Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Nashville Scene reporters: desperately seeking the slew

Ever since Occupy Nashville started taking on Governor Bill Haslam (or maybe it was since one of their reporters was arrested during one of ON's post-curfew occupations), the boys and girls blogging for the Nashville Scene have joined in one undeviating chorus of support for Occupy Nashville. That string continued today with an indulging Jeff Woods post and a post by Steve Haruch on outside coverage of the protest at Legislative Plaza.

What grabs my attention in this media love affair for a local protest that has not done much to protest locally (as in "protesting Metro Nashville itself") is the contrast of it to the circumspection, ambivalence, and snootiness that Scene bloggers expressed during the debate over Fairgrounds redevelopment, which occurred over the past year and a half.

You may recall that the Fairgrounds tensions ratcheted particularly over the question of whether citizens were being excluded from the Mayor's top-down planning process, and they piqued over charges that local proponents of Fairgrounds Speedway demolition did not really come from the grassroots, but were astroturfed by supporters of Karl Dean. You may also remember that opponents put the question of their grassroots credentials to rest at nearly every turn, especially one Metro Council meeting night where literally thousands showed up to speak against the Mayor's plan during public hearing.

Nonetheless, from their Pith in the Wind perch, Scene reporters were unmoved by such popular opposition in 2010-2011, until Occupy Nashville came along. Compare, for example, Haruch's dulcet post today (celebrating ON bringing together people across the political spectrum) to Jim Ridley's irresolute post on the New York Times coverage of the public hearing. Whereas Haruch frames media coverage in terms of ON's purported big tent, Ridley seems to be in full-blown denial of the long-reach populism driving opposition to the Mayor's plan. Ridley claims that the Times brings light to a debate which has been all about heat. The only heat Haruch frames of Occupy Nashville--with the aid of the warm "bridge-building" glow of "southern hospitality." Ridley invokes "carpetbaggers." Rereading these epically vamped accompaniments leaves me searching for Tara and Twelve Oaks in the protests.

A year ago yesterday Ridley and Haruch tag-teamed a post promoting a YouTube video that alleged that Fairgrounds Expo vendors supported the Mayor's redevelopment plan. A week later the Nashville Business Journal reported a poll that found that 98% of the vendors opposed Karl Dean's plan to send them to Hickory Hollow, which was supported by the astroturf redevelopment proponents before they flip-flopped to advocate tearing down the speedway.

One of the astroturfers, Keith Moorman, was hand-picked by the Mayor's Office to speak for Fairground redevelopment in a video intended to persuade the Metro Council (long before the public hearing) that Dean's community support was strong (which the 2011 Fairgrounds referendum proved to be false). But rewind the tape at Pith back to the comments section of a 2007 Haruch post where Ridley (a.k.a. "Mr. Pink") praises Moorman as a populist everyman who has "piqued interest" of his community. I'm convinced the scripted astroturf started at that very moment.

I wish I could recall a post where a Scene writer embraced populism half as vigorously during the Fairgrounds brouhaha as they have during the occupation. But Ridley called voting against the Mayor voting for the status quo. Former editor Stephen George accused the grassroots of being hollow PR and naked cynicism while giving a pass to the Mayor's propaganda squads. Tracy Moore lavished link-love on a pro-Dean neighborhood blog while ignoring many of us on the other side. Betsy Phillips looked forward to a Dean-proposed park surrounded by impervious parking lots.

To a person, they seemed loath to advocate for balancing wholesale privatization and redevelopment with a community-based planning process. But now, forthwith, populism counts. Accountability to the 99% suddenly matters where it did not last winter in the heated halls at 12th and Laurel.

Meanwhile, some of us support both an open and accountable Fairgrounds planning process and the occupation of public spaces to make corporations and government more accountable to the people. It is a more consistent position.

UPDATE:  More on the astroturf of redevelopment proponents who did not attempt to present a balanced picture of where the community stood.

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