Amy Goodman breaks through. Kicks ass.

Chip Shields

Don't get me wrong. I've loved MSNBC's occasional turn to the liberal side with commentators like Keith Olberman. But for the most part, it's still pretty main stream. Still pretty corporate.

But every once in awhile a serious voice breaks through into the bobble-headed sound-bite world of talk television. Tonight it was wonderful to see Amy Goodman of Democracy Now forcefully declare her views on the woman vote in the Presidential election.

It's incredible to watch an alternative voice on corporate media. I thought she did well in hitting the issues she wanted to hit and more than held her own in a forum that demands such concision that usually only conventional platitudes are heard. But what do you think? Did Amy best her opponents?

Take a look:

What's surprising is that Matthews to his credit has had her back a few times even though she challenged MSNBC on the firing of Phil Donahue in the run up to the war. And in this clip, she also challenges conventional wisdom on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. See it here:

Working in the legislature, it's important to keep your bearings. And every once in awhile I re-read this 1998 story by Amy Goodman about the insidious and subtle nature of power to remind me what fighting for the public interest looks like. You can read the article by clicking here. Here's a clip:

I’ll give you one story that deals with corporate power and why we remain as close as we are with Indonesia. This will help to explain why Clinton doesn’t need the James Riattis to continue the relationship. He doesn’t need Indonesian PR people lobbying on behalf of Indonesia. He has U.S. corporations that do the lobbying and they are the ones who have the stranglehold on politics in this country. He has the Nikes, the Reeboks, the ATTs, that do their business in Indonesia. They are the ones who fight every time a bill is introduced to cut weapons sales to Indonesia. They are the ones who are able to throw their weight around by donating to the campaigns of various legislators.

Reebok gives out four human rights awards every year to young activists who are usually good, important grassroots activists. They have panels around the world recommending people. The year after the massacre, they decided to honor Fernando de Araujo who is in jail now in Indonesia for ten years because he protested the massacre. So here was Reebok, who makes a killing in Indonesia, honoring Fernando de Araujo.

I had met the head of the Reebok Human Rights Foundation at a dinner where I was seated next to him. Suharto had just been in town and I heard that the CEO of Reebok, Paul Fireman, had met with him. So I asked, "Do you know if they discussed the issue of East Timor? Did Fireman say he would press the U.S. to stop selling weapons to Indonesia unless they withdraw from East Timor?" He said, "Uh, I don’t know what the CEO said."

Surprisingly enough a few months later he called saying would you like to receive the award with Allan on behalf of Fernando de Araujo and speak about the massacre at the awards ceremony? We went back and forth on this. Journalists certainly lend credibility to this event. We were concerned when they called and asked for my measurements so they could give me Reebok clothes from head to toe.

We understood exactly what it was about, but we decided we would do it. It was a chance to explain what was happening in East Timor and to explain the corporate connection.

So we phoned and said, "Yeah, we’ll be there." They called back saying they were getting rooms for us at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston. We said, "No, we don’t want any of that." This started to make them nervous.

More after the jump...including a run in with Michael Stipe of REM.

The event began with a luncheon at the Four Seasons. This event was unbelievable. I was sitting next to Richie Havens and I didn’t know the person on my other side so I said, "Hello."

He said, "Hi, what is your name?"

I told him and asked, "What is your name?"

He replied, "Michael Stipe."

I said, "Oh, are you an assistant to Richie Haven?"

He said, "No, I have my own little band [REM]."

I didn’t realize who he was until I called my brother to say I wasn’t coming to see him right now. My brother responded, "That’s okay, who’s there?"

I told him "All kinds of people. Richie Havens, and this guy, he says he has his own band, Mike Stipe."

He said, "I’ll be there in ten minutes."

That is the level of people that are lending their good name to this. That is why Reebok spends millions of dollars to hold this kind of event to launder its image. Even if it costs them $100,000 to give to the human rights activists and $1,000,000 to sponsor this event it is worth it. They underwrote the Amnesty Tour to the tune of $20,000,000. Why not just pay the workers in Indonesia 5 cents more? No, that they can’t do. They fight that every step of the way, but they can spend millions of dollars to launder their image as great human rights protectors in the world today.

That evening there was a dinner. Baba Alahtunji was playing the drums with Mickey Hart. We met Tabatha Soren from MTV who would be presenting Fernando’s award. We told her not to hand us the award because that would go back to Indonesia as Reebok handing us an award and we didn’t want that symbolism. Then we explained to her what was happening in East Timor, told her how to pronounce it correctly, and explained how bad the situation was.

The event was the next morning at the Hynes Auditorium. Thousands of people were there. We were led to the elevators in groups. They said, "Okay, Amy Goodman, Allan Nairn, Terry Anderson, Yo-Yo Ma, Cybil Shepard, Joan Baez you come this way. Michael Stipe, and others, come this way." We walked out onto the stage. It was very dark except for blue neon lights everywhere and the Reebok video logo, which is a robot breaking through barbed wire, on 20 large screens throughout the hall. We sat on the stage; Paul Fireman, Yo-Yo Ma, Peter Gabriel, Tabatha Soren, Cybil Shepard, Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, along with Allan and me. The lights came on, the video robot smashed through the barbed wire, and Richie Havens sang "freedom, freedom, freedom." Then Terry Anderson, who had just been released, came out on stage and shouted "freedom, freedom." At this point Paul Fireman got up and said, "This, is about freedom." The people were cheering. There were a lot of grassroots activists there and a lot of corporate executives. My brother was in the front row surrounded by about 20 Reebok executives.

They began to give the awards which were preceded by a two-minute video of what the recipients had done. Michael Stipe gave the award to the activist from Northern Ireland. Mickey Hart gave the award to the activist from Zaire. It was a very moving, powerful event, and you can be sure that Reebok was sending video of this all over the world, and everywhere you turn a Reebok logo is there.

Tabatha Soren got up and said "This is for Fernando de Araujo," and they showed his picture all over the auditorium. "Amy and Allan are here to explain what happened that day because they survived the massacre."

We had two minutes each. I got up and within the time constraint described the massacre. I ended with the words of Fernando de Araujo proclaiming why he had protested this.

Allan got up and said, "You may wonder how this kind of genocide could take place in the late 20th century? How this kind of killing continues today? Well, it is in part because of corporations like Reebok, and Nike, and Adidas. It is they who pull girls and women from the countryside, bring them into the city to work in their plants for about $2 a day." Allan continued, "Right now someone is in terrible pain in East Timor. It is about midnight there and someone has been dragged out of their house, their fingernails torn out, they are being tortured. We have to think carefully about what we can do. In this room there is a lot that can be done because the blood is on the hands of Reebok."

It was totally silent. Then some people started to clap. And then, as practiced, we had to step back and shake Paul Fireman’s hand. We weren’t going to shake his hand, but we didn’t worry about it because he certainly wasn’t going to shake ours. He was so shaken. He got up and, reading from his cue card, stated, "Thank you, Allan and Amy. We now turn to the great Yo Yo Ma, who will play for us.

The event ended with Joan Baez singing "Amazing Grace" and we were all supposed to put our arms around each other and walk through the auditorium to the room were we would have our picture taken. The problem was we were now positioned so that I would have my arm around Paul Fireman. Allan and I stood back and let them stand in front of us as they all sang and marched through the audience. We started to go to the room where pictures would be taken. This is really why we were there, so Paul Fireman could be shown surrounded by these celebrities. Every inch of the room says Reebok on it, so no matter where Cybil Shepard, Joan Baez, or Michael Stipe are they have a logo behind them when they are photographed. As we where heading into the room they said, "Not so fast."

We said, "No, they told us we had to come into this room. We don’t want to disobey orders," and went into the room.

As Paul Fireman was trying to get his hands around Joan and Cybil, the journalists were asking questions like, "Why do you do this? Why do you not pay the workers more? What is going on in East Timor? Have you raised this issue?" And that was all very good. Then they would come back to us and ask, "What do you think about his answer?"

The guy from Rolling Stone said, "I really congratulate you on your courage." Joan Baez came over and said, "I had butterflies in my stomach." I told her, "You should think about how you use your name, because I am sure you did not know about this, but this is why Reebok does this."

Cybil came up and asked "Can I tell Bill and Hillary about this?"

It seemed like there was going to be some momentum from this event. Upstairs you had the lawyers committee, NGOs, and everyone else furious that we had done this.

This is a very serious issue, the relationship between NGOs and non-profits in this country and the corporate backers that they have. Some were absolutely furious, charging we were now going to cut off the hand that feeds them. We replied that this had to be said.

A lot of people approached us, but there was not a word in any of the press following the event, except on AP, but, of course, that only goes to journalists and then they don’t print it. The AP account was very good but no one saw it.

I went to Rolling Stone right away. Will it talk about Fernando de Araujo? Will there at least be a picture of him? Will they talk about the situation or the Reebok plants? There was a picture of Cybil Shepard, Paul Fireman, Joan Baez and a statement on what a fantastic event it was. It was a two-page spread. This is how the media works.

As a grassroots journalist I try to raise questions that the mainstream media hopefully will pick up. If only they would steal our stories, that would be great. We have to keep at it. Keep asking them over and over, maybe for a year asking the same questions at White House briefings, that will have the effect of just one question whispered from the front row.

Most important are the grassroots activists working around the country educating others and putting pressure on congress to expose the relationship between Indonesia and the U.S. administration, whether Republican or Democrat.

The Timorese know they are doing this. They can’t march in the streets of the U.S., they certainly can’t march in the streets of their own country, although when they do they get gunned down with U.S. weapons. It is really up to us.

Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now," Pacifica Radios daily grassroots political talk show.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Amy Goodman is a great journalist: bright, dedicated, unswerving, courageous. She tackles issues that much of the progressive press are afraid of, and does it with a penetrating, open mind. She is today's I.F. Stone.

  • jamesmattiace (unverified)

    Two thoughts, and thanks for posting this, Chip. 1) Nice job to Amy, pulling the contrast between McCain's fundraiser that morning and the issue of women voting. I noticed Heidi didn't flinch so she either expected the information or she doesn't really care about misogynist rich old men who wield political power.

    2) The Reebok story was disturbing for the simple fact that people like Joan Baez and Michael Stipe should at least be familiar with the Reebok record. They certainly talk enough human rights jargon.

    I did see Amy crack a smile at the end there, but if it was me I would have been laughing out loud after a few seconds of Ms. Conservative's fantasy based opinion. Is she for real? Young women don't care about reproductive rights because they've always had them? This, in a country where 80% of women who want an abortion can't get one due to parental notification laws, mandatory waiting periods, or lack of accessible providers......And then there's South Dakota....

    James Mattiace

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    The one day that I decide to give myself a break from the Wit and Wisdom of Tweety..........

    I watched him take out some mouthbreathing Righty screamer a couple of weeks back over Bush's appeasment speech in Europe. Tweety just kept asking the guy to define the word or alternatively to describe Chamberlain's specific sin in the late thirties, until the guy had to confess to knowing neither.

    My reaction was not one of satisfaction. Seems like Tweety's known all along how to deconstruct these arguments but has declined to do so for the past fifteen years. I used to think that maybe he was just an idiot, but I now believe much worse. That he knows, but does nothing.

    A special place in Hell is reserved.......


    The main point I take from Goodman's story is the same one that Chip seems to take:

    Always assume the cluelessness of your allies, however well intentioned, and bear in mind that solid useful information is unlikely to arrive from the traditional sources. Shepherd asking permission to pass on the vital info to the Clinton's was kinda heartbreaking.

    Reminds me of Paula Poundstone calling them out from the stage in the early nineties when they were seated next the the preisdent of United Fruit.....

  • Jose Belo (unverified)

    First time i have met amy in my country East Timor before the Dili massacre 1991. Amy is great braves woman journalist I ever met in my live. Thanks Keep up your work to help the democratic countries more democratic not only rhethoric

  • Brian (unverified)

    Perhaps I'm just too cynical (as if that's a bad thing), but I have no more admiration for Amy Goodman than I do for Bill O'Reilly. Keith Olbermann comes off as an even bigger douche bag than Limbaugh IMO. I find the inane rantings of Randi Rhodes about as easy to stomach as Lars Larson. One thing they all have in common is their appeal to rabid partisans who are only interested in having their own particular ideology stroked & reinforced rather than engage in thoughtful debate. MSNBC viewers who assail Fox News based on media bias could not be bigger hypocrites.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)


    If you hear no difference in the level of intellect and honesty of Goodman and O'Reilly, you are not listening very closely. Perhaps you are accustomed to the standard US/UK objective journalism, a method that has both advantages and disadvantages. Goodman, Reilly, Olbermann, Larson and Rhodes do not practice objective journalism, but Goodman is a reporter, while the others are more like radio and TV columnists.

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    Tom, as a side comment, I actually don't think U.K. journalism uses the same idea of objectivity that is standard in the U.S. Amy Goodman seems to me somewhat more like U.K. journalists, though not exactly. As you say she a reporter, and also a commentator, and also she is the producer or editor of a news show that is distinctive in the range of people it approaches to interview and to provide analysis, as well as the range of stories it covers.

    Of course, an advantage the British journalists have is Parliament's "question time," where British leaders can't treat questions the way that U.S. presidents or their spokespeople do at news conferences.

    Thanks Chip.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)


    Here's one discussion of objectivity. I think that before the internet and cable news networks, objectivity was not as dominant in Britain as here. Now, it's hard to say.

    On Goodman, yes, she does much more than reporting, but she does reporting in a professional manner. I do not think any of the others Brian mentioned have done on-the-ground reporting like Amy Goodman has - perhaps Olbermann once did, but I know little about him before MSNBC.

  • Rep Chip Shields (unverified)

    Brian -

    Re: Amy's partisanship, I thought you might find this interview with then President Clinton to be of interest. She takes him to task.

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    Tom, I do a little Wikipedia editing on Africa topics -- a general area in which WP is not reliable btw & am familiar with their NPOV idea.

    However, I was thinking more about U.S. journalism "standards", or standard practices, in which journalists are for the most part not allowed to ask fairly obvious and elementary questions about statements or claims by public officials. Of course, that's often enough honored in the breach, but when it is, it usually is a sign of editorial defense of some hegemonic idea the editors don't want challenged. But in the main the rule in the U.S. is you have to get someone to say something to introduce an idea, which is one piece of what gives press conferences and the question of "access" such power in political limitation on U.S. reporting. British journalism is IMO still less dependent on that kind of quote-dependent story construction, although of course quotes are always potentially good things to hang stories on.

    Just an impressionistic opinion though, and I could well be wrong or behind the times.

    I have a relatively odd view of the matter, in that I don't believe in the possibility of complete objectivity or knowability of absolute truth, but I do believe that there are such things as better and worse knowledge, truer an less true statements, greater and less accuracy. Most of the arguments I find that are based simply on the idea that there's no such thing as objectivity tend to become really uninteresting really quickly, as is also true of arguments that if you don't believe in absolute truth and objectivity, you can only believe in a complete relativism that denies all truth, and at the extreme, reality itself.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Objective reporting can sometimes bury the truth, especially truth that is inconvenient to the power and well-connected. I think Goodman uses the fair and accurate standard, which recognizes that there may be more than two sides to an issue, and that experts and officials often have agendas that make their statements less than illuminating.

    The access problem is, I believe, separate from this, but it makes objective reporting even more likely to be biased toward the powerful. A journalist whose standard is fairness and accuracy should resist trading favorable treatment in exchange for access. Objective journalist tend to become stenographers to the powerful, eg, the White House press corps.

    Another problem that skews objectivity is the tendency of editors and publishers to share the interests and values of the powerful and well-connected. That is exacerbated by the corporate concentration of media ownership we suffer today. In all the believe that objectivity, as practiced in journalism, will lead to truth is not well founded.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)

    Amy Goodman is a hero of the first magnitude, a reporter who was almost killed at the site of her reporting of the massacre in East Timor, which the sainted Bill Clinton endorsed (Listen to her radio conversation with Bill above).

    On "objectivity": the best we can do is be fair and honest. We all have our biases, and Amy's are up front and well known. She does an admirable job serving up the truth as she knows it.

    R.D. Laing and others have made the case that the very grammar and syntax of language carry with them biases. It's not that "objectivity" doesn't exist so much as there is no way to distinguish it from "subjectivity".

    Thanks, Chip.

  • MaryAlecia (unverified)

    I think Amy showed herself as she always does: calculated, professional, honest, thoughtful, intelligent. This is why she's been one of my heros since I heard her speak in Portland in 2005. As for the "conventional wisdom" about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - well, there's no real wisdom spoken out there by the mainstream media, just outright spin, and intimidation by those who would shut them down if anything less than the party line was towed. Amy Goodman has consistently showed a human face to the occupation and those who suffer from it. She is an advocate for peace and makes no apolgies for it. We should be thankful that there's at least one voice in the media who speaks this and doesn't back down. One last point: there are, I fear, many women who don't consider that abortion hasn't always been legal or easily accessible. It's called apathy, intellectual snobbery of some (it's just not the 'issue' they're focused on), and will inevitably, if not addressed, mean that once again, women will not have the power to choose what happens to their own body.


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