While Bush administration functionaries were dissembling about the reasons the president's counselors felt they were above the law when it came to eavesdropping on US citizens, participants at the Independent Press Association conference in San Francisco recently got to hear two intrepid reporters, Amy Goodman and Greg Palast, talk to the choir about the need for an independent press that calls the government to account.
In her luncheon remarks on Jan. 27, Amy Goodman, the anchor of Democracy Now! on public radio and TV, noted that Teresa Grady of Ithaca, N.Y., recently was sentenced to four months in federal prison for pouring her blood on a local military recruiting office on March 17, 2003, in protest of the invasion of Iraq. Others in her Catholic Worker group, known as the St. Patrick's Four, got up to eight months in federal custody (see stpatricksfour.org for details). Goodman noted that an Army interrogator who was convicted of negligent homicide in the torture and death of an Iraqi general got only a reprimand.
The mainstream media covered the trial and reprimand of the chief warrant officer, but reports on groups like the St. Patrick's Four that challenge conventional views are harder to find. That points out the need for independent media that stands up to the government "oilygarchy" in Washington, D.C.
"It's important to state the facts and let the people draw their own conclusions," she said. "People absolutely care -- they care if they know."
While the media missed much of the story of the Iraq invasion because they were largely embedded with the troops and saw only that point of view, she noted that reporters did a good job covering Hurricane Katrina mainly because they showed up when the feds didn't. "Sometimes that's 90% of it," she said.
"One of the consequences of George W. Bush not sending federal resources after the hurricane was when the reporters got to New Orleans there were no troops to embed with," she said. "When the government said they were helping, the reporters could see they weren't."
After the feds showed up, she noted, they tried to stop the media from showing dead bodies until the editor of the New Orleans Times Picayune said, "You've got to be kidding."
While some TV reports focused on the stranded residents who broke into groceries in the flooded neighborhoods when government aid was not forthcoming, she said, "There were looters in New Orleans -- they were the corporations" who moved in to profit off the situation.
Democracy Now! (available online at DemocracyNow.org) recently observed its 10th anniversary. The show is on nearly 400 radio and TV stations, mainly community radio and public access TV, which she noted "is an underutilized resource and if we don't use it we'll lose it. The cable companies are trying to get rid of them."
Goodman added, "There is no more important time to be an independent reporter than today."
Suspicion of the mainstream media is at an all-time high, she said. People know they were lied to about weapons of mass destruction, she said, but "it wasn't the government that convinced them [of the WMDs in Iraq], it was the mainstream media."
Americans have a special role in making sure their government does the right thing, Goodman added. She witnessed the massacre of 270 Timorese by Indonesian forces in 1992 and was injured along with colleague Allan Nairn. She believes the reason she and Nairn weren't killed was that she made it clear to the Indonesian troops that she was an American, not an Australian, whom the Indonesians treated with contempt.
"We represent two things to the world -- the sword and the shield," Goodman said of the United States' reputation around the world. "They see the American people as a shield and every little thing we do has a tremendous effect, a ripple effect all over the world. ... We have a decision to make every day, whether to represent the sword or the shield."
The next day's lunch featured Greg Palast, the American investigative reporter for the BBC, the London Observer and occasionally, The Progressive Populist. He talked about how the corporate US media -- which he called the "dependent press" -- ignores stories that are glaringly obvious, such as the reason the Bush administration invaded Iraq. "Exxon has ads saying 'It's very expensive to explore for oil.' It sure is, if you're exploration team is the 82nd Airborne," Palast said.
Dependent media accepted Bush administration denials that there was a plan to exploit Iraqi oilfields. Palast said there actually were two plans. The first one he displayed was a 100-page plan to privatize and sell off the oil fields of Iraq. But oil wasn't all they were after. The Bushites also planned to order such things as copyright laws to make sure no Iraqi would dare make an unauthorized copy of a Britney Spears CD and a flat tax to let US corporations repatriate profits from Iraq.
"My reporter's nose smells Grover Norquist," he said, adding that when confronted, the anti-tax, free enterprise lobbyist practically offered to autograph it.
When the selling off of the Iraqi oilfields proved literally too explosive, Dick Cheney came up with Plan B, existence of which officials also denied at first. When Palast, using the Freedom of Information Act, obtained the 323-page plan, he found it proposed to develop the oilfields under special negotiated profit-sharing agreements between the major oil companies and Iraq's national oil company to enhance Iraq's relationship with OPEC. That is, Iraq would agree to follow the cartel's quotas to keep production down and prices up. Why would the US government want to keep prices up?
"It smelled like Houston," Palast said. It turned out that the plan was developed with the Houston-based James A. Baker III Institute, a think tank named after the former secretary of state under George Bush I whose law firm represents Saudi Arabia. And Baker actually has an office in the White House, Palast said.
Palast also reported in the Observer and the BBC on US election irregularities in the 2000 and 2004 elections that were ignored in the dependent media. The 2004 record included exit polls that showed John Kerry winning in Ohio, but final results that showed different results; 3.1 million votes cast that were not counted, but were declared "spoiled," with spoilage accounting for the difference in Iowa, New Mexico and Ohio; and Republican officials in Florida again targeting black precincts to suppress the vote, despite a consent decree after they were caught conducting "lynching by laptop" in the 2000 election.
"It doesn't stop them from doing it again, but goddammit we're going to tell the truth," he said. (See his work at gregpalast.com.)
After Palast broke the story of Jeb Bush secretly ordering renewed purges of black voters from the rolls in June 2004, the US Civil Rights Commission voted to open a criminal investigation of the Florida governor and his administration. The White House removed the commission's chairwoman and her allies.
Palast added that if you're wondering why George W. Bush and the mainstream media vilify populist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who already has survived a US-backed coup and a recall election, note that the CIA estimates that Venezuela's heavy crude reserves are four times the size of Saudi Arabia's reserves. Heavy crude is profitable to recover and refine when prices top $28 a barrel (and lately oil is more than twice that price).
There is much more news than mainstream newspapers see fit to print, particularly as media corporations try to squeeze more profits out of their properties. That's why reporters like Goodman and Palast and others in the independent press are indispensible. -- JMC