WASHINGTON, D.C. — Every weekday evening, Amy Goodman brings a variety of stories to a worldwide radio, television and Internet audience as co-host of Democracy Now!, at the beginning of the program she co-founded for Pacifica, an alternative media network, in 1996.
Goodman's topics range widely. One recent program included an in-depth look at the killing of an abortion doctor in Kansas, the struggle of indigenous peoples in Peru and a hunger strike by parents and teachers protesting cutbacks in education funding in Los Angeles, California.
Goodman says she sees the media as a "huge kitchen table that stretches around the globe that we all sit around and debate and discuss the most important issues of the day — war and peace, life and death." She says it is her job as a journalist to bring out "the voices of people closest to the story at the grassroots." Anything less than that, she adds, "is a disservice to a democratic society."
Honing her debate skills at home
Goodman's passion for debate began at her childhood home in Long Island, New York, where she was born in 1957. Her mother, who taught women's literature and history at a local university, was a peace activist. Her father was a doctor and sat on the neighborhood's library board and was chairman of a task force to make racial integration a reality in the local schools.
Not everyone in Goodman's family agreed on every issue. In fact, Goodman recalls her own kitchen table as a place for free and highly spirited debate.
"When friends would come over for dinner, they would say, 'I can't believe how you argue, and then you're expressing your greatest love for your mother or your father or your brothers right after[ward]!'" She would tell them that debate and discussion was "our way of expressing appreciation and respect. [And] that is what media should be [also]."
Pointing out media bias
Goodman has had many years to develop her own perspective on the media. She was news director for WBAI, a listener-supported Pacifica radio station in New York City, for more than a decade.
Goodman says that the mainstream media often simply reinforce — rather than challenge — the status quo, and that can have serious consequences. Goodman cites a study by the national media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, or FAIR, which tracked the four major nightly newscasts in the two weeks surrounding then-U.S. Secretary of State's Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations [on] February 5th, 2003, advocating war with Iraq.
"There were 393 interviews done around war [during that time], but only three were done with antiwar leaders," says Goodman. "That's three of almost 400 at a time when half the population was opposed to war. This is no longer a mainstream media. This is an extreme beating the drums for war."
Goodman attacks lazy journalism
In Goodman's program, as well as in her column and the three bestselling books she has co-authored with her brother, David Goodman, she also accuses the mainstream media of dangerous laziness in its reliance on so-called "pundits."
"We need to bring out the voices of people who think outside the box, [and include] creative thinkers, [and] people at the grassroots, who know exactly what they're talking about, because they've experienced policy in a very real way," she says. "These are the stories we have to tell until they can tell their own."
The media's job is "to serve democratic society," she adds "not to win a popularity contest."
Journalist grades President Obama
Amy Goodman certainly hasn't won any popularity contests with any of the five U.S. presidents who have been in office since 1984, when she began her career as a professional reporter. While many consider her left-wing, she says she covers the Obama administration the same way she covered both Bush administrations.
"We are there to hold those in power accountable," she says.
Goodman gives mixed reviews to America's newest president.
"Within his first days in office Obama signed an executive order to close Guantanamo," she recalls. "On the other hand, he did not end 'extraordinary rendition,' which is just [a] White House [euphemism] for 'kidnapping.' These practices continue, unfortunately. So that's the Obama administration."
Still, Goodman opines that "the world heaved a huge sigh of relief" on Election Day.
"The difference [between the Bush years and now] is that people felt like they were hitting their head against a brick wall," says Goodman. "That wall has now become a door, and the door has opened a crack. The question is, will it be kicked open or slammed shut?"
Whatever the answer to that question might be, Amy Goodman is confident that the kind of journalism that she advocates — giving a forum to the powerless and challenging the powerful — will endure.