Photo Caption: “Democracy Now!” co-host and executive producer Amy Goodman speaks at OU’s Memorial Auditorium Saturday night. Goodman spoke with co-author Denis Moynihan to promote their new book. The talk was co-sponsored by The Athens News.
Journalist Amy Goodman says she believes a reporter's job is "to go where the silence is," and break that silence by any means necessary.
In an appearance at Ohio University Saturday, Goodman offered a harrowing account of the price that kind of commitment can sometimes entail.
The year was 1991. Goodman and fellow reporter Allan Nairn had traveled to East Timor, to break the media silence on the wholesale slaughter being conducted there by soldiers of Indonesian strongman Suharto, whose military invaded the country in 1975.
Goodman and Nairn were present when troops opened fire on a crowd of peaceful protesters, killing more than 270 people.
The two journalists – who usually tried to hide their identities while working in East Timor – on this occasion pushed to the front of the crowd and brandished their recording equipment in plain sight, hoping that the presence of American reporters would persuade the soldiers to not launch a massacre.
It didn't work, and for her efforts, Goodman was beaten to the ground. Nairn threw himself on top of her to protect her, and soldiers cracked his skull with the butts of their M-16 rifles – weapons, as Goodman pointed out, that came from the United States.
The two got out of East Timor alive to bear witness, though Nairn barely wobbled onto a plane, his body shuddered by "electric shocks" from the effect of his skull fractures.
Speaking to an audience of a couple of hundred people in OU's Memorial Auditorium, Goodman recounted the episode in matter-of-fact style, with no big dramatic flourishes. But she made clear that it carried a lesson for her.
The reason she and Nairn hoped the Indonesian soldiers wouldn't murder them, Goodman said, was that "we were from the same country their weapons were from. They would have had to pay a price for killing us that they had never had to pay for killing the Timorese."
Around the world, according to Goodman, the United States is seen in two ways: "One is the sword; the other is the shield." While the "sword" ships M-16s to soldiers who mutilate human rights, she said, the 'shield" is the American public, which generally doesn't like to pay for killing and torture around the globe.
have a decision to make every day – every hour of every day," she told her
audience. "That is, whether we want to represent the sword or the shield."
GOODMAN AND HER COLLEAGUE Denis Moynihan visited Athens as part of a tour to promote their new book, "The Silenced Majority," and to gather stories on the state of the American electorate in this presidential election year.
Goodman entertained the small crowd with anecdotes about the election coverage done by "Democracy Now!", the syndicated news program she co-hosts. These included an account of her visit to "Mount Misery," an estate in Maryland once owned by Edward Covey, a "slave breaker" who was hired to break the will of an uppity teenaged slave named Frederick Douglass through beatings and torture.
Douglass escaped from slavery and became a famed abolitionist; Mount Misery was later purchased by Donald Rumsfeld, who was secretary of defense under President George W. Bush.
A high point of covering the Republicans' recent national convention in Tampa, Goodman recalled, was talking to George Engelbach, a delegate from Missouri who bore a stunning resemblance to Abraham Lincoln, and who dressed up for the occasion as the Great Emancipator.
Turns out Engelbach had served in the Missouri House of Representatives with Todd Akin, the Republican who's running against Democrat Claire McCaskill for the U.S. Senate.
Goodman asked Engelbach about Akin's widely publicized comments, in which he claimed that a woman typically doesn't get pregnant from a "legitimate rape," because her body somehow "shuts down" and prevents conception.
Engelbach first told Goodman that he thought Akin "misspoke" and should be forgiven – a view Goodman said she agreed with, if it's true that Akin actually misspoke.
When Goodman pressed Engelbach on the question of whether any rape can be considered "non-forcible," however, his answer was illuminating. From the "Democracy Now!" website, here's a transcript of his comments:
"Certainly… Well, if you'd, for example, rape some girl or lady that was sort of inebriated, maybe a little bit high on drugs or something like that, that's going on all the time, 'slip a Mickey,' as we call it. When I grew up, we called them 'slipped somebody a Mickey.' And, you know, it's non – it's not consensual, and it still happens. And that's the rape that is really hard to prove, many times."
Goodman's sharp eye wasn't focused solely on the GOP, however. She noted that while many Americans were thrilled to be able to take part in electing the county's first black president, who had worked as a community organizer, the important question is, "what happens when the community-organizer-in-chief becomes the commander-in-chief?"
She worried aloud that some people seem more hesitant to criticize Barack Obama than they might be to attack a Republican, but she noted that Obama's record in some areas is worse than that of George W. Bush.
For example, she said, more government whistleblowers have been charged with espionage during Obama's presidency than by all other presidents before him, and he is known to maintain a "kill list" of supposed terrorists who are to be assassinated.
To keep such a president honest, Goodman suggested, requires an attentive, activist public who pose the constant threat of rising up against his policies. While special interests are whispering in Obama's ear, she said, he needs to be able to look out the window and warn lobbyists that if he takes a recommended action, the masses will storm the Bastille.
"If there's no one out there, he's in big trouble," she declared.