DENVER (WOMENSENEWS)–Laura Flanders, the host and founder of GRITtv, a TV politics and arts discussion show that launched online in May and began broadcasting live in August, is keeping up with the pre-election frenzy.
During the Democratic National Convention in Denver in late August, Flanders hosted "Live From Main Street," a project of the Media Consortium, a progressive journalism group that broadcasts town hall events in different cities and reaches GRITtv’s national audience in Chicago, Atlanta, New York and Cambridge, Mass.
While moderating a panel in Denver’s Big Tent, a hub of alternative media, Flanders said that mainstream media would sow discord around the conventions.
"It seems to be that there is an unwritten rule among the ‘legacy media’ and their friends," Flanders said in the show. "And that rule is that whenever two or more hopeful Americans gather together, we shall pour on scorn."
Flanders wants to change that rule. GRITtv brings a positive tone, involving ordinary citizens who want to help solve societal problems.
"Part of our target audience are people who, I’m hoping, if they watch our program on a regular basis, will realize that political change does not end on Election Day," Flanders said in an interview in New York while preparing to travel to the Democratic Convention.
At the convention, GRITtv broadcast live from the Big Tent and followed up throughout the week with stories about racial issues, lobbyists and female Democrats determined to defect to the Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain.
Women have always been the majority of Democratic voters, activists and organizers, Flanders said.
"They vote more, they play a more active role in politics at the local level," she said. "What’s changed this year is that I think we’ve seen them taken more seriously, that women have been able to flex their muscle."
Flanders moved to the United States, where she has family, from her native United Kingdom in 1980.
She worked at the New York-based media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, founding the Women’s Desk there before moving on to "Your Call" on San Francisco public radio and then "The Laura Flanders Show" and "RadioNation" on Air America, a commercial, progressive network launched in 2004.
Airing Women’s Rights
A prominent figure in the progressive media movement, Flanders goes out of her way to put women’s rights activists on the airwaves. "One of the things that we do is integrate women with feminist perspectives into all of our discussions," she said.
For example, a show in early June focused on the anger among some women at the media’s mistreatment of Sen. Hillary Clinton. Guests included Faye Wattleton, president of the Center for the Advancement of Women; Tara Roberts, senior editor at CosmoGirl; Jill Iscol, a philanthropist and co-chair of Hillary Clinton’s campaign; and Janet Dewart Bell, a volunteer with New York Women for Obama.
"For many, it’s less about the candidate than what the campaign season revealed about how far women as a group have, or haven’t, come," Flanders said in her introduction to the segment. After the half-hour panel discussion the show followed its typical format by airing women-on-the-street interviews.
In GRITtv’s offices, which are in the same building as Air America in Midtown Manhattan, four of the five producers are women.
"GRITtv offers a particularly attractive employment opportunity for women," Flanders said, offering what she considers a break from programming focused on "titillating, shallow and combative" reporting to make a profit.
Aside from GRITtv, Flanders regularly contributes to The Nation and CNN and is often working on a book.
In 2007 she authored "Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics From the Politicians," about grassroots politics. In 2004 there was "Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species" about women in Bush’s cabinet. And in 1997 she penned "Real Majority, Media Minority: The Costs of Sidelining Women in Reporting."
"For me, media has always been an activist job," Flanders said. "I think women in media, feminists, we understand that the making of the product is as important as the product."
Flanders’ guests are often eclectic. On her shows social justice activists, policy experts and local musicians may mingle. She wants the program to flow positively, asking not just "How did we get here?" but "How can we move on?"
This idea works, says Carol Jenkins, who is president of the Women’s Media Center in New York and has known Flanders for years.
"You look at her and you see this is the way it’s supposed to be; where everyone gets a chance to give their opinion, where everyone participates," Jenkins said.
Unlike many reporters, Jenkins said, Flanders notices when women are consistently excluded from coverage.
"Laura is sensitive to that and we have to count on women like her to know," Jenkins said. "This is a democracy. If only men are participating, the democracy is broken."
Jenkins said Ariana Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, and Rachel Maddow, an Air America host who this month replaces Dan Abrams on MSNBC in a prime-time TV slot, are two other progressive media stars who join Flanders in an industry that can be daunting.
"Progressive women have to fight to get a word in edgewise, just as they do in the mainstream," Jenkins said. "She understands women and the fight that she’s had herself in the industry."
Alison Bowen is a New York City-based reporter covering the presidential campaign for Women’s eNews. Her work also appears in the New York Daily News.