Amy Goodman, the longtime activist, muckraker and the last person you'll ever expect to find comforting the comfortable, is taking a step into the mainstream. Goodman, who for the last 10 years has been the voice of Democracy Now!, a hard-driving liberal activist radio and television news program, just signed up to be a nationally syndicated columnist with King Features Syndicate. At the same time, she has a new book out, Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders, and the People Who Fight Back. Goodman, who wrote the book with her brother David, is headed for Boise this week for her first visit to the Gem State. The event is a fundraiser for Boise Community Radio and Treasure Valley Community TV. Along the way, she spoke with BW about her column, her book, and the glimmer of hope she sees for the mainstream media.
BW: So this will be your first visit to a state that's very, very conservative.
I think that conservative and liberal lines are breaking down right now. So I don't think it's about people's political persuasions. What's going on in Iraq right now is horrifying people across the political spectrum.
The Republican Party is split wide open now over the issue of torture. Here you have President Bush trying to change the 1996 War Crimes Act. Not international law, you know, where people say, "We don't have to abide by international law." This is U.S. law. Because the Bush administration is deeply concerned right now that they could be held accountable. This is war crimes. It's pretty astounding.
Tell me about your arrangement with King Features Syndicate.
We are launching the column, called "Breaking the Sound Barrier," on October 24. It's a very big deal. It's a way to reach out to many different audiences. I think people recognize the media has failed them. People are tired of hearing the same small circle of pundits who know so little about so much, explain the world to us, and getting it so wrong. We need to break the sound barrier with other voices, with experts in their own communities, to provide a forum for people to speak for themselves.
You have been very good at pointing out the foibles of the mainstream media. I wonder what you thought about when you considered joining a major syndicated service like that.
What we want people to know is, there's a whole universe of independent media out there. But people can't go to them if they don't know who they are. When we talk about the mainstream media, it is not mainstream any more. It is an extreme media, and we have to take it back. When people read their newspapers, they are turning to their editorial pages and are disturbed. Where are the voices that represent their point of view, the experiences of people? Where are everyday people's voices reflected? And that's what we're going to do with this column, is provide a forum for those voices.
The media are the most powerful institutions on earth. More powerful than any bomb, than any missile. And the Pentagon has deployed it, and we have to take it back. We have a special job as journalists. We're supposed to be the Fourth Estate. Not for the state.
Why did you title your new book "Static?"
Well, here we are in this high-tech digital age, with high-definition television, and supposedly an ever-clearer picture of reality. But instead, what do we get? We get ever more static, a veil of omissions, lies and half-truths that obscure reality.
Instead, we need a media that creates static of another kind, what the dictionary defines as "criticism." Instead of a media that covers for power, we need a media that covers power. And we need a media that covers the movements that create static, and make history. That is why we called it "Static."
In the 10 years since you began "Democracy Now," a lot has changed, including the rise of the blog phenomenon. How has that affected your view of the media landscape?
The more voices, the more vibrant the democracy. You need to be able to hear different points of view. Part of why there's been this explosion of blogs, which are critical, and very important, is because the mainstream media has blocked these voices out. And people are not just dissatisfied, they're angry when they don't see the truth reflected in the newspapers and the networks, the top stories in the paper of record. There's a kind of whitewashing going on. There's a conveyer belt for the lies of the establishment in Washington. It's not just the Bush administration. The Democrats have enabled this invasion. They voted to authorize this invasion. The leading Democrats like [John] Kerry and [John] Edwards, sure they say now they made a mistake, but they didn't then. And the leading candidate for the Democratic Party, supposedly it's Hillary Clinton, she does not say she made a mistake.
The problem with the media now is it simply reflects the difference of opinion between the Democrats and Republicans. And when it's not very different, in fact sometimes it's not very different at all, you sometimes have a media that's a party to the party.
In the beginning of your book, you talked about the difference in the way the media covered Hurricane Katrina, as opposed to the embedded process of Iraq war coverage. Tell me how that changed the coverage.
It was astounding, what we watched unfold on our TV screens a year ago, when you had the corporate media do the right thing. They went down there, they showed up.
The side effect of the Bush administration not responding--I mean talk about reckless, if not criminal, endangerment--a side effect of the Bush administration not sending in the troops was there were no troops to embed with.
And it was amazing, what we saw. For the first time, perhaps, an unembedded press, reporting from the victim's perspective. You had bodies floating by on TV screens. The Bush Administration moved into action on that one. They said, 'You're not to film these dead bodies.' And the editor of the (New Orleans) Times-Picayune said, "You've got to be kidding."
That is reporting from ground zero. It galvanized the nation. No matter your political persuasion; you could be a conservative, a liberal, you could be a Republican or a Democrat, it didn't matter. People were horrified at what they saw. And a side effect of the press being there, when the government said, "We're there, we're helping people," they said, "No, you're not there, we're there." They challenged the government.
Can you imagine if we saw this for just one week in Iraq?
Tuesday, Sept. 26 at 11:30 a.m. Boise State's Student Union Building, Lookout Room. A $10 donation is suggested, but student admission is free and organizers say no one will be turned away for lack of funds.