“And now, the ugly side of the convention,” intoned the anchor on one of our stellar TV-news outlets in Raleigh, “the protesters.”

Funny, I thought the right to engage in nonviolent protest and civil disobedience were the hallmarks of a free society–hardly ugly, but living proof that we were still free. And I would have thought that local coverage of our sons and daughters–or possibly even you and me–during the Republican convention might favor the home team. After all, many of the people protesting and jailed there actually live in our community.

But I’ve stopped looking for that kind of journalism on local TV news. For a reality check, I look more and more to the Internet. And the stories I see and hear there have never been more at odds with those offered by the corporately owned mass media.

The place where I like to start is Free Speech Internet Television (www.freespeech.org), which provides live streaming of news collected at ground level by contributors with video cameras. The picture they paint is, in fact, ugly–but not for the reasons offered by the anchor with the blow-dried hair.

If the video and first-person testimonies coming out of places like Philadelphia (and, undoubtedly, Los Angeles this week) are any measure, there continues to be an epidemic of police brutality in this country, and genuine torture going on out of sight of the cameras. The victims aren’t terrorists but, for the most part, nonviolent protesters. And the perpetuators are, for the most part, the people we empower to protect us. Check out what’s happening on the street and in our jails, and the questions you’ll be asking are: Who do the police work for? And what, exactly, are they protecting? If it’s not us and our civil rights, then what is it?

If I’ve learned anything from these stories, it’s that the gaping inequities we see in America exist not as a force of nature, or as a result of free markets. They exist only at the end of a gun barrel, a nightstick or worse. And they continue only in the absence of a free and uncompromised press, one that addresses issues rather than punishing and marginalizing the people forced to raise them.

It seems unavoidable to compare today’s social movements with those of the ’60s. If so, then today’s “generation gap” is not one of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, but of news: who presents it, who frames it and whose vision of reality is real. The Internet remains a source of hope and an indispensable tool for putting news in the hands of those who have the biggest stake in the vision it presents: you and me.