Speaking Truth to Power and Speaking Truth to Friends

Hell, I got lots of friends.

I don’t.

Tombstone, written by Kevin Jarre

A friend is someone whom you trust to do the right thing.  Sometimes you’ll hear people say that a friend did something uncharacteristic.  If they are really your friend, you will be the one to stand with them in those moments and say that just can’t be right.  Give them another chance to prove themselves.

So it is with National Public Radio’s short-lived membership in the MIC Coalition, the massive lobbying group organized by…someone…to oppose the Fair Play Fair Pay Act guaranteeing artist pay for radio play.  By the looks of it, those organizers were the usual suspects at the National Association of Broadcasters and Google.

As I mentioned in my presentation last week at the Copyright Society of the USA in Austin, the MIC Coalition members are companies and trade associations with a combined market capitalization over $2 trillion dedicated to two things:  “transparency” (for thee but not for me) and keeping royalties down.  That is, continuing the grotesquely unfair practice of denying artists (featured and non featured) compensation for terrestrial radio airplay–a practice that has been out of step with the rest of the world for decades.  As we know, the U.S. is the only democratic country that does not recognize the right.

When your friend makes a mistake like that what should a friend do?  An intervention of some kind is necessary.  Sometimes that intervention is rough.  But you don’t do interventions to shame or humiliate your friend, you do them because you believe in your friend’s essential goodness and you want to help them find that goodness in themselves again.  You do interventions to help your friend recover from a wrong turn.  In the end though, your friend must find their own path and there’s only so much you can do.  You can’t have been in the music business for very long without experiencing this.

So it was with NPR’s involvement in the MIC Coalition.  A really bad wrong turn.  However the organization ended up in that position, it became very apparent very quickly that it was not a decision that was vetted with the NPR News or Music employees.  One reason we know this is that David Lowery was contacted by a whistleblower inside of NPR who wanted the world to know that this was not the decision of the music or news divisions.

I would imagine that the reason that David was contacted is because the whistleblower trusted him.  I know this one.  It’s one of the most gratifying things you can imagine when someone turns to you and puts their career in your hands because they have no where else to turn, no one else who they can trust.  That’s a big deal.  Particularly in David’s case on this particular whistleblower–there are some pretty big guns that were none too happy.

David did one of the most remarkable interviews with Adam Ragusea of The Current that is a wide ranging discussion of the role of public media, social justice and NPR’s involvement in the MIC Coalition.  My bet–and I ask no questions–is that Adam’s interview had a lot of influence in the broader NPR news room.  And eventually may have had some influence in NPR’s decision to leave the MIC Coalition.  That influence is just as much about Adam as it is about David.

This is not about a victory lap.  I think this is actually a solemn moment when we reaffirm our commitments to our friends in public media and especially NPR.  We put this episode behind us, join arms and walk down the path together.  But let it be said that it was a remarkable example of speaking truth to power by David, Adam and probably dozens of people inside NPR whose names we will never know but to whom we owe a big debt of gratitude.

And now–back to work.  We need to get Fair Play Fair Pay passed into law.  You can start doing that by signing the #irespectmusic petition here. 

Then make sure you’re registered to vote.  More on that later.