FDL Book Salon Welcomes Jamie Kilstein and Allison Kilkenny, #Newsfail: Climate Change, Feminism, Gun Control, and Other Fun Stuff We Talk About Because Nobody Else Will
Both Jamie Kilstein and Allison Kilkenny are trailblazers when it comes to independent media. Week-to-week, with their “Citizen Radio” show, they combine sharp wit with thought-provoking commentary. The book is an opportunity to introduce the show to people who may have never heard of them or haven’t listened to them yet.
Within the context of illuminating why independent media is necessary, the first part of the book recounts how they both met at the bookstore in New York where they worked, and fell in love. They lived on the road and worked together for a year—Jamie as a comedian doing small gigs, Allison as a journalist writing for whichever media outlet wanted to exploit her talent.
Jamie and Allison saw “Democracy Now!” one day and were inspired. It was the kind of program that represented the news programs that really should be on television. It, as they write, spoke on “behalf of real people and real issues.”
…Jamie had learned about politics through comedians like Bill Hicks and George Carlin, and he decided humor could be a good educational tool for people who felt disenfranchised from the political system and burnt by a mainstream media that led the country to war based on a lie, or for people who lacked a formal education and felt intimidated by the often complex, opaque world of politics. Allison, who was formally educated, wanted to use humor as well, mostly so people wouldn’t hear an hour of horribly depressing news and want to kill themselves…
They moved into an apartment “in a stabby area of Queens” and started “Citizen Radio.”
Jamie and Allison include some of their strongest material, which “Maniacs” (fans) who regularly listen to the show will recognize. They highlight issues related to feminism, rape culture, class warfare, being vegan, climate change, gun control, drones, etc. In each chapter they provide basic details on each issue and offer a collection of #newsfails, where pundits or media organizations were inept, ignorant, or just plain shitty.
One of the best no-holds-barred chapters in the book connects the fight against climate change to being vegan reflecting on their own experience as vegans. They joke, “It doesn’t matter if you are at a 350.org, PETA-sponsored, Che Guevara-honoring, left-of-left meet-up in the ‘Anarchy Shack’ built by the Howard Zinn organization dedicated to shutting down factory farms…if you ask the people around you if there is any vegan food available, they’ll collectively declare, ‘Oh, JESUS CHRIST!'”
They highlight a United Nations Environment Program report from 2010, which concluded as the “global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050, western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable” and encouraged being vegan. Myths about milk, protein, and carbohydrates pushed in health and environmental reporting are broken down and end this chapter with a vegan recipe developed by Jamie.
Much of the book is about finding one’s way in media. It is incredibly tough to make a living if you are a person committed to, for lack of a better catch-all term, “progressive issues.”
Jamie made his television debut on Conan O’Brien’s show and joked about drones, torture, and war. He may never be invited to do comedy on television again. During an appearance on Melissa Harris-Perry’s program on MSNBC, he criticized comedian Daniel Tosh for making a rape joke where the rape victim was the target. He then became the target of vitriol by other comics and their fans. He experienced what a lot of women who speak their mind on Twitter face daily.
Allison has struggled as well. She has worked for multiple media outlets but discovered they don’t like to pay emerging lefty journalists what they should so they can make a decent living. So the two decided to write this book, bring the story of “Citizen Radio” to more Americans, and turn other apathetic and disengaged people into Maniacs.
They were once living out of a car and interviewing people like Ralph Nader sitting in a bathtub. (Buy the book to find out if they were ever all in the same bathtub during the interview.) And they often felt like they were just doing the show for themselves.
Now their show has “been downloaded millions of times from tens of thousands of unique listeners in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Japan, France, China, South Korea and dozens of other countries on almost every continent.” The hosts are also putting on live shows in New York, which have feature journalists Matt Taibbi and Jeremy Scahill, comedian Sarah Silverman, and musician Regina Spektor. They are seeking more ways to “grow their family for the disenfranchised.”
As Publishers Weekly says, they’re “feisty, literate, and uncompromising.” Literate, indeed. They break their book into chapters. The book even has a preface, an introduction and an epilogue.
Seriously, there is a lot of heart as well as golden irreverent humor in what they do. They started the listener-supported show more than five years ago, and they’ve left their mark on many people. For example, they inspired me to launch a weekly podcast with journalist Rania Khalek called “Unauthorized Disclosure.” We didn’t have a white male guest until our twentieth episode.
With witty clarity, Jamie and Allison help many cope with the shoddy state of entertainment and culture in this country, as well as the increasingly depraved political system, which not only impacts Americans but has some oppressive effect on people all over the world.
Their book is a funny and memorable manifesto on how to deal with that reality, and it is my privilege to welcome them to Firedoglake for this Book Salon chat.