The pressure on Democracy Now

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Jun 12 08:34:22 MDT 2001

JUNE 25, 2001
By Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of the Pacifica radio network's Democracy Now! This
essay was adapted from her keynote address at the Project Censored awards
ceremony, which was held in April in San Francisco.

Something To Tell

Democracy Now! is facing very serious pressure. I was called to Washington
in September and met with the general managers of all the stations, who
raised concerns about the program. For example, they questioned my
insistence on talking about the graphic details of police brutality before
listeners have had their morning coffee. I replied that we should be more
concerned about the police brutality that was taking place than what time
our listeners heard about it.

The station managers asked why I went up to Spike Lee during the
Gore-Bradley debate and asked him what he thought about the students around
the country who were taking over administration buildings, protesting that
their college sweatshirts were being made in sweatshops. He said he
applauded their right to protest. Then I asked how he justifies being a
spokesman for Nike? They weren't pleased with this. I mean, it makes sense
that Spike Lee wouldn't be happy, but the general managers of the Pacifica

They wanted to know why I found it necessary to go up to former President
George Bush at the Republican Convention and ask him what he says to those
who call him a war criminal for dropping bombs on Iraq. Their criticism
concerns me gravely, because the kinds of issues we deal with every day are
police brutality, the prison-industrial complex, giving voice to the
anti-sweatshop movement, showing how important it is to go up to those in
power and hold them accountable.

Of course, it's not only Pacifica that has criticized me. I recently went
to the news conference of former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, which he was
forced to hold because the New York Times and CBS were coming out with a
story that what he won the Bronze Star for in Vietnam was in fact a
massacre of women and children in the Mekong Delta more than 30 years ago.
I think he was leaking the story first to cut down on the criticism and to
be able to frame it himself.

The following exchange occurred between Kerrey and me:

*Me: It's not just people like you who pull the trigger and kill civilians
who bear different levels of responsibility. What do you think of setting
up a war crimes tribunal that would bring people, perhaps like you, but
more importantly, the architects, like Henry Kissinger, before it, and then
the decision would be made about whether this was a war crime or not.

*Kerrey: Again, it's your-your-I just-I'm not prepared to talk about where
I'm going to go or where this ought to go. I really am not. And I-I-you
know, I appreciate ...

*Me: Well, you've had more than 30 years to think about this.*

This is a man who has run for president, and who may run for president
again. I consider these standard questions to ask someone like Kerrey.

The next night, the following exchange occurred on Fox Special Report With
Brit Hume:

*Hume: What about that question and what about the general behavior of our
colleagues in that news conference?

*Mara Liason (National Public Radio reporter): I don't think this kind of
press conference would have happened if he was in Washington. ... I don't
know if those people have worked for any publications. I don't know if they
really were journalists. They were clearly interested in reliving the war
and the anti-war movement.*

The following night on the same show, Roll Call's Morton Kondracke weighed
in: *This struck me as a little left-wing cabal. I don't know who those
reporters were, especially the woman.* As did his partner in punditry, the
Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes: *This is a left-wing attack to make sure
that people continue to regard ... the Vietnam War as wrong.*

What I was doing was trying to depersonalize it from Kerrey and to look at
the overall U.S. foreign policy issue of war crimes. War crimes tribunals
are being set up in different places in the world, but what about right
here in the United States, which is so often the country that provides the
weapons that allow these massacres to take place, whether in Vietnam,
Indonesia, East Timor, Guatemala or El Salvador? These are the issues that
the independent media have raised for years, and we must continue to raise
them. We must fight against the commercialization of the media and--no
matter how many channels are out there--the concentration of ownership of
the media.

We know where commercial broadcasting is, but I'm concerned about public
broadcasting in general. You have Noggin, the joint project of Children's
Television Workshop and Nickelodeon, a for-profit company, conducting
market research on students in public schools. Last year a public
elementary school was given thousands of dollars by Noggin-the school loves
the money and the caché of working with people from the Children's
Television Workshop. Experts came in and asked the children to fill out a
27-page booklet called *My All About Me Journal.* It sounds innocent and
wonderful enough, yet this can be used for marketing research.

Or, look at some of the documentaries that PBS has accepted and some of the
documentaries that PBS has rejected, according to FAIR. Rejected by PBS:
Defending Our Lives, an Academy Award-winning documentary about domestic
violence. Why rejected? One of the producers was the leader of a battered
women's support group, and PBS felt that gave her a direct, vested interest
in the subject matter of the program.

What was distributed by PBS? The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil Money and
Power, a series funded by Paine-Webber, a company with significant oil
interests. The series' chief analyst was Daniel Yergin, a consultant to
major oil companies. Almost every expert featured in the program was a
defender of the oil industry. Then you had a documentary Out at Work, a
film about workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians. Why did PBS
reject it? Because it was partially funded by unions and a lesbian group.
PBS acknowledged that the underwriters had clearly not controlled the
program's content and that it was compelling TV, responsibly done, but
still refused to distribute the film.

What did they accept? Living Against the Odds, a special on risk assessment
that asserted, *We have to stop pointing the finger at industry for every
environmental hazard.* That program was funded by Chevron.

At Democracy Now! we exposed Chevron's involvement in the killing of two
Nigerian activists who had come, along with a whole village, to a Chevron
barge to protest another oil spill. Chevron flew in the Nigerian military
and the notorious mobile police known as the *Kill 'n Go,* who opened fire
and killed two of the villagers. There is now a lawsuit in court in San
Francisco, which the judge has just ruled can move forward, against Chevron
on behalf of the family members of those who were killed.

I am also gravely concerned that four years ago, when Democracy Now!
started airing the commentaries of Mumia Abu-Jamal, we were pulled off of
12 public radio stations in Pennsylvania that were run by Temple
University, and we were their most successful program. They said it was
*inappropriate* to air Abu-Jamal's voice. My response is that we're not
entertainers, we're reporters. We bring listeners the voices of the popular
and the unpopular. We go to where the silence is and we say something. It's
absolutely critical during this time of privatization of prisons that while
prisons are still largely public, we be the media watchdogs and help the
people who are behind bars and on the controversial Death Rows of this
country to speak out.

I am concerned that Pacifica, the only nationally broadcast independent
media network, is taking a turn in the wrong direction. Pacifica was born
more than 50 years ago in Berkeley, California, started by a man named Lou
Hill who felt that there had to be a media outlet that was not run by
corporations. He had come out of jail after World War II for refusing to
fight. He said that since the media were run by corporations that provide
the drum beat for war because war is profitable, you had to have a media
outlet that is independent, run by journalists and artists. As George
Gerbner, founder of the Cultural Environment Movement, put it,
*corporations have nothing to tell and everything to sell.*

Louis Proyect
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