Amy Goodman opens her new book, The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media That Love Them (Hyperion Books, hardcover, $21.95), with a hair-raising account of her 1991 trip to East Timor. The trip was hardly a vacation. Goodman visited the tiny island country to cover the atrocities committed there by the Indonesian military, which, in 1975, began massacring 200,000 Timorese—two-thirds of the entire country—largely with U.S.-supplied arms.
In 1991, the Timorese were still struggling to free their nation from the control of the Indonesian military. On Nov. 12, Goodman interviewed some local protesters in the company of Alan Nairn, then writing for the New Yorker. Suddenly, Indonesian troops appeared on the scene and began firing into the crowd, ultimately killing 271 Timorese.
In the midst of the carnage, the troops slammed the two journalists to the ground with their rifle butts, kicking them repeatedly and fracturing Nairn's skull. Luckily, Goodman was able to flash her American passport in the nick of time. Otherwise, the death toll that day would have been 273.
This and dozens of less violent moments in Goodman's award-winning muckraking career are chronicled in her new book. Whether exposing the network of cronies currently looting the public trough with the help of the Bush administration or reliving her icy but memorable exchange with former President Clinton on "Democracy Now!" The Exception to the Rulers presents an inside look at one of the country's best progressive journalists.
Goodman is best known, of course, as an earnest, grilling voice heard regularly on public radio. In 1996, she began hosting the daily one-hour news program "Democracy Now!," which currently airs on 220 radio and TV stations across the nation and around the world. (Locally, the program airs every weekday at 4 p.m. on KUNM 89.9 FM.)
In a media environment blanketed with wall-to-wall conservative opinion, Goodman sticks out like a bleeding red thumb. "Democracy Now!," with its consistent left-wing slant, can hardly be called fair and balanced. Then again, neither can the bulk of our nation's homogenized, corporatized mainstream media, which consistently marginalizes left-leaning viewpoints.
In an event sponsored by KUNM, the New Mexico Media Literacy Project and Bookworks, Goodman will appear at Albuquerque Academy's Simms Auditorium on Saturday, May 1, at 1:30 p.m. to present a documentary and discuss her book. Buy a copy of The Exception to the Rulers at Bookworks (4022 Rio Grande NW, 344-8139) to get a free ticket to this event.
The Alibi recently interviewed Goodman by phone about her new book, the upcoming elections, the mess in Iraq and the pressing need for independent media in the United States of America. Here's what she had to say.
A lot of people believe the media in this country has a liberal bias. How do you respond to that argument?
With the facts. They're wrong. Look at the week leading up to Colin Powell giving his speech at the UN and the week right afterward, that two-week period in 2003 just before the invasion. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), the media watchdog group, did a study of NBC, ABC, CBS and the PBS "Newshour" with Jim Lehrer—the four nightly newscasts. Only three of 393 interviews done about the war were with antiwar representatives. Three of almost 400. That is the media beating the drums for war.
The media reflects the establishment consensus. When that consensus is shared by the Democrats and Republicans, then that's the range of the spectrum. A year later as the election year kicked off and Democrats began trying to distinguish themselves more from Republicans so people would vote for them, you saw more of a debate. But a year ago, when it mattered, they joined ranks. And the lies took lives.
Do you think your own show is biased?
I come from Pacifica Radio, which was founded 55 years ago by a guy named Lew Hill, a conscientious objector. He refused to fight in World War II. When he came out of a detention camp after the war, he said there has to be a media outlet not run by corporations profiting from war but run by journalists and artists. That's how Pacifica was founded.
I deeply believe in the idea of independent media, listener sponsored, that gets its funding from people listening, who decide simply to call up or send in their money. I think what's important about what we do, what Pacifica does, the only independent network broadcasting in this country today, is it presents voices of people on the ground, people doing the work. Also, bodies on the ground. We do the best we can to count up the number not only of Iraqi casualties but civilian casualties as well.
Do you think a Kerry administration would be significantly better than the Bush administration on the issues that matter most to you?
I think what's interesting right now is to look at how John Kerry is changing. In the primary race, he pushed hard for a pro-war position against Dean. Then when Dean pulled ahead John Kerry increasingly adopted an anti-war position despite the fact that he had authorized the invasion. Then, with Howard Dean out of the race, Kerry is going in the other direction. Now he's up against Bush.
Last week on "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert, when questioned about the assassination of Ahmed Yassin, the Hamas leader, Kerry fully agreed with Sharon and Bush in their support of the assassination. This was an extra-judicial assassination, condemned by Germany and Japan and France and England. Then when it came to Sharon and Bush's endorsement of the settlements, Kerry said he agreed. (Note: Bush endorsed Sharon's unilateral proposal to annex six West Bank settlement blocs in return for an Israeli pull-out from most Gaza settlements. All of these settlements are illegal under international law.) When Russert asked, "Completely?" Kerry said, "Yeah."
So Kerry goes in whatever direction he thinks is most opportune. I think it's very important for politicians to make their views known. The "anyone but Bush" trend is a candidate license to take any position, and I think it's an incorrect calculation to make that everyone who doesn't like Bush will vote for Kerry. Kerry will just try to push continually to the right to get people who might consider going from Bush to him. I don't think he should take his base for granted.
So what do you think progressive people should do? Should they vote for Kerry or should they vote for Nader?
I don't make recommendations like that. I cover these candidates, and it's very important that they be pushed on the issues.
What do you think of Nader's campaign so far?
Well, he's running. The media should cover the presidential candidates, and he should be included in the debates. We should cover them by the issues they represent. If Kerry believes that Nader shouldn't run, if Kerry believes that he represents the same issues Nader does and Nader will only divide the votes, then Kerry should prove it.
Your new book just hit the stands. How does a book differ for you from radio or TV in terms of its effectiveness in communicating your ideas and stories?
I think we have to make use of the whole media landscape, reach all different types of people, people who listen to radio, people who watch TV, people who read. It's all part of the same thing. It's all highlighting the same thing. We're talking about the importance of independent media and reaching out beyond traditional audiences.
Do you ever worry that you're preaching to the choir?
I think labels are breaking down. I don't think conservative and progressive labels are relevant as much anymore. I think conservatives, like progressives, are concerned about corporate control and privacy issues and the situation in Iraq, which has gotten completely out of control. I think people in the intelligence community are enraged at the manipulation and misinterpretation of intelligence. People in the military are enraged at the loss of life, over 700 servicemen and women now dead. At Fort Stewart, Georgia, a few months ago, when military families, hundreds of them, met with a military official, he had to be taken out by security to protect him from the families.
People are very disturbed. I don't think we're preaching to the choir, and if there is a choir, it is much broader than you might think.