On Monday, Amy Goodman appeared on the PBS show 'Tavis Smiley' to talk about her new paperback, “Democracy Now!: Twenty Years Covering the Movements Changing America.”
TAVIS SMILEY: Amy Goodman’s been covering the world for more than two decades as host of the daily, independent, award-winning news program, Democracy Now! Her New York Times best seller, Democracy Now!: Twenty Years Covering the Movements Changing America, is now available in paperback, and she joins us tonight from Stanford, California. Amy, good to have you back on the program.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to be with you, Tavis.
TAVIS SMILEY: Let me start by asking, to the subtitle of your text, whether or not you think there are in fact still movements that are changing America, or are we up against something that we haven’t seen the likes of ever, and, if not ever, certainly in quite a while.
AMY GOODMAN: Both. I think there are major movements that are changing this country still—in fact, are escalating. You look just at these three months. You know, the media made a lot of the first hundred days of Donald Trump, as we should have, the evaluation of what he has managed to do so far. But what wasn’t done as much is evaluating the movements. And they have been quite astonishing, right?
The day after President Trump was inaugurated, three times the crowd for his inauguration came out—I assume, very different people. You know, a lot was made of the fact that Donald Trump’s inaugural crowd was, to say the least, smaller than President Obama’s nine years before. You know, the pictures showed it. Soon you had President Trump saying his inaugural crowd was larger than any in history, but that’s sort of obscured. What happened that next day, 24 hours later, in the same place, three times the number of people came out in protest, led by women. And it was not only in Washington, D.C. I mean, we covered that for many hours in Washington. We ended up going to Sundance, where we covered the documentary track. There I talked to Kerry Washington of Scandal. She was exhilarated because she was in Los Angeles. She had just addressed 750,000 people. In Montpelier, Vermont, the capital of Vermont, 20,000 people turned out. The police closed the interstate because the capital couldn’t contain that many people. And so many villages, hamlets, cities in this country, and not only here, but around the world, people expressing their deep concern about what they saw already underway.
And then you had the reaction because President Trump moved very quickly with Muslim ban one and Muslim ban two. Now, that’s not my words for “Muslim ban.” That was what he repeatedly said on the campaign trail. Banning refugees, the first ban, from seven majority-Muslim countries, that was stayed by a judge in Washington, followed by the second attempt, Muslim ban two, stayed by a judge in Hawaii. But the number of people, thousands of people turn out in this kind of spontaneous uprising in city airports around the country. I mean, you had, what, at Dulles airport, a senator and a judge manhandled by security. Now, President Trump, in all these protests, will say, “Who’s paying them?” because that’s how he thinks, right? When he announced for president at Trump Tower, he paid actors—right?—to applaud. I was just covering the People’s Climate March in Washington on April 29th, the hottest April 29th in Washington, D.C., history, and a protester came up to me and said, “I’m a professional protester, but I’m doing this pro bono.” Yes, people are protesting all over this country.
So you had the Muslim ban protests, this astonishing just outpouring at all these airports. And then you had Donald Trump going after the judges who stayed the ban. And this is extremely important. I mean, Donald Trump does not like being judged, whether it’s the FBI director, who he fired, whether it is the judges who stayed his bans. I mean, he called the first, the Washington state federal judge, a “so-called judge.” The second judge, the one from Hawaii, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a right-wing radio interview a few weeks ago, he said, “How is it possible that a man in an island in the Pacific can stop the president of the United States?”
Now, you know, Tavis, I think this entire country is engaged in a civics lesson—kindergartners, fifth graders, really everyone of every walk of life. And I just think that Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump should be a part of learning about civics in this country, the three co-equal branches of government—very important—and then, of course, the Fourth Estate and how important it is that we have these checks and balances.
And you go from the Muslim ban to Tax Day protests all over the country demanding that President Trump release his tax returns. I mean, this financial information is absolutely critical. So when you have, for example, President Trump calling up the president of Turkey, President Erdoğan, to congratulate him on a referendum that would give him further dictatorial powers, you know, he was condemned by many countries in Europe, and President Trump is actually congratulating him. Is it because he thinks this is good for democracy, or is it because he has twin Trump Towers in Istanbul? You know, we shouldn’t be speculating about this. We should know not only about his finances, but also about his family’s, because they are his closest advisers. And they’re not just his family; they are his business associates. And that’s what people were saying when they came out in the streets.
And then you have the People’s March for Science that happened on Earth Day. Thousands of people in a freezing cold downpour in Washington, D.C., still came out with their signs that said things like “Ice has no agenda. It just melts” and “There is no planet B.” And, oh, they held up signs that said “I’m with her,” with an arrow to Mother Earth, and wore buttons that said “Science, not silence.” And then the People’s Climate March. We have not seen anything like this intense, you know, protest in the streets all over.
But it’s not just in the streets. I went to a meeting about two months ago in New York City, nondescript office building. Hundreds of people were packed in, not your typical noble activists who protest in then streets. It was elected city officials from around the country, like local city councilmembers, mayors of cities and towns, state legislators. And they were all packed into this room in New York to figure out how they can best provide sanctuary, protection to the residents of their communities, with the crackdown on immigrants in this country. I mean, it was astounding to see. Never assume, based on a person’s position, what position they will take.
And we’re seeing this everywhere. We’re on this many-city tour. I’ll be coming to Los Angeles soon, and we’re going to San Diego and Santa Barbara, and we started in Denver, Colorado. We went into the Unitarian church where Jeanette Vizguerra had taken refuge, a Mexican immigrant who’s lived here for more than 20 years, paid her taxes, law-abiding mother of four, terrified that her kids would lose their mother if she were deported. And she went into sanctuary because she was scared, because Daniel Ramirez in Washington state had been arrested, and he was a DREAMer. He was legally allowed to live, work and study in this country. Yet he was arrested. This sends a chill, when activists like Daniel and Jeanette are arrested or threatened, to, oh, millions of immigrants around the country.
So Jeanette takes refuge in the church, and I went to see her and interview her. And her little boy, Roberto, American citizen—three of her kids are American citizens—had his arm wrapped around his mother, and he said, “My mother can’t go outside right now, or she will be arrested by ICE.” So—and he was going out on a Cesar Chavez march that day with his little 6-year-old sister. And so Roberto, with his arm around his mother, holding a picture of his mother that his Denver public school teacher had made, a lithograph of Jeanette, he wrapped his arm around his mother and said, “I am my mother’s voice.” And it was so deeply touching.
And Jeanette said she had gotten many death threats, and I said, “So what gives you hope, then?” And she said, “Oh, my gosh, the thousands of people who have expressed their support.” In fact, she said, the Denver police chief told her, you know, if she is frightened by these death threats, she should call him. He has her back. The Denver mayor expressed his support for Jeanette. The local congressman, Jared Polis, expressed his support for Jeanette.
Every level of society, we are seeing this resistance growing in so many unexpected places, and we need a media that documents all of this. I think that, you know, the resistance is coalescing in all different ways. Ultimately, a few days later, Time magazine announced that—you know their 100 Most Important People list—Jeanette Vizguerra was on that list. She held a news conference then inside the church—she couldn’t go outside. And she held up her 2016 tax returns, and she said, “You know, you are welcome to look at my tax returns. I encourage the president of the United States to do the same.” I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this outpouring in this intense, short period of time.
TAVIS SMILEY: I guess the question is—and I didn’t want to interrupt; that was an exhaustive list. And again, I didn’t want to stop you, because I wanted to give you the full measure of opportunity to sort of lay that out, and I’m glad you did. But at the end of all that, the question is: Do marches matter? We continue to see these marches, as you just laid out, almost weekly, daily in certain instances and certain places. And yet this president continues to act with reckless abandon, including what he did to James Comey, and I could run the list on and on and on of things he’s done that just leave people gobsmacked. So I guess the question is: Do marches really matter?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s not only marches, and I think people are organizing in all different ways. I definitely think that these movements matter, and we can’t actually know their outcome. But I would say Republicans are joining with Democrats and independents in alarm. There is no question you’re right, Tavis, that what we are seeing now is a serious escalation of the dismantling of the regulatory state. Oh, there’s no question about it. I mean, and that sounds bureaucratic. What does that mean, the dismantling of the regulatory state? We’re talking about protection of the air we breathe, the water we drink, the land that we live in, the communities that we live in. It’s extremely serious.
I mean, what we’re seeing in Washington is really the rise of the “oilygarchy.” You’ve got Rex Tillerson—right?—who is the secretary of state, former CEO of the largest private oil corporation in the world, ExxonMobil, that is being sued by attorneys general around the country. I just interviewed at the People’s Climate March Maura Healey, the attorney general of Massachusetts, who’s suing ExxonMobil. Yet they did the best research on climate change. They knew early on how serious it was, then covered it up. So you’ve got Rex Tillerson, secretary of state.
You’ve got Scott Pruitt—right?—the administrator of the EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, former Oklahoma Attorney General, which sued the EPA 14 times. I mean, this is a land, Oklahoma—didn’t use to be—a land of earthquakes right now from fracking.
And you’ve got Governor Perry as secretary of energy, the former Texas governor, ran for president twice, bankrolled to the tune of $6 million by Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, that owns the Dakota Access pipeline. When Governor Perry stepped down as governor, he immediately went on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, only stepped down to become secretary of energy.
Yes, these are very powerful positions, and they are doing a lot right now. You know, one of the first actions of President Trump was to issue an executive order saying they would grant the permit for the Dakota Access pipeline to tunnel under the Missouri River, which was the final connecting of the pipeline, what the Standing Rock Sioux have been resisting for so many months. So many hundreds of people got arrested over this. President Obama, in the last weeks of his administration, put a stop to this, said they would talk about rerouting or stopping this altogether. And not only did President Trump move forward with this so that the pipeline was built, but said he’s going to renew the efforts to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which people fought against and won their resistance, won years ago the stopping of the pipeline. This is all extremely serious, and these are very powerful positions.
But there is a force more powerful, and we are seeing it all over the country. Where it goes right now? Well, I think President Trump is escalating the opposition to him, right? With the firing of James Comey—one senator put it as “the interrogatee firing the interrogator”—he is destabilizing his Republican support. And yes, it has echoes back to Watergate and to another president, to President Nixon. But this sense that he is trying to eviscerate all of the checks and balances are making a lot of people nervous.
TAVIS SMILEY: What do you make of the way the Fourth Estate has covered this president? I had Ted Koppel on here a few days ago and got his take on this, and I’m curious to hear your thoughts, as an independent journalist, as to how you would grade the mainstream media, the corporate media, in America vis-à-vis its coverage of Donald Trump.
AMY GOODMAN: So let’s be very clear about this. The corporate media rolled out the red carpet for Donald Trump. You had the heads of, oh, among others, CBS, you know, saying, “It may not be good for America, but it’s certainly good for our bottom line.”
And they—oh, what think tank just did a study and said that Donald Trump got $5 billion worth of free air time? The studies have been shown over and over again, when you compare the air time that Donald Trump got to the air time, for example, that Bernie Sanders got, I mean, you couldn’t compare. But what you can do is you can understand how this uninterrupted air time really paved the way for what we’re seeing today.
So, Donald Trump becomes president, and he starts attacking the media nonstop, right? Calls us the enemy of the people, the enemy of the American people. And he was doing that before, as well. You know, I hesitate to say this on national television, but I’ve always wondered, if he just stopped for a few days, I really do think the media would wrap their arms around him, as they do the establishment so often, right? Go back to the Iraq War, 2003, when the media really acted as a conveyor belt for the lies of the Bush administration—right?—alleging weapons of mass destruction. We saw that then, and it matters, because the lies takes lives.
And right now, but Donald Trump is hitting the media so hard that you are seeing people stand up, institutions stand up, and say, “No, the media, journalism is essential to the functioning of a democratic society.” Now, I don’t know if they would go so far as to say what we say at Democracy Now! I mean, the media has always given us the bad kind of static, the kind that are lies and obfuscation and misrepresentations and half-truths, when what we need the media to give us is the dictionary definition of “static”: criticism, opposition, unwanted interference. We need a media that covers power, not covers for power. We need a media that is the Fourth Estate, not for the state. And we need a media that covers the movements that create static and make history.
Now, so, the media has stood up and has reminded us repeatedly of how important it is to have the Fourth Estate, and I applaud that every step of the way. But where the media falls down, and even now with their opposition and their criticism, is when it comes to the U.S. engaging in military actions. I mean, just look at what happened when the Trump administration, when the military bombed the Syrian air base, hit it with these Tomahawk missiles, 59 of them, you had journalists immediately saying, “Donald Trump became president tonight.” You have Donald Trump, within a few weeks, a couple months of his administration, dropping the largest non-nuclear bomb in the history of the world on Afghanistan, the MOAB, what the Pentagon has dubbed the “Mother of All Bombs,” that has like a mile-wide blast radius. It was developed under President Obama. He didn’t dare use it. And Donald Trump drops it within a few weeks of his presidency? Again, the media saying, “He became president tonight,” even with all of their criticism. The media tends to circle the wagons around the White House when it comes to war or military actions. That’s when we have to be independent.
TAVIS SMILEY: Let me jump in. There are two questions that come to mind. The first question is: Why do you think the media has that particular blind spot? And the second question, which is—I don’t like to ask two questions at once, but I’ll do it, because I know you can handle it. So the first question, again, is: Why does the media have that particular blind spot, Amy? And then I’ll shut up. And secondly, if you’re right—and I’ve been toying with this for the last few minutes, since you first said it. I think you’re probably right that if Trump stopped pummeling the media for a few days, they probably would back off, because that’s what they tend to do, even though he’s been pretty hard on them. So if he stopped calling them enemies of the American people, stopped labeling them fake news, if he backed off of them, they might back off of him. So, why does the media have a blind spot about military engagement? And why doesn’t Trump do that? Why won’t he just back off for a few days, if he’s tired of the media pummeling him?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, that’s a very good question, and I cannot explain Donald Trump’s psychology.
TAVIS SMILEY: I thought that might be your response, but I thought I’d ask anyway.
AMY GOODMAN: But I will say, you know, when he attacks the media as fake news, it takes one to know one. I mean, Donald Trump has been the font of fake news for so many years. And it’s fake news that can hurt and that can kill and can definitely challenge a democratic society.
The way he went after President Obama to try to delegitimize him—now, there is so much to criticize President Obama about, right? Didn’t close Guantánamo, expanded wars in the Middle East—I mean, the level of the escalation of the drone strikes, from Yemen to Somalia; the support, for example, of Saudi Arabia and its pummeling of Yemen—all of this. I mean, even the immigrants’ rights activists who were close to President Obama, inside and outside the White House, ended up calling him the “deporter-in-chief” because he deported so many millions of immigrants, more than any president in U.S. history. Yes, there is plenty of grounds to criticize President Obama for.
But to say he wasn’t born in this country, to “other” him, because he doesn’t look like Donald Trump, to say he was a secret Muslim—and I don’t even like to repeat that—
TAVIS SMILEY: Right, right, right, right.
AMY GOODMAN: —because it suggests there’s something wrong with being Muslim. I mean, to say, “Oh, my god, did you hear he’s Jewish?” or, “Oh, my god, did you hear he’s Christian or Hindu?” We shouldn’t even have to deal with these lies. But the message that Donald Trump was purposely sending with all of this was to delegitimize a man who he wanted to “other.” And it wasn’t lost on the white supremacists and white nationalists, who, you know, endorsed, like the Ku Klux Klan, President Trump, like David Duke. That message was—he was the source of all of this.
Why he does this today, why he attacks the media, when they could be an ally, I can’t say. But why the media circles around the White House when it comes to times of war or military action, why you get these typical pundits on television, who know so little about so much, explaining the world to us and getting it so wrong, why the media brings us the pundits when it comes to military action, often a general or a colonel—they don’t tell you. You know, they’ll say retired, sort of like an elder statesman, and they don’t tell you about the weapons manufacturers they are tied to. And that—I mean, we should hear all of these voices, by the way. We should just know if they’re representing now a—
TAVIS SMILEY: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —weapons manufacturer and who’s profiting from all of this. And this very important. And what about having as many peace leaders on? What about if the media started with the premise: What if war was not an option? I mean, I think that’s where we should be in the 21st century.
TAVIS SMILEY: Well, as always, Amy, you give us much to think about. I appreciate having you on and appreciate you sharing your insights and the work you’re doing every day on Democracy Now! Enjoy the rest—maybe “enjoy” is the wrong word, because you’re working really hard, but have a productive rest of the tour, and I’ll talk to you soon.
AMY GOODMAN: Thanks so much, Tavis.
TAVIS SMILEY: My pleasure. That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.