It's not often that a progressive gets to say, "I'm proud to be from Alabama."
But we had an opportunity to feel that way Wednesday night when environmentalist John Wathen appeared on Countdown With Keith Olbermann to discuss his dramatic videos of damage from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
On issues of national importance, the most prominent Alabama voices usually belong to Larry (U.S. Senator Richard Shelby), Moe (U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions), or Curly (Governor Bob Riley). I hate to tarnish the Three Stooges' comic legacy by linking them to conservative Alabama politicians, but it's the best comparison I can think of.
So it was indeed refreshing to see a progressive Alabamian make heart-felt and intelligent comments on national television--even if it was about an ongoing environmental catastrophe.
You can check out Wathen's visit with Olbermann below:
Several things jump out to me about Wathen's work:
* Where are the major networks? Why are these astoundingly newsworthy images coming from an independent Alabama conservationist? Where are NBC, ABC, and CBS? Like many Americans, I no longer get much of my news from the big three--so it's possible I missed it. But I'm not aware of any network video that is remotely similar to what Wathen has done. Did the idea of shooting video from a plane never occur to them? Does the corporate-owned mainstream media want to keep the public ignorant about how badly one of its corporate friends has befouled the Gulf of Mexico?
* Pictures and words. Wathen's work is powerful not only because of the images but because of his narration. He doesn't come off as a talking head with hairspray. He comes off as a regular person who is informed about the environment and is deeply pained by what he is reporting. In his first video, Wathen said, unforgettably, "It looks like the Gulf is bleeding." In his second video, featuring images of dying dolphins and massive fires, he said the animals seemed to be looking up at his aircraft, "Wondering, 'Why is my world burning down around me?'" It's powerful, and heartbreaking, stuff.
* Why can't Alabama produce leaders with the kind of values that John Wathen exhibits? While Wathen was enlightening the nation on one of the most important stories of our time, U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was proving an utter embarrassment at the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. In fact, Scott Horton, of Harper's, called Sessions "the big loser" of the hearings. John Wathen has proven that Alabama features caring, intelligent citizens. So why do we keep electing thinly veiled racists such as Jeff Sessions?
I'm hardly an expert on awards, but some kind of major recognition should be in Wathen's future. Glynn Wilson, of Locust Fork News Journal, deserves credit for being ahead of the game--he named Wathen his 2009 Alabama Person of the Year.
What has Wathen done in 2010? For those who care to pay attention, he has taught us that the Gulf oil spill is far worse than BP, and perhaps the mainstream media, want us to know.
It's an indescribably sad story. But Wathen has told it with boldness, skill and grace. And he's a progressive--from Alabama.
He, indeed, has made us proud.