As was clear from the recent 2012 elections, the integrity of most news and media information programming is now highly suspect. No longer can we trust any kind of media—whether television, print or the Internet—to bring us truthful, fair or unbiased reporting. Those with money and special interests control most media and Internet web sites.
Politicians now lie with impunity. Truthful fact-checking is almost non-existent. News organizations now hire underpaid, poorly trained reporters. They make horrendous errors and rarely apologize. No one pays a price for it. The Internet was supposed to spawn an “information superhighway.” Instead, it brought us a littered strip mall of propaganda from various special interest groups.
Unfortunately, this phenomenon has infiltrated our schools. Educational textbooks, especially history and public affairs, reflect a point of view—virtually aways from those who have money and power. Teachers who dare deviate from the proscribed texts are often fired or reprimanded.
In fact, this is true with most history itself. In almost all cases, history taught in public schools has become propaganda. “Official” histories are written by the winners about their victories and pursuits. Sometimes it is used to update or revise the victories of the winners. Sadly, most of this history is simply not true.
The smartest kids see through it, but most don’t. They grow up to become unquestioning believers and consumers in mass media. Though more “information” is easily available today than ever before, fewer people have the knowledge necessary to make educated decisions.
Media continues to consolidate to ownership by those with the most money and political influence. The more independent outlets a community has, the more different viewpoints will be presented. However, today there are far fewer independent news organizations left to compete. Reporters on the streets have dwindled and less real journalism is being reported.
Government agencies like the Federal Communications Commission are supposed to protect the publicly owned airwaves. Yet, powerful media companies have the commission’s ear, and over the years it has become easier for these companies to accumulate more local airwaves. Today, only a handful of media companies own most broadcasts outlets in the United States. Many of them don’t do news, but video “press releases” from corporate sponsors. And it’s perfectly legal.
As of 2010, The Walt Disney Company was the largest media conglomerate in the United States, with News Corporation, Time Warner and Viacom ranking second, third and fourth respectively. These companies own everything from motion picture studios, television networks and stations, newspapers and Internet web sites. It’s no wonder our view of issues is so narrow.
On the Internet, where there was once great hope for media independence, companies like Apple, Facebook and Google are slowly reconstituting the Internet's walled gardens of the early days. As these companies try to steer us to their increasingly closed versions of the Internet—and to marketers who benefit from mining our personal information—we get fewer and fewer independent sources of honest information.
What can we as individuals do about it? Unfortunately, the fight for honesty and truth in media is in the hands of individuals, not corporations. Some of these individuals are trained journalists, writers and reporters who grew up in organizations that were once dedicated to honest reporting and the strictest journalistic standards.
One of those is Frank Beacham, a veteran reporter who was on the staff of United Press International, Gannett Newspapers, Post-Newsweek and the Miami Herald. He also worked for all the television networks in 27 countries around the world, reporting and making video of everything from wars to international leaders to presidential trips in Europe.
It was an era when reporters were paid well and high standards were demanded. Errors in reported stories resulted in writers being fired. That’s no longer true today. Reporters are now paid minimum salaries and genuine expertise is not demanded. Mistakes are brushed off and ignored. Many of today’s reporters don’t even know basic grammar or have a good historical background.
Back during dynastic times, Chinese scholars divided historical writings into two distinct genres. Official histories were called “zhengshi.” Unofficial histories, or literally “wild histories” were called “yeshi.” They were based on eyewitness accounts, personal remembrances and popular lore.
These “wild histories” were more truthful and fluid—catching “life on the wing.”
Making History More Accurate?
Frank Beacham is a “wild historian.” He has written and reported stories that need to be told—regardless of outside pressure. From the motion picture “Cradle Will Rock,” which he got personally from Orson Welles and brought to Tim Robbins for the Touchtone movie production, to a series of true, but unknown award-winning stories about history in the deep South, Beacham has uncovered stories that the powers that be don’t want told. His work has won the Gold Medal for Best History and the Silver Medal for Best Social Issues programs in international radio competition among 26 nations at the New York Festivals.
For years, Beacham has done interviews, cataloged information and developed major stories that others have ignored. He has published these stories and optioned several for motion picture rights. Along the way, he has collected audio, photographs, video, film and other multimedia material, hoping to one day incorporate all of these elements into a single story. Now, that day has come.
Say Hello to Multimedia Publishing
With the introduction of electronic books—and especially Apple’s iPad—has come a new kind of storytelling. It’s called multimedia publishing. It allows authors to combine text, video, audio, photographs, graphics and other visuals elements into a single multimedia story presentation. We are in the early stages of multimedia publishing. Today, multimedia works are still called “electronic books,” but soon they will take on an entirely new name and will become a new genre.
These presentations combine movies, books, CDs and software into a new kind of artistic work. Because of the cross documentation required to make such multimedia presentations, it becomes harder to make up fake and unsubstantiated stories. In this case, a picture or actual film is truly worth a thousand words?
Multimedia publishing also levels the economic playing field with big media. This is because it can be done by individuals at low cost. No longer are major budgets required to release compelling works of media. Unique works can be used as entertainment, serious study or in class rooms as substitute for textbooks.
Gatekeepers are also removed, since Apple’s iBook store allows multimedia books to be sold to anyone at low cost. The producer of the product can also release multimedia books to the audience directly. No middlemen or publishers. The cost is lower and more people will have access to unique stories.
This Kickstarter project is to launch multimedia versions of three major stories about American culture. Since Frank Beacham is from South Carolina, these initial works are southern stories with universal themes. Reflecting over 15 years of personal research and interviews, these work focus on three little known historical events that helped define the nation’s culture in the last century.
The first, “Charlie’s Place,” examines the remarkable interracial collaboration in the segregated post-World War II years that led to the rise of black music and the creation of South Carolina’s official state music (beach music) and dance (the shag). The second section deals with the 40-year plus legacy of the Orangeburg Massacre, the killing of black college students in 1968 at South Carolina State College. Part three is the author’s personal story of his grandfather’s involvement in the killing of seven mill workers in his hometown of Honea Path during the Textile Strike of 1934.
“Powerful forces have shaped and defined a sanitized version of Southern history,” said Beacham, now a New York City-based writer and media producer. “These works were born of the frustration of learning more about my own history growing up in South Carolina, became an attempt to meet these distortions head-on by exploring my memories and answering some lingering questions.”
In “Charlie’s Place,” Beacham tells for the first time the true story of the Ku Klux Klan's violent attempt in South Carolina in the post World War II years to stop dirty dancing and kill the emerging black music behind it—rhythm & blues.
He describes how a handful of adventurous young black & white dancers—with the help of a fearless black nightclub owner—risked life and limb in an era of racial segregation to create a bold new dance and an enduring Southern musical legacy.
The story evolved from a series of recorded interviews by the Beacham with many of the key figures credited with the creation of South Carolina’s state dance, the shag, and the state’s music, a sub-genre of rhythm and blues now called Carolina “beach music.”
In a vivid description, Beacham reconstructs the violent armed assault in 1950 by the Ku Klux Klan in an attempt to shut down “Charlie’s Place,” an influential Myrtle Beach night club where white and black dancers shared the dance floor and helped create what is now called the shag. The violence sprang from the aftermath of one of the state’s most openly racist political campaigns, the 1950 U.S. Senate election between Strom Thurmond and Olin D. Johnston.
“Young black and white South Carolinians—in a time of segregation—put their lives on the line to defy the state’s white establishment and create a genuine musical legacy,” said Beacham. “An irony is that South Carolina’s government officials made the shag and beach music the official dance and music of the state without even understanding or noting it’s remarkable historical significance.”
Over the years, Beacham said, the state’s music and dance has almost completely been co-opted by Southern whites, leaving a new generation of blacks unaware of the cultural phenomenon they helped create. “It is sad that many young blacks in South Carolina have rejected beach music and the shag because they think the music has white-only roots. Years of racism and a lack of education have helped erase one of South Carolina’s most notable creative accomplishments,” Beacham said.
This project will include actual interviews with the creators of the dance, as well as rare photos of the night club and video of the dance as it is done today.
The Legacy of the Orangeburg Massacre
An act of racism in a small college town leads to peaceful protest by frustrated black students. The governor, elected on a platform of racial moderation, responds with a vast show of armed force. Each side misreads the other, escalating the conflict. Then, in a peak of emotional frenzy, nine white highway patrolmen open fire on the students. In less than ten seconds, the campus turns into a bloodbath.
Over four days in early February, 1968, this scenario played out in Orangeburg. On the final day, three black students were killed and 27 others wounded when the lawmen sprayed deadly buckshot onto the campus of South Carolina State College. Most of the students, in retreat at the time, were shot from the rear—some in the back, others in the soles of their feet. None carried weapons.
The killings occurred in a southern state heralded for its record of nonviolence during the civil rights era. In attempt to preserve its carefully-cultivated image of racial harmony, a web of official deceptions was created to distort the facts and conceal the truth about what happened in Orangeburg. The state's young governor, Robert E. McNair, claimed the deaths were the result of a two-way gun battle between students and lawmen. The highway patrolmen insisted their shooting was done in self-defense—to protect themselves from an attacking mob of students.
At first, the state’s cover-up worked. Later, it unraveled. Now, after more than 40 years, the story of Orangeburg continues to simmer unresolved in a twilight zone of blame and denial. Author Frank Beacham, a young reporter at WIS-TV in Columbia at the time of the shooting in 1968, re-examines “a story whose significance I totally missed at the time.”
Beacham asks why, after all these years, does an aggressive effort continue in South Carolina to hide and distort the role of former Gov. McNair and his white state police in the 1968 killing of three black college students in Orangeburg, South Carolina. He found the answers disturbing.
“The Orangeburg Massacre is a complex Southern epic that contains the essential elements of the best of Shakespeare’s plays,” Beacham noted. “The 40 plus year aftermath of the killing is perhaps one of the most revealing and important historical stories of modern South Carolina and very deep dive into the basics of Southern culture.”
Beacham has collected recorded interviews, old filmed press conferences, photographs and other multimedia material that will make this the most complete documentation yet of this historic event.
Home Town Secret
On the morning of September 6, 1934, in the tiny town of Honea Path, South Carolina, friends and neighbors came to blows in a labor dispute. When it was over, seven people were dead and 30 others wounded.
The bloody riot at the town's cotton mill on that warm Thursday morning shaped the lives of two generations to follow—not because of the shock of what was known, but by what was unknown. Fear, threats and intimidation were used to silence the story of the greatest tragedy in the town's history.
For 60 years, the story of a mass killing in a small town was successfully erased, not only from the history books, but from the public consciousness of those people most affected by it. An instrument of fear—so powerful that parents were afraid to tell the story to their own children—formed a lifelong social contract for entire community's survival.
Ironically, Honea Path’s secret was finally revealed in a way the architects of its original cover-up could have never imagined: a video documentary made by three socially-conscious New York City filmmakers who unraveled the secret after rummaging through old letters from townspeople to President Franklin Roosevelt.
Yet, even after the truth was exposed in 1995, the story took another strange twist. South Carolina's intensely pro-business establishment, still heavily influenced by the region's textile industry, tried to suppress the documentary, first by banning it from broadcast on its state-supported television system and then by making it difficult for people to see in public places.
Author Frank Beacham grew up in Honea Path. His mother was the town's history teacher. His grandfather, he was to learn, organized the posse of gunmen who fired on their fellow workers in 1934. Yet, only in his 46th year did he finally learn the deeper secrets that haunted Honea Path and the painful truth about his own family and the destructive series of events that distorted the perceptions he held of his childhood home.
This is a compelling multimedia story with family pictures, recorded interviews and video taking one on a revealing journey that could have never been imagined during the time of the cover-up.
Wild History that fights back!
“Only after researching these stories did I learn that each continues to live and remain fiercely unresolved for a reason,” said Beacham. “Elaborate efforts have been made to distort and misrepresent each story and to omit it from the state’s official history. Perhaps the reason for this, I found, is because these stories share cultural attributes that go back to the antebellum South: stubbornness, pride, honor and denial.”
Risks and challenges
My stories are written and the multimedia materials, including film, video, audio and photographs, have already been collected through years of self-financed research. This project is an assembly of the material into a multimedia journalism project with interactive capabilities. The capability to do this has technically come about recently. I will use the money to assemble a team to bring the application to life. I anticipate no delays or problems of major significance.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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