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This Is Democracy Now!

Amy Goodman instinctively draws the connections between the large and the small
by Sandra Harper

Oct 31, 2014 | Blog



I’m continually reminded of the value of Democracy Now! in a mainstream news environment that paradoxically offers more options and less content. Where else in one hour can you hear Stephen Cohen countering media distortions around Russia, Drexel scholar George Ciccariello-Maher on Venezuela, and the investigative reporter John Carlos Frey on border and immigration themes. Each of these guests appeared on the show last February 20, a program that still has relevance.

The leaked phone conversation around that time between the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, and Victoria Nuland, the top U.S. diplomat for Europe, was an occasion for a vintage DN discussion.

“(bleep) the EU,” said Nuland. She proceeded to plot a coup d’etat and decide who the U.S. would tap to replace Victor Yanukovych, the elected president of Ukraine. “I think Yats (Arseniy Yatsenyuk) is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the guy…”

After Goodman finished airing a portion of the tape, Juan Gonzalez began to ask , “Stephen Cohen, this-chess game….”

Cohen’s response was:

“You don’t need me here. What do you need me for?” and gesturing at the tape, “There it is. There it is.”

And it kept going. Next up—Venezuela. George Ciccariello-Maher contextualized the anti-government protests supported by the U.S. taking place at that time:

“Once we look into this backstory, what we see is yet another attempt in a long string of attempts of the Venezuelan opposition to oust a democratically elected government.”

Goodman asked him to talk about Maduro’s claim that U.S. consular officials were involved with supporting the right-wing opposition. “Well,” observed Ciccariello-Maher, “the Obama government continues to fund this opposition even more openly than did the Bush—than did the Bush regime.”

Deftly, Democracy Now! linked similar narratives in two very different parts of the world with a reporting perspective seldom reflected in commercial media. Despite the chronic bad feeling one gets from the repeated reminder that we are constantly plotting the ouster of democratically elected foreign leaders who aren’t sufficiently useful or malleable or both, the show that day was riveting.

The final story hit closer to home, a subject kept buried or usually told badly when covered at all. John Carlos Frey discussed his work investigating the killings of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, where border-patrol agents were insisting on the right to use deadly force when confronted with rock throwing. Eight out of the last 20 border deaths, at the time, had been rock throwers.

I’m continually reminded of the value of Democracy Now! in a mainstream news environment that paradoxically offers more options and less content.

I’ve seen Amy Goodman in action on more than one occasion, mic in hand, holding her interviewee’s feet to the fire. She might be cajoling, or challenging, or jogging alongside and asking her questions. Her target always has a difficult time getting away without addressing the issue at hand.

During the 2008 RNC in St. Paul, I watched a video of Goodman as she was grabbed by riot police—helmet shields down—who zipped her wrists together with plastic restraints. She was hauled off to jail and held for “obstruction of a peace officer.” She had attempted to rescue Nicole Salazar and Sharif Abdel Kouddous, two members of the DN staff who had been violently arrested, kicked and slammed by riot police in an attempt to prevent the reporters from covering the street demonstrations

Though shaken and jailed, the DN team could not be intimidated. Soon after her release Goodman was back in front of the camera reporting the convention and demanding answers about jailing journalists from the police chief. Afterward, she commented in an interview—”In America you should be able to report independently. We need less secrecy in this country, not more.”

A while ago, I attended a party in New York celebrating The Invisible War, Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick’s film on rape in the U.S. military. Not surprisingly, I first learned about the film myself a few months earlier when Goodman interviewed Kirby Dick at the Sundance 2012 Film Festival.

Goodman was also at the party. She actually seemed to be taking a break, just hanging out and enjoying the company that had gathered to acknowledge this important film. In the garden on this spring night, she was a part of a small circle of journalists and filmmakers. Perhaps it was the gentle darkness that seemed to relax and quiet the group.

The conversation turned to that day’s show. I told her how much I’d appreciated it. The kick-off story was about the FBI’s questionable sting ops—deterrents or entrapments? This discussion took place within the context of the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings.

Another segment introduced the new documentary, The Trials of Muhammed Ali. Goodman’s lead-in announced, “It’s about the fight of his life. You might think it’s heavyweight boxing. It was actually his challenge to the war in Vietnam as a Muslim man.”

Her original treatment of these stories was emblematic of her independent approach to reporting, and she shared my enthusiasm for both segments. But her heart that day had been swept away by two high school students from Georgia.

“Wilcox County High will hold its first-ever integrated prom this Saturday,” Juan Gonzalez had announced on the show.

Mareshia Rucker, wearing a gold rose in her hair, and her schoolmate Brandon Davis, skyped the interview from a living room in Rochelle, Georgia. Sitting side-by-side and beaming into the computer’s camera, the two friends, one black and one white, talked about how along with other students in their senior class they were organizing an integrated prom.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Mareshia, the homecoming queen this year, the prom queen, she’s African American, and the prom—I don’t know what you call him—king is white?

MARESHIA RUCKER: Yes, Ma’am. The home—they’re actually the homecoming king and queen. And, yes, the king is white, and the queen is black.

AMY GOODMAN: So, was the queen able to go to the prom, to the white prom?

MARESHIA RUCKER: It was actually the homecoming dance that she was not allowed to go to. And they also would not let the king and queen take pictures together for our school yearbook.

We hear Goodman, incredulous, utter off camera a drawn out, “Wow.”

Mareshia explained, “Because our community is so very small-minded, and racism runs really deep here, no one wants to acknowledge that, because they’ve been living in this for so long.”

Goodman then linked the students’ demands for equality with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision on school desegregation by turning to an interview with Carlotta Walls LaNier, the youngest member of the Little Rock Nine.

A work day for Amy Goodman spans the news beat from the Collateral Murder video, the plight of Haitian earthquake victims, and civilian deaths in Gaza to new revelations about NSA surveillance, and winds up with two 17-year olds from Georgia skyping about their efforts to integrate their prom. Goodman instinctively draws the connections between the large and the small.

Mareshia signed off with the declaration, “Love has no color.” Goodman loved the interview with the high school students. “They were glowing!” Amy told us that night. And so was she.

—Sandra Harper

Sandra Harper is a writer and gardener living in New York.

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