Earlier this year, a technical glitch caused Amy Goodman's syndicated radio show, Democracy Now!, to disappear from Northeastern Illinois University's radio station, WZRD, where it airs weekday mornings at 7 and 8. The show, which originates from an old firehouse in New York City's Chinatown and is carried by the independent Pacifica network, is known for its progressive coverage of world events. Shortly after it went off the air, says former co-program director Dale Lehman, calls started pouring into Northeastern's 100-watt, student-run station.
"People called and asked if we were being interfered with or sabotaged," he says. "Some people actually came to the station to see if they could physically help get it back on the air--that's how much it meant to them. One guy said his day was ruined because he couldn't hear the show."
The 47-year-old Goodman--whom former President Bill Clinton called "hostile" and "combative" during a 2000 interview--started the show with cohost Juan Gonzalez during the 1996 elections. Since then they've covered everything from the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle to the founding of an independent East Timor in 2002. The show currently airs on 220 radio and TV stations across the U.S., Canada, and Australia. In recent months, two or three new stations have picked it up each week--though it's still not available on WBEZ.
Part of the spike in popularity is due to Goodman's first book, The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media That Love Them, which she cowrote with her younger brother, journalist David Goodman. They examine the connection between Iraq war contracts and Bush campaign donors, point out how a series of articles about Iraq's alleged cache of weapons of mass destruction by New York Times reporter Judith Miller fed the Bush administration's war effort, and take journalists to task for censoring themselves in the name of patriotism.
"We think the media has reached an all-time low in this country," says Goodman, who's won several awards for her work and hasn't missed a broadcast since embarking on a 70-city book tour last month (she flew home to Manhattan to do the show between back-to-back appearances in Chicago earlier this year). "There's a reason why we're protected as journalists by the U.S. constitution, and that's because we're supposed to provide checks and balances on the government.
"Look at the media coverage leading up to the invasion of Iraq," she continues. "The media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting did a study in the two weeks surrounding Colin Powell's UN address on February 5, 2003. The four major nightly newscasts conducted 393 interviews around the war. Only 3 of the 393 interviews were with antiwar representatives. That is not a media that represents mainstream America...I would say it's an extremist media that's a conveyor belt for the lies of the administration.
"I think especially now with weapons of mass destruction not being found in Iraq, there is a serious questioning of the role the media has played," says Goodman. "There's so much information and so many people inside and outside of the system who are raising questions. Yet we're not seeing any of them on the networks, and that's where most people get their information. Now people are saying, why weren't critical questions being asked?"
The Exception to the Rulers is published on a major imprint (Hyperion, a division of Disney/ABC) because, says Goodman, "we wanted to be able to get the book out as quickly as possible and reach out to an audience that mighty not ordinarily know about Democracy Now!" That's also why in Chicago she'll appear at a Borders rather than at an independent bookstore. So far the strategy's worked; the book, which hit shelves last month, is currently number 17 on the New York Times best-seller list.
Goodman will appear at 12:30 PM on Friday, May 21, at Borders Books & Music, 150 N. State; call 312-606-0750. It's free. For more on the show, see www.democracynow.org.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Chris Lee.