AMY GOODMAN: Wow, what an honor it is to be here. Thank you to the Nieman Foundation. What an honor it is to be here with Laura Poitras, to be here with Izzy’s family, and with my own family, my brothers and sister-in-law and my close friend Brenda.
It is so important that we in the press take on power. I originally come from Pacifica Radio, which was founded in 1949 by a war resister named Lew Hill, when he came out of the detention camps. He was a conscientious objector. He said there has to be a media outlet that is not run by corporations that profit from war, but run by journalists and artists. And that’s how Pacifica was born in 1949, the first station KPFA. As George Gerbner, the former late dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, said, we need a media that’s not run by corporations that have nothing to tell and everything to sell, that are raising our children today.
And so Pacifica grew to five stations—mine in New York, BAI; Los Angeles; Houston—fascinating, the Houston station, KPFT. In 1970, it went on the air, and within two weeks, it’s the only radio station in the country that was blown up. It was blown up by the Ku Klux Klan. They strapped dynamite to the base of the transmitter, and they blew it to smithereens. When the station got back on their feet, rebuilt their transmitter, the Klan blew it up again. Oh, they blew up the station right in the middle of Arlo Guthrie singing “Alice’s Restaurant.” So, finally, the third time when they rebuilt their station, it became a national event. PBS was broadcasting it going back on the air, and Arlo came back to Houston to finish “Alice’s Restaurant.”
But I think the reason they blew it up is because of how dangerous Pacifica is, how dangerous independent media is, because it allows people to speak for themselves. And when you hear someone speaking from their own experience, whether it is a Palestinian child or an Israeli grandmother, whether it is an uncle in Iraq, an aunt in Afghanistan, it challenges stereotypes. It destroys the caricatures that fuel the hate groups. There’s nothing more powerful than hearing someone speak for themself. It’s not that you agree with them, but you begin to understand where they’re coming from. And that’s the beginning of peace. I believe the media can be the greatest force for peace on Earth. Instead, it is wielded as a weapon of war. And that has to be challenged. That has to change.
There’s a lot of retrospectives now as the U.S. is at the same time pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan, actually increasing their presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it’s instructive to go back to 2003, when the war began, and look at the corporate media at the time. You know, the group, media group FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, in New York, did a study of the two weeks around Colin Powell, then secretary of state—I think it was February 5, 2003, giving that push for war at the U.N., that speech he would later call a “blot” on his career, where he said the final evidence is in on weapons of mass destruction. FAIR looked at the four major nightly newscasts in the two weeks around that speech, which was critical. It was six weeks before the invasion of Iraq, the most critical time when, as Noam Chomsky says, the media is “manufacturing consent” for war. And they looked at the four major nightly newscasts—NBC Nightly News, the ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and the PBS NewsHour. That two-week period, there were 393 interviews done around war. This is at a time in the U.S. when about half the population was for war, half the population was against war. Three hundred ninety-three interviews done. How many were with antiwar leaders? Three. Three of almost 400. That is no longer a mainstream media; that’s an extreme media beating the drums for war. That has to be challenged. We need a media, when we cover war, that’s not brought to us by the weapons manufacturers; when we cover climate change, not brought to us by the oil, the gas, the coal companies, the nuclear companies; when we cover healthcare, not brought to us by the insurance industry, by the drug companies. We need a media that is truly independent. That, I believe is what will save us.
My brother David and I wrote a couple of books, the first called The Exception to the Rulers. That should be what all the media is. It shouldn’t just be the motto of Democracy Now!, “the exception to the rulers.” The second is called Static. And the reason we called it that is because even in this high-tech digital age, with high-definition television and digital radio, still all we get is static, that veil of distortion and lies and misrepresentations and half-truths that obscure reality, when what we need the media to give us is the dictionary definition of static: criticism, opposition, unwanted interference. We need a media that covers power, not covers for power. We need a media that is the Fourth Estate, not for the state. And we need a media that covers the movements that create static and make history.
That’s why it’s also such an honor to be here with Laura Poitras, who risked everything. Already she had been harassed by the government as she came in, inside and outside the company, but who risked everything, with Glenn Greenwald, making their way to Hong Kong. Who knew what would happen? Ed Snowden certainly didn’t know what would happen to him when he gave over these documents. But these journalists—I mean, it is a very dangerous time for journalists. What would happen to them? You know, under the Obama administration, there are more whistleblowers and journalists prosecuted than under all presidents combined. That is astounding.
And yet she risked everything, to what ultimately has changed the world—the information that has come out about surveillance, about what kind of country we want to be, what do we want to represent in the rest of the world, whether we’re talking about surveillance at home or we’re talking about detention at Guantánamo. I don’t even like to use the word “detention,” use the words of the state, because they’re so often propagandistic. “Detention” suggests short-term—that’s not imprisonment, it’s detention. It’s hardly detention, and they are hardly detainees, when they are held for more than 10 years without charge, most of them cleared, and yet they remain at this prison camp. All of these need to be discussed.
We need independent media, which is also—I see this award for all of my colleagues at Democracy Now! We began 19 years ago as the only daily election show in public broadcasting. We were broadcasting on eight community radio stations, very proud, thought we’d be going through the primary season, and when the election happened—it happened to be the second election of President Clinton—then this project would wrap up. I actually was called to be the host of the show—I was at an underground safe house in Haiti. You know, in Haiti, people were gunned down when they went to the polls, in places like Timor, as well. But in our country, most people didn’t even vote. So I thought, “Well, why do an election show?” But that actually intrigued me, because I never thought people were apathetic in the United States, but I wanted to know what people at the grassroots were doing. How were they engaged? Why didn’t they vote? And so, we used the primary system as a way to go from state to state to see what people were doing in their states. And after the election, there was more demand for the show than before, and more and more stations started to pick it up.
And then September 11th happened, five years later, September 11, 2001. And that week we happened to begin a broadcast—coincidentally, September 11th—on the first TV station in New York. It was a public access station, Manhattan Neighborhood Network. We went on as emergency broadcasting, the closest national broadcast to the World Trade Center. And then it just took off. TV stations around the country would say, “Can you send us video cassettes?” That was back then. And we soon were—the Fed Ex and the mailmen were picking up garbage bags filled with video cassettes, when we would—when they would play the video cassettes each day, then the radio station in the town—first it was Pacifica, then community college stations, NPR stations, saying, “Can we play this show?” And then PBS stations were saying, “Well, can we broadcast this program?” And now, 19 years later, we’re broadcasting on over 1,300 public radio and television stations around the country and around the world, translated also into Spanish, our headlines, because Spanish media, Spanish-language media, suffers from the same concentration of corporate control of the media as the English-language media does. We need independent media.
I really see the media as a huge kitchen table that stretches across the globe, that we all sit around and debate and discuss the most important issues of the day: war and peace, life and death. And anything less than that is a disservice to the servicemen and women of this country. They can’t have these debates on military bases. They rely on us, in civilian society, to have the discussions that lead to the decisions about whether they live or die, whether they’re sent to kill or be killed. Anything less than that is a disservice to a democratic society.
Thank you so much. Democracy now!