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PopEntertainment.com > Feature Interviews P to T > Mike Papantonio

 

Mike Papantonio

Progressively Speaking

by Ronald Sklar

Say what you want about lawyers – and you probably do – you can’t accuse attorney Mike Papantonio of selling his soul to the highest bidder. In fact, the only green he cares about is environment-friendly, safe for babies and other beings who will eventually inherit the earth. 

We know this because, in his practice, Papantonio goes after shady corporations who have not yet realized what it means to respect people and planet.  

He may not be welcomed with a hug at Big Brother, Inc., but his broadcasts of his rants against all that is wrong  – commonly known as “The Pap Attack” – are growing legions of nodding heads.  

“The Pap Attack” is featured on his two labors of love: Ring of Fire on Air America radio (broadcast weekly), and www.goleft.tv, both of which are in-depth examinations of what is wrong with The Right, and a clear-eyed look (with a squint) at everything from big business to stem cell research.  

Talk about conservation – it’s a rare and beautiful thing to see balls hit into Left field by the ballsy. Papantonio and his broadcast partner and fellow attorney, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (yes, that RFK, Jr.), have double-handedly created a new force in the new age of the new media.   

This, of course, has caused the lemming army of sulking conservatives to dig their nails deeper into the cliff, as the world at last loosens itself from their icy grip. But Papantonio loves it – to him, there is nothing quite like a worthy confrontation. Hence, his "Pap Attack."  

With Papantonio, and now with Goleft.tv and Ring of Fire, it’s no longer business as usual. Here, he tells us how the future is now, and that the revolution will be televised in cyberspace.  

What inspired you to create Ring of Fire and GoLeft.tv?  

When Bobby [Kennedy, Jr.] and I came up with this idea, I hoped it was for all the right reasons. There was a need for what I refer to as ‘citizens’ media,’ and Bobby and I used to talk about what could we do.

The only thing that looked like a possibility when we first thought of this was the emerging Air America. We put a program on for them early on. I think it was one hour when we first started. Out of that, I became more familiar with what was happening out there. There really is a stacked deck against people who have a progressive ideology.  

Other than the ideology, how does your program differ from the powerful right-wing-conservative talk radio?  

It’s easier for [right-wing conservatives] to talk about themselves as victims. Victim discussion, victim dialogue is a lot easier for them. They’re always the victim; they [say] that they’ve always been mistreated, that they’ve never been treated fairly. [They say] the media doesn’t treat them right. It’s that whole mindset that comes out of the person who says that I am going to be an active, crazy, right-wing Republican.  

Was it hard to find your audience?  

Our thought was, let’s take a shot and see if there is any market at all. The whole time that Air America was struggling to stay alive, we knew -- because we were seeing from our own numbers – that there was a hole in the market.  

People were saying there was no place for them to go. If they couldn’t read Nation magazine or The New York Times or Progressive Populist, Mother Jones, whatever it was, if they couldn’t get information there, then they don’t have access to information.  

In any business, whether you’re selling pizza or widgets, there is always a hole in the market if you can identify where the hole is. It became very apparent to us that there really was a need for it and it wasn’t just our imaginations. Out of that came the idea of goleft.tv.  

It didn’t hurt to have a partner in Bobby Kennedy. 

For a long time, he and I were doing an awful lot of MSNBC and Fox, and a whole array of talking-head pundit things. It didn’t make sense for us. In three minutes, what can you say that means anything, unless you can say it again and again. 

Bobby is such a personality that people wanted to see him; they didn’t just want to hear him talk.  We thought, let’s put it on something people can see. 

However, he has a horribly strange voice from the dysphonia problem that he has. People say he sounds a lot like Katherine Hepburn, but listen to what he says! 

Does he have a sense of humor about it?  

Oh my God, yes. He has a huge sense of humor about it. 

How has the project been going so far?  

The numbers have been staggering. Yesterday, there were 200,000 visits [to Goleft.tv] in just one day. We’ve been in business five months. It’s been a surprise, frankly, meaning that I’m surprised that people have found it so quickly and so aggressively. 

It’s one thing to say that there is a citizens’ media that is rising, but it’s another thing to live it day to day and see it. 

What is the biggest benefit of citizens’ media? 

There is a benefit to people who have a presence on the internet. Here’s what I mean by that: I don’t care whether you’re talking about satellite radio or podcast content or purely blog content or internet content. There is always a need for specialized content. And then it starts crossing borders. 

Now you have the people from MSNBC or Fox who are getting wind of what we are doing. They can’t quite figure it out. They know they can’t even do it, because they look too much like establishment media. 

How would you describe Go Left’s visual style? 

I could have a studio that looks exactly like CNN. There is no question about that. In fact, I had to come to the decision to drop it down a few notches to where we don’t look like CNN and we don’t look like MSNBC or ABC. 

We did a lot of focus on this: people don’t want something that looks like something they’ve seen for twenty years. 

For example, why did we choose green? If we’re doing news, everything should be red, white and blue, shouldn’t it? We really tried to analyze it. Why should I have a tie on all the time? 

People want to connect with something that they feel is real. It’s not some absurd fictional creation of some MBA producer who just joined ABC. 

We’re always conscious of making something that has less pizzazz, but nevertheless has a quality look to it. It doesn’t look like somebody just talking into their computer, but it’s something that is being filmed, produced by an editor. 

We very sparingly use film footage, even though we have access to all that, but we don’t do it. We simplify it. What more do you need? When you get to that point, it looks less like citizens media and more like a copycat. I go in just the opposite direction of what you would think. 

People are tired of mainstream media. They’re tired of it. They’re tired of the Brian Williams and the Sean Hannity bullshit and the Bill O’ Reilly. It’s false. 

A great book was written not too long ago called Man Without A Country [Kurt Vonnegut, 2005]. It’s a great little short book, but it talks about the idea that we’ve all been institutionalized about the way things are supposed to look. It’s part of that consumer-culture argument that we’ve all been programmed. The more I can get away from that kind of programming, the better off we are as a citizens’ media. 

How would you describe your radio program, Ring of Fire? 

The whole purpose was to create a newsmagazine for radio. That is to be able to talk about issues that are not hugely political. Everything from mountain-top mining to pharmaceuticals that are killing people to exploration of Antarctica to the rise of Blackwater. You don’t know what you’re going to get week to week. It’s going to sound different week to week. 

There will always be the political overtones. There is no part of American culture that is not affected by those political overtones. You can take anything, no matter what the topic, from entertainment to pure, hard science, and those issues have the webs that pull them into the political arena. So there always is that political component to virtually anything we do. 

It’s easy for us to find that political component, not because we’re always looking, but because intuitively it almost always springs out at you, whether you’re talking about stem cell research or global warming in the area of science or Murdoch in the area of the media. All of those things have their political components. 

The word “left” has been demonized by the right-wing over the last thirty years or so. Was it a difficult decision to use that word in your title? 

All the consultants said, Pap, are you nuts! But [left is] what I am. That’s what Bobby is. You have to stand in your boots and die in your boots. 

The real data shows that people admire someone who believes in something and stays there in what he believes. When we started, we knew that 35-40% of the public was shifting toward progressive to moderate-progressive. In that shift, why don’t we just say what we are? 

When you tune in, you are going to get me beating the hell out of the Republicans. I don’t make any bones about it. I’m not here to say, ‘I’m fair and balanced.’ I’m not fair and balanced. I don’t like them. There is a flaw, a character personality flaw in the minds of people who carry on that political notion of how this world should be. Why would I want to dress up and look like something that I’m not? 

I have one other advantage, and it’s that I don’t do this for the money. It’s not something that I do because I am trying to make a bunch of money. It’s something I do and Bobby does because this is something that we really believe. 

Do the terms “liberal” and “conservative” even apply anymore in real-world terms? 

The reason the term liberal got such a bad name is because of a core neo-con group who were actually quite brilliant. 

It starts all the way back to a time that was called The Sagebrush Rebellion. That was during a time when they were trying to put Reagan in office. They spent in the tens of millions trying to figure out how to wordsmith. 

It was this cabal of neo-con nuts who figured out what they needed to change about our culture and how they would go about doing that. The very first thing they had to do was discredit the concept of the word ‘liberal.’ Then they had to tell a lie and make the lie stick that the media was actually liberal. 

If you go back and look at their marching orders, what their plan was, their first attack, was on the term ‘liberal.’ We don’t use the term ‘liberal.’ We use the term ‘progressive.’ We take the argument away from them. 

What exactly does the term “progressive” mean? 

Today, progressive means something different. Progressive, to me nowadays, is more of a populist. A person who understands that it’s not government in control of corporations anymore; it’s corporations in control of government. The progressive says, ‘why do I want a corporation making decisions about my healthcare, or whether or not to send my child to get shot up in a war for money? Why should I let them control my pension plan?’ All of these things are primarily money issues, but secondarily moral issues. The progressive label is really the closest thing to a populist. 

How did a Southern Methodist like you become a progressive? 

I had the advantage of being raised by different families. About seven different families raised me all through different parts of Florida. In retrospect, it was a wonderful way to be raised. I did have my core family at one point, but then I had my exposure to many different families. 

Any time you live in people’s homes and you see different parts and different pieces of those people, you have an appreciation of all parts of what’s human. I don’t think one thing simply engrained my ideology. It was just having the advantage of seeing how people live and what people struggle with day to day. 

I think what moved me the most is when I became a lawyer. I saw that the things that I had suspected while growing up were true. I see what [the big corporations] do to people’s lives. 

Until you depose these people and cross-examine them and have them in a courtroom, you see how evil – and there really is no other way to put it – how corrupt and evil a true renegade corporation has the potential to be. 

I say ‘renegade corporation’ because I clearly believe in the free-market system. I believe that free-market capitalism is a wonderful thing. But free-market capitalism has only been corrupted by greed. 

It used to be that a corporation would have a CEO who would work for that corporation for 25 years. Now the CEO, if he works there for five years, it’s extraordinary. He’s trying to extract as much as he can for his shareholders, so that he can get a bigger bonus and say that he’s a hero to his shareholders. 

That has shaped my opinion about what we have to do as a democracy to protect ourselves. It is a stacked deck. You can’t fathom – until you try cases against these people – what their capacity for ugliness really is. Until then, you can’t fathom how at risk not only capitalism is, but democracy. 

Isn’t it frightening to go up against major corporations and accuse them of doing shady things? 

Realistically, it’s not something that makes you paranoid or concerned about anything that they would do to you beyond what they would do to you politically. I have friends, for example, who have been targeted over the years for their political beliefs. And they’re wonderful people. 

Have you ever considered running for office? 

I never want people to have the belief that I am running for anything. The reason I’m always in an attack mode is because people feel like I talk. It’s sitting back there somewhere, in the recesses of their brain.

Kinder and gentler doesn’t work. It’s like showing up at a gunfight with a knife. There is no niceness about what we are up against. I want to be honest. The Pap Attack is a progressive who is pissed off. The theme of all the emails and phone calls is always, thank you for saying what I’ve been feeling but couldn’t say.

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Photo Credits:
#1 ©2008. Courtesy of Air America Radio/GoLeft.tv.  
#2 ©2008. Courtesy of Air America Radio/GoLeft.tv.  
#3 ©2008. Courtesy of Air America Radio/GoLeft.tv.  
#4 ©2008. Courtesy of Air America Radio/GoLeft.tv.  
#5 ©2008. Courtesy of Air America Radio/GoLeft.tv.  
#6 ©2008. Courtesy of Air America Radio/GoLeft.tv.  

Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: January 29, 2008.

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Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: January 29, 2008.