Don't be fooled, says Amy Goodman: The seeming uptick in diversity of political opinion you might have noted lately in the mass media isn't happening because media outlets suddenly started doing their jobs. It's because some of the powerful folks whose views they parrot -- i.e., Democrats intent on distinguishing themselves from Republicans during an election year -- began talking a slightly different game. "In fact [coverage] hasn't improved," Goodman, the founder and radio/TV co-host of national news program Democracy Now!, told nearly 300 people Nov. 18 at Carnegie Mellon University.
Goodman was in town to receive the Thomas Merton Center's 2004 Thomas Merton Award for fostering positive social change and continues making the rounds of U.S. cities to promote her new book, The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media Who Love Them. Her hour-long talk, preceded by a 30-minute video featuring Goodman that critiqued media coverage of the Iraq invasion, included warnings about President George W. Bush's wave of promotions for his inner circle of Texas cronies, and the whittling away of freedoms and squashing of dissent under such Bush initiatives as the USA PATRIOT Act.
But her keynote was the monolithic nature of mass media. She cited a study by watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting that found that, in the weeks leading to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, anti-war interview subjects on the three broadcast networks and PBS numbered just three out of nearly 400. Why not, Goodman asked, add peace activists to the generals on the commentator payroll at CNN? Why not embed reporters with families in the countries we're bombing? And why not generally expand the usual-suspect gallery of TV pundits "who know so little about so much"?
Goodman cited CMU student-operated radio station WRCT, which airs Democracy Now!, and event co-sponsor Big Idea Bookstore as examples of local independent media. And when she called big media "the Pentagon's most powerful weapon," she clarified that she wasn't referring just to notoriously right-wing Fox News, noting the crucial role the venerable New York Times played in funneling factually shaky justifications for war from the White House's mouth to your ears.
Meanwhile, that same media cocoons us from the horrors of war -- the smashed bodies that residents of other nations see on CNN International even as CNN domestic feeds Americans video war games and heroic tableaux of soldiers.
"I really think if we saw for just one week the casualties of war ... Americans are a compassionate people and would say, 'No, war is not the answer,'" she said. "Having an honest, independent media is really a matter of life and death."
Democracy Now! airs locally 8 a.m. Mon.-Fri. on 88.3 WRCT FM. PCTV21 airs the televised Democracy Now! at 7 a.m. Mon.-Fri. The show also airs nationally on satellite services Direct TV and Dish Network.