On September 10, 2016, Phillip Dwight Morgan sat down with Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh of Democracy Now! (DN!) at White Pine Studio in Toronto to discuss the current media landscape and the state of independent media.
Goodman and Sheikh were in Toronto for the world premier of All Governments Lie, a new documentary highlighting the legacy of renowned journalist I.F. Stone and role of free press in protecting democracy.
How did you get involved with this project and why is this an opportune time for people to be reminded of the legacy of I.F. Stone?
Amy Goodman: Fred Peabody, the director, just approached us and said he was interested in looking at I.F. Stone and what is happening today in independent journalism, just like I.F. Stone's Weekly that went out, before the Internet, to tens of thousands of people and gave a really inside, factual look.
Stone showed through investigative reporting his motto and what is the title of this film: all governments lie. He said to journalism students, if you're going to remember three words, all governments lie.
And that's something that corporate media has to be reminded of, that we are the "fourth estate" not "for-the-state." And especially in times of war, when the media circles the wagons around the White House, the big question for journalists is "are you a patriot?" and that means "are you going to question what your government is doing?"
That's the time you need to question the most, as we saw in the lead up to the invasion in Iraq. Years later the Times would write its mea culpa on page A10 about how they got it wrong -- the constant front page pieces by people like Judith Miller and Michael Gordon alleging weapons of mass destruction based on unnamed sources. They didn't name names in their mea culpa; I call it their "kinda culpa." But that is not enough on page A10. It has to be on the front page as many times as those articles appeared because that's what sinks the consciousness of the American people.
But forget that; they've got to get it right the first time and that means seriously questioning the most powerful country on earth when it says its going to attack another country. The U.S. bombed the cradle of civilization back to the cradle and the reverberations for Iraq and the entire Middle East, we are still feeling today. We need a media that is independent.
Nermeen Shaikh: The thing that was very striking to me when I moved to the U.S is that the media was always framed in what they called a "bi-partisan" way. In other words, if you watched certain networks you were more likely to get the democratic perspective, the democratic party perspective. If you watched others, it was the Republican perspective. I found that very odd because what struck me the most was the fact that, irrespective of what mainstream media outlet one read, or heard, or saw, they represented the interests of the United States and its projection of power all over the world.
And, here, I'm speaking obviously of their coverage, which is what my interest was in terms of American foreign policy.
No matter where you read, what radio station you heard and what news channel you watched they spoke with one voice. There was no internal criticism of what it means for the U.S. to be a superpower, an imperial power, the most powerful country in the world. And that, I found extremely troubling because this was at a time when the sanctions had already taken place in Iraq, the war was impending, and we had already seen so much of what the Cold War had brought in so much of the world.
And now with America as the greatest power, you would think that one role of the media would be to say "what exactly are we doing in the world?" and there was none of that. So, that was where DN! came into my view.
One of the arguments that gets brought up is often that people aren't interested in these stories or that "people can't engage with these stories." How much of the onus for poor media coverage falls on viewers?
AG: There's no question that when I hear the corporate media say well people aren't interested in that, I think the absolute opposite. People are not interested in knowing what Kim Kardashian says every minute of the day. They are turned off, they are enraged by that. It is not related to their lives. And I have the proof. It's not just an idealistic dream that people won't not be concerned about celebrities.
I think the reason people get interested in celebrities is because the media covers them so much. We're interested in human beings. And, if you name a person and then you tell us what they're doing all day and who they're involved with and what they're eating you're naturally interested. I say take that same celebrity approach to coverage, to covering a human being and their life, to the critical stories of the day and how people are affected by them.
Follow Majid in the Calais refugee camp. Let's find out what he ate in the morning. Follow the English teacher from Afghanistan who brings her four children to this camp and how they took this insanely dangerous voyage from Afghanistan to France. Her daughter reciting to us in English all the countries that they went through -- a geography of the world.
And then her mother, the English teacher, telling us, at some point when she gave all the rest of her money to a guy to get a boat to take them the last distance, and she walks to the shore with her children and she sees this dilapidated dingy and this is what she paid for. She took her four children and hugged them and said, "I have bought you death." But they had no choice and they got on that boat and they did make it.
When you hear that, there's no one that wouldn't want to hear if they made it and what happened and did they make it through the channel tunnel to England. So take that celebrity approach, that human-centred approach, to the people that matter. Everyone will identify. And that's what we do at DN!; we provide a forum for people to speak for themselves.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), our national broadcaster, has a labour force that is 90-93 per cent white. The situation is not quite as stark in the U.S. but there are similar trends. How important is diverse representation in the newsroom?
AG: It's absolutely critical, racial and economic diversity and building newsrooms around the country, around the world, where people are represented. When you look at the movements that it is incumbent upon us to cover, we have to reflect that. Look at in the United States right now and in Canada, the Black Lives Matters movement, the immigrants' rights movements, the anti-war movement, the environmental movement…
One of the things we do each year is we go to the U.N. Climate summit. You might say "why waste the fuel?" "what gets accomplished in these U.N. meetings?" but it's the people outside that come from all over the planet to talk about being on the front lines of climate change caused by us, the most industrialized countries in the world; being there in force, our whole newsroom, to hear those voices, to reflect them, to be in conversation with them, and to put them in conversation with people in power. Whether it's a kid from the Maldives saying you are drowning our country or people from sub-Saharan Africa saying you are cooking our continent.
NS: First, we need gender, racial, and class diversity -- which is even more of a problem -- but also, as we see from the example that's in the film of Cenk Uygur, what's systemically excluded is ideological diversity. We can have -- and it's very important to have -- representation across race, gender, etc. but it's very important for what is permissible to say to expand more and more and more. That will only happen with the kind of diversity you've named but also with people who, despite everything that surrounds them, are able to think somehow outside that frame.
On September 10, shortly after Phillip Dwight Morgan interviewed Goodman and Sheikh, North Dakota authorities issued an arrest warrant for Amy Goodman. The warrant, which stems from Goodman's presence in North Dakota and DN! video footage, alleges that Goodman trespassed on private property. To date, no warrants have been issued for any of the pipeline employees who sicced dogs onto Indigenous peoples exercising the right to peaceful protest.
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Phillip Dwight Morgan is a freelance writer of essays and poetry and a PhD candidate in History at McMaster University. His research interests include urbanization, critical pedagogy, and black consciousness. He views writing as an opportunity for self-discovery, emancipation and nourishment. Read his rabble blog here.
Poster image: White Pine Pictures
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