Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman is still independent
Amy Goodman, the Polk Award–winning host (with Juan Gonzalez) of Democracy Now! — the largest public media collaboration in the United States, broadcast on more than 1,400 public television and radio stations, and the internet — comes to Kansas City this weekend. The journalist, whose latest book is the just-released Democracy Now! Twenty Years Covering Movements Changing America, appears Saturday, April 9, at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church (4501 Walnut), in a benefit for community radio station KKFI 90.1, which broadcasts the show locally. (For tickets, see kkfi.org.) I spoke with Goodman by phone last week.
The Pitch: Early in your book, you write that what drives Democracy Now’s reporting is “going with where the silence is.” Can you elaborate on what you mean by that?
Goodman: I think it’s just a basic tenet of good journalism. There is silence around so many critical issues, but so often when you go to that place, it’s often not very quiet — it’s just that the rest of the media is not covering it. For example, in the book we talk about death row. This is extremely controversial in the industrialized world. Most people in the United States don’t even realize how rare it is for an advanced industrialized nation to have the death penalty. So when we engage in such a practice, it’s critical we go to the death rows of this country and report what’s happening there. It is our job to cover these extremely difficult issues so that the population can make a decision as to whether we should engage in these practices.
You also state that “war, race and the power of the media” are central to your journalism. How do those elements feed onto each other when making a decision on what to report on?
There is no more critical or important decision a country can make than whether to engage in war. It’s absolutely critical that, when we are involved in war, we cover it extensively, because that means the state is involved in taking human life both from our own soldiers and those they are attacking. We have to be sure we understand what’s happening and what’s being done in our name. That’s the issue of war. All too often it is a certain sector of society that is sent to war. And the media is the great leveler. It’s the way we communicate with each other, to hear the names of people who are sent to fight and those who have died. That is our responsibility: to learn the names, to learn the stories. And as I point out in the book repeatedly, the more we come to know each other, the less likely it is we will want to destroy each other.
Your book mentions Concerned Student 1950 and the actions of the University of Missouri football team at that school. The Republican-dominated Missouri Legislature has cut funding from MU and attempted to enact legislation aimed at preventing future actions by student athletes. What do you think of such developments?
I don’t know the latest legislation, and I look forward to coming to town. One of the great benefits of being on a hundred-city tour is being on the ground and talking to people about what’s happening in their communities. In that situation, it cannot be underestimated what the effect of the students’ actions at the University of Missouri. It was truly astounding, as it caused a wave of protests all over the country, from Ithaca College, where their actions led to the ouster of their president, to Yale University, to Smith College.
Ferguson, Missouri, and the demonstrations and police actions there, are in your book. Have you been back to Ferguson?
I haven’t been there recently, but we have continued to cover the aftermath of what happened there. A year ago, I interviewed Michael Brown’s mother in Selma [Alabama]. She went for the 50th anniversary of the voting-rights demonstration that happened there. We continue to cover Ferguson by speaking to people on the ground, including involving the Department of Justice review of the police department and the city council rebelling. These are stories that are not one-shot deals for us. We look at how they play out, how they affect people’s lives and how they have hurt so many over the years.
In writing about police killing unarmed African-Americans, you mention the difficultly that prosecutors, who depend upon police assisting them in bringing about a conviction, have in bringing charges against police officers. How can this dilemma be remedied?
The way to get around it is a special prosecutor. Prosecutors rely on police in their daily operations, so suddenly, when they investigate police, you find this conflict of interest. I think it’s critical that special prosecutors are hired who do not have a day-to-day relationship with the police.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald and others have written about the mainstream press’s adherence to objectivity in reporting. Can objectivity hamper the way issues are reported and understood?
I was on CNN, on Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter, talking about the coverage of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, and the response I got was astounding, with the conversation trending on Facebook for over a day, beating out the Kardashians. I think that’s really important because it shows that people care. It’s not people obsessed with celebrity culture. I do think that Donald Trump has very much been a creation of the very media that’s attacking him now. It is unacceptable the way the media has dealt with these candidates. The media won’t even talk about the arrangements they make with candidates, which are advertising, because they make so much money. We have a system that’s about money, and that challenges democracy. You have a media profiting from the system because these candidates have so much money, and that has to change.
Are you surprised by the support that Sanders has received?
We have been covering movements for a very long time, and after Occupy [Wall Street], when the police eviscerated the encampments from Zuccotti Park in New York to Oakland, California, to all over the country, we never said on Democracy Now this movement is over. Occupy occupied the language — it was, like, one of the most used words in 2011 — and when you change the language, you change the world. Why is it so important? You can say “99 percent” now in this country and everyone understands what you’re saying. You can “1 percent” and everyone understands what you’re saying. Those ideas have not died. I’ve said for a long time, conservative and liberal lines are breaking down. People across the political spectrum deeply care about issues of war and peace, growing inequality, climate change — this is what fuels the Sanders campaign.
Do you consider yourself an activist journalist?
I consider myself a journalist who is committed to the growth of independent media in this country. It is independent media that will save us. I deeply believe this. When we cover war and peace, it’s critical we are not brought to you by the weapons manufacturers. When we cover climate change, not brought to you by the oil and gas companies. When we cover health care, not brought to you by the insurance companies or Big Pharma. That we are independent. Independent media is the oxygen of a democracy. And I am deeply involved in activism to ensure that independent media grows.
What do you think Obama’s legacy will be?
His term is not over. There is so much that needs to be done. I do think that when he was elected, it was by many different movements — the peace movement, the environmental movement, the racial justice movement, the gay-and-lesbian movement — all the different movements together. And when he was elected, I think the world heaved a sigh of relief. It was an unbelievable feat in a land with a legacy of slavery. But [we] also saw this incredible racist backlash. When someone asks what I think of a particular president, I think it’s much more important to look at the movements and whether they are vibrant and strong at a given time . . . because that’s what makes history ultimately.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.