NOT FOOLED BY THE MEDIA. Edward R. Murrow would turn in his grave if he got a whiff of what's become of the nightly local news. The curmudgeon journalist set the standard for broadcast media--cranky and steadfast, a cigarette always dangling from his hand. He'd be astounded at the current silliness, banality and waste of airtime.
Fast-forward 50 years to Amy Goodman--a journalist fiercely unwavering in her attempts to expose the truth about wars, human rights and elections around the world. She must never sleep. How could she when there's so much going on that the mainstream, corporate and even public (read: liberal) media seem to blithely gloss over?
Goodman has been at the helm of Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now! heard weekdays on KXCI 91.3 FM at 3 p.m. and also broadcast on Access Tucson (cable Channel 74) weekdays at 5 and 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. The 7-year-old show airs on 160 stations nationally on Pacifica, community and National Public Radio stations, public access cable, satellite television, shortwave radio and the Internet.
But not without its fights. The show's weathered Pacifica's own internal battles, being literally booted and locked out of their studios at WBAI FM in New York City a couple of years ago. Goodman and her crew persist, always finding another microphone. With Sept. 11 and the United States-led invasions around the globe, the likely caffeine-driven Democracy Now! producers have hit the ground at a mighty speed.
I've heard her ruffle the most propaganda-laced dictators and CEOs. My favorite was her interview with President Clinton. She didn't let up, even after he accused her of being pushy with her questions. (Isn't that what journalists do?) Her sober investigations get under the skin of a lot of people who are used to the usual banter of media robots. I figured she'd be just as tough as an interviewee.
Instead, she was eager to talk, gracious and patient--despite a breaking deadline on the story about the Wilson/CIA intelligence flap at the White House last week.
"We've been hot on the trail of lies of the Bush administration. It's absolutely critical that media reflect the reality that's out there," Goodman explained when asked why independent news-gathering is important.
"There's a silenced majority, and they're being squashed by the mainstream media. How can you ignore 30 million people marching worldwide on Feb. 15 against a looming invasion of Iraq? Instead, you just get this drumbeat of pro-war sentiment."
Goodman and her Democracy Now! crew are coming to Tucson on Oct. 12. They'll be down in Nogales for a cross-border walk to Mexico to raise awareness about immigration and the rights of indigenous people.
"It's appropriate to follow that action with a local broadcasting right near the border. So, we'll air Monday's show live from Access Tucson's studios," Goodman adds. "We have to build public media collaboratively; we have to debate the issues. Where else can we do this?"
Goodman also ponders the role of media consumers, particularly of public or alternative outlets like NPR, PBS or even newspapers such as The Weekly.
"Better not believe it all," she quips about what's being reported by those outlets. "You have to dig for the truth. When you're driving down the highway, you don't think, 'This is the Enron Highway.' No, you think you're driving down a public highway. Well it's the same with public or alternative media. Some are more public, more responsible than others. But you have to be ever vigilant. You always have to ask about ownership, especially now with the FCC loosening the rules on how many media outlets one single company can own."
Democracy Now! is funded entirely through contributions from audiences and foundations. They don't accept advertisements or donations from corporations or governments. This, in part, allows them to maintain their independence.
"Why does mainstream media so slavishly follow the corporate line?" Goodman wonders. "Why does the press incorporate the military's propagandistic language into flags and logos that splash across the bottom of the screen? Fox and MSNBC continually manipulate the coverage by calling this 'Operation Something-or-Other.' Instead, media should be using bias-free terms like 'war' or 'invasion' to refer to the U.S.-led military action in Iraq."
It's not just war that's firing up Goodman this year.
"It's amazing how very narrow the range of discussion still is in this election year. They're talking about General Wesley Clark as an anti-war warrior. Oh really? Last year, he was on CNN nightly beating the drums about war on what I call the 'General News,' where they bandy about all these military 'experts.' To see the media cast him as a progressive Democratic candidate is ridiculous."
So, how can independent media shift this slant?
"Make dissent commonplace. It makes us all safer in this age of Homeland Security. This country is the greatest democracy on Earth--to some. But a good many people are being detained and identified as enemy combatants with no access to a lawyer. The role of the media is to expose these activities, to open the microphones to those silenced."
How does Goodman stay positive amidst the doom and gloom she investigates?
"I see a lot of hope that comes out of people's activism. So I just keep on reporting."
Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, talks about independent media in times of war and elections at 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 12 at UA's Centennial Hall, just east of Main Gate at University Boulevard and Park Avenue. The program is free, but donations are accepted. A backstage reception with Goodman--a fund-raiser for KXCI FM and Access Tucson--takes place at 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost $75 and include refreshments plus music by local rabble-rouser Kathleen Williamson. Get your tickets online at www.kxci.org or www.accesstucson.org, or by calling 623-1000 or 624-9833.