Dr. Rampoldi plans to begin translating articles from MintPress News for ProMosaik, her international organization that promotes interfaith peace and understanding. She interviewed me by way of introducing my work and MintPress overall. -Kit
Dr. Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik: What are the main steps of the historical development of Mint Press?
Kit O’Connell, MintPress News: Mnar Muhawesh launched MintPress News in 2012, after working for years as an independent journalist and after becoming the first American woman to wear the hijab as a reporter and news anchor. Mnar has never been afraid to stand out in a crowd and MintPress has followed in that philosophy, telling stories most other outlets won’t touch.
In 2013, MPN’s report on the use of chemical weapons by Syrian rebels was both groundbreaking and controversial. MPN and Mnar were attacked heavily online and in the media for refusing to support the US buildup to war with Assad, but soon even the mainstream media had to admit we were right to cast doubt on the official story of chemical weapons use. I think MintPress was a small but important part of preventing another needless war.
Since then, as we’ve built our audience, the site has become more focused on exposing government and corporate corruption.
MR: What are the main objectives of your portal?
KO: MintPress News is an independent watchdog media outlet focusing on corporate and government corruption. We focus on some of the most pressing topics facing our nation through issues-based, long form journalism. We’re especially concerned with the effects of big business, special interest groups, and lobbyists on American government including both domestic and foreign policy.
Mnar believes that the “Fourth Estate” — the media, as defined by in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment — is meant to act as a watchdog over government, and that’s what inspires our journalism at MintPress.
MR: Why are networking and translation so important for news portals and journalists today?
KO: The great power of the Internet is that we can reach people around the world in ways we’ve never experienced before.
I first realized how much the Internet and social networking have changed the world when I was involved with Occupy Austin in 2011. In late October of that year, Austin police arrested dozens of activists after escalating a conflict that started over a food table — police were insisting it was somehow illegal to feed the hungry after 10pm at night (it isn’t!).
What amazed me was that, after news of the arrests spread through Twitter, Egyptian activists marched from Tahrir Square on the American embassy in protest! What an inspiring act of international solidarity that would have been impossible in previous years.
Their action in turn inspired us to go further and push harder. When we marched up to the jail to receive our comrades as they were freed, we walked on the the sidewalk, but on our return to the Occupy encampment and for months after we marched in the streets, blocking traffic and reclaiming the space for democracy — “Whose streets? Our streets!” as the famous chant goes.
But we don’t all speak English, and too many Americans speak only their native tongue (I can only speak a handful of words in French and Spanish). We need translators to really make this new technology have a global reach and discover the true potential of international solidarity.
MR: How important is a true and committed journalism about Islam today and why?
KO: Let me stress that MintPress News is not a “Muslim” news organization — our reporting is geared to all people. I hope we’d treat Muslims the same regardless of the demographics of our staff, who are actually very diverse. But unfortunately, Muslims are also one of the most unfairly treated in the mainstream media, turned into scapegoats and villains as yet another distraction from our real, common enemy — the global 1%.
We need real journalism to expose the reality about Muslims — that they are human like the rest of us, with the same needs for love, acceptance, and the necessities of survival. Real journalism can cut through the propaganda and show us who we really need to be fighting.
MR: Which are the most important messages to Americans about Islam?
KO: I think what Americans need to understand most is a lot of what I said earlier, that the vast majority of the world’s over 1.5 billion Muslims are just regular people like they are, trying to survive and thrive and protect their communities. This is really true of anyone oppressed and anyone the government tells us is our “enemy” — we need to emphasize our common humanity, the common cause we all should share.
MR: How important is the fight against discrimination in journalism, and how can we bring the voices of oppressed people into the media?
KO: In addition to working with MintPress News, Mnar lectures at journalism schools and other student groups about the importance of elevating the voices of women and oppressed people in the media. It’s one of the things that I really admire about her, and that keeps me working with MintPress News, in addition to my support for our overall mission.
The revolutionary civil rights leader Malcolm X said, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
That’s still true today, and it’s the opposite of what the media should be doing. One of the guiding principles of my journalism is that the poor are never our enemy, and any story that seems to suggest this isn’t digging deep enough.
We need to be focusing on the voices of oppressed people of all kinds. We need to not just be telling their stories, but also helping them tell their stories directly. New media is very democratizing — it lets us all become journalists, but now we need to find ways to ensure that this new school of citizen journalists are rewarded, including financially, for what they do.
MR: What are the most wrong things mainstream media do?
KO: I’m a follower of the “gonzo” school of journalism, created by Hunter S. Thompson and practiced by other great American “new journalism” writers of the 1960s like Ken Kesey, Tom Wolfe, and Truman Capote. Going back even further we can point to pioneers like Nellie Bly, who went undercover at an insane asylum in the 1880s by pretending to be a patient and getting herself committed.
Like Thompson, I believe that “objectivity” and “neutrality” are a myth. The facts are not neutral and there are not always two equal sides to every story.
Climate change has become the classic example — in the quest to “fairly” show “both sides” of the story, the media continues to give an audience to climate change deniers long after world science has moved on. It prevents us from truly addressing the real issues that plague us by forcing us to revisit the same ground over and over again. We can never really talk about fixing climate change as long as we’re still arguing whether or not it exists and whether humans are to blame.
For MintPress, I recently reported on the tragic story of Larry Jackson, Jr, a black man from my town of Austin, Texas.
Charles Kleinert, at the time an Austin police detective, brutally murdered Jackson in 2013 after he made the mistake of trying to visit a bank that, unknown to him, had been robbed earlier in the day by a completely unrelated white man. Kleinert pursued Jackson, who was unarmed and not suspected of any crime, even taking over a civilian vehicle like a cop in the movies. Then, under a bridge near a hiking trail, Kleinert viciously beat Jackson until he fell to his hands and knees, then shot him fatally through the back of his neck.
What I’ve just described is not an objective version of events, but to the best of my knowledge it’s the truest version of what happened. In order to do right by Larry Jackson, his surviving family and friends, and the larger community seeking justice in a racist, unjust society, it’s the story that needs to be told.
As you can probably tell, I have a lot of thoughts on what the media does wrong and what journalism should look like in the future. Here’s an essay I wrote for MintPress based on a lecture I gave at an anarchist bookstore in Austin.
Originally published at ProMosaik.
Content posted to MyMPN open blogs is the opinion of the author alone, and should not be attributed to MintPress News.