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Open Mike – Part I

When you challenge power, you expect consequences, says radio journalist Amy Goodman, summing up her Election-Day interview with Bill Clinton. On the morning of November 7, just after the airing of her nationally broadcast radio program Democracy Now!, Goodman answered a call from the White House. President Clinton wanted to talk with her briefly, on the air, about voter turnout. “I did on a moment’s notice what most journalists prepare a year for,” Goodman says.

She kept Clinton on the line for 30 minutes, at every turn breaking the boundaries of what was intended by the White House to be a two-minute pep talk. “My first question related to what Clinton wanted to talk about,” Goodman says, “and maybe one or two others somewhat did. The others were off the subject.” Challenging the president on issues typically dodged by the mainstream media—ranging from sanctions against Iraq to racial profiling to clemency for imprisoned Native American activist Leonard Peltier—Goodman got a rise out of Clinton, who at one point accused her of being “hostile and combative.” The day after the interview, a member of Clinton’s staff called Goodman and informed her that because she ignored certain “ground rules” during her interview, she’s been banned from the White House.

But perhaps the president should have known what he was getting into. Tune into Democracy Now! for even a short while and it’s obvious that this isn’t your average program. The show, which is produced by WBAI in New York City, airs every weekday on the independent Pacifica Radio Network and is cohosted by New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez. Since Democracy Now! first aired four years ago, adopting the motto, The exception to the rulers, Goodman has broadcast investigative stories on issues ranging from the death penalty to East Timor to globalization to the corporatization of politics—news usually given short shrift by mainstream reporters. “Most journalists, in order to gain access, don’t challenge power. But that’s what we see as our job,” Goodman says. “We are not there to defend the state but to be the watchdog. And to hold power accountable.” Democracy Now!, says Goodman, “goes to where the silence is.”

But recently, Goodman’s tack has displeased more than President Clinton. Over the last year, there’s been a general crackdown at Pacifica during which officials have made efforts, including firing staffers and canceling programs, to move Pacifica more to the NPR-held liberal center and attract more listeners. Goodman, a major target of the crackdown, has come under fire even from her own colleagues. Last summer, Mark Schubb, manager of Pacifica’s Los Angeles station KPFK, reportedly told Goodman that he doesn’t want to hear hard-hitting reports of police brutality “before I have my coffee,” and neither do listening audiences. More dangerous, Goodman’s free-speech rights are being threatened. She risks dismissal from Democracy Now! if she fails to comply with a new set of “rules” that require her to, among other things, get approval from Pacifica management for all speaking engagements; provide Pacifica program director Steve Yasko with a list of possible show topics and guests for the coming week every Friday; and determine, firmly, the topics for at least three of those shows.

Goodman would be a major loss to Pacifica if she were forced out. As editor Mike Albert commented on the progressive Z Magazine Web site recently, “Democracy Now! is the most popular, successful, influential, and bar-none best program Pacifica has.”
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