American journalist Amy Goodman, with her challenge to the corporate news media, is a big draw for Vancouverites. Goodman spoke last Friday (April 29) to the annual fundraising gala for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The CCPA definitely had a winner as the Fraserview Hall was packed with 750 people.
The woman is an amazing whirlwind of energy. She did her newscast in New York Friday morning and then, all in one weekend, flew to Vancouver, then to Saltspring Island, then to San Francisco, and then back to New York to present her newscast Monday morning. I’m not sure how she keeps up the pace. On Friday, after her speech, she was glowing and friendly with everyone who came up to talk with her or get her autograph on one of her books.
I have to admit to being a huge admirer of this 54-year-old, Harvard-educated journalist who was born in Bay Shore, New York. Her reporting shows a dogged dedication to on-the-ground detail and a fearlessness in not being intimidated by the powerful when she is getting the story out.
Goodman is unabashedly a reporter with “values” who holds firmly to the tradition of exposing the travails of the little guy and “following the money” to expose corporate and government corruption. In Vancouver, Goodman declared that “we need a media that covers power, not covers for power”. She’s in the best tradition of journalistic giants such as H.L. Mencken, Upton Sinclair, and I.F. Stone.
She deplores the growing trend of journalists being “embedded” in corporations, the military, and government. On Friday, Goodman described war reporters “sleeping with troops, eating with them, being protected by them”. “The problem,” she says, “is not only being embedded with troops, but embedding with the establishment”.
In introducing Goodman before the CCPA crowd, David Beers, editor of the Tyee, described the growth of the news show that Goodman hosts. Democracy Now! started in 1996 and is now carried not only on the Internet but on 900 independent radio and TV stations around the world. Beers described Goodman as “the most skilled and important journalist of our era”.
He said that Goodman’s “empire” is not for profit, has no advertising, no corporate or government sponsors and no political affiliation. Beers says that Goodman “is partisan in that she dares to act on her values. Why the hell else would you want to be a journalist?”
Goodman goes where establishment journalists fear to tread. She believes in showing the impact the powerful have on the powerless. Dead children. Dead women. Maimed civilians. This, as she said in Vancouver, will be a spur to action: “Show the pictures, show the images, show the reality of what’s on the ground and then people will do something about it.”
During her speech, Goodman noted that “I’m thrilled that they let me into your country tonight”—a reference to her ill-fated November 2009 visit to Vancouver when an overzealous Canada Border Services Agency, fearing she might dare to criticize the then-upcoming Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games, detained her from her speaking engagement for hours.
Goodman described Border Services grilling her: “We want your notes now...we want to know what you’re going to talk about”. She said “one person was typing everything that I said into a computer. One was writing down everything I was saying. They went out to our car and they rifled through everything”.
Goodman admits that the Olympics was not even on her radar screen until her detention by Border Services. After that, “all we did was talk about the Olympics. The top of the CBC News was about me being arrested.”
Further evidence of her unrelenting efforts to get the story out: at the Republican convention on September 1, 2008, Goodman was handcuffed by police and thrown to the ground. This while trying to cover protests outside the convention hall. She notes that some NBC reporters questioned why they weren’t arrested. Goodman advised them that they were unlikely to be arrested as they were comfortably ensconced in the cushy “skybox” inside the hall and weren’t covering some of the real news that was happening around the convention building. She said, “Democracy is a messy thing and we should try to capture it whole.”
Goodman stressed before the CCPA crowd that she is proud of the coverage that Democracy Now! recently provided of the overthrow of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Questioning how he lasted as dictator for 30 years, she said, “He had a coat of armour around him—made in the USA.” She adds “trickle-up journalism” came from the ground with Egyptians tweeting: “To America from the Egyptian people. Stop supporting Mubarak. It’s over”.
On Friday, Goodman described flying back recently to Haiti with deposed former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his wife Mildred Aristide. The couple were greeted by euphoric crowds when they landed in Haiti after a seven-year, American-enforced exile. President Obama and the U.S. State Department tried mightily to block the couples’ return, saying that Haiti “should think about your future and not your past”. Goodman noted that Mrs. Aristide said to her: “I would stop talking about the past if it wasn’t so present.”
Goodman was certainly very present in Vancouver last Friday and provided an inspiring vision of an independent news media not held captive by powerful corporate or government interests.
Paul Houle is a social worker who has been involved in municipal politics and other work in the community.