Amy Goodman’s ‘Empire’

Linked with Amy Goodman – USA.

Published on The Nation, by Lizzy Ratner, May 5, 2005.

… She kept the lines open and the microphones hot, throwing her voice into the radio murk in case any stations chose to pick up the feed. “We are not going to draw any conclusions at this point, just reporting the information of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center buildings, the plane crashing into the Pentagon, a fire at the Pentagon right now,” Goodman said in her grainy alto, at the beginning of what would become an eight-hour marathon broadcast that was eventually picked up by KPFA, the one Pacifica station still airing her broadcasts. And then, shortly after 10 am, she announced: “It looks like the south tower of the World Trade Center has collapsed…”

Three and a half years and two wars later, Goodman is still talking into her microphone, reporting on the big and small crises of the day. She is still broadcasting from the firehouse studio, still sending her war-and-peace reports into the media ether, except that these days when the engineer flips the switch on her microphone, she can expect hundreds of thousands of listeners to tune in.

In the years since 9/11, Democracy Now! has shape-shifted from a popular niche radio program broadcast on some twenty-five independent stations to a multimedia institution beamed each day to some 330 community radio and television stations (it has also returned to Pacifica). The skeletal four-person crew has ballooned to twenty-seven full- and part-time staff, including seven radio and TV producers, two outreach organizers and, yes, a professional archivist. And the drafty garret studio has been abandoned for a larger space on the first floor of the firehouse, which will soon be abandoned for yet another, larger firehouse studio.

On any given day, the Democracy Now! website logs a solid 50,000 visits. “It’s the lifeline for a lot of people,” says professor and media critic Robert McChesney. “I think it’s probably the most significant progressive news institution that has come around in some time” …

… Goodman’s indie-media star status had been building since well before 9/11, but it’s begun to approach critical velocity during the past year, as she’s traveled the country to promote Exception to the Rulers. Goodman has dubbed this second leg the “Un-Embed: the Media Tour,” but in many ways it has been less of a book tour than a “free the media” organizing drive. Each event has been an occasion for Goodman to exhort her audience to “be the media,” as well as to raise money for community broadcasters. To date the events have raised more than $1 million.

To skeptics, this tour is perhaps little more than the standard self-promoting book junket – fronted by an author who happens to have the stamina of the Grateful Dead. But in many ways this effort – particularly Goodman’s call to “take back the public airwaves” – is what has set Democracy Now! apart from its sibling media outlets, giving it the texture of a movement as well as a radio and television show. Because what Democracy Now! has recognized, perhaps better than most progressive news outlets, is that without the strength of a grassroots movement it’s tricky – perhaps impossible – to create a robust, independent media; and without an independent media there is little chance for free, unfettered reporting.

And, of course, without unfettered reporting, well, there’s not much hope for democracy.

  • “I see the media as a huge kitchen table that stretches across this country, that we all sit around and debate and discuss the most important issues of the day: life and death, war and peace,” Goodman says, winding toward the end of her speech at the Ethical Culture Society.
  • “Anything less than that is a disservice to a democratic society.
  • “Democracy now!” she adds, punching the air lightly with her fist. And then, with a sudden, self-conscious smile, she steps back from the microphone.

full long text, 6 pages later).

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