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2844Peace Correspondent - Common Dreams

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  • Zafar Khan
    Apr 2, 2003
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      Peace Correspondent
      'Democracy Now!' Host Amy Goodman Is Making Her Voice
      Heard on Iraq
      by Michael Powell


      NEW YORK -- And now for the news:

      "President Bush last night claimed a war in Iraq would
      set the stage for peace in the Middle East, but he did
      not set any deadline or detail any specific steps." .
      . .

      "The Financial Times describes the Bush
      administration's financial analysis as 'a piece of
      fiction.' " . . .

      "In Australia, 43 legal experts warn that an attack on
      Iraq is a violation of international law." . . .

      "And the United States asks aid groups in Baghdad for
      civilian satellite coordinates in Iraq" -- pregnant
      pause here -- "Is it to bomb them or save them?"

      "This is 'Democracy Now!' " says the anchor. "The war
      and peace report." Cue the lilting Bob Marley reggae
      guitar licks.

      This is not the news as Brit Hume construes it or Dan
      Rather intones it. In a "Showdown: Iraq,"
      Blix-is-nixed, pack-my-trench-coat-honey testosterone
      media age, Amy Goodman and her radio show, "Democracy
      Now!," beam in as if from some alternative left

      Broadcasting on the Pacifica Radio network from a
      book-strewn loft in an old firehouse a half-dozen
      blocks from Ground Zero, Goodman is a daily polestar
      for those who crave the antiwar perspective that
      mainstream networks and newspapers often consign to
      the margins.

      "War coverage should be more than a parade of retired
      generals and retired government flacks posing as
      reporters," Goodman says after the show. "Why not
      invite on some voices that are not Pentagon-approved?"

      Her 9 a.m. magazine show mixes investigative scoops (a
      recent report detailed how the Bush administration
      quashed an FBI investigation into Saudi Arabian
      funding of terrorist organizations), reports from
      foreign correspondents, and very few generals. She and
      her co-host, New York Daily News columnist Juan
      Gonzalez, speak, unabashedly, to those who oppose a
      war with Iraq, a roomier club than one might imagine
      from watching cable television news channels.

      A recent Washington Post-ABC poll found that six in 10
      Americans harbor doubts about using force in Iraq,
      while 40 percent are opposed to any invasion.

      The audience for "Democracy Now!" is small but
      growing, and the show is influential among antiwar
      activists. More than 120 stations carry it, including
      WPFW-FM (89.3) in Washington and some public radio
      affiliates. And in the last two years, it's begun
      broadcasting on Web TV (via www.democracynow.org) and
      public access television channels around the world .

      And starting today the formerly 60-minute show expands
      by an hour to accommodate more reporting on the war.

      Its politics can veer toward communion for the
      progressive choir. But in this age of corporate media
      conglomeration, when National Public Radio sounds as
      safe as a glass of warm milk, "Democracy Now!" retains
      a jagged and intriguing edge.

      Goodman is the show's center, a slight 45-year-old in
      a pullover vest, jeans and sneakers. Her unruly brown
      hair is streaked with gray. She can break out a
      playful smile, and punctuate an interview by opening a
      hatch in her office floor and sliding down a fire pole
      to the floor below.

      More often, though, her intensity burns through.

      In two decades of reporting for Pacifica, she's been
      beaten bloody by Indonesian soldiers as she charted
      East Timor's battle for independence. And she's
      wandered the deltas of southern Nigeria charting the
      environmental and human rights degradations of the
      Nigerian army and Chevron Oil Corp.

      For such work, she's received some of mainstream
      journalism's highest honors: The Robert F. Kennedy
      Journalism Award, the George Polk Award and the
      Overseas Press Club Award (an honor she declined at
      the podium on awards night -- more on that later).

      But the awards seem beside the point. Her Edward R.
      Murrow comes always with a twist of Emma Goldman.

      Goodman leans forward in her chair, trying to explain
      what's so very clear to her. "I feel this is a very
      urgent time, for this nation and the world," she says.
      "The clock is ticking towards war. We can't do enough,
      we absolutely can't."

      She begins broadcasting at 7 a.m. every morning, and
      works until near midnight, talking to sources, reading
      documents and talking up funders. (Although the show
      raises $2.5 million annually for the Pacifica network,
      it, more than any other program, runs on a shoestring
      budget: $800,000.) Each Friday, she heads to the
      airport, hopping planes to such places as Seattle and
      Albuquerque, Boston and Cleveland and Ithaca, N.Y., to
      talk about the coming war with Iraq.

      Her eye sockets look a bit hollowed out. It's hard to
      leave phone messages for her because her voice mail
      keeps filling up.

      "She doesn't say 'no' very well," says Michael Ratner,
      a friend and an attorney with and president of with
      the Center for Constitutional Rights.

      Sleep? Her friend, Elizabeth Benjamin, head of the
      Legal Aid Society's Health Law Unit, chuckles.

      "I wish she got more of it. Amy has so much passion to
      right the wrongs of the world."

      The Amy & Bill Show

      Three years ago, President Clinton placed an Election
      Day call to "Democracy Now!" For Clinton it was
      supposed to be two minutes of get-out-the-vote happy
      talk with a progressive radio show and then: Gotta go.

      Except Goodman began by asking: "You are calling radio
      stations telling people to vote. What do you say to
      people who feel the two parties are bought by
      corporations and that at this point their vote doesn't
      make a difference?"

      "There is not a shred of evidence to support that,"
      Clinton rejoined.

      And they were off and running, Amy and Bill, debating
      American politics, the health effects of sanctions
      against Iraq, and whether Clinton would pardon native
      American activist Leonard Peltier. Why, she asked, did
      he fly back to Arkansas in 1992 during the
      presidential campaign to execute a mentally impaired

      Goodman is the reporter who sinks her teeth in and
      never lets go, and he was the president who never
      gives up hope of winning you over. "You have asked
      questions in a hostile, combative and even
      disrespectful tone," he scolded Goodman at one point.

      Then he kept on talking.

      In this insider media age when oh-so-serious reporters
      measure status by access to the powerful, Goodman is
      the journalist as uninvited guest. You might think of
      the impolite question; she asks it. She torments
      Democrats no less than Republicans.

      When former senator Bob Kerrey called a news
      conference to defend himself against charges he
      committed a war crime while a soldier in Vietnam,
      Goodman asked if perhaps a war crimes tribunal should
      be set up to examine the guilt of the war's
      architects, such as Henry Kissinger.

      Kerrey's halting demurral made a few television
      broadcasts. But Goodman's question displeased some
      establishment media worthies. That Sunday, NPR
      reporter Mara Liason went on "Fox Special Report With
      Brit Hume" and complained that Goodman was not really
      a journalist and that no one would have asked such a
      question in Washington.

      Last year Goodman sneaked into the World Economic
      Forum, a hermetically sealed gathering of the powerful
      (and a few well-behaved journalist guests) in
      Manhattan. She found Nicholas Platt, a former U.S.
      ambassador to the Philippines and asked him if
      American support of Indonesia was worth it, given that
      its military killed tens of thousands in East Timor.

      Platt squinted at her and inquired (on the air): "What
      ax are you grinding right here?"

      "I survived a massacre in East Timor," Goodman

      Growing Up Amy

      Goodman grew up a movement child, the daughter of
      radical parents in Bayshore, N.Y., across from Fire
      Island. Her father, a physician, was featured in a
      poster for nuclear disarmament, the image of a
      mushroom cloud in his stethoscope. (Going further
      back, she is descended from prominent Hasidic rabbis,
      although she counts herself a secular Jew.)

      After graduating from Harvard in 1984, Goodman came to
      New York City. She fiddled with the radio dial and
      found WBAI, the New York affiliate of the
      cacophonously left-wing Pacifica, a network founded in
      the 1940s by pacifist Lew Hill. She heard vegans and
      pagans, performance artists and beatniks, jazz
      musicians and black nationalists.

      "It was New York, in all of its beauty and all of its
      ugliness," she recalls. "And it wasn't trying to sell
      a thing. I was riveted."

      She took a video documentary class, began volunteering
      at the station and a few years later became the
      station's news director. She's never left.

      In 1991, she traveled to East Timor with journalist
      Allan Nairn. They fell in step one day with a Timorese
      memorial procession. As the procession passed a row of
      Indonesian troops, the soldiers brought rifles to
      shoulders and began firing, killing 250 men, women and
      children. Nairn and Goodman huddled on the ground as
      the soldiers began beating them with rifle butts.

      "Allan put his body over mine," she recalls. "I
      thought we would die."

      Photos show them afterward, bruised and bleeding from
      head to foot. The Indonesians expelled them. But
      Goodman and Nairn made a documentary that drew
      attention to this distant island, and not incidentally
      explored the American complicity in backing the
      Indonesian occupation.

      As she accepted a prize for that work, Goodman was
      asked to explain her approach. She replied: "Go where
      the silence is and say something."

      She has lived that advice, traveling to Yugoslavia,
      Haiti, Cuba, Israel's occupied territories and Mexico,
      often recording reports in the face of danger. In
      1996, she started "Democracy Now!" as a daily

      The shows are of varying quality. The politics can
      sometimes seem predictable and the overseas telephone
      lines can sound as if sanded with gravel. And
      sometimes the guests are a bit . . . dated.

      So on a recent day Ramsey Clark, the 75-year-old
      former U.S. attorney general and patron saint of very
      lost causes (former Yugoslav president Slobodan
      Milosevic and the North Korean government, to name
      two) wandered in to talk up his campaign to impeach
      Bush (www.VoteToImpeach.org).

      But on its best days, Goodman's show has the quality
      of a good reporter peering under unexpected rocks.

      Goodman talks with a reporter for the German
      newsmagazine Der Spiegel about his investigation into
      complicity of American and European companies in
      selling biological and chemical weapons supplies to
      the Iraqis in the 1980s. Another recent guest details
      an investigative report in British papers that found
      the United States was tapping the phones and reading
      the e-mails of United Nations Security Council members
      during the debate over Iraq.

      Last Thursday she interviewed two veteran war
      correspondents, Chris Hedges of the New York Times and
      Robert Fisk of the Independent in London, about the
      Pentagon's censorship of reporters.

      "The press in the first Gulf War was completely
      managed," said Hedges, who covered that event. "The
      coverage was absolutely shameful."

      Fisk and Hedges often worked outside the
      Pentagon-approved press pools in that first war and
      suffered arrests and beatings for their trouble --
      from allied troops. "I was arrested by the Marines
      after I was betrayed by a CBS reporter who said I was
      not in the pool."

      None of these stories and views have gotten much air
      time on the commercial or publicly funded airwaves.

      "There's such an hunger out there for an alternative,"
      Goodman says. "It's almost explosive."

      Radio Amy

      Two hundred thousand people jam the frigid streets of
      New York City in early February, protesting the
      planned war on Iraq. Vast puppet heads bob in the air,
      along with placards reading: "Somewhere in Texas, a
      village has lost its idiot." And throughout the crowd,
      demonstrators tune radios to WBAI and Amy Goodman --
      who is broadcasting live from the march.

      Later, you find Goodman, sitting outside in a
      director's chair on First Avenue, a pathetic
      foot-heater kicking out little in the way of warmth. A
      techie fixes a webcast video camera on her. It's
      another of those alt-media celebrity moments: the
      anchor without leg warmers or makeup, but with
      politics and passion.

      Actors Danny Glover and Susan Sarandon, and
      entertainer Harry Belafonte and Archbishop Desmond
      Tutu stop by to chat. The broadcasts of their
      interviews draw cheers far up the parade route.

      The cold this day is wind-driven and cuts to the bone.
      And yet Goodman sounds invigorated. Her life and
      passions are one -- she works the vast majority of her
      waking hours. She is single and has no children.

      Even her friends aren't always sure what drives her,
      not exactly.

      "A lot of us have parents who were political, but
      we're not willing to accept a life that has very
      little room for pure enjoyment," says Ratner, the
      Center for Constitutional Rights president. "Amy will
      come to our annual baseball game up in the country
      each summer, but a couple of hours later, she's gone.

      "I would love for her to reserve some part of her life
      for herself."

      Ask Goodman about this and she shrugs. She talks of
      drawing inspiration from a century-old grandmother
      who, when sick, organized her sanitorium. But quickly
      she turns the conversation to the war for oil and
      empire in Iraq.

      She's not so much disapproving as disinterested in the
      career arcs of her generational peers.

      Two years ago, a new board took over Pacifica and was
      accused of trying to pasteurize the network's
      political edge. Goodman walked away and broadcast on
      the Web for eight months. (That board has since been
      overthrown and she has returned.) Four years ago, she
      was invited to the Overseas Press Club's awards
      dinner, where her Nigeria documentary would be
      honored. She could not afford the $125 ticket, so she
      and a colleague sat on chairs in the back. Secretary
      of State Richard Holbrooke was the club's keynote
      speaker that night, but the club's board, including
      its chairman, Tom Brokaw, set the ground rules:
      Holbrooke would not appear if he had to answer

      Then Holbrooke gave a speech and noted that American
      bombers had just hit a Serbian television station.
      Goodman took the podium and declined her award.

      "He'd just told a roomful of journalists that we've
      bombed a television station and yet no one said a
      word," Goodman recalls. "I said: 'Thank you, Mr.
      Brokaw, but no thank you.' "

      Goodman manages to recount this without sounding
      terribly self-righteous. She respects a number of
      mainstream reporters -- or, in her lexicon, corporate
      media -- and she likes nothing better than when they
      pick up her stories, with or without credit.

      The interview at an end, she slides down the fire
      pole, and you swallow hard and follow her. She walks
      you to the door. Upstairs, her braided and
      spike-haired producers prepare for the next day's
      broadcast, downloading, cutting, fiddling with
      soundboards like so many caffeinated maestros.

      It's dark. She's eager to get back upstairs and rejoin

      "There are so many deeply patriotic voices out there
      raising questions about this war, and they aren't
      being heard." She says goodbye, and reminds you:
      "Steal our stories -- please."

      © 2003 The Washington Post Company

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