Independent investigative journalist Amy Goodman will be visiting Buffalo this Friday night to give the keynote address at the Western New York Peace Center’s 50th annual dinner. WBFO’s Avery Schneider spoke with Goodman, ahead of the visit, about the state of journalism and the role of the media.
Avery Schneider (S): Amy Goodman, many people may know you as one of the hosts of Democracy Now! – a program that offers a combination of investigative journalism and political commentary, focusing on social justice issues and social justice movements.
I wanted to get a little bit of your background for those who may not know. Both of your parents, I understand were active in social action groups. Your father was an ophthalmologist and a member of the Long Island chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Your mother, a literature teacher and later a social worker, co-founded the local chapter of the SANE/Freeze peace group. Do I have that all right, first off?
Amy Goodman (G): You do, and my father was a very well-known face in the Long Island Railroad train stations because he was the doctor in the white coat with a stethoscope, and in the stethoscope was a nuclear mushroom and it said, “Your doctor is worried.”
S: How did their work in social movements inspire your work, becoming a journalist and member of the media?
G: I’ve been involved in journalism almost all of my life. In high school, in junior high school, being involved in our newspaper. And I always saw the media as such an important way to expose what was happening on the ground, in our communities, in our schools – such an important way to hold those in power accountable. And we just went from holding the principal accountable now to the global stage holding presidents and princes accountable.
S: Well I imagine that maybe along the way the intimidation factor and the challenge kind of stayed on par from principal all the way up there.
You’ve spent about three decades in the field of journalism. What is one word or phrase that you would use to describe the state of it today?
G: I think journalism is absolutely critical to the functioning of a democratic society. And we have to shore up, we have to stand together. Freedom of the press is a central tenet of our society. And sadly, right now, in the United States there is a very big problem because the President, the leader of the free world, has decided to put the press in his crosshairs because he doesn’t like how critical it is. But, you know, Democrat or Republican, when it comes to presidents, we as journalists have to continue to do our job. It doesn’t matter what party they represent. As journalists we have to be there with a critical eye, holding those in power accountable. It is as simple as that.
S: Do you feel like unbiased journalism can survive in this era when, as you said, the media can be under attack. Journalists are often labeled, be it liberal or conservative, fake or real, pro- or anti- on any number of subjects.
G: I don’t really care what names are called. What matters is we cover the critical issues of the day. I just interviewed Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, who is a world-renowned psychiatrist who won the national book award for covering the bombing of Hiroshima, and has now written a book called The Climate Swerve about climate change. And he deals with the apocalyptic twins of climate change and nuclear war. These are two critical issues of the day, especially under President Donald Trump right now. It is so serious. And the media cannot be there to circle the wagons around the White House when it comes to war. And that happens whether there’s a Democratic or a Republican president.
Even now, the press is, yes, extremely critical about President Trump, but I think it’s because he is naming names and he is really attacking the press as, what he calls, ‘the enemy of the people.’ So the press is standing up. But, when it comes to these two issues, I’m not really talking about Fox right now. I want to talk about CNN and MSNBC when it comes to war. Even then, even with its critical stance towards President Trump, when it came to the U.S. bombing the airfield in Syria, I came home that night, turned on the television, and it was Brian Williams of MSNBC who said, quote, “We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean. I’m tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen, ‘I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons. And they are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments.’” He used the word beautiful three times in 30 seconds.
Why does the press…really, it’s very much the establishment press shoring up the establishment. When we, as journalists, have to be apart from the parties, especially in a time of war. Fareed Zakaria, the next day on CNN, said “Donald Trump became president last night.” These are the times we have to ask the most serious questions.
And on the issue of climate change, again, we do have a climate change denier as president. He is a proud one. His administration is the same. But the media has to be there as a counter. Science is established on climate change. Yes, humans fuel climate change. The debates can come around, what do we do about it? But when it comes to the coverage of the hurricanes in Texas and Florida, the hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico. And I just flew in from Northern California. The urban conflagration there – we’re talking about these wild fires in Northern California. How are people going to make the connection between floods and fires unless the meteorologists themselves start talking about the issue of global warming, of climate change. They’re quick to flash the two words, ‘extreme weather,’ ‘severe weather.’ What about climate change? It is critical that we talk about these issues that really threaten the future of the planet. And we cannot be stopped from talking about this by someone’s political views. We don’t have state media in the United States. But if we did, how would it be any different?
S: Do you feel that the public can remain objective when they consume media, especially in an era when so much of what the public consumes can come through social media feeds that either cater to their interest or, depending on how they use that feed, to their personal opinions?
G: We have to be critical media consumers. I was just on a panel last week with Bob Schieffer – the former CBS evening news host, you know, Sunday morning show host – and I raised this issue, for example, of climate change. And he said, “yes,” he really did think they needed to raise this issue much more.
I think we have to be critical. We have to go to news sources we trust. I really encourage people to go to DemocracyNow.org. We link to so many different media organizations – reports and studies that have been done, analysts who are deeply credible, talking about what’s happening in their communities. We have to turn to those who have given us trusted information for a long time. And I think that, together, people across the political spectrum can come to agree on a certain set of facts. And then everyone is entitled to their own opinion, including journalists. When you watch the networks, you see all of the journalists there spewing their opinions, but what counts is that we are fair and we are accurate.
S: You’re coming to Buffalo on November 3. You’ll be delivering the keynote address at the Western New York Peace Center’s 50th annual dinner. In an interview with local newspaper [The Public], the organization’s Executive Director, Victoria Ross, described you as “a groundbreaking journalist and a beacon in getting information out.” Is that the way that you see yourself?
G: I see my job, certainly, and with the trusted group of colleagues I work with at Democracy Now! as providing a forum for people to speak for themselves. Whether we are talking about an Israeli grandmother, a Palestinian child, a kid from the south Bronx, or a native elder from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota, there is nothing more profound than someone hearing [them] describe their own experience. It changes you. And it challenges the caricatures and the stereotypes that fuel the hate groups. Decades ago, our station in Houston, Texas – KPFT – was the only station to be blown up, blown up twice by the Ku Klux Klan. And I think it was because he understood how dangerous it is for people to hear people describing their own experience. It makes it so much harder to vilify.
I think the media can be the greatest force for peace on earth. Instead, all too often, it’s wielded as a weapon of war. And that’s why it’s so critical to take the media back, to provide a forum where we can have conversations, discussions, and debates about the critical issues of the day. I see the media as a huge kitchen table that stretches across the globe, that we all sit around and critically debate these issues. And that is especially important, a service to the service men and women of this country. They can’t have these debates on military bases. They rely on us, in civilian society, to have the discussions that lead to the decisions about whether they live or die, whether they’re set to kill or be killed. Anything less than that is a disservice to a democratic society.
S: These stories that you mentioned – from all around the world, from all around the country, the debates that go on in different settings, the kitchen table you described – is that some of what you’ll be speaking about here in Buffalo?
G: Yes. And I’ll also, among other things, be talking about our experiences covering the standoff at Standing Rock in North Dakota. This was a historic gathering – the largest unification of Native American tribes from Latin America, the United States, the First Nations of Canada that we’ve seen in this country in decades. They were standing off against the $3.8-billion Dakota Access Pipeline. And pipelines are something people are organizing around all over the country. And we’ll talk about the ‘Day of the Dogs,’ Labor Day weekend of September 2016 in the midst of the presidential election.
We were in North Dakota and we videotaped Dakota Access Pipeline guards unleashing attack dogs on Native Americans, showing a dog with its mouth and nose dripping with blood. 14-million views on Facebook in 24 or 48 hours which, I think, gives very much the lie that corporate executives will often say on the networks, ‘You know, people don’t care about climate change. Their eyes glaze over.’ I don’t think so. I think people deeply care about the fate of the planet. In fact, I think people care about war and peace. People who care about the growing inequality in this country, people who care about racial and economic justice, LGBTQ rights, people who care about climate change, the fate of the planet, are not a fringe minority. Not even a silent majority, but a silenced majority, silenced all too often by the corporate media. And that has to be challenged. And I really look forward to talking about this at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center on Friday night.