AMY GOODMAN: BREAKING THE SOUND BARRIER

COMMENTARY ARCHIVES, 28 Oct 2009

Bill Moyers

Bill Moyers writes this introduction to Amy Goodman’s latest book, "Breaking the Sound Barrier," published by Haymarket Books.

    You can learn more of the truth about Washington and the world from one week of Amy Goodman’s "Democracy Now!" than from a month of Sunday morning talk shows.

    Make that a year of Sunday morning talk shows.

    That’s because Amy, as you will discover on every page of her new book, "Breaking the Sound Barrier", knows the critical question for journalists is how close they are to the truth, not how close they are to power. Like I. F. Stone, she values the facts on the ground; unlike the Sunday beltway anchors, she refuses to take the official version of reality as the definition of news, or to engage in Washington’s "wink-wink" game, by which both parties to an interview tacitly understand that the questions and answers will be framed to appear adversarial when in fact their purpose is to avoid revealing how power really works.

    Quick: recall the last time you heard a celebrity journalist on any of the Sunday talk shows grill a politician on what campaign contributors get for their generosity. Try again: name any of those elite interrogators who skewered any politician for saying that "single-payer" wasn’t on the table in the debate over health care reform because "there’s no support for it." OK, one last chance: recall how often you have heard any of the network stars insist that Newt Gingrich reveal just who is funding his base as the omnipresent expert on everything.

    See?

    Now read "Breaking the Sound Barrier" for a reality check. And tune in to "Democracy Now!" to hear and see the difference an independent journalist can make in providing citizens what they need to know to make democracy work.

    It takes the nerves, stamina and willpower of an Olympic triathlete to do what Amy Goodman does. That’s just who she is, this quiet-spoken tornado of muckraking journalism: Edward R. Murrow with a twist of Emma Goldman, a Washington Post reporter once noted – willing to take on the powers that be to get at truth and justice, then spreading the word of those two indispensable gospels to the republic and the world beyond. Amy Goodman goes where angels fear to tread.

    Beaten by Indonesian troops while she and a colleague – also beaten – were covering East Timor’s fight for independence. Hiking dangerous African deltas to get to the bottom of Chevron Oil’s collusion with the Nigerian military. Or closer to home, in New Orleans or Appalachia or facing down the police when her colleagues were arrested in Minneapolis during the 2008 Republican National Convention (they threw her in the slammer, too).

    Through her reporting, we hear from people who scarcely exist in news covered by the corporate-owned press. We learn about issues of war and peace and social wrong. She is impervious to government subterfuge or spin. "Goodman is the journalist as uninvited guest," that Washington Post reporter wrote. "You might think of the impolitic question; she asks it." And once it’s been asked, she refuses to take "no comment" for an answer. She returns to a story time and again, continually digging, refusing to let her audience or investigative target forget how important it is to nail down just who’s responsible and what needs to be done.

    On top of everything else, she finds time to take her message out to a broad public with speeches and books and a weekly newspaper column, from which her collection of essays, "Breaking the Sound Barrier," has been selected. I’d be envious if it didn’t appear unseemly. Let’s just say I’m in awe. Read this collection and revel in the truth-telling. Be outraged by what you learn from it and renew your oath as a citizen.

    "We stand with journalists around the world who deeply believe that the mission of a journalist is to go where the silence is," Amy Goodman said in December 2008 when she accepted the Right Livelihood Award for personal courage and transformation. "The responsibility of a journalist is to give a voice to those who have been forgotten, forsaken, beaten down by the powerful."

    And, at a time when the future of journalism is in question, this ringing rationale for our embattled but essential craft: "It’s the best reason I know for us to carry our pens, our microphones, and our cameras, both into our own communities and out to the wider world."

    Right on.

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