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Amy Goodman: From Democracy Now

General Assembly 2004 Event 2039

Introduced as "a woman who has pressed the edges" and a woman "who doesn't know when to be quiet," Amy Goodman began by warning, "These are dire times. We need an independent media that reflects what is really happening around the globe."

Goodman briefly summarized the history of Pacifica Network, beginning when Pacifica Radio was founded in 1949 to be run by journalists and artists, not corporations that, in the words of one Pacifica founder, "have nothing to tell and everything to sell...." Pacifica pioneered the idea of listener sponsorship; as the network expanded, a station in Texas had the distinction of having its tower burned twice by the KKK. Pacifica is "dangerous," Goodman said, "because it allows people to think for themselves."

Referring to the Abu Ghraib torture scandal currently in the news, Goodman reminded the audience that the general who recommended how to run the operation at Abu Ghraib, and later headed it up, began first at Guantanamo. "The Administration knew," Goodman said, "but didn't know that pictures would get out." The Pentagon, before the scandal broke, called the operation a "spectacular success." "When we hear about the torture," Goodman said, "remember it is not just low level soldiers." She described how the torture really starts "here at home"—"somehow these soldiers believe that they have been granted permission" to torture, and that, she said, is rooted in the role of the Administration and the American media in promoting stereotypes and caricatures, selecting what is heard and seen.

The tendency to show only sound bites complicates the matter: "If you say Saddam Hussein is like Hitler, you're ready for prime time... but if you say high level officials are guilty of war crimes, you need time to explain." She cited a study in which, in the few weeks before the American invasion of Iraq, major media (CBS, NBC, ABC, and PBS) aired 393 interviews about the upcoming war, and only three of those were with individuals who opposed the invasion—at a time when surveys showed that a majority of Americans were unsure about the invasion.

She moved then to talk about a decision yesterday in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, overturning new FCC rules that made it easier for large media companies to buy stations in local markets. That Colin Powell leads the war in Iraq and his son Michael K. Powell leads the "war on media diversity" characterizes, Goodman said, the relationship between the agenda of the military and the agenda of the media.

Yet, Goodman continued, "people are hungry for independent voices." She told stories of the reception of her current book tour, promoting The Exception to the Rulers which she wrote with her brother, David Goodman. The book is selling very well, far better than many booksellers were expecting, and the crowds have been larger than expected. Those who share concerns about the military and the media are not, Goodman summarized, a fringe group but a "silenced majority."

The Exception to the Rulers should not, she continued, just be a motto of Pacifica, but "it should be the motto of all the media." The media, after all, are singled out in the First Amendment for protection because the founding generation recognized that the press and media should be a counterbalance to government.

Goodman pointed out that it's important that the book sell well so that it will make it to bestseller lists, and thus be listed in such publications as the New York Times which aren't likely to be reviewing the book. Why? Perhaps because there's a chapter specifically criticizing the role the New York Times played in convincing the public of the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

As early as September 2002, the Administration—headed, Goodman pointed out, by people like Bush, Cheney, and Rice who all had oil connections—began reporting that "Iraq was six months away from developing nuclear weapons." These stories and others were fed to the Times, Goodman said, which printed them, often as lead stories on page one. Then the Administration turned around and justified their claims by pointing to those stories in the Times; as Vice President Cheney said, "I want to attribute the Times."

The New York Times did eventually publish a sort of mea culpa about their part in the buildup to the Iraq invasion, but, as Goodman pointed out, "We all know about Jason Blair" because when his journalistic errors came to light, the Times printed a 5-page explanation of their firing of him. Yet, she said, when the Times covered their own errors, it didn't "name names" in describing responsibility.

To further describe the media's coverage of the Iraq war, Goodman pointed out that at the time of the invasion, NBC was owned by GE and CBS was owned by Westinghouse, the companies making most of the weapons used in the war in Iraq. The Wall Street Journal did a feature showing the difference in coverage of the Iraqi invasion simply between CNN and CNN International, both owned by the same company. While the American stations showed over and over the images of the Saddam Hussein statue being toppled, the international stations also showed the casualties of the invasion, including Iraqi women and children.

Goodman told the story of her appearance on the Sally Jessie Raphael show around the time of the invasion. Raphael's producer called Goodman to appear on a show that would feature three women for and three against the war, but when one of the other antiwar speakers—a woman in the military who objected to what was happening—Raphael "fell apart" and stopped taping. The show was eventually continued, and "ended up a very good show." But it didn't air when expected. Told that there was a "technical problem" with the synching of the video and sound track, which was reported by two stations, Goodman called those stations, only to be told that the show had been pulled from New York. Eventually, after massive call-ins to the show asking when it would be shown, it did finally run. Goodman said that the "most interesting comments" she received after the show were from "women on Southern military bases" where they couldn't openly have debates—women who would say to Goodman, "we agree."

Goodman then told her story of being near Ground Zero taping on September 11, 2001, and filming some of the immediate aftermath of the Twin Towers attacks. Democracy Now was doing a special on terror on September 11—but a September 11 in 1973, when Chile's democratically-elected leader, Salvador Allende, was killed in a coup backed by the U.S. She also noted that September 11, 1977, was the day that South African Stephen Biko was beaten and taken unconscious to Pretoria, where he died the next day.

Goodman described the similarity between the 2001 searching of many in New York for their loved ones, carrying their pictures to show to everyone, and the women in Argentina who carried pictures of their "disappeared" loved ones.

Of course, she thinks that Osama bin Laden and his accomplices should be brought to justice for their terrorism. But considering the victims of U.S.-backed terror around the world, she also would like to see Henry Kissinger charged with crimes against humanity. Instead of shouting "USA" from Ground Zero, as President Bush did a few days after 9/11/2001, the answer, Goodman said, is a global community united against terror.

She described in detail her experience in Timor when Indonesian troops, armed by the United States, charged and fired into a crowd of protestors, which she and another American journalist were covering. That day more than 270 were killed—and she and her colleague were probably saved, Goodman said, "because we and the guns they carried" were both from America. Years later, Goodman and her colleague returned to Timor to celebrate the independence of "this nation of survivors" that "had prevailed." "When the media around the world shone a flashlight on their suffering, what a difference it makes."

America, to most of the world, represents both a sword and a shield. "The littlest act we engage in ripples around the world.... We have a decision to make every day, whether to represent the sword or the shield."

At the close of the workshop, Goodman signed copies of her book, The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media that Love Them. Dozens took advantage of an offer to buy two copies of the book and receive a free copy of the DVD Indymedia: War and Peace Trilogy.

For more information on Democracy Now, or to sign up for a daily digest of Democracy Now news headlines, see the Democracy Now website.

Reported by Jone Johnson Lewis; edited by Joyce Holmen.