 words a day, and carries an endorsement from the late Walter Cronkite.
A collection of Schechter’s keen insight into media complicity with what President Dwight Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex,” criminal activity on Wall Street and social movements is now available in “Blogothon: Reflections and Revelations from the News Dissector.”
The essays, reports and personal reflections include “ ‘Too Big to Fail’ Should Have Been ‘Too Big To Jail,’ ” “Nailing Bin Laden: Was It a Military or a Media Operation?” and “Media Hit of the Year: Punishing Helen Thomas.”
Missing, unfortunately, is a dissection from May 2009 on Buffalo: “Known for its chicken wings and the presence of singer Ani DiFranco and her Righteous Babe label, Buffalo has over the years, since the steel industry packed up and left, lost half its population and is now ranked two or three as the poorest city in America,” Schechter wrote.
”On the other hand, it is still a great place known for stunning architecture, great museums, stable and low-cost neighborhoods and a youth culture partial to music and left-of-center politics.
“Parts of the city look like a movie set; parts like a community I could feel comfortable living in.”
There’s also this on Buffalo’s newspaper of record: “Thanks to Warren Buffett’s corporate patronage, The Buffalo News is still one of the country’s great newspapers.”
Blog entries also make up the bulk of Schechter’s “Occupy: Dissecting Occupy Wall Street,” in which he reverts to participatory journalism from the inside – Zuccotti Park, where the protest movement began – to chronicle the rise and decline of a movement he had waited for and is sympathetic to, but not uncritical of.
Schechter is sought as a commentator on the BBC, Al Jazeera and other media outlets around the world, while often overlooked at home for not shoehorning his views inside a conventional construct.
But Schechter’s much-needed and fresh perspective on the vexing issues of the day – from the United States and the Middle East to, of course, South Africa – are there to be found in his blog, and in his new books that can be found at bookstores or www.cosimobooks.com.
Mark Sommer is a News staff reporter.