Sonali Kolhatkar interviews Amy Goodman and David Goodman on “Uprising”, KPFK. Produced by Thatcher Collins.
Monday, April 19th, 2004 KPFK studios,
Amy Goodman, host of Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! has just written her first book with her brother, journalist David Goodman: “The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oils Politicians, War Profiteers and the Media that Love Them”. Amy and David are currently on a 70 city tour promoting the book. Sonali Kolhatkar, host of Uprising, on KPFK,
SONALI: We want to talk a little bit about the context of the book itself, and your journey to where you are right now. In the book you describe your approach to journalism which is very different, the mainstream’s approach. Can you describe, Amy, in your own work, your background, your academic work and activist work, what was it that laid the ground work for your current approach at Democracy Now, maybe even when you were in college?
AMY: Well, like you Sonali, it probably is just a character flaw. It’s believing that we have to hold people in power accountable. Whether, we were the high school editors of our school paper, as David and I were, my brother and co-author, co-conspirator in this book, “The Exception to the Rulers.” At the time it was holding the principle accountable. And watching my dad when I was growing up, taking on the issue of integrating out community, leading a task force in our community to integrate the schools, so that we didn’t have neighborhood schools, but that we all learned together just according to grade. And then seeing how important journalism is, in this country, how important it is to a democratic society.
That’s really the main theme of this book. There’s a reason why journalism is the one profession that’s enshrined in the constitution, protected by the constitution because it’s an essential check and balance on those in power in this country. And we certainly need that; unfortunately the media has not served as that in these last years.
SONALI: Didn’t you used to edit a feminist newspaper on campus [Harvard]?
AMY: Yes. Well, we revived a feminist newspaper called “Seventh Sister.”
SONALI: Can you tell us a little about that and some of your work? You also did a thesis on Depo Provera.
AMY: O my God, you’ve been doing some work here. What did you just call
SONALI: Yeah, we just asked
AMY: O my goodness. Well, there was this feminist newspaper that had gone defunct. And this group of women and I had to ask, why did it go defunct?
We needed it then more than ever. Well, my big piece in the paper was sexual harassment on campus, especially by professors of students and junior faculty and women professors. As for my thesis, I did it on a contraceptive drug, called Depo Provera. It was a medical anthropology thesis. And it is injected into women every three months. It had been used in 86 countries around the world. Women who didn’t know that right here in this country it was not approved because it caused cancer in beagles and monkeys. I couldn’t afford to go to other places to investigate it, but I did go down to
SONALI: So in the book, [it] lays out, David and you lay out the various stages of how your role in Democracy Now today is informed in terms of your work in
They are not necessarily criticizing the system as a whole. How do you approach the balance between these sorts of elite insiders that are dissidents, versus grassroots activists who might have been saying all of this for a long time?
AMY: Well, what’s so interesting this year, is that even those people who were an essential part of the establishment were locked out. We have several chapters in this book that deal with the elite record-setting agenda-settings papers in this country, like the New York Times. One of those chapters is called “the lies of our times.” Even these people who were deeply inside the establishment–the kind that, you know, they quote on background, or whatever–were iced out. Because there was such a lock-step marching with the administration that it was almost as if no dissent could be heard. And that’s why
We have to hold the corporate media accountable. You know, I’m not going to call it the mainstream media anymore, I call it the extremist media. I mean, you look at the week leading it up to February 5th, when General Colin Powell [Secretary of State] gave his speech at the UN [security council] for war, and the week afterwards, that 2 week period, right before the mass global protest. FAIR [http://www.fair.org/reports/iraq-sources.html] did this study of the four major nightly news casts, NBC, ABC, CBS, and PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. 393 interviews done around war, *three* of almost 400 were of anti-war representatives. That’s it! That is not a media that is serving a democratic society, it is simply beating the drums for war. And yet, still, more than half the people in this country were opposed to that invasion at that time. That’s amazing.
SONALI: I want your thoughts David on the same issue as a journalist yourself. How does one balance the issue of giving platform to the insiders, the insider dissidents, and at the same time balancing that with a critique of the entire establishment, which they don’t necessarily critique?
DAVID: Well, one of the ways that we do that in “The Exception to the Rulers” our new book is to provide a diversity of voices. I mean the problem comes in when as in when the mainstream media turns only to one source, and those are the insiders who are given license to speak. In our book, we turn to a variety of voices: the grassroots struggles for to protect human rights, civil rights at home. So you’re hearing people in the street, and the anti-war movement. So, in fact, you get the whole picture.
There’s nothing very radical about it, and it’s always funny to me, that this is considered, that anyone would call this “alternative” journalism.
Well, if the alternative is to simply: give all sides of the story; then we’re all for it. But really, this is pretty conservative stuff in that sense. In the last year, since the gulf war , we’ve heard a lot of journalists, kind of baring their souls, and talking about how they got it wrong, how they were played by the government, by embedding themselves in the military. The only problem is, it’s too little too late. . .
SONALI: You talk about the stark choice between the “the sword” and “the shield.” What does that mean? Should journalists have to fall one way or another?
AMY: I think that goes beyond journalism. I think it goes to the choice we all have to make. We start and end the book in the same place and that’s in Timor, a country that has known so much pain for so many years that was occupied by
SONALI: But in terms of just journalism, however–I think David raised this earlier–presenting a balanced viewpoint where all viewpoints can be heard is important. But should
AMY: Well–. First of all, I think that what a lot of people call “marginalized” are the mainstream in this country. I don’t even know quite how to frame it. I think that what
April 15th, last week, on the 55th anniversary, we went over to the Prison Radio Project [prisonradio.org] in
SONALI: Speaking of Mumia Abu Jamal, wasn’t it airing his commentaries that got Democracy Now kicked off
AMY: That’s right, every public radio station in
SONALI: But you have interviewed him very recently as listeners heard on Democracy Now, speaking of those sorts of pressures, you felt before the
AMY: [pause] We just try to sort of steer a clear course every day, and figure out like you do, what we should cover each day. There’s plenty of pressure out there, and really, that’s as it should be, because a lot of people want a lot of people to get information. It is very important, we have a huge responsibility, an awesome responsibility. Because the networks are abrogating their responsibility, there is everyone else that has to be heard, and it’s getting as close as we can to the story. Finding the people who are right there at the center of it, following the basic principles of good journalism instead of this small group of pundits who know so little about so much, that are commenting on everything that are now wringing their hands “how did we get it so wrong a year ago in not inviting in anyone who was questioning a year ago?” I’m beginning to think that these network folks that we see every day, and it seems like every single network that, they actually all sit in one room and change the logo throughout the day: NBC, ABC, CBS. Yet we have a huge responsibility and as I’m sure you feel the pressure too, it’s to get out as many voices as possible. People describing their own experiences.
SONALI: And Democracy Now today has probably the biggest responsibility of any institution in the independent media. As you have described it, the largest [independent] media collaboration in the
I want to talk a little bit about a common critique on the left, if you will, that people say, that the people on the left don’t unite around issues, there is too much infighting and acrimony. How do people in independent media, how do journalists in independent media, or how do you–cover controversies that may surround powerful figures, say on the left versus powerful figures on the right? Should we give a different standard to people who are on the left versus people on the right?
AMY: [pause] No, I don’t there should be different standards. [pause] I think that we need to bring all the same principles we bring to any issue to everyone.
SONALI: For example, on Uprising one time very recently [November 13, 2003], we had a show on Michael Moore and on some of the things he said about Mumia Abu Jamal in his book, about his issue of his endorsement, if you will, of Wesley Clark. We faced a lot of wrath from some listeners who [were] very upset that we had dared point a flaw in someone who is really considered a leader, if you will–
AMY: No, I think that is very important, we also asked Michael Moore, about his focusing on Mumia Abu Jamal [January 23rd, 2004], and why he knew that, you know, in the book the comments he made about him, what made him so sure.
He ultimately said he was going to take that out of the paperback edition of his book. And I think that everyone has to be questioned.
SONALI: We only have a few minutes left. I want to just also ask you in the last chapter of the book, you talk about Indymedia [indymedia.org] as being one of the major institutions that have come out of what happened in Seattle [November 30, 1999 protests against the WTO]. This difference between corporate media and independent media. To me, the difference isn’t necessarily the content, right?. Because you can have a left-leaning, if you will, for-profit venture, like for example Air America Radio [airamericaradio.com], which has just come on line, which has a content that’s more liberal but it’s still a for-profit venture. So, where does the real difference between independent and corporate media come? Does it come perhaps from structure? Indymedia is a collectively run structure, but
AMY: I think on the issue of Air
SONALI: Okay, I’ve been dying to ask this question: What does a day at Democracy Now look like after the show is over? How do you sit down with your producers and come up with story ideas? What’s the process? Is Amy Goodman the executive producer?–because you don’t list [in the on-air credits] yourself as a producer. What does it look like behind the scenes?
AMY: We all work on it together throughout the day. And it is a day that rolls into night, rolls into day, rolls into night. It is hard to distinguish between everything. We are inundated with calls, with email, reading newspapers around the world, online, getting information from people every which way, making lots and lots of calls, watching television because we have two roles in the independent media. One is to get as close to the story as we can, and get the people who can tell that story best, and the other is to dissect the story that has been presented by the corporate media, because that’s the way most people understand it, if we’re doing a story that they are even doing at all. And that’s very important, because you have to deconstruct in order to build up, and let people hear the voices closest to that story. So we have two major roles.
SONALI: Is it possible to run Democracy Now as a collective?
AMY: [pause] We work every single day in that way, just back and forth, what works, what doesn’t work, talking about the different stories we have to do, fighting it out, what’s going to get in there, what’s not going to get in there. And if doesn’t get in that day, how can we get it in the next day.
SONALI: Okay, and finally, do you ever sleep? [Sonali and Amy laughing]
DAVID: No, but Amy can try to answer that.
SONALI: Amy Goodman, David Goodman, their new book, “The Exception to theRulers: exposing oily politicians, war profiteers, and the media that love them.” And you can hear all about that at the event this Wednesday. We’ll tell you about that in just a moment. You’re listening to Uprising, we’ll be right back.
This interview aired on Tuesday April 20th at Pacific Standard Time.
Transcribed by Thatcher Collins.
Uprising airs daily on KPFK Los Angeles, from 8-9 am on weekdays, Pacific Standard Time. The show also streams live on www.kpfk.org. Uprising is co-produced by Thatcher Collins and Sonali Kolhatkar. Engineers are Mark Maxwell and Madeleine Schwab. For more information, please visit www.uprisingradio.org.