A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
We called our book Static based on the idea that ... we’re still getting ever more static from the corporate media veil of distortion, lies, omissions, half truths. We need a media that creates static of another kind -- what the dictionary defines as criticism, opposition, unwanted interference. We need a media that doesn’t cover for power, but covers power. We are the fourth estate. We’re not supposed to be for the state. -- Amy Goodman
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On a day after the media willingly let a pre-staged, election influencing event -- the Saddam verdict -- drown out other news coverage, nothing could me more pertinent than in interview with Amy Goodman. She and her brother, David, co-authored "Static," which once again explores the sins of the Bush Administration and its enabler, the mainstream media. The Republican Party has become one big public relations machine for the media.
What's odd is that the mainstream media claims to have contempt for PR. It claims to ferret out the "facts" on its own. But with the GOP and the Busheviks, the mainstream media pretty much lets the Rovian PR machine tell them what the news is.
No one knows this better or does a more valiant, tenacious job of offering an alternative new media than the host and spirit of "Democracy Now," Amy Goodman.
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BuzzFlash: The new book you wrote with your brother, Mother Jones reporter David Goodman, is called Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders and the People Who Fight Back. Let’s start by talking about those people who fight back. A vote in Congress last month confirmed torture as an official policy of the United States. It absolves Bush and his administration of war crimes and suspends habeas corpus. A lot of people today are so discouraged that they’ve given up fighting. What would you say to people to urge them to continue to fight?
Amy Goodman: It is absolutely critical -- the only line of defense is people responding. What is the alternative?
We begin our book with a chapter called "Outlaw Nation." We Americans pride ourselves on being a model around the world, but what is it that we are modeling right now? We have this extraordinary term, "extraordinary rendition." Thousands of people have been rounded up since 9/11 without charge. We don’t know their names. They don’t know the evidence against them. Many of them have been deported. We know there are cases of torture from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo, to prisons all over the world. It’s very frightening because, in fact, it’s endangering our national security.
If we model this behavior around the world, what happens to Americans who go abroad? What happens to U.S. officials or even soldiers if they’re captured? Will they be tortured? Would they be held in a site where we don’t know where they are, and their captors would say, we’re doing it the American way?
BuzzFlash: Static also deals with the "media cheerleaders." Could you analyze the media cheerleaders' response to the recently enacted Military Commissions Act of 2006, which the mainstream media calls a success by the Bush administration? They tally it as though it were a sporting game. The Administration won the right to have the President of the United States decide who will be tortured. Yet other news at the same time included revelations that Bush’s war in Iraq is increasing the terrorist threat to the United States. There is a published leak in the Washington Post that six out of ten Iraqis support attacks on American soldiers, which, according to this bill, would make them aiders and abettors of terrorism. We also have a National Intelligence Estimate which is supported by a UN finding that said the Iraq war has resulted in a cause celebre for terrorists. We seem to have an enormous gap between what the mainstream media conveys as reality, and the facts on the ground, to the point that the President of the United States can get away with saying the finding of his own top sixteen intelligence agencies is naïve. What is happening? Isn't it sort of a fantasyland of the mainstream media versus reality, and the fantasyland reflects the White House spin?
Amy Goodman: Absolutely. Just take as one example The New York Times reporting on this dramatic bill that allows for certain kinds of torture, and that does strip habeas corpus. In the entire front page of the article, there is really no serious criticism of the bill. It is simply an article about the way the political games work. It’s about the Democrats and the Republicans, and how they’re positioning themselves.
You know, people are good media consumers. They make decisions based on the information that they are given. In the lead-up to the Iraq war, the corporate media was all about the alleged weapons of mass destruction. In the same way, they’re now diminishing the seriousness of this bill. We’re seeing the same thing.
In the lead-up to the Iraq invasion, FAIR did a study of the four major nightly newscasts on NBC, ABC, CBS and PBS. Of the 393 interviews done around the war, only three were with anti-war leaders. That’s three of almost four hundred. Yet half the population was opposed to war then. That is no longer a "mainstream" media. It is an extreme media that beats the drums for war. And that has to be changed. The media are the most powerful institutions on earth -- more powerful than any bomb. The Pentagon’s deployed the beast, and we have to take it back.
BuzzFlash: You discuss torture in your first chapter. Why is torture so important to the Bush Administration?
Amy Goodman: I think it’s desperation. Look at the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was transiting through Kennedy Airport, coming home from a vacation with his family. He is held for several weeks and then sent off to Syria. Yes, he was born there, but he left there with his parents when he was seventeen. If he was a danger in this country and the U.S. wanted him deported, why not deport him home to Canada, where he had worked for decades? But they deported him to Syria. He begged them not to. He cried in the torture flight over, on the Gulfstream jet that takes these victims of rendition. He he ends up in a grave-like cell, held for almost a year. He is tortured. He is brutalized. He is interrogated. And then, as inexplicably as he was taken, he’s released. He is sent home, a broken man, to Canada.
A Canadian judicial commission has issued a scathing report on what happened to him. They criticized the Canadian government, and they slammed the U.S. government, even saying in this report that they told the U.S. that they didn’t have direct evidence that he was linked to Al Qaeda. Why would the Bush Administration send him to Syria? Isn’t Syria an enemy of the United States? Just recently, at the U.N. General Assembly, President Bush referred to Syria as the crossroads for terrorism. They walk hand in hand with Syria in torturing people?
BuzzFlash: The answer is obviously yes. But the question is why.
Amy Goodman: I think it’s an act of desperation. As you point out, the Bush Administration was forced to react to a document, giving the conclusions of sixteen spy agencies in the U.S. government, that President Bush’s war on terror is actually increasing the threat of terror in the world. So how can you respond? By fear-mongering, by trying to distract, and by continuing down this path to confirm that you are right. The way they see it, anything else is just weakness.
BuzzFlash: On "Democracy Now!" and BuzzFlash, and even occasionally in the Washington Post, there have been interviews or articles about the many dissenters who have left the Administration. Generals have denounced Donald Rumsfeld and members of the intelligence community have said that the Bush Administration is putting us in peril in terms of national security. Why are those stories ending up just on " Democracy Now!" and BuzzFlash? The White House spin is what prevails on the front page. Why are these people who have the direct experience in intellegence and at war being ignored by the mainstream media?
Amy Goodman: They are carrying water for the Administration, unfortunately. But it’s not only the Bush Administration, it’s the political elite in Washington. Let’s be clear here. This stripping of habeas corpus is the loss of a Constitutional right. A dozen Democrats joined with the Republicans in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. You had Kerry and Edwards voting to authorize the invasion, as well. Only now have they said that they were wrong. Hillary Rodham Clinton, leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 -- has never said that she was wrong on that vote.
You have the coming together of Democrats and Republicans, and when that distinction doesn’t exist, the media walks in lock-step. And, really, the majority of Americans are outside of that spectrum. The majority of Americans are not a fringe minority or a silent majority. They’re the silenced majority, silenced by the corporate media. We saw the same thing with the lead-up to the invasion as we are seeing today.
You have Jack Murtha, the conservative Congressman from Pennsylvania, basically voicing what the generals are saying privately. And it’s not only the higher-ups. Thousands of people in the military, by the Pentagon’s own estimate, are saying no to this war and are resisting deployment. We have interviewed numerous of these resisters on "Democracy Now!"
Right now, we’re doing an eighty-city tour to honor the tenth anniversary of "Democracy Now!" We're honoring independent media by holding fundraisers for stations around the country, and we're promoting Static. When we were at a Town Hall in Seattle, more than a thousand people packed in. One of those who spoke was Ehren Watada, the first lieutenant who said no to deployment. When he stood up, the applause was thunderous -- almost frightening -- the standing ovation, the response to him. He had just been hit the day before with a fourth charge of conduct unbecoming an officer. Now if we lived in a just society, who would be charged with conduct unbecoming?
In Chicago, we spoke at Northwestern University, and Tony Lagouranis was in the audience. Tony was an Army interrogator. He served in Iraq, and then he spoke out on "Democracy Now!" The hour with him was chilling as he talked about what happened. He served as an interrogator starting in 2004, first at Abu Ghraib and then as part of a mobile interrogation team. When he was first coming on the show, he asked if it was live, and I said no. Just before the break, he said, “I don’t think I can do this.” But he did. He talked about the violation of the Geneva Conventions. He talked about when the Navy Seals would interrogate people, they were using ice water to lower the body temperature of the person, and they would take a rectal temperature in order to make sure he didn’t die.
Military interrogators discovered that using dogs was particularly effectively in terrifying prisoners. Tony Lagouranis also said that at the detention facility in Mosul Airport, we would put the person in a shipping container and keep him up all night with music and strobe lights, in stress positions. Then we will bring in dogs. The dog will be barking and jumping on the person, and the person wouldn’t really understand what was going on. And Lagouranis said, “I knew we were really walking the line. I was going through the interrogation rules of engagement that were given to me by the unit that we were working with up there, trying to figure out what was legal and what wasn’t legal.” When I asked him about what he would say to people right now, he said, “I’d like to apologize to Iraq, honestly, because I think we’ve done so many things wrong over there.” He says, “To the military guys in Iraq, I would say follow your conscience, and don’t do what everybody else is doing just because it seems like that’s the right thing to do. It’s not.”
These are very brave people. The latest person we interviewed was a man named Agustin Aguayo, an Army medic. It came out in his basic training that he realized he couldn’t kill anyone, and he applied for conscientious objector status. I saw the investigative officer's report, and he recommended that Agustin be given field status. He was sent to Iraq as these considerations were going on. He refused to load his gun for a year, no matter how serious the situation, no matter how dangerous. He said no. He eventually left and went to Germany. And then they called him back for redeployment. They denied his C.O. status.When the military brought him to his home to get his things to return to Iraq, he was trying to do the right thing. But he said he knew he could not kill someone. So he climbed out his bathroom window. The officers came to his home and one of his eleven-year-old twin girls ran outside. She was scared. She said the military chased her down the street. His wife raced down the street, to find their daughter behind a bush, crying. And they were asking, “Where is your father?” He went AWOL, and he just turned himself in a few weeks ago at Fort Irwin in California. He held a news conference and said he doesn’t care what happens to him. He just knows he can’t go to Iraq. He cannot kill someone. He’s willing to serve time in jail.
These are incredibly brave people who are very isolated. But thousands of people are saying no. Some have gone to Canada. Suzanne Swift, the young woman who says that she was harassed in the Army, has just been charged with going AWOL. After she went AWOL, she was brought back to Fort Lewis in handcuffs and put under the custody of one of the officers that she said had abused her.
These are young people who are trying quietly, and now publicly, to say no to what’s going on. There is a level of resistance inside the military, as well as outside, that the media have not begun to cover.
BuzzFlash: The last time we interviewed you, you talked about your experience in East Timor many years ago. You believe in the power of social justice and the power within individuals to change the fate of our nation. As horrible as things are, you aren’t yet discouraged -- you still trust that individuals do have within them the ability to change the destructive course that we’re on currently.
Amy Goodman: I absolutely believe that. We were just in Sarasota, Florida at New College. The place was just packed, and some people couldn’t get in. There was a fifteen-year-old boy in a military uniform, and I asked why he had come. He said, "To hear the talk. I try not to miss 'Democracy Now!'" I asked him if they’re having debates about Iraq at the military academy where he’s a student. He said, "Yes." I asked him what the officers were saying. He said a lot of them -- I think he said most of them -- are very concerned about what’s going on.
When I was in Seattle, I talked to an ROTC recruiter who came to the talk. He said, “You know what? We’re watching. We’re sinking. I’m trying to figure the thing out.” I think people are coming to the wrong conclusions about people's views across the political spectrum. I was just in Santa Barbara where at the pier, they’ve set up twenty-seven hundred crosses for the US service men and women who have died in Iraq.
It is truly frightening what’s happening, and people are coming to understand this in all sorts of ways. I do think that President Bush not finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq exposed more than the Bush Administration. It exposed the press corps. After all, if Bush only had a megaphone on the steps of the White House, he might have convinced some people. But he had something more powerful, and that was the U.S. media. Over and over again, it was asserted that there were weapons of mass destruction. People came to believe it.
Now they’re questioning. How is it that the media, the top stories on the network newscasts, the front pages of the leading papers of record, got it so wrong? Now people are looking other places. I think the growth of "Democracy Now!" demonstrates that. This program that began ten years ago on a couple of dozen community radio stations, on Pacifica stations and other affiliates, now is broadcasting on 500 stations, on Pacifica and NPR stations, and low-power FM, college and community radio stations, and public access TV stations, and on some PBS stations. We're on those TV satellite networks, on Free Speech TV, which is Dish Network Channel 9415, on Link TV 9410, and on Direct TV Channel 375 link. Millions of people are accessing our website. Two to three new stations a week are picking us up in some of the most conservative areas in the country. And Time Magazine just said that Tim Russert's "Meet the Press" and "Democracy Now!" are the pick of the podcasts -- the most popular podcasts in the country.
I think that shows the hunger for an independent voice, not that small circle of pundits who know so little about so much, and who got it so wrong. At the grassroots level -- people experiencing the effects of foreign policy and how it affects us here at home -- those are the voices that need to be heard. Those are the voices that have been iced out of the corporate media.
BuzzFlash: It had been documented that torture has led to death at Abu Ghraib and other locations. Yet that never comes up.The assumption in the mainstream media is that, although there is torture, they pull back before anyone dies. But that’s not true. People died in Abu Ghraib. In essence, we have just authorized the President of the United States to commit murder.
Amy Goodman: I don’t think he’s been authorized to, but I think that he is allowing this to happen, and there has not been an outcry around that. That’s why the Democrats are conflicted in this. You cannot just say it’s the Bush Administration.
The Administration is desperate right now, and they're trying to crack down on the press. The press should never cave. It is really the last line of defense in a democratic society. Thomas Jefferson said if he had a choice of government or a free press, he’d choose the latter.
In a section of our book called “Deception and Death,” we look at the Bay of Pigs invasion. It was a disaster for the Kennedy Administration. In early ’61, The New Republic and The New York Times both suppressed their reports. The New Republic story is killed completely when Arthur Schlesinger, an assistant to President Kennedy, tells them that they want the story killed at the President’s request. The New York Times takes out the part of their story about the invasion, strips it down, and pushes it down to a smaller, below-the-fold placement, despite a managing editor protesting. Then this rag-tag group of fifteen hundred Cuban exiles attacked Cuba. It was a disaster -- 114 of the invaders dying. Nearly twelve hundred were taken prisoner. Interestingly, ten days later, JFK met with the Times' managing editor, Turner Catledge, and said, “If you printed more about the operation, you would have saved us from a colossal mistake.”
Now that is absolutely critical. The President said, if the press had done its job, and not caved to the government’s pressure, they would have avoided the catastrophic mistake. Yet you have today The New York Times publishing a very important expose -- in December of 2005 -- the expose around illegal wiretapping and the spying on American citizens. But if you read down into that article, you see that The New York Times admits it held back the story. The Times said they held onto it for more than a year. If you do the math and go back in time, they had the story on the eve of the 2004 presidential election. Why did they hold it? At the request of the people who were running for re-election. It is unforgivable.
BuzzFlash: To this day, they won’t admit or explain it. But let’s go back to this issue of 60% of Iraqis who, according to a poll published in the Washington Post, support attacks on American troops. According to the bill that was just passed, they would be considered people who aid or provide material support to terrorists. Theoretically, 60% of the Iraqi population could be tortured by Bush because they support attacks on American troops. Yet Americans don’t seem to understand this. They are the subject of a campaign of demagoguery which preys on fears and emotions which the Bush Administration is orchestrating.
Suppose you’re talking to someone out in Omaha who says, I can trust President Bush because he is going to stand against the terrorists. The person in Omaha feels this, one, because the information they’re getting in the mainstream media is only partial. Also, they’re getting the drill down to their emotional fear that is the purpose of the Bush campaign in terms of the "war on terrorism." How do you convince that person in Omaha that they have more to be afraid of in terms of their own government than they do right now in terms of an imminent terrorist attack on Omaha?
Amy Goodman: I don’t necessary think it would take much convincing. Actually, I was in Omaha recently, and I remember getting out of the plane and meeting a soldier coming home. His whole family was there to greet him. At some point in their festivities at the airport, as they were snapping the photographs and they were holding signs welcoming their loved one home, I asked him, “What was it like?” As he left, and he had this look in his eyes that it’s not good. I really think that the corporate media is missing the story of the level of resistance. It’s not a matter of convincing people.
In what is considered the reddest state in the country, Utah, I just interviewed Sergeant Marshall Thompson. He just came home from a year in Iraq. He talked to thousands of soldiers, and I asked him, what is the feeling? He said, “Overwhelmingly opposed to what’s going on in the field, and the troops should come home.” And he is the son of the former mayor of Logan, Utah. He is doing a march across Utah, the reddest state in the country, to express his opposition to what is happening right now. The feeling of that military journalist, the sergeant, is everywhere in the country. I think it’s just not being captured.
It really does matter, by the way, what the media does. As Noam Chomsky says, it "manufactures consent." We called our book Static based on the idea that, in this high-tech digital age, with high-definition television and digital radio, we’re still getting ever more static from the corporate media veil of distortion, lies, omissions, half truths. We need a media that creates static of another kind -- what the dictionary defines as criticism, opposition, unwanted interference. We need a media that doesn’t cover for power, but covers power. We are the fourth estate. We’re not supposed to be for the state.
Most importantly, we need a media that covers the movement that creates static and makes history. There is so much happening. As we crisscross the country going to dozens of cities, the response is incredible. People are deeply concerned about what’s happening in Iraq. People are deeply concerned about issues of privacy. People are concerned about spying, about the lying, and the dying.
BuzzFlash: Amy Goodman, we thank you and your brother for this informative book. Thank you for inspiring people not to give up in these very dark times, and to continue fighting for the Constitution and social justice.
Amy Goodman: Thank you.
BuzzFlash Interview conducted by Mark Karlin.
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Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders, and the People Who Fight Back (Hardcover) by Amy Goodman and David Goodman, a BuzzFlash premium.
Amy Goodman's 'Empire' (Lizzy Ratner/The Nation)
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW