Laura Flanders: Anti-War Radio Journalist

In an interview with Downtown in 1991, she discussed the two films she was active in producing at the time, "One was about domestic violence in the north of Ireland and its relationship to the political violence that was taking place on the streets. The other one was about the miners’ strike in Britain in 1984-85, which was a study of a women’s group that kept striking miners alive throughout a year of strike in a small village in South Yorkshire."

Flanders also helped produce a film about the 1984-85 "New York 8 Trial" of nine African-American radical activists who were falsely charged with "terrorist" activities and plotting to free a colleague out of jail, before a jury acquitted them of all charges.

Following her graduation from Barnard in 1985, Flanders continued to be into anti-war work and radical feminist filmmaking and wrote articles for alternative publications such as WomenNews, The Nation and New Directions for Women.

Flanders broke into the world of U.S. radio journalism at Pacifica’s WBAI in early 1987. She began working with Dennis Bernstein and Robert Knight, the producers of the nationally-distributed radio news show, Contragate, which later changed its name to Undercurrents.

In her 1991 interview with Downtown magazine, Flanders recalled the history of the Contragate/Undercurrents alternative radio news show: "Contragate was the original program out of which Undercurrents developed. It was an investigation that was begun by Robert Knight and Dennis Bernstein and others with the `Iran-Contra Scandal.’ And it really helped to unravel what became `Contragate.’"

"After two years of fairly strict concentration on the `Iran-Contra Affair’ and U.S. covert operations in Central America and the Middle East, the program expanded to address U.S. foreign policy and its impact at home and abroad–and its execution through covert and overt policies–on a much broader scale. I was actually brought in at just the time at which it was kind of expanding beyond just the `Iran-Contra Affair.’"

Flanders understood, even a few years before she began working in radio, that the U.S. left’s lack of mass media access was blocking the growth of an anti-war movement and radical feminist change. She also later concluded that she could make more of an individual political impact on U.S. society as a radio journalist than as a political activist.

As Flanders told Downtown in 1991: "What eventually pulled me out of working in film was that I felt that, in order to produce a product which would be seen by enough people to really be effective, it required so much money that it ultimately–unless you were really going to have enormous distribution–wasn’t worth the money. That it was not an effective use of funds. And that’s where radio and noncommercial video came in. It’s that, for the impact they can have, they’re incredibly cheap and accessible."

By 1991, however, despite being aired on forty-one public, campus or Pacifica radio stations, Flanders’ non-commercial Undercurrents show was experiencing financial difficulties. Dennis Bernstein had left the show to move to the Bay Area, where he began producing for KPFA in the 1990s his current alternative daily news show, Flashpoints. Flanders and Knight remained in New York City producing Undercurrents, but had to devote much more time to fund-raising work than previously.

As Flanders told Downtown in 1991: "We’re not funded by any sort of parent organization. So a lot of the work of the producers is to actually keep the bills paid. And to try and maintain our office and phone and all of that kind of expense, which isn’t very glamorous or very much to do with straight reporting…I’ve really noticed the limitations imposed on us by having to do that work…When I was functioning more just as a producer it was much easier to spend my day calling this resource and that source and trying to piece together a story, when I didn’t have to carve out some part of the day to write grant proposals and write letters to foundations."

When Undercurrents ran out of money, Flanders was able to continue to do alternative media work in radio, when her FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) co-hosts and office mates hired her to set up the FAIR Women’s Desk and host FAIR’s weekly CounterSpin radio show. Distributed for free by FAIR, Flanders’ CounterSpin show was aired on over 75 stations in the U.S..

Before leaving her position as head of FAIR’s Women’s Desk and CounterSpin co-host to work for the Pacifica Network News show in the late 1990s, Flanders also gained some notoriety within U.S. anti-war circles by appearing occasionally as a panelist on the corporate mainstream media’s Fox cable network talk show, NewsWatch. In addition, Flanders has occasionally been seen on the U.S. television screen as a panelist on CNN, on a PBS-aired showed, To The Contrary, on MSNBC’s Phil Donahue Show and on Bill O’Reilly’s show on the Fox cable network, as well as on a Canadian television show that was also called CounterSpin.

In 1991, Flanders told Downtown that: "I don’t have a principled position that if some wonderful job was offered to me I would oppose it because of allergic reaction to a healthy income" and that she believed "the responsibility is to take power and use it effectively, not to shy away from it."

When asked by Downtown whether she was worried about being corrupted by going into the commercial media, Flanders replied: "Of course, I’m worried. I hope that my friends and colleagues and comrades would keep me honest. My grandfather always said that it was one’s responsibility to get one shade more radical every year, just to combat the trend to the right that happens as you get older. So I hope I can follow in his footsteps."

Her criticisms of the left and independent media in the US have made her stand out among other progressive journalists. In a 2001 article for the Media File web site, Andrea Buffa observed: "Flanders also criticizes what some call the `unbearable Whiteness of the national progressive media.’ `Movements of the last 20 years have said that racism, sexism, and homophobia are not just details or side issues-they’re central issues. And our alternative press hasn’t taken these on.’ She says."

An April 2004 book review of Bushwomen by Hazel Croft also noted that: "Flanders is also severely critical of the record of the other mainstream, equally pro-capitalist US party, the Democrats. She also slates the mainstream feminist organizations in the U.S., like the National Organization for Women, for giving right-wing women `feminist cover’ and for `keeping their criticisms of powerful women to themselves.’"

Flanders has been criticized by some activists for blocking discussion on her radio shows of 9/11 conspiracy findings and the potential conflict-of-interest issues raised by acceptance of foundation grants and commercial advertising by U.S. media groups. However, her statements in recent interviews and lectures would seem to confirm the impression that Flanders is still a political radical.

At an April 18, 2005 book tour appearance at the University of Vermont for instance, Flanders said: "The white supremacist male was dethroned, but he wasn’t shoved out altogether, he was waiting in the wings and in the election it came down to who was more macho. Bush paraded his crotch on the deck of the carrier and no one even laughed…I don’t think we like occupation by Wal-Mart any more than the people of Iraq like occupation by Marines, but it requires us all to get out of our isolation. In the past we knew it was worth it to leave the mainstream because we knew the seeds of the future would be sown in the margins, and there is power in that."

Bob Feldman is an East Coast-based U.S. anti-war Movement writer-activist. Image from