January 26, 2004
Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! Host and Executive Producer
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Amy Goodman, host and executive producer of the popular news radio program
Democracy Now! is one of the toughest no holds barred journalists in
America. Goodman is fearless whether she’s covering hot spots and protests
on the streets in America, to covering atrocities throughout the world
ignored by the corporate media, to hard hitting interviews in the studio.
In 1990 and 1991, Amy traveled to East Timor to report on the US-backed Indonesian occupation of East Timor. There, she and colleague Allan Nairn witnessed Indonesian soldiers gun down 270 East Timorese. Indonesian soldiers beat Amy and Allan, fracturing Allan’s skull. Their documentary, "Massacre: The Story of East Timor" won numerous awards. In May of 2002, Democracy Now! returned to East Timor to cover the founding of the new nation. The 5-day series, "From Annihilation to a New Nation," was the most comprehensive coverage of East Timor’s transition to independence broadcast in the United States.
Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! began in 1996 as the only daily election show in public broadcasting. Due to popular demand, Democracy Now! continued beyond the presidential elections, soon becoming Pacifica’s flagship news and public affairs program.
In 2000, Democracy Now! pioneered an unprecedented multi-media collaboration involving non-profit community radio, satellite and cable television, and the internet. Democracy Now! broadcast live two-hour daily specials at the Republican and Democratic national conventions, direct from the Independent Media Centers in Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
* * *
BuzzFlash: Your radio program Democracy Now! is broadcast from an old firehouse only a half-dozen blocks from Ground Zero. Somehow it seems appropriate since your show is called "The War & Peace Report" and it’s an intersection of so many ideas. Tell us about the genesis of Democracy Now!
Amy Goodman: It began in 1996 as the only daily election show in public broadcasting, and it was meant to last about nine months during the election cycle. But after the election, there was such an outcry to continue because of the lack of grassroots voices in mainstream media, that we continued, and we’ve only continued to grow.
Two years ago, right around 9/11 we were broadcasting on several dozen Pacifica radio stations or affiliates. Now we’re broadcasting on more than 190 Pacifica radio stations and affiliates, NPR stations, as well as public access TV stations around the country. We’re also broadcasting on Free Speech TV, which is on satellite TV, Dish Network channel 9415, four times a day. We now have video and audio streaming on our website, www.democracynow.org. About one station a week is coming on board whether it be public access TV or a radio station. It’s absolutely amazing to witness the hunger for independent media in this country. We’re broadcasting across Canada on community radio stations, and across Australia as well.
BuzzFlash: What’s amazing is you’ve expanded from radio into producing television reports and documentaries. I saw the Democracy Now! documentary on the Miami protests from the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) meeting. What future plans are in store for Democracy Now?
Amy Goodman: We’re not just a televised radio show. We’re producing a full-scale TV show as well – essentially the same program that goes out every day on radio, except we’re broadcasting the images, photography, video and film of independent filmmakers around the world. We’ve created a new forum to break the sound barrier because it is so difficult to get independent images out in this country. We will be doing comprehensive election coverage. Why people are and are not voting, how people are organizing. We will be doing daily specials at the Democratic and Republican conventions from the corporate suites, to the convention floor to the protests in the streets.
We sent two reporters to cover the protests of the FTAA in Miami, Florida. And one of them, Jeremy Scahill, got shot with rubber bullets. The other, Ana Nogueira, was arrested by the police. Now these are independent reporters, and it’s very frightening to see the model the police are using.
When Ana Nogueira was arrested, and the police moved in on her she was filming, and one officer said to another officer, "Is she with us?" The officer said no, and they arrested her. They also stripped her. Now what did they mean by that? What did they mean by that "Is she with us?"
In the same way that we’ve seen reporters embedded with the troops, there were reporters embedded with the Miami Police Department, and she wasn’t one of the embeds, and so she paid the price. We don’t think that price is worth it. We think that media in this country has reached an all-time low, and that this notion of embedding runs completely contrary to what media should be doing in this country. We’re supposed to be holding those in power accountable, not embedded with those in power.
BuzzFlash: The protests against the WTO (World Trade Organization) in Seattle, as well as the recent demonstrations in Miami, were great examples when you look at the evening news versus an independent documentary of the same protests. You come away with thinking that you’ve watched two completely separate events on two different parts of the globe between the "sanitized" version from local or national news organizations, versus the view from an independent reporter. Why do you think there’s such a growing demand for your show and the information you provide?
Amy Goodman: The hunger for independent voices. What the corporate media is showing today is the minority elite – and I’m not talking about people of color. The elite few who beat the drums for war do not represent the majority of people in this country, and I’m not talking about a fringe minority or silent majority, but a silenced majority – silenced by the mainstream media.
There are movements building in this country and around the world such as the anti-corporate globalization movement like we saw in Cancun and Seattle, and most recently in Miami. The antiwar movement is vast and cuts across the political spectrum. Military families are enraged at what’s happening in Iraq. Recently, at Fort Stewart, Georgia, 700 military families protested against a senior military official so that he had to be escorted out by security to protect him from the military families. Soldiers on the front lines in Iraq are saying that they want Rumsfeld to resign. People have had their life savings wiped out working for companies like Enron and WorldCom. The companies may be going bankrupt, but the CEOs of these companies, the corporate cronies of the Bush Administration, are making a fortune. And then of course you have what’s happening in Iraq right now – making a killing off of the killing and the wholesale selling off of Iraq.
People across the political spectrum are enraged. The crackdown on civil rights at home is not just something progressives are concerned about. The whole issue of invasion of privacy goes across the political spectrum. I think that Bush is managing to unite people across the political spectrum against him. Only an independent media can discuss the depth of such issues on so many topics.
BuzzFlash: One of the things that distinguishes Democracy Now! from corporate media, is your willingness to go to hot spots such as the protests in Miami. You survived a massacre in East Timor in 1991 when Indonesian soldiers killed an estimated 270 East Timorese. You were beaten along with your colleague Allan Nairn. How did that experience influence how you approach journalism and where you go to report the news?
Amy Goodman: I live with that every day – November 12, 1991, the day that thousands of defenseless Timorese had gone to the cemetery to protest the killings of Timorese civilians by the US-backed Indonesian military. The whole story of Timor is one of the worst genocides of the late 20th Century where 200,000 Timorese were killed. And on that day, we were interviewing people about why they were at the cemetery – why they’d risk their lives to march against the killings. And they told us they were there for freedom, and for their mothers and fathers who had been killed.
Then we saw the Indonesian soldiers marching up, and without hesitation or provocation, without any warning opened fire on the crowd. They beat Allan and myself to the ground. They fractured Allan’s skull. They killed more than 270 Timorese on that day. There was no mainstream media from the United States there.
During the period of the 17 years leading up to 1991 there was almost no mention of East Timor in the mainstream media in this country. If the media shined a spotlight where it mattered when it came to issues of life and death, I don’t think that the occupation ever would have continued like it did in East Timor.
And ultimately, a movement built in this country. People became deeply concerned about the U.S. selling weapons to a human rights-abusing military regime. And finally the people of East Timor, because of unbelievable persistence and bravery, won their freedom. We returned on May 20, 2002 to see this nation of survivors celebrate their independence.
It let me know that when the media spotlight shines somewhere, it matters. When people in this country, the greatest superpower on earth, learn about what’s happening in another part of the world, it matters. Unfortunately, all too often, it is a country suffering because of a regime supported by the United States. But when people know, they do something about it. The key is that they must know about it. And that’s the role of the media -- to go to where the silence is and say something.
BuzzFlash: What do you see as the line between being a journalist and an activist? Is Democracy Now! an advocacy group or do you call yourself a news program?
Amy Goodman: This is a daily national grassroots news hour with a very strong international focus. We are a global community, bringing out the voices of people who are often not heard, that I think represent a majority of people on many different issues. And it is a forum for serious debate, dialogue, and discussion – what an international news hour should be.
As for the issue of objectivity, I think that journalists express their points of view all the time. In fact, on the issue of advocacy journalism, establishment journalists are my models. You hear them talking about what they think all the time. What matters is that we are fair and accurate in reporting, and that people are given a chance to express themselves. That is the most important mission, I think of a journalist, and that is to provide that forum for people to speak for themselves. It’s not an uncritical forum. It’s a forum where people debate, and where we do investigation.
The documentary that Jeremy Scahill and I did, "Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria’s Oil Dictatorship" or the documentary Allan Nairn and I did, "Massacre: The Story of East Timor" sparked other journalists to cover these stories. Every day, as people tune into Democracy Now! you’ll see groundbreaking reports that often mainstream media will pick up afterwards. I call it "trickle-up journalism."
BuzzFlash: There’s a liberal radio group forming and some reports are that it will be launched this spring to combat the right-wing dominance in radio. It’s almost as if people don’t recognize that there already is a progressive radio network or syndicated show -- Democracy Now! and the Pacifica Radio Network. Do you feel it’s a slap in the face to the work you’ve been doing or that people aren’t giving you credit for what you do?
Amy Goodman: Oh, not at all. I think the more media, the more diversity of programs, the better. I encourage people to read, to listen, to watch as much as possible, and to be very critical – not cynical, but critical -- and try to get as much information from as many different places as possible.
Our radio and TV program is growing exponentially. The fact is we’re on almost 200 stations now and growing every week. People at the grassroots level help determine where we’ll be heard. It takes people and a community calling up their public access TV station or NPR or college or community radio station and asking them to run Democracy Now!
Stations are putting us on everywhere. When it comes to NPR, Democracy Now! is beating All Things Considered and Morning Edition hands down when it comes to fundraising on these stations because people are hungry for alternative voices, not just the voices of officialdom.
BuzzFlash: Your show is the intersection of so many issues and points of view. How are you able to achieve that when most other news programs or media outlets fail?
Amy Goodman: I think that’s what good journalism is about. It’s about covering the world wherever the news takes you, not just what you want to focus on or what you choose to cover. We come from Pacifica Radio, which was founded more than 50 years ago in Berkeley, California. The first station, KPFA, was started by war resisters who believed there had to be a media outlet that wasn’t run by corporations that beat the drums for war, but run by journalists and artists. As journalism professor George Gerbner, founder of the Cultural environment said that media should not be run by corporations that have nothing to tell and everything to sell that are raising our children today. The idea of having that kind of independent media is a tremendous responsibility, and I think it should be a model for the rest of the media.
Independent media serves a democratic society. It is so critical to have independent media in a time of war because we need to have a discussion about the most important issues of the day – issues of war and peace, life and death. When that forum is not provided, it does a disservice to the servicemen and women of this country who are sent to kill or be killed overseas since they can’t have these discussions on military bases. It’s up to us in civil society to provide that forum for people to make up their own minds and to hear all of the voices, not just the generals on the payrolls from the networks.
It is a serious threat to this country not to have a media that is a check and balance on those in power. What we see now is that the media in this country has reached an all-time low having a media embedded in the power structure.
BuzzFlash: We read news reports about Americans dwindling interest in news and politics. However, your show is experiencing tremendous growth and interest. Your audience doesn’t seem to want the personality-driven news that dominates corporate media. Do you think part of the reason for your success is that corporate media dumbs everything down so much into bumper sticker politics that your audience is tired of the performance and they want substance?
Amy Goodman: Absolutely. What we see on television are not journalists -- they are media personalities who are bringing us celebrity news. If only they paid the same kind of attention to the issues that affect us most deeply. I mean, you have the endless focus on Michael Jackson, for example. Imagine if they spent the time talking about issues of sexual abuse across this country. Look at how they cover the Lacey and Scott Peterson case. Instead, what if they talked about how many women die every day as a result of domestic violence, and covering the stories of women all over this country who face the same situation, and hearing the full diversity of voices, instead of these dueling celebrity lawyers and media personalities commenting.
You’ve got this group of pundits on television who you see on every network, including PBS, who comment on everything, and who know so little about so much. People are alienated from that. They care deeply about what’s happening to our country. I speak all over the country, and people are deeply concerned. People are involved, but it’s just not hitting the corporate media radar screen. And that’s why I think Democracy Now! has really caught on like wildfire around this country. People are hungry for real voices, real people, and real communities who have something to say.
BuzzFlash: Amy Goodman, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Amy Goodman: Thank you.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Democracy Now! web site
Feature of Amy Goodman in Washington
Post, "Peace Correspondent,"
March 10th, 2003
otherwise noted, all original