Pacifica Radio Network Becomes Antiwar Voice
By Anna Wilde Matthews
Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal
March 24, 2003
A few weeks ago, Amy Goodman played master of ceremonies at a peace rally in Washington. Later that day, she attended a different antiwar protest, involving many of the same people, this time doing interviews for the show she hosts on Pacifica Radio — and wound up getting arrested outside the White House.
Her dual identity captures the unique role that Pacifica is playing in the media’s coverage of the war in Iraq.
The nonprofit five-station network, which provides programming for dozens more outlets, is combining reportage and advocacy to provide what its leaders say is a perspective missing from the mainstream news outlets.
“That’s part of the mission, for social justice and peace,” says Verna Avery-Brown, Washington bureau chief of the Pacifica Radio network, which is owned by the nonprofit Pacifica Foundation. “How often do you see these views portrayed by the mainstream media?”
Chief announcer Michael G. Haskins records the 6 o’clock news show on Friday at WBAI, Pacifica Radio’s affiliate in New York City.
Pacifica, founded in 1949 by pacifists in Berkeley, Calif., has long served as an outlet for social activism and antiwar messages. Despite its relatively small listenership, its archives include decades of tapes featuring high-profile figures including Malcolm X, Eleanor Roosevelt and Allen Ginsberg. In recent years, Pacifica had been torn by internal conflicts and financial problems.
The network subsequently reorganized, and its position as an outlet for those opposed to war in Iraq may be boosting its profile. The network announced its most successful fund-raising drive in memory, with more than $4 million in listener contributions this past winter. Just after the initial attack on Iraq, Pacifica went initially to round-the-clock coverage of the war, stepping up its role as a touchstone for the antiwar movement.
Pacifica executives say their programs provide a counterpoint to other coverage. Indeed, Pacifica’s approach stands out on the radio dial, where the most popular talk-show hosts are typically conservative.
After one member of the Dixie Chicks made a remark critical of President Bush, a number of U.S. country-music stations at least briefly stopped playing the band’s songs.
Glenn Beck, whose radio show is syndicated by Clear Channel Communications Inc.’s Premiere Radio Networks, has hosted a series of “Rallies for America” to show support for U.S. troops.
Pacifica shows have provided a showcase for antiwar protests and views, including those of celebrities such as Susan Sarandon and Danny Glover.
The Pacifica Web site (www.pacifica.org) includes links to a “peace resource” page and the slogan, “Pacifica is peace radio.” The network had a correspondent in Iraq until recently, interviewing civilians about the possible hostilities. “They give the opportunity for voices of dissent to be heard,” says Jodie Evans, co-founder of the peace group CodePink. When she recently had to put together an early-morning peace demonstration in Los Angeles on short notice, the local Pacifica station helped get the word out, she notes.
Her group helped pull together the rally in Washington March 8 at which Pacifica host Amy Goodman spoke. Ms. Goodman, whose morning show is called “Democracy Now!” has emerged as perhaps the most high-profile personality on Pacifica’s programs, as well as an in-demand speaker at antiwar events. “Reporters have opinions, we have to be honest about them,” while providing fair and accurate coverage, she says. She adds, “I am an antiwar reporter,” or a “media activist.”
Ms. Goodman dismisses many of the “embedded” reporters for other outlets who are traveling with military units as “in bed” with the U.S. government. “It is very difficult to distinguish the reporter from the military unit they’re with,” she says. On a recent show, she called the American advance on Iraq “unprovoked,” and referred to an attack on a bunker where Saddam Hussein might have been hiding out as an “assassination attempt.”
The reporting was broken up by strains of the chorus, “War … what is it good for?”