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Laura Flanders

by Todd Steven Burroughs

It’s been easy to ignore Laura Flanders. Yes, she’s been on CNN, Fox News Channel and “To The Contrary,” a national PBS chat show from the wide-ranging perspectives of different women, but only occasionally. “I’m interviewed once in a blue moon to twice in a blue moon,” Flanders said of the cacophony of initials. She’s a dying breed — a longtime progressive radio host (Air America, “Democracy Now,” “CounterSpin”) who has actually earned the right to be on radio and television by doing reporting. She’s an interesting media personality — a pundit who smiles like a human being and not a snarling tiger. She’s an anomaly: a strong person and personality unafraid of being nice, and a public debater who actually thinks before she speaks. Flanders is proud to be strongly to the Left of the camera in the Land of The Talking Heads.

Her colleagues join her in pride. “Her credential for being on the radio is not having a lot of opinions,” said Janine Jackson, program director of Fairness And Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), a progressive media watchdog group based in New York City. Flanders was the founder of FAIR’s Women’s Desk, and co-hosted “CounterSpin,” FAIR’s nationally syndicated weekly radio show, for several years, at least three of which with current co-host Jackson. Flanders is first a journalist who earned her pundit stripes through reporting, Jackson reminded. But Flanders embraces analytical opinion. “She’s not going to muzzle herself and muzzle her brain,” said Nicole Sawaya, Flanders’s boss at KALW-FM, a public radio station in San Francisco. KALW’s “Your Call” has been hosted by Flanders since 2001. (It’s now hosted on alternate days by Flanders and Farai Chideya, a Black woman who made waves a decade ago as a 20-something Newsweek correspondent, first-time author, and CNN pundit.) But Flanders, 42, has been on-air since the mid-1980s, working her way up the Pacifica Radio/alternative radio circuit.

Flanders is not a kook like Ann Coulter, but she takes punditry very seriously. “To me, it’s not a game, it’s not a show.” She explains that it’s really about continuing a tradition of dissent — George Seldes, I.F. Stone, Ida B. Wells, et. al. But does she ever pal around with her fellow talking heads? “We get friendly with each other a little bit …. [but] I can’t imagine going out to dinner with any of them, it wouldn’t be a relaxing dinner anyway. It’s not like we’re all buddies, anyway.”

And if they were, it’s not like she has a lot of time to do that sort of thing. From her plugged-in New York City loft, she prepares for “The Laura Flanders Show” — her weekend program on Air America, the embryonic liberal news-talk answer to the Right’s collective hate-radio roar — and does KALW’s “Your Call” two days during the week. And then there’s writing for publications like The Nation and CounterPunch and websites like And then there’s all those meetings. And then there’s…well, a life. “Compare me to [Pacifica Radio’s] Amy Goodman and I’m a loafer,” she said, laughing.

“I see Laura as one of the all-too-rare intellectuals … and truly progressive voices,” says Jackson. She can field many perspectives, “but at the same time she’s not a boring egghead. I’m thankful that she has the platform that she does. I just wish it was bigger.”

Flanders does, too. But in the meantime, she’s learning. From call-in talk radio (“Most of the experts are in the audience and if you speak to them not in the lowest common denominator, but the highest common denominator, they will respond”) and from television’s power to represent opinions of people not heard and seen otherwise.

As a rare progressive voice in the media wilderness, the London native is in for the fight of her life, and she’s in good company. The Left, she argued, is building its own forums to counteract the Heritage Foundation and the army of Right-wing syndicated broadcast and print pundits who, in her view, get their public policy agenda implemented before the rest of the country even figures out what’s happening. These new forums, she said, include: The Progressive Media Project; the Institute For Public Advocacy, and Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now,” which, in its eight-year history has become the closest thing progressives have to a “60 Minutes.”

And books. Bushwomen: Tales Of A Cynical Species is Flanders’s second (and heavily footnoted) book, with a third, the anthology The W Effect: Sexual Politics In The Bush Years And Beyond, just arriving in bookstores this past June. The W Effect’s contributors include feminist writing stars as Jill Nelson, Vandana Shiva and Barbara Ehrenreich.

But how much does Flanders’ work really matter in a nation whose Establishment considers Bill Clinton a progressive and George W. Bush a moderate? “I’m grateful she’s out there,” said Jackson of Flanders. “But I worry that she’s lonely.”

It’s been easy to ignore Laura Flanders, but Bushwomen is making a mark. It is a deft blend of well-documented reporting, instant history and media criticism, with just the right dashes of humor. It tells the story of how the Bush administration redefined feminism and civil rights to fit its own reactionary purposes. The work profiles the Right’s top female leaders and how they got to power. Very familiar names — Laura Bush, Christine Todd Whitman, Condoleeza Rice, Elaine Chao, Lynne Cheney and Karen Hughes, among others — get a critical evaluation, and are found wanting, to say the least.

In the Bizzaro feminism world Flanders has thoroughly documented, women in the Bush administration are “invaluable to the President, [but] under-scrutinized in the press.” This allows them to wreak public policy havoc on environmental regulations, pervert memories of the Civil Rights Movement, help steal Presidential elections, and just plain lie. Flanders defines the Bushwomen — the females who serve either as cabinet members or sub-cabinet members — as “an extremist administration’s female front. Cast in the public mind as maverick, or moderate, or irrelevant, laughable or benign, their well-spun image taps into convenient stereotypes, while the reality remains out of sight. If women were taken more seriously, the Bushwomen con job wouldn’t stand a chance, but in the contemporary United States, it just might.”

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