Sunday, February 26, 2006

Ten Years of Democracy Now! (May there be many, many more)

Democracy Now! is celebrating ten years and should be doing so with a head held high. How many media outlets can you say that about? Not a whole lot.

We think Ruth covered it very well in her Ruth's Public Radio Report yesterday. In fact, we've tried to repost the entire entry via e-mail repeatedly. Maybe it will show up here at some point. Maybe not. But read Ruth's highlights and see what reports stand out to you. And be aware that Democracy Now! has a special site set up to celebrate ten years. You can find highlights there chosen by the people who put together the program each day.

Here's Ruth:

"You have no idea of it's reach!" That's what Treva told me over the phone Thursday from Arizona. As most of the community knows, Treva is my best friend of many, many years, someone who is active in any and every cause and someone who criss-crosses the country while I remain sedentary in what we were told would be our "golden years." Two wars waging and a third on the horizon does not even strike me as silver years. Maybe plastic.

But what was Treva speaking of? Democracy Now! What began as a Pacifica radio program on WBAI ten years ago, to cover the 1996 elections, is now a podcast, a TV show, still a radio program and so much more. I knew from my online family (this community) and my offline family that the program was a force to be reckoned with. But when Treva called and, during the course of our conversation, asked what would be the focus of this week's report, she wanted to weigh in.

She said that regardless of what town or city she is in, there is always someone recommending the program to her. It may be a teenager just getting active, it may be someone closer to our own generation. Regardless of age, gender or race, someone is always asking her if she has heard of Democracy Now!?

We have all heard of it but for anyone passing by, Democracy Now! is an hour long program that is hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez. The structure of the program is to spend roughly ten minutes items in the news, or items that should be in the corporate news, and to then explore issues in depth. That may mean interviewing a reporter from anywhere in the world or it might mean a sit down interview in the studio (whichever studio if the show is "on the road") or it could mean a debate. But it always means going in depth, beyond the headlines. It always means asking the questions that would otherwise go unasked.

C.I. and Mike have both commented on the fact that Ms. Goodman does not get lost in an interview and does not allow the audience to get lost either. When, in the midst of an answer, a guest brings up a new issue in passing, Ms. Goodman can be counted on to say, "Let's back up . . ." and not move on, as is so often in the case in interviews, to the next question. I am sure that as part of the work and she and the staff do, preparations are made ahead of time. But you hear, see or read someone who is actually listening and who is willing to explore a topic. That, in itself, is revolutionary in this day and age where the trade off on most programs seems to be, "I'll give you access to my audience and you can just tick off your talking points without worrying about me questioning them."

Hear, see or read? Democracy Now! airs on over four hundred stations. This includes Pacifica radio stations, community radio stations, college radio stations, NPR, PBS, public access TV and two satellite channels: Free Spech TV channel 9415 on Dish TV and Link TV channel 9410 on DIRECT TV. Globally, it is carried on Europe's World Radio Network and Australia's Community Broadcasting Associaton. Where there is online access, there is access to Democracy Now! Online, they stream the program both in audio format and in video format as well as allowing you to subscribe to their podcast. There is no charge for any of those services. Also online, here is where the "read" comes in, you can read transcripts of the show. The latter feature is something that members with older operating systems on their computers have noted they are grateful for in e-mails.

And let me do an announcement for members in the Dallas, Texas area. A number of them have written to complain about the fact that the local NPR (KERA) would not air Democracy Now! despite the fact that it has plenty of time to repeat some NPR programs twice daily. Democracy Now! has been added to Dallas Community Television (DCTV) and broadcasts twice daily: at seven in the morning and eleven at night. I am not sure whether members like Billie who live in the "greater DFW area" will be able to pick that up but I know that members who live in Dallas proper and have cable will be able to. And thanks to Eddie for passing that on and to Billie and Eddie for patiently explaining to me the "greater DFW area." Let me also encourage members in that area to continue to request that KERA air Democracy Now! Though I have never visited the city, I find it hard to believe that, for instance, there is a huge demand,outcry or need for two daily airings of Fresh Air.

For those attempting to locate a staion broadcasting Democracy Now! in their area, you can go online and check at the website.

So we have talked about the ways you can follow the program and we have talked about the show's format. Now we can focus on the nitty gritty. On August 19, 2005, where was Democracy Now! broadcasting from? Live from Camp Casey where they interviewed Cindy Sheehan, Ann Wright, Collen Rowley, and Hadi Jawad of the Crawford Peace House (among others). And, as C.I. pointed out, the Democracy Now! audience was already familiar with Cindy Sheehan before she made her first trip to Crawford. That is due to the fact that the program is not interested in providing the same sources you find on Meet the Press, who usually appear on Face The Nation and This Week and sometimes do all three on the same Sunday. The program is a chronicle of our times, addressing the issues that impact our lives.

Which is why we get reports like the ones featured on the March 15, 2005 broadcast: an interview with Kathie Dobie who wrote, for Harper's Magazine, of the 5,500 plus troops who had gone AWOL, as well an interview with three who had refused to continue to fight in the illegal war (Kevin Benderman, Carl Webb and a third man who did not want to be identified, plusMark Benjamin speaking on the casualities of those returning. Is war nothing more than flashy military toys? Democracy Now! thinks so which is why they take the time to interview PabloParedes. These are the stories of our times, not what an administration spokesperson says, something that will usually be retracted in a few months, if not weeks. These are concrete stories about the world around us.

I asked Treva what stood out to her the most of all the reports she has followed on Democracy Now! Her choice, without hesitation, was the 2004 coverage of the DNC and RNC conventions.

For that coverage, the program expanded to two hours each day and went beyond the chosen few commentators of the mainstream press to give you a real sense of what was going on in Boston and New York City and how it would impact your lives.

My grandaughter Tracey didn't select two weeks of coverage, but she did select part one and part two of the interview with Hugo Chavez done by Amy Goodman, Juan Gonzalez and Margret Prescod of Sojourner Truth.

Betty selected the Rosa Parks coverage because "it shows the importance of the show and of independent media. Besides offering the very real perspective of what Rosa Parks stood for, something that was sorely missing in the 'she must have been tired and just wanting to sit down' mainstream coverage, they also dug into the Pacifica archives to provide her in her own words."

I asked Dona for her choice of favorite Democracy Now! report and she decided to "step away from the obvious" and note the program that airs on some holidays and explores the life of Yip Harburg, the lyricist of "Brother Can You Spare a Dime," "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and much more.

For Elaine it would have to be the interview with Gareth Peirce, the British human rights attorney representing former prisoners of Guantanamo. Elaine told me that the interview had stayed with her and that it also includes the "key" to Democracy Now! when Amy Goodman reassures Ms. Peirce that there is time to respond because the program is not about soundbytes.

Jim selected an April 2005 interview with Naomi Klein on the topic of disaster capitalism which appears to be the only planning that the administration thought to do before invading Iraq.

Rebecca replied, "Anything with Robert Parry makes my favorite list but probably the one from last spring where he was on to address the issue of terrorist Luis Posada Carriles."

Also on terrorism, Mike noted the interview with Jennifer Harbury, in July, about torture committed by the CIA. For Jess, "no question, it's the interview with Jennifer Dohrn. Throughout the media, people who should have known better were hailing Mark Felt as a 'hero.' Democracy Now! wasn't afraid to challenge that talking point. Dohrn gave witness to reality and where else would that happen but Democracy Now!?" Trina selected the interview with Camilo Mejia upon his release from jail because "I didn't see the [Boston] Globe rushing to interview him. The story matters but you get to a certain age and you learn what matters to the people and what matters to the corporate press are frequently two different things." Trina also added that, for her husband, she'd better note the broadcast of Jessica Lange's speech at the September rally in D.C. "We saw that, remember?" Trina reminded me. "In person, and he and Jim's father were like school boys while she was speaking. You would have thought they'd have it out of their systems but when it aired the following Monday, I heard all over again how smart and how beautiful Jessica Lange was. She is. You don't need to hear that from your husband repeatedly but for those who missed the speech, it was worth airing."

For Kat, "It's the hour with Janis Karpinski. I have mixed feelings about Karpinski regarding what she could have done or couldn't have done but that was a solid, hour long interview and Goodman asked tough questions." Ty also selected an hour long interview, the one with Jane Goodall on "the environment, nature, animals and the world! It had everything."My grandson Jayson could not choose one so he selected the interview with Alice Walker this month and he wanted me to note that the archived broadcasts are avaiable free of charge. One he enjoyed recently was the conversation between Howard Zinn and Arundhati Roy. He added, "Democracy Now! never suffers from 'War Got Your Tongue?'"

Wally had a broad topic: "The coverage of Iraq. All of it. People surprised by what's going on today should have been watching Democracy Now! One of my favorite guests on the subject is Dahr Jamail. One broadcast? Where he talked about the attacks on the hospitals in Iraq. And Dave Zirin talking about sports and politics and the impact the mixture can have and does have from athletes speaking out to stadiums that soak tax payers and enrich business."

Ava was almost as hard to pin down as C.I. She finally noted that whether "it's media consolidation or Judith Miller, the show leads on the issues and doesn't wait to see what's 'breaking' on CBS, for instance. If I was to narrow it down to one report, keeping that in mind, I'd go with a report on Filiberto Ojeda Rios being murdered by FBI agents back in September." C.I.? "Ruth, you know if I pick one story, the e-mails will pour in saying, 'How could you forget ___ and ___ and ___ and . . ." After additional pestering, I was able to pin down C.I. "Okay, one story? I'll drop back to the nineties so if any member wishes I'd picked something in the last few years, I'm going historical, that's my excuse. Operation Tailwind. CNN and Time washed their hands of the story. They disowned it, even though it wasn't bad reporting. I remember friends from CNN calling and saying, 'You've got to listen to Democracy Now! right now.' They covered it when the mainstream media wanted to bury it. What happened to Mary Mapes and the others at CBS can be traced back to what was done to April Oliver and Jack Smith. A story gets too 'hot' and it stops being about journalism and the job reporters do as the corporate office panics and turns it into 'court of law' issues. Oliver and Smith's reporting stood up as reporting, Mapes reporting stood up as reporting. In both cases, external pressure caused news organizations to cave and everytime they do that and get away with it, it's all the much harder for the next reporter to break a story."

Cedric selected the interview with musician and activist Harry Belafonte that aired in January which was a powerful interview and I saved Cedric's pick for last because Mr. Belafonte is participating in an event for Democracy Now! next month:

Democracy Now! and WBAI invite you to join us for an evening of conversation with Harry Belafonte, Amy Goodman, Juan Gonzalez and WBAI's Bernard White as we mark the 3rd anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and the 10th anniversary of Democracy Now!
Saturday, March 18, 2006
The Great Hall at Cooper Union
East 7th Street at Third Avenue
New York City
Pre-event reception: 6-7 p.m.
A special gathering with Harry Belafonte and Amy Goodman.
Hors d'oeuvres & Refreshments served.
Ticket price (includes admission to main event): $100
Main Event: 7 p.m.
Ticket price: $25
Space is limited. Purchase your tickets today by clicking on the link directly above.
Tickets can be picked up at Cooper Union beginning at 4:30 PM on March 18th. Please print and bring the receipt generated at the end of this transaction to facilitate your ticket pick up.

On the stories selected above, did you see your favorite? As Marci would guess, I would pick a segment with Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Law and Disorder. But if, in the wide range of selections, you did not see your favorite report, consider that a testimony to the quality of Democracy Now! because there is so much to choose from. To celebrate the ten years of excellent programming, a special website has been set up that is offering highlights chosen by the people who work so hard to bring you Democracy Now! each Monday through Friday.

Want to celebrate the tenth anniversary but unable to attend the March 18th event? As Maria says, "Get the word out."
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