Interesting speakers are frequent guests at the monthly meetings of the Activist Support Circle. June 27’s meeting drew a large and lively group to hear Patt Morrison, journalist and TV-radio host.
Morrison, whose syndicated column appears in over 200 newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, is also known for her stint as co-host of KCET’s Life and Times and for her radio show on KPCC-FM. As a commentator, she has been heard on NPR and the BBC. She is the author of Rio L.A., Tales from the Los Angeles River. Her interviews with significant figures and her often humorous but progressive commentaries are regarded by many as important contributions to freedom of information. Support Circle host Jerry Rubin told her, “Everyone loves you for everything you do.”
Morrison began by saying: “I do a lot of traveling and it’s a different world outside of LA. Here we don’t have a lot of differences – that is, we are different, but we are conscious of a lot of issues. But when you go to other places, it’s like another planet.
“The first hurdle is to educate people. I try to appeal to people who might not listen if I was right in their face. I use humor in my column – it’s a way of disarming people.”
Morrison’ s forthright opinions have garnered her a lot of angry mail – she unabashedly called it “hate mail.” But in regard to responding to her detractors – and to any opponents – she said, “You never match their anger. You thank them politely, you point out their mistakes. When you [don’t get as angry as them] you win the argument.” She also reminded the activists that political arguments and social commentaries are more effective when made simple to understand. “Tell one person’s story and then add that this is one of a million such stories, rather than attempting to tell a million stories at once.”
Questions from the audience provided Morrison with the chance to illuminate the story of her life. One person asked: how did she “become” Patt Morrison? “You should ask my father,” she joked. She explained that she grew up in a small town in Ohio, in a working-class family. Her “pagan grandfather” was delighted when she was expelled from Sunday School because she explained the parting of the Red Sea by saying it “must have been low tide.” She did a great deal of reading at her town’s one library and was inspired to a career in journalism when she read a book about 19th century journalist Nelly Bly, who exposed corruption and traveled the globe.
Morrison was also asked about censorship (“I’ve been at the Times since I was 17 – I never had a problem with [censorship].”) The secret, she said, is to simply tell the truth, to put out what the facts are. On the changes that have happened with media consolidation, she reminded people: “Don’t confuse the owners with people who work for them – like me.” On the “dumbing down” of the culture? “We’re using gadgets instead of knowledge. We are more tuned into our opinions thanks to the Internet, but we’re tuned into people who agree with us.”
And inevitably, someone complimented Morrison about her signature hats. Morrison explained that she began wearing hats when she was young due to a congenital skin condition. “It also works well at press conferences – it provides shade and it’s good for self-defense!”
‘No one wears hats as well as you do,” a woman told her. “Your hats are better than Bella Abzug’s.”
“Oh, hers were terrible,” joked Morrison. “And Hedda Hopper’s were even worse.”