Los Angeles Times
She has opinions, will travel
Left-wing radio’s Amy Goodman takes her views on the road.
By Greg Braxton Times Staff Writer
April 21 2004
FRESNO — "Democracy Now!" radio host Amy Goodman flashed an appreciative smile from her podium last week as the overflow crowd inside the Satellite Student Center at Cal State Fresno spilled onto the large bare stage behind her and into the aisles of the 650-seat auditorium.
Surveying the scene from the back were frowning fire marshals who moments earlier had threatened to shut down Goodman’s lecture, as well as event organizers who had not expected the massive turnout. Finally, to appease the authorities, dozens of latecomers reluctantly departed, resigned to listening to the talk on speakers outside along with more than a hundred others who could not get in.
"So many people have turned out that I’ve decided to cut short my five-hour speech," began Goodman. The roar of laughter and applause from her faithful following suggested that, even though they got her joke, they would have welcomed an all-night session with Goodman, the most high-profile personality on the left-leaning Pacifica radio network.
It was the opening night of the Amy Goodman Radio and Road Show, a 70-city whirlwind jaunt that will take her across the country to promote "The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers and the Media That Love Them." The new book, which she wrote along with her brother, David Goodman, is described by the pair as an exposé of the "lies, corruption and crimes of the power elite–an elite that is bolstered by large media conglomerates."
The tour, which will combine book signings with fundraisers for Pacifica stations, hits Los Angeles on Wednesday at Immanuel Presbyterian Church on Wilshire Boulevard near Vermont Avenue for a KPFK-FM (90.7) fundraiser. Goodman is also continuing daily broadcasts of "Democracy Now!" which is normally based in New York, from each city’s Pacifica radio affiliate.
While Fresno, known more for its smog and its conservative lifestyle, may seem like an unlikely place to launch the tour, it made perfect sense to Goodman. "In late 2001, "Democracy Now!" was temporarily forced off the air in a personnel dispute when some corporate members of the Pacifica Foundation tried to make the network more commercial and less left wing. Fresno Pacifica station KFCF-FM (88.1) picked up the show’s satellite signal and broadcast it to other Pacifica stations nationwide during the dispute.
"I will always have a special place in my heart for KFCF because they kept us going on the air," Goodman said.
*Her followers in Fresno were more than ready for Goodman. Although she has made her mark as a serious journalist crusading for the "silenced majority" that she says is ignored by the mainstream media, fans of "Democracy Now!"–which airs twice daily at 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. locally on KPFK-FM (90.7)–gave her a welcome more befitting a rock star.
Indeed, many listeners at a pre-lecture reception at the university crowded around Goodman with expressions of awe as she signed books in a stuffy room crammed with hundreds of admirers. Several tightly clasped her hands, often leaning just inches from her face as they voiced admiration for her shows and activism. One man scribbled a message on a napkin, writing that he was proud to have met his "alter ego."
Lee Ann Burns, a licensed nurse, could barely contain her excitement after Goodman signed her book. "Amy’s show is the only news I listen to," she said. "I quit listening to mainstream media about a year ago. She’s the only one who’s telling the truth."
The release of "The Exception to the Rulers" and the elevated fervor surrounding Goodman come as President Bush is under increased scrutiny about the war in Iraq, particularly as U.S casualties are rising and comparisons to the Vietnam War are being made. Goodman’s devotees said she challenged the decision to go to war in Iraq when much of the mainstream media did not.
The fan base of "Amyheads" is expanding in an age in which right-wing voices such as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity dominate the radio airwaves. The recently launched Air America, with its more left-wing agenda, has been little more than a tepid challenge to those voices due to financial and technical difficulties. (Air America was yanked off the air last week in Los Angeles and Chicago because the network bounced a $1-million check.) Goodman, who calls Pacifica "a sanctuary of dissent," has emerged as radio’s voice of the disenfranchised left.
Though Goodman has strong views about myriad international issues and domestic economic trends ("I’m very concerned about the growing gap between the very rich and the very poor"), much of the discourse surrounding her tour is on Iraq. She maintains that corporate-owned television networks and newspapers are little more than "megaphones" for the government.
"It’s her time," said KFCF station manager Vic Bedoian of Goodman. "The media has been unsatisfactory for a lot of people because it really fails to deal with real issues. Amy is very direct and does her research. I would call her the Edward R. Murrow of today."
In her address, Goodman lashed out at the irresponsibility of what she called the corporate-owned media. "I don’t even like calling them mainstream media. It is extremist media expressing the views of the minority elite," she declared to thunderous applause.
The adoration continued the morning following the Fresno event when Goodman stopped briefly at a coffee shop before catching a plane. As Goodman prepared to sit down at a table, a red-haired woman in a T-shirt called out to her, "You totally rock!"
*Playing out the vision
*Her Fresno appearance was on the eve of the 55th anniversary of Pacifica Radio, started in 1949 by Lew Hill, a pacifist who had refused to fight in World War II. Hill’s vision for Pacifica, Goodman said, was for an independent network run by artists and journalists, not by corporations benefiting from war.
The daughter of politically active parents, Goodman, who grew up on Long Island, first heard Pacifica radio soon after she had graduated from Harvard-Radcliffe in 1984 with a degree in anthropology. "I was so struck by how raw and authentic it sounded," she recalled. "It was the original reality radio. There was nothing slick or glossed over about it."
She began working at the network’s WBAI and in 1986 began co-hosting the topical morning show, "Wake-up Call." In 1996, she began hosting "Democracy Now!" described as "the only daily election show in public broadcasting." The show is broadcast on hundreds of community radio and public access TV stations and beamed over satellite TV and on the Internet.
During a few relaxed moments the day after her Fresno lecture, Goodman, who wore loose-fitting black shirts, pants and tennis shoes during her Northern California appearances, said she was touched and overwhelmed by her welcoming in Fresno. She got little sleep. She had to rush to KFCF that morning for an interview, then catch a plane to Berkeley for an appearance that evening.
"She’s used to a crazy schedule, so she’s not worn out by this," said her brother, David.
While she tells listeners that it is important to vote in the presidential election, she is not endorsing a candidate.
Goodman downplays what appears to be her growing celebrity, saying it’s more about issues than about personality. "When I see the attention that I’m getting, I feel it demonstrates the hunger for independent voices," said Goodman. "People are fed up because they’re not getting honest information. This is not about me."
At 3 p.m. Thursday, the hour that KPFA hit the airwaves 55 years earlier, Goodman was conducting a phone interview with Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Pennsylvania death row inmate controversially convicted of murdering a police officer. The interview ran on Friday’s "Democracy Now!"
Said Goodman: "I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Pacifica’s legacy."