Sunday, January 20, 2008

TV: Democracy Sometimes?

"Welcome to Democracy Now!, the war and peace report," is more or less how Amy Goodman starts each broadcast after the program's theme music plays. The theme isn't "Love Is All Around," but maybe it should be? Maybe our modern day Mary Richards should, instead of tossing her hat into the air at the end of the theme music, just kiss a poster of Barack Obama like Laverne would kiss the poster of the Beatles after she and Shirley moved out west?
Throughout 2007, Goodman regularly featured guests who would praise Barack Obama only to stress that they weren't supporting him, that they hadn't decided whom they were supporting. They'd make that claim even if they'd already written a check to the Obama campaign. Did Goodman know? We were willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Then something happened last Monday. Goodman threw Gloria Steinem under the bus and that was disgusting as were attempts to change her program to Geraldo! but what really should have stood out was whom Goodman invited on to tear into Steinem: Melissa Harris-Lacewell.

Harris-Lacewell was on last Monday as an Obama supporter and a pit-bull but it's the former that we found most interesting. The week prior, Harris-Lacewell had been on as a professor. Just an objective professor offering her take on the 2008 campaigns.

Billed as just a professor, Harris-Lacewell managed to sell her candidate, "I was in Nashua at Barack Obama's really packed speech. And we got there about two hours early and stood in line. I had my five-year-old daughter with me, and she stood in line that whole time. Along with me was lots of other older people who were using canes, young people, infants. And it was an incredibly moving and powerful experience. And also, again, just sort of--it was a cross between, you know, the 'I Have a Dream' speech and a high school football pep rally. It was a bizarre, but really kind of exciting mixture."


Pretty strong words for someone who wasn't vested in the Obama campaign. But, of course, Harris-Lacewell was vested in the campaign at that time. And, thing is, Amy Goodman damn well knew it.

Goodman, who likes to play Last Journalist Standing, allowed a known Obama supporter to come on the show and praise Obama through the roof and Goodman never felt the need to tell her audience that Harris-Lacewell was not, in fact, an objective observer but someone who had traveled to many states to see her candidate speak.

Democracy Now! boasts of being the largest grassroots media collaboration in the country. As part of that reach, it's aired on NPR and PBS stations around the country. NPR is supposed to follow basic journalism guidelines and, in fact, has their policy in writing: "Independence and Integrity II: The Updated Ethics Guide for Public Radio Journalism." Democracy Now!'s actions with regards to Melissa Harris-Lacewell are in violation of the guidelines.

Listeners have a right to know, especially when someone's praising a candidate through the roof, that the person is supporting that candidate and working for the candidate's campaign as Harris-Lacewell was. Again, Goodman knew Harris-Lacewell was supporting Obama. She knew it before Harris-Lacewell ever appeared on the show. She knew when she appeared on Jesse Jackson's radio program with Harris-Lacewell. But for reasons not explained, Goodman elected to present Harris-Lacewell as just a professor and, even when Harris-Lacewell was waxing on about her candidate of choice, Goodman never felt the need to tell listeners that Harris-Lacewell was supporting Barack Obama and campaigning for him.

We've asked friends at NPR about that and they all agree it is a major breach of journalism ethics. They note that NPR doesn't distribute the program (they were unaware of the fact that NPR provides a link to the program at their website) and it's picked up by individual stations. Are NPR stations governed by the policy? That's where it gets sticky. As one explained, "In the best possible of worlds, the answer is 'yes' and, yes, that would mean that no NPR station would carry that program as a result of the Harris-Lacewell issue alone."

Yeah, that is what it should mean.

Goodman's turned her program over to Bambi Love. She pretends that's not the case but it is reality. Two Fridays ago, Juan Gonzalez (co-host in name -- and that's not meant as an insult to Gonzalez) wrote a column entitled "I smell Barack Obama baloney." His columns are published in The New York Daily News and are regularly noted by Goodman. For some strange reason, even with him "co-hosting" the Friday, January 11th broadcast (his column was published that morning), Goodman gave no "shout out" to the column. (She did manage to make time to note she'd be appearing in Vermont that night.) Last Friday, a non-Obama column resulted (as it nearly always does) in a "shout out" from Goodman.

It goes to pattern.

One of the patterns is that Michael Eric Dyson, Cornell West and assorted others can be brought on as the sole guest and sing the praises of Bambi.

Journalist Glen Ford (Black Agenda Report) appeared on the January 9th broadcast this year. Finally, someone with serious doubts about Obama was brought on. Ford wasn't allowed to share his observations and investigations with Goodman, instead he was pitted against Michael Eric Dyson.

That's really curious.

On May 31, 2007, The Nation's Ari Berman was brought on to discuss his magazine's latest slam piece on Hillary Clinton; however, Berman wasn't 'balanced' with a pro-Hillary guest. Nor was any statement made to the effect of, "We attempted to get a response from the Clinton campaign."

That really is the pattern.

On January 2nd, Robert Parry got to act to crazy on radio, TV and online. Based on Bill Clinton, Parry -- one-time journalist -- was able to 'predict' what Hillary Clinton would do as president and none of it was favorable. Who was Parry paired with?

No one. Nor was any statement made about attempting to get a response from the Clinton campaign.

On January 3rd, Goodman interviewed Allan Nairn and Kelley Beaucar Vlahos allegedly about the advisers working for the presidential candidates. Beaucar Vlahos is a conservative so we'll mainly focus on the embarrassment that was Nairn. But note, Goodman wants to start with Hillary and brings in both guests for that. Then Goodman decides it's time for Obama and she shuts Beaucar Vlahos out of the discussion. She'll move on to John Edwards (tossed to Nairn) and wait until both candidates have been discussed at length before she'll ask Beaucar Vlahos "would you like to add to any of the advisers Allan just talked about? And then we'll move on to the Republicans." After Beaucar Vlahos notes that they are all the same and the immense money that they all have, Goodman will put forth the lie that Obama gets huge amounts of monies from the grassroots (Goodman regularly cites The New York Times, she's aware of their article about Obama calling t-shirt, bumper stickers, and other sales "donations" to create the impression of small donors and she should also damn well be aware of the huge amounts of monies he's receiving from Big Business). She'll toss to Nairn to praise the alleged miracle of small donors and Nairn will get off this howler:

He actually doesn't need to finance his campaign, to go to the hedge funds, to go to Wall Street. But he does anyway. And he does, I think, because if he doesn't, they wouldn't trust him. They might think that he's on the wrong team, and they might start attacking him. He is someone who, in terms of the money he needs for his campaign, he could afford to come out for single-payer healthcare, for example, but he doesn't. He doesn't need money from the health insurance industry, that's wasting several percentage points of the American GDP in a way that no other industrial rich country in the world does, yet he chooses not to do that, because he doesn't want to be attacked by those corporations.

Nairn is (illogically and with no basis in reality) arguing that, yes, Obama does take big money but he only does so because, if he didn't, big money would attack him. It's a laughable 'theory' and a generous one -- one that's not extended to other candidates.

But Bambi always gets a pass on Democracy Now! Hillary always gets a slam. That has to do with who is booked and who isn't. We spoke with several Hillary supporters who have appeared on the show in the past and asked, "What's the deal? You're sick of Amy?" No, "the deal" is that they're not being asked to appear on the show. Why do they think that is? They all argue that Goodman has an agenda and that is to promote Obama. (Two say that if Hillary gets the nomination and then they're asked to appear they'll beg off.)

Here's how it goes -- and everyone knows it -- in terms of booking: If Barack Obama is your first choice, you can get a solo guest spot. If Barack Obama is your second choice but John Edwards is your first choice, you stand a good chance of a solo or joint appearence. If you're supporting Hillary, the only way you're getting on is if Goodman's booking a supporter of Edwards (known supporter) and one of Obama's (ditto) for the same segment -- in which case, she'll toss a bone to the Hillary supporters.

People should be examining whom Goodman books.

Last week, she booked Kevin Alexander Gray. That January 15th segment was interesting for what it didn't go into.

Barack Obama put known homophobes on stage in South Carolina last October. Some gay groups protested ahead of time. Goodman never noted it. Homophobes went on to spew their homophobia from the stage of this Barack Obama campaign event. Still Amy Goodman didn't note it. "We got what we wanted," crowed the Bambi campaign in their only public statement and, you know this already, it never got noted on Democracy Now!

In the January issue of The Progressive, Kevin Alexander Gray contributes an article he co-wrote with Marshall Derks. The article, "Obama's Big Gay and Black Problem," was posted online at many websites. Despite the article now appearing in print in this month's The Progressive, Goodman never asked about it last week -- while speaking to its co-author. Is homophobia not an issue in Goodman's world? Is it not as important as racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination?

Considering how rarely LBGT issues make it onto the program, Goodman apparently doesn't think it's an issue. Even when a Democrat candidate uses homophobia to stir up hatred in the hopes of turning out voters, Goodman doesn't find it 'newsworthy.' But she's really not interested in gender either. Though program after program throughout 2007 and 2008 addressed race and race only (and the race was always African-American which has led to a huge outcry in the Bay Area about the silence on Asian-Americans), gender issues in the US was never judged as important enough for a segment in 2007.

Some may be suprised that they never noticed that. Others, especially those who read Aura Bogado's "Hustling the Left" (ZNet) will most likely be nodding their heads because it's not all that surprising when a woman (Goodman) who thinks H**tler is the place to publish also isn't interested in the lives of women.

Bogado rightly called out the booking style of the program by noting that human scum (the publisher of H**tler) was allowed to be the only guest for a lengthy segment and to paint himself and his trashy magazine as the last bastion of democracy. When should-have-been-expected complaints came in on that garbage passed off as 'news,' Goodman's response was a 'debate' between two women. As Bogado noted, "Democracy Now attempted to have these women argue over the issue of pornography -- while two weeks earlier the program featured a longer interview with a pornographer, unchallenged." The piece of trash magazine (which we're not spelling in full, no) is not just a skin magazine in the tradition of Hugh Hefner's skin mags, it's a magazine that regularly traffics in violence aimed at women. Again, Goodman felt comfortable publishing in that magazine and might still be were it not for the women like Bogado who had enough self-respect to say, "No, that's not right."

Last Monday, it was again time to pit woman-against-woman and the thing there is that Goodman led Gloria Steinem to believe she was coming on for a discussion. It wasn't a discussion. It was an attack from Bambi supporter Melissa Harris-Lacewell, finally outed that day as a Bambi supporter to the Democracy Now! audience.

"Melissa Harris-Lacewell is a Barack Obama supporter," declared Goodman, something she wasn't able to put into words the week prior when it was time to sell Bambi yet again. Melissa Harris-Lacewell, so eager to lie the week prior and pass herself off as objective and not vested in any campaign, quickly brags about "the work that I've done on the Obama campaign" -- work she didn't feel people needed to know about when she was giving him high marks for the speech she 'just happened' to catch in New Hampshire.

When an alleged news show goe after Gloria, it's not pretty. Harris-Lacewell and Goodman did their Obama-Edwards tag-team act very well . . . if trash TV is what you expect from 'independent' media.

Unmarried Melissa got off one insult after another at married women and we're not really sure that's the way to shore up Bambi's support. For instance, she declared, the Clinton campaign has "consistently used ways of thinking about her as Bill Clinton's wife. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot both claim this sort of role as independent woman making a stand on questions of feminism and claim that your experience begins as First Lady of Arkansas." Actually, we'd argue Clinton's "experience begins" long before that and includes her Congressional work on Watergate.

Harris-Lacewell also got in an insult at Princeton's students by referring to them as "privileged white students" -- we're told that 42% of the current students were rendered invisible in that false remark and that the biggest complaints are coming in from alumni. But grasp that she apparently doesn't think a woman who is married can be independent or that if she is married she must make no mention of it if she wants to be seen as independent. Professor Melissa wanted everyone to know she's not married. We really didn't think marriage was an issue and had no concern about Professor Melissa's marital status but, apparently, when that's all you've got to present yourself as "independent" you go to the well on it and then some.

Remember, married women across the country, the professor thinks you're either "independent" or an appendage. "You can't have it both ways," she's insisting.

We find it hard to believe she's an associate professor of anything with her stream of insults and distortions. There was her puzzling remark that "white women moved into the workforce, much of that caretaking work did not go to white men who sort of took up and helped out, but it fell on women of color--African American women, immigrant women--who stepped in to do much of the domestic labor and childcare provision, so that white women could in fact become a part of the workforce." Is that meant to disrespect domestic work -- paid or unpaid? Is it meant to disrespect working women if the work they do is another person's household? It certainly sounds like it. And where are her citations? We think it's cute the way she works in "immigrant women" (apparently not worthy of a race in her race-based remarks) and it's pretty much necessary because if you're going to talk about domestic work done by women of color it isn't true that African-American women were brought in for White women who worked. African-American women doing domestic work, in the last century, largely worked in homes where the White woman did not work. But maybe when you're churning out 'books' on pop culture, you really don't know your history?

For the record, women in the workforce, all women, have done a variety of jobs and they've done them very well. Some may choose to turn their noses at them -- possibly from an academic perch you have to look down on others? -- but women who have done paid domestic work have worked harder than many others and deserve respect -- a fact not implied or stated in Harris-Lacewell's laughable rant. (For the record, we both grew up in homes with live-in help.)

Apparently thinking she was on Springer and forgetting she was an alleged academic, Harris-Lacewell made statements about how "I'm sitting here in my black womanhood body". We're not really sure what that had to do with anything. Maybe she was afraid listeners would think she was a disembodied voice? Or maybe they'd think she only existed from the neck up?

If anyone was wondering if her body was all there, we're pretty sure they were wondering if her brain was intact as she spewed one laughable remark after another such as when she asserted "Barack Obama is getting death threats, basically lyinching threats on him and his family . . ."

Hold the phone, E.T.

Barack Obama is getting lynching threats?

If he is (big if), we'd assume he was laughing them off. When people take out political figures in this country, they don't "lynch" them. We checked with the Obama campaign. They said there had been no lynching threats they were aware of and one friend with the campaign even laughed at the idea. When we told him it was stated on a 'news' program, he laughed even harder indicating that, though academia appears shaky for Harris-Lacewell, a stand-up career may be in the wings.

We had to wonder what Harris-Lacewell has to offer any student when she can't even respond to a comment accurately. Gloria Steinem makes comments about women in the segment, about all women, and then specifically noting White women and African-American women and Harris-Lacewell starts foaming at the mouth about "this is a bizarre reading of history, this notion of sort of African American men somehow standing over and above white women." Steinem said no such thing (check the transcript) and Harris-Lacewell seemed to be confessing to some cognition problem or maybe just an inability to hear.

Or maybe she's just drunk so much Bambi Kool-Aid she can't think straight. That would certainly explain her focus on (slamming of?) White women in New Hampshire whom she felt Obama "remains alien to" because "it's just very difficult for them to see themselves in him." We thought he was a candidate, not a mirror. Harris-Lacewell declared, "But there was a whole new group of voters, mostly women of Hillary Clinton’s own generation, white women of Hillary Clinton's own generation, who did show up at the polls and vote--cast a vote for Hillary Clinton. And that’s what put her over the top." Does anyone else catch what a crack-pot the woman is?

If not, take this statement, "So I think it’s good news for the Obama campaign, although it does continue to indicate the ways in which white women's particular race and gender position can be of major benefit to them when running against an African American man." Associate 'professor' Harris-Lacewell sure seems to know a lot about White women voters in New Hampshire. She doesn't, however, appear to grasp that they didn't just "turn out," they were already in New Hampshire which is over 90% White. They were always going to "show up at the polls" because there are so very many of them in New Hampshire.

If she believes, as she implies throughout her Geraldo theatrics, White women can only identify with White women, our reply to her is: You're working for the campaign and do you really think getting the support of White women voters is done by continually stripping Obama's mother out of the story?

Obama's mother was one of those White women Harris-Lacewell seems to have a problem with. Probably one of those second-wave feminists that Professor Melissa just knows were holding everyone back. See, despite Harris-Lacewell's repeated use of the term of "Black" to describe Obama, he is the product of an interracial union and he is bi-racial.

On Bill Moyers last year, Harris-Lacewell 'explained' that anyone today who might have been a slave before the end of slavery in this country was "Black" in her book. Again, she's an allegedly educated woman (reading her books will not shore that claim up). One wonders if her screaming rant against Gloria Steinem wasn't in some way her screaming rant at Obama's mother, a White woman, for being White?

That's an issue Harris-Lacewell and Goodman didn't explore. Surprising considering all the rage Harris-Lacewell was tossing at White women. She was more interested in plugging a bad column she wrote and saying "I received death threats myself." Myself?

We've received death threats. Should we add "ourselves"?

We kind of think the sentence doesn't require it but Professor Melissa appears to believe it does -- as if people might think, without "myself" in there, that she was getting the death threats that were intended for Jonah Goldberg?

We've received death threats. In January 2005, we were working on these reviews with Jim, Dona, Ty and Jess (at Jim's insistance that TV be covered) and then in February, it was turned over (piled on?) us. We kept truck-trucking along with no problems. Then Jim announced in a note that the reviews were just written by us. Suddenly death threats started coming in. If Professor Melissa thinks she's got some ugly e-mails for discussing Obama, she might try questioning whether Pretty White Boys can act -- she'd know from death threats then. Call out the White, White world of Moronic Mars and all the nut-jobs show up. But, pay attention Professor Melissa, it's a given when you put something out there. Someone is going to be unhinged and send you a threatening e-mail. Probably many threatening e-mails. It's not the end of the world. Life does go on.

It even goes on, Professor Melissa, when you hop on your high horse and declare, "Well, there was a person who put that out as a possibility, and that was Lonnie Guinier." No, it wasn't "Lonnie Guinier." It was "Lani Guinier." Again, we had to ask, this woman teaches at a college?

If it seems like we're dwelling on the one interview, we are. There's a reason for that. Last week a feature ran here ("Revolutionary broadcast") that we didn't want to participate in. One of the most depressing things at the end of that week was when we were being provided by friends with examples of how the show is tilted to Obama and we'd both denied that Goodman did that knowingly. On Thursday, we had been informed of Harris-Lacewell and given proof that Goodman was aware that the 'professor' was both supporting and campaining for Obama. It was a big blow. We had repeatedly agreed there was a pattern but argued that Goodman didn't know. Finding out that she did know and that she would put on someone from the Barack campaign and allow her to rave about her candidate without ever telling the audiences that the woman campaigned for and supported Obama was very depressing.

So we really didn't participate in that feature last week in terms of DN! We focused on other things (after having attempted to derail the feature) and we really weren't planning to ever go into it. It's a huge disappointment. But then came the set-up of Steinem and that was our last straw.

Even as bad as what Goodman did before was, she's a woman, she's someone struggling in independent media and we'd intended to avoid calling her out. But that's not really doing women a favor and, honestly, we wonder if we had included Melissa Harris-Lacewell's appearance in our "TV: The Surreal Life stages comeback!," would she have been allowed to throw her hissy fit last Monday on the show?

That's guilt we'll carry.

But we refuse to be Amy Goodman's sin eater. Her sins are her own.

She repeatedly loves to single The New York Times out for "the sins of omission." But she's repeatedly demonstrated she committs her own sins of omission with regards to both whom she books (and how she bills them) and what she addresses.

When Kevin Alexander Gray was on last week, it was incumbent upon her to address the issue of homophobia. She took a pass because it's not something the Obama campaign wants addressed. It's really amazing how far she'll go to cover up for Obama.

You saw it all last week in the bookings, if you paid attention. Hugh Jackson was brought on to trash Hillary. He was a journalist. But he's not really just a journalist. An objective journalist doesn't write posts titled "Hillary's hearing voices," for instance. This is the man who, in November of last year, wrote, " Which is to say the Las Vegas debate was not just a case of Clinton winning ugly. It also embodied the promise of her presidency." But somehow he showed up on Democracy Now! last Thursday as just an objective, disinterested journalist. Again, to be booked these days, Hillary Hatred is a must.

It's why a Hillary clip (such as the LBJ and MLK remarks that were a non-event but psuedo journalists, including Goodman, attempted to turn them into one -- see this essay by Bill Moyers for some reality) will never just be played in the headlines of the program, it will repeat later in the program. It's why Gloria Steinem was asked on Monday about the illegal war and Hillary's position. That happened on January 4th as well, in an alleged roundtable, where Danny Glover (supporting Edwards) was asked about the illegal war and Ellen Chesler (supporting Clinton) was asked about the illegal war. Wayne Ford (supporting Bambi) was never asked.

Barack Obama gave a speech calling it a "dumb" war before it started. He got into the US Senate and repeatedly voted for it. He told The New York Times in 2004 -- and The New Yorker in 2006 -- that he didn't know how he would have voted on the Iraq resolution if he'd been in the Senate in 2002. But Goodman's not been interested in that.

There is the standard for all candidates and then there is the Barack-standard which is no standard at all -- as we noted last week in a parody ("Democracy For Who! with your hosts Ava and C.I."). His guests are never presented with clips to respond to, never asked about his changing position on the illegal war, never pressed on the issue of homophobia, . . . It's a long list. They just get to insist he's a saint. When Goodman asks a supporter what issue Obama is for that she supports, the woman's unable to give an answer and Goodman moves quickly along.

And wants to be considered a reporter.

And wants to regularly criticize Big Media.

For, of all things, lack of standards and omissions.

Here's an omission she should consider: Her lack of coverage on the Green Party. Though Cynthia McKinney's declared her run for the Green Party's presidential nomination and though that required leaving the Democratic Party, Goodman hasn't seen fit to book McKinney -- the same Goodman who plugged Democratic McKinney constantly, even when the guest wasn't McKinney. Last Sunday, the Green Party held their first debate and Goodman covered it on Monday . . . in headlines. Contrast that with Wednesday's show which was turned over to one candidate. The candidate was Dennis Kucinich. Kucinich was 'shut out' by NBC -- Kucinich's own version doesn't always include that he was invited, so whatever -- and that was more important than a Green debate. One Democratic candidate -- who already 'gave' his supporters to Obama in Iowa (and revealed he's not running a real campaign) wasn't given airtime?

But, thing is, none of the Greens were on NBC, MSNBC, ABC, CBS or any other MSM outlet. So "going to where the silences are" was doing so for one man while all the candidates running for the Green Party nomination could be dispensed with in a headline?

Maybe they'll get some face time in October of this year, the way they did in 2004? Or if Ralph Nader decides to run, the program will explore whether or not Nader should run and call that Green Party coverage -- as they did in 2004?

Dennis Kucinich didn't get to go on NBC and that is, apparently, the end of the world as independent media knows it. The Green Party is repeatedly shut out and independent media acts like that's okay?

Where are the standards and if we're crying "NOW!" for "Democracy," we may need to ask who we're demanding it for?

Democracy Now! has made a point to ignore Obama's use of homophobia as a campaign strategy so we'll assume the program's not asking for democracy for the LBGT community. It can't address gender in the US by itself (Monday's segment teamed it up with 'race' because it wanted Geraldo theatrics) so it must not be for women. The multi-racial community has been rendered invisible by Obama's campaign so there's no insistance that they get democracy now.

"Democracy Now!" appears to translate as Barack Always! It's a funny sort of focus and one would assume it's niche programming. That's in direct contrast to what Amy Goodman and her brother David write in Exception to the Rulers: "Why has Democracy Now! grown so quickly? Because of the deafening silence in the mainstream media around the issues -- and the people -- that matter most." Suddenly "people" becomes a single person.

No matter how many times we listen, that doesn't have the sound of "democracy" to it.
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