As I explained in my State of the Union address last week, we'll win the future if we treat today's competitive world as an opportunity, the way Americans viewed the space race five decades ago. And no area is more important than timely information: News.
This week drove it home: the most consistent, best informed newscasts didn't come from CNN, Fox or any commercial US broadcast network. Everyone -- even those other networks! -- was tuned to Al Jazeera English, Free Speech TV, and independent sources using cell phones and the internet.
Al Jazeera English is produced in Washington DC by a diverse team that includes top journalists, Middle East experts and US Iraq war veterans and correspondents. It is famous as the trusted, popular voice reporting on Middle East dictators and speaking truth to power in times and places where no one else can or does. Carried throughout Europe, Britain and Canada, the US is now the only English speaking nation too xenophobic, prejudiced and politicized to carry Al Jazeera English, due partly to its demonization during its critical coverage of the attack on Iraq. Free Speech TV has enjoyed a surge in viewership during the Egypt crisis by carrying additional hours of AJE footage -- which wound up being used by almost every news network.
By contrast, a week ago Tuesday afternoon, after catching up on a dawn recording from Democracy Now! that showed a revolution had begun in Egypt, Michele flipped on CNN looking for a live report.
I don't know what CNN program I was seeing, but I swear to you the stories were:
"How did this grand piano get on this tiny island in Florida? Was it a documentary filmmaker or a couple of teenagers? You'll be surprised by the answer."
"Users of this Kenmore washer can dial their cell phone to have it diagnosed remotely, as this Kenmore representative is demonstrating with this washer in the studio."
And today, with the revolution in it's 10th day, Malia accidentally switched on CNN and got to hear about how Charlie Sheen's rehab may effect the shooting schedule of a situation comedy show and -- I wish I was kidding -- news that Jennifer Aniston once turned down Saturday Night Live to be in Friends.
CNN's Anderson Cooper and his brave 360 team do deserve credit for arriving in Cairo within days, reporting critically, and enduring violence near the center of the conflict. But Al Jazeera and Democracy Now! reporters were talking with local people, not rushing through crowds or studying firebombs from an aerial view. The contrast was striking -- and Cooper's team is already gone.
The real US exception is Democracy Now!, whose astonishing coverage from the heart of Tahrir Square has been led by frequent DN! anchor Sharif Abdel Kouddous, who knows Egypt and Cairo because he grew up there and could provide deep, insightful and historically based coverage.
If WikiLeaks and Al Jazeera English are today's foreign Sputniks of informed, trustworthy, independent 21st century news, our Mercury/Apollo program for media must be US born and bred Democracy Now! and Free Speech TV. Democracy Now! has doubled in size repeatedly over the decade, and is now carried on both US satellite networks, Link TV, Free Speech TV, podcast video and audio, Spanish headlines, and most cable line-ups -- since it's on hundreds of viewer-supported local and PBS stations by demand -- and around the world. If we're in a Space Race for independent media, it's without a NASA -- it's driven not by governments but by people.
Happily, Democracy Now! and Al Jazeera English news updates could be seen throughout the week on Free Speech TV. If you have DirecTV you're lucky to get it on channel 348, alongside CSPAN where it belongs. If you're stuck with Comcast TV, you probably should call and tell them to be more patriotic -- to get with the program and start carrying both Free Speech TV and Al Jazeera English -- or, you should switch. Or maybe I should join Al Franken on TV and explain why the big Comcast monopoly isn't so good for America.
After all -- can America win the future if our Sputnik moments won't even be televised?
And if I didn't respond to today's Sputnik moment by standing up for our home grown independent media, what kind of a leader would I be?