Bill Moyers talks with alternative journalist heavyweights Glenn Greenwald and Amy Goodman, the first recipients of the Park Center for Independent Media Izzy Award, about the “real rules” of journalistic criticism and reporting when it comes to politics, the government and mainstream media. These writers address what corporate media is and is not addressing, as well as their “Standing Up to the Madness” grass-roots media tour.
BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.
One of the great reporters of the 20th century, I.F. Stone, told journalism students never to forget that, “All governments lie.” He could speak with authority, having spent seven decades exposing deception and official lies by digging deep into government documents and transcripts. He gained his greatest fame and impact publishing the newsletter called “I.F. Stone’s Weekly,” taking on McCarthyism, racism in the military, and the Vietnam War. “In this age of corporation men,” he wrote in 1963, “I am an independent capitalist, the owner of my own enterprise.” This critically acclaimed documentary, produced in 1973, offered an inside look at how Izzy Stone worked.
I.F. STONE: To be able to spit in their eye and do what you think is right and report the news and have enough readers to make some impact is such a pleasure that you forget, you forget what you are writing about. It becomes, you know, it like, you are like a journalistic Nero fiddling while Rome burns and having a hell of a good time or like a small boy covering a hell of a big fire. It’s just wonderful and exciting. You are a cub reporter and God has given you big fire to cover. And you forget, you forget it is really burning.
BILL MOYERS: This week, twenty years after Stone’s death, the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College in upstate New York presented the first annual Izzy Award to two journalists it describes as “pillars of alternative journalism,” honored “for their courage and persistence.”
Stone’s son Jeremy spoke at the ceremony.
JEREMY STONE: His capacity for thinking independently, and acting on principle, isolated him from just about everyone. He often said he was so happy in his work that he should be arrested. But the truth is the consequences for him of speaking truth to power, was for a number of decades, loneliness.
BILL MOYERS: The recipients of the first Izzy are with me now.
Amy Goodman is the executive producer and co-host of DEMOCRACY NOW! a daily television and radio news program that airs on more than 750 outlets and is streamed on the internet. Her latest book, “Standing up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times,” co-authored with her brother David, is out in paperback this week.
Glenn Greenwald is a constitutional lawyer until he turned to journalism after 9/11. His blog, “Unclaimed Territory,” on Salon.com is one of the most widely read on the internet. His books include this one, a bestseller, “How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok.”
Welcome to both of you.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to be with you.
BILL MOYERS: And congratulations to both of you.
GLENN GREENWALD: Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: Glenn, you were too young to know Izzy Stone, but do you feel, as he said about himself, lonely and marginalized for being independent?
GLENN GREENWALD: Yes and no. In one sense, it’s clearly the case that if you are a critic of political power and the media establishment that there are going to be lots of opportunities that you end up not being able to take advantage of. There are going to be lots of invitations that ordinarily you might receive that you end up not getting. Lots of people who shun you, particularly the targets of your critique. I think that’s quite natural. And so, in that sense, I think if you tip, if you purposely remain on the outside of establishment power, in order to critique it, there are going to be lots of episodes that produce a form of loneliness. Which, I think is actually quite gratifying and rewarding, and a hallmark of the fact that you’re doing the right thing.
But I think one thing that has changed is that there are now lots of other mechanisms, certainly as compared as to when he was writing, that enable like-minded people who are dissatisfied and angry with the establishment to find one another. And to realize that they’re not nearly as rare, in terms of what it is that they think, as perhaps even 10, 15 years ago, when there was a monopoly on political discourse.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re not alone when you think about the awesome responsibility we have as journalists. With a microphone going to where the silence is. Going to where most people would want to go to ask questions and they can’t. So, all of those people are there. And then standing on the shoulders of people like Izzy Stone, I.F. Stone, and all those who feel it’s so critical that we have a sacred mission as journalists. There’s a reason why our profession, journalism, is the only one explicitly protected by the U.S. Constitution. Because we’re supposed to be the check and balance on power. That’s our job.
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, what I think is interesting is to look at what journalists, establishment journalists, who work in the largest corporations in the country, in the media division, say about what their role is. In order to understand how the reporting on Iraq was done. How it’s done on the financial crisis. Last month Howard Fineman, the “Newsweek” reporter, and MSNBC contributor, wrote an article in which a column, in which he said that the establishment is now worried that Barack Obama is not up to the job. And he made clear that he was speaking on behalf of the establishment, as a member of it. And he said that the establishment, to the extent it exists in America, is now comprised of three stools. The financiers on Wall Street, political elites in Washington, and media stars in the New York/Washington corridor. And there’s a “Newsweek” cover story by Evan Thomas, who’s a long-time Washington insider reporter. And it’s concerning Paul Krugman’s status as a critic of Obama from the Left. And in this article Evan Thomas, I thought quite revealingly declared himself, as well, like Howard Fineman did, to be a member of the establishment persuasion, as he called it. And what he said was that, by definition, members of the establishment are devoted to preserving the existing order. The prevailing status quo. Keeping things the way they are.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, actually.
GLENN GREENWALD: Defending institutional prerogatives.
BILL MOYERS: I actually brought his quote. “Protecting traditional institutions, can be healthy and useful, stabilizing, and reassuring.” I admire his honesty, but I can’t imagine either of you saying anything like that.
GLENN GREENWALD: If you only speak to a very narrow slice of people. If you spend most of your time in Washington only speaking to political elites in both parties, or corporate executives and lobbyists, you have a very distorted picture of what public opinion is. I mean, a lot of times both political parties will agree on a certain position that a huge number of Americans, often even majorities actually reject. And yet, if all you’re doing is talking to people in political power and political and financial elite, you will believe that the range of opinion is much narrower than it actually is. And so, it’s not even some sort of Machiavellian or conspiratorial effort, sometimes, to exclude certain opinions. It’s actually the fact that reporters and media stars and corporate and establishment journalists are so embedded into the establishment as a cultural and sociological matter. That they’re so completely insular and out of touch from what public opinion actually is. And polls show that huge numbers of issues and positions that are held by large numbers of Americans are ones that are virtually never heard in our media discussions.
AMY GOODMAN: I think the way the media works is they show the spectrum of opinion between the Democrats and the Republicans in Washington. Often that is very narrow. You look at the lead up to the invasion in Iraq, the core, the major Democrats joined with the Republicans in enabling that. And you look at now with health care, the same thing. But the fact is, the majority of Americans fall outside of that opinion. And it’s our role in the media not just to bring you that spectrum, but to, well, provide. I see the media as a huge kitchen table that we all sit around and debate and discuss these critical issues. To open up. That’s what the American people want. And it’s our responsibility to do it.
BILL MOYERS: When Tim Russert died, the long-time and very popular moderator of “Meet the Press” and a friend of mine, by the way, the political and media elites in Washington turned out for him in mass. Do you realize that’s not going to happen to you when your time comes?
GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, but, you know, I’m actually, I consider that to be a good thing. I mean, I found it almost oxymoronic. That Tim Russert was constantly held up as the symbol of what an adversarial journalist would be. That he was supposedly this great thorn in the side of power. And yet, his celebrity was so great that when he died it was almost treated as though it was a death of Princess Diana, and everyone rushed forward in order to from the highest political elites to media stars to treat him as what he, in fact, was, which was a celebrity. And if you look at what Tim Russert actually did, there were a couple of actually interesting episodes where not his image, but the reality of what he did was unmasked, during the Lewis Libby trial, in particular. The trial of Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff for obstruction of justice. That involved a lot of journalists, because they were participants in the effort to unmask Valerie Plame Wilson and to smear Joe Wilson. And what he said during that trial, under oath, was they asked him, well, when you have a conversation with one of your sources, with the government official, when is it that you decide that it’s confidential. And when is it that you can report it? And what he said was, well, actually, when I have a conversation with the government official, I consider that conversation presumptively confidential. And I will disclose it only if they authorize me to do so. And it was it was an extraordinary revelation, because if you talk to government officials, and you only disclose to the public things that you know, when they allow you or give you permission to do so, what you’re really describing is the role of a propagandist, not of a journalist. And yet, that was what you know, Tim Russert in many ways was. That’s what his celebrity was based in.
BILL MOYERS: In fact, Dick Cheney’s P.R. fellow said that “Meet the Press” was the ideal format for Cheney to control the message. What does that tell you about government and the media inside Washington?
AMY GOODMAN: That media is broken right now. And I think the embedding process has brought the media to an all time low. You have reporters embedded in the front lines of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. What about being embedded in Iraqi hospitals and Afghan communities? In the peace movement around the world? And not only the problem of embedding in troops. But the problem is being embedded in the establishment.
We occupy an uncomfortable position. We’re supposed to be outside. It’s not one that gets a lot of perks, it’s one that makes journalism so important to the functioning of a democratic society. Now, I’ll tell you, especially around issues around war. And we see just the failing, once again, in the press, not bringing up questions about the expansion of war in Afghanistan. And the same way that questions weren’t asked in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq.
BILL MOYERS: Watching the news over the over the last two days, while Obama, President Obama, is in London. Watching all of the demonstrators there, some of them violent and militant, but thousands of them not. Marching to a bank, and protesting. I thought of something you wrote recently. You said that for the magnitude of this financial crisis, there should be a lot more popular rage in this country. Why do you think there isn’t? Because the taxi driver this morning, coming down here, to me, was angry as hell.
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, it’s interesting. I think there actually is a lot more rage, and a lot more anger, and a lot more dissatisfaction. I mean, even before this financial crisis. If you looked at the polling data in America, it was really extraordinary. They would ask citizens, do you think the country is on the right track or on the wrong track? Profoundly or mildly? And it was something like 85 percent of Americans said that the government was profoundly off course. Institutions across the board have fallen, almost collapsed, in terms of the esteem with which the public holds them. And so, I think there is a very pervasive anger on the part of the citizenry. Not with a particular political party, or a particular politician, or a particular ideology, but with the way in which fundamentally the government and the elites, what we’ve been calling the establishment, are functioning in a self interested manner, in which they’re operating. And I think one of the reasons why that is diminished and obscured is precisely, because, if you look at what the quote from Evan Thomas says. And there’s lot of others, from media stars, where they say the same thing. They are not on the outside of the establishment, they are members of the establishment. They work for the largest corporations. They live in Washington. Socio-economically, their colleagues and partners and family members are people within the government, within the establishment. And what they want to do is to protect and defend the establishment, more than anything else. To protect the idea that the establishment is functioning properly. And so, their interest is to minimize the public anger and the public rage.
BILL MOYERS: When Tim Russert died, I thought they should ask Jon Stewart to take over at “Meet the Press” because he would go after the elites. And liberated, everybody else in Washington would follow suit and break up that cozy game.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, look, what is it that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert represent? They represent what Izzy Stone said. Governments lie. And every day, as they make us laugh, and also make you cry when you think about the reality of it. They are exposing what the hypocrites are saying. And we accept it, because it’s considered comedy. But it is a, it’s so important, when you look at it compared to the mainstream press.
GLENN GREENWALD: Let me just….
BILL MOYERS: Yes. No please.
GLENN GREENWALD: The idea that Jon Stewart would be his replacement is something that would never happen. Why? Because one of the focal points of Jon Stewart’s commentary is how corrupt the media is, in particular cable news television shows are. So, NBC will never broadcast a fundamental media criticism because they are implicated by it. Why would General Electric, the corporation that owns NBC News want to put on their air somebody who makes an eloquent and articulate case against the military state and imperialistic and aggressive foreign policies from which they benefit so greatly or be a fundamental critic of the government, the federal government, on whom General Electric relies? It’s contrary to their interest.
BILL MOYERS: After President Obama’s recent and second primetime news conference, I had a wonderful letter from a viewer saying that she just does not think that the President should exercise the privilege of calling on the reporters. That the reporters should get together, they should meet, and choose one of their own to call on the reporters. It’s never going to happen.
AMY GOODMAN: Oh, I mean, I think that’s very important. And I think independent media has to be well represented right there. I think there’s a reason why independent media is growing all over this country. And it was when President Bush could not find weapons of mass destruction, it exposed more than President Bush. People said, how did the media get it so wrong? And they started looking for other sources. I think that’s why DEMOCRACY NOW! is growing so much, and why independent media, community radio and television, and, of course, the internet as well. People are looking for alternative sources of information. Looking abroad, too, at all of the different forms of information access to information we can get.
BILL MOYERS: But you know, you talk about independent media, and it is growing, as you say. But Jon Stewart and Steve Colbert, do not work for independent media. They work for a mega-media conglomerate. And yet, they get away with what no one else gets away with. How do you explain that? Is it simply the use of humor to reach the core of truth that goes down with a little more taste than it would if we.
AMY GOODMAN: And that they’re making them more money. And yeah, and…
BILL MOYERS: Well, that’s true, too.
AMY GOODMAN: That plays a key role.
GLENN GREENWALD: I think you’re absolutely right. And I think you’re absolutely right that their voices, which are often quite subversive. I mean, I think the speech that Stephen Colbert gave to the 2006 White House Correspondent’s Dinner, with George Bush sitting there, where he essentially mocked the entire press core to their face.
BILL MOYERS: And when Jon Stewart went on CROSSFIRE and said you guys are hurting America.
GLENN GREENWALD: I think the reason they get away with that, and are invited on those shows is because they’re treated as comedians. And so, the sort of safeguards are lowered a little bit.
BILL MOYERS: Fortunately, there are a lot of mainstream journalists who cover not just what politicians say, but what they do. I think of people like Charlie Savage at the BOSTON GLOBE now the NEW YORK TIMES. I think of Thomas Ricks at the WASHINGTON POST. I think of Gretchen Morgenson, Floyd Norris of the NEW YORK TIMES. Joe Nocera. I think about McClatchy’s Bureau in Washington which was very ahead of the curve on the build up to the Iraq War and to the financial crisis. Why aren’t there not more of them?
AMY GOODMAN: I think people know what will make them rise in the corporate ladder, and will get them marginalized. You know, at the Republican Convention I was arrested along with my colleagues at DEMOCRACY NOW! And we were not alone. More than 40 reporters–
BILL MOYERS: For what? Why you were arrested?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, it was the first day of the convention. And two of our producers, Nicole Salazar and Sharif Abdel Kouddous, were out covering a protest. We had all covered it in the morning. I’d gone into the convention floor. I got a text, a call on my cell phone that our producers were being arrested, that they were hurt. I raced to the big parking lot, where they were covering a protest. The riot police had the whole area contained. I went up. They could see I had all the credentials that allowed me to interview Presidents and Vice Presidents. I said I need to have our two reporters released now. You can see they have credentials. They ripped me through the line, pulled my arms back, slapped those rigid plastic handcuffs on, pushed me against the wall, and put me on the ground.
POLICE AT REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION: Back up! Back up!
AMY GOODMAN: I wasn’t able to find Nicole right away. I saw Sharif. They brought me to him. We were standing with our credentials, yet we were handcuffed. I was loudly protesting, saying, you know we’re journalists. You must release us, whereupon the Secret Service came over and ripped the credentials from around our necks. Now, we were charged with a misdemeanor. I was charged with a misdemeanor. They were facing P.C. felony riot charges. Ultimately, we were released after hours, because the video online of our arrest went viral, watched more in the first two days of the convention than any other video on YouTube. And that’s what freed us. It was the grassroots outcry.
WOMAN: Press! Press!
AMY GOODMAN: And when I was brought into the convention center to tell this story to the networks, one of the reporters for the network said, “How come I didn’t get arrested?” And I said, “Oh, were you out covering the protests?” And he said, “No.” And, you know, like Woody Allen says, 90 percent of life is just showing up. You got to get out there. And if the problem with this… It’s not just a violation of freedom of the press, Bill. It’s a violation of the public’s right to know. If they’re just inside the convention, they get one message. The orchestrated message. And that’s important to cover. You got to get into the corporate suites. Who’s funding all of this? And you have to get into the streets. Democracy’s a messy thing. And all of these voices must be heard.
BILL MOYERS: Glenn, what stories are you covering that you think are being ignored by mainstream press?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, let’s start with the fact that there is a very widespread perception, one that’s growing with more and more revelations, by the day. That what the United States did over the last eight years, in terms of how we detained people, how we interrogated people, how we tortured people and kidnapped them, and shipped them off to black sites, where they were completely disappeared is something that is not only disgraceful, and a fundamental violation of what we claim our political values to be but are crimes. Very serious war crimes. If you look at political discussions that take place on most major television no shows, about that. What you’ll find is this implied consensus that Americans don’t want their political leaders spending time on investigations and looking to the past. And that’s absolutely false. It’s a case where public opinion is distorted. Polls show that large numbers of Americans, even 50 percent believe that there should be investigations into whether or not crimes were committed. Because if we don’t investigate when our political leaders break the law, it means that there’s no rule of law. Look at our policy toward Israel, and this continuous blind support for whatever the Israeli government does. Something that’s about to get even more harmful to our interests now that there’s a very right wing extremist party with racist factions within the government in Israel. Polls show that if you ask Americans do you think the U.S. Government should be on the side of Israel, on the side of the Palestinians, or should be even-handed? Seventy percent, seven out of ten, will say that the government should be even-handed in that conflict. And yet, that is an opinion that is virtually never heard. Debates about our policy toward Israel is something that is essentially frozen out. You can go across those issues, and find the same dynamic.
BILL MOYERS: I sometimes sense some frustration in both of your voices. And I know that I.F. Stone was often frustrated. I mean, no one dug deeper into government documents than he did. And he saw the difference between the official view of reality, and the reality on the ground. And yet, for all of his exposure of these lies and deceptions and horrors, the Vietnam War raged on another ten years. Do you ever feel futile over the results of what you do?
GLENN GREENWALD: Personally, I actually don’t. And, you know, I do think there is a difference. I think that the advent of technology the internet, in particular. And also the collapse of trust that so many Americans have now placed in the political and media institutions, as Amy was saying earlier. Largely, though not exclusively, as a result of how transparent the lies were over Iraq have really caused so many more citizens than ever before to question the kind of establishment instruments that have been used for so long to propagandize the citizenry. And to seek out alternative sources of truth. You know, change of this type is always extremely incremental. And it can be kind of imperceptible and very frustratingly slow. But I think it clearly is happening. And the more profound and transparent are the failures of the institutions. The more the citizenry will be open to alternative ways of thinking. The greater the crises are, I think, the more people will seek out opinions that may even five, ten years ago have been entirely excluded. And so, I think when you combine those events with the potency of technology, the advent of bloggers, and alternative media, like what Amy is doing, and the growth of it, I actually feel rather optimistic that the work that we do is paying off.
BILL MOYERS: What exactly are you doing? You came in here from Ithaca and you’re on your way to Boston? You’re on a tour of 70.
AMY GOODMAN: A 70-city tour.
BILL MOYERS: All over the country.
AMY GOODMAN: Shoring up people.
BILL MOYERS: What are you doing?
AMY GOODMAN: Shoring up stations, community, radio, and television. Public radio and television stations all over this country. It is essential that these forums for independent voices survive. We’re on a “Standing up to the Madness” tour. We broadcast from different cities every day. And insure that the voices of people at the grassroots be heard.
BILL MOYERS: What are you hearing?
AMY GOODMAN: Oh. In Seattle, we brought in people from Nickelsville, named for the Mayor of Seattle, who were in a tent city. And we’re seeing the…
BILL MOYERS: Poor people. Homeless people.
AMY GOODMAN: Poor people, who are homeless, who are… And we’re seeing this all over the country. Hearing their voices, and talking about how people are organizing around health care, all over this country. Seeing the mechanism of social change, bringing on the voices of community, social movement groups, all over this country. And all over the world. The media should be connecting the dots. That’s where the experts are. In their communities, working on the critical issues that people confront at a local level that have global implications.
BILL MOYERS: Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald, thank you for being with me on the Journal.
AMY GOODMAN: Thanks, Bill.
GLENN GREENWALD: Pleasure.
BILL MOYERS: That’s it for this edition of the Journal. Next week, we’ll present a special edition. Abraham Lincoln revealed…
SAM WATERSTON: See this man. He was one of you and yet he became Abraham Lincoln.
BILL MOYERS: “Law and Order’s” Sam Waterston.
HAROLD HOLZER: We cannot escape history.
BILL MOYERS: And historian Harold Holzer recall our greatest president.
SAM WATERSTON: Let the rail splitter awake! Let Abraham come back, let his old yeast rise…
BILL MOYERS: In this Bicentennial of his birth, they tell his story.
SAM WATERSTON: But they killed him in his kindness, in their madness and their blindness. And they killed him from behind.
BILL MOYERS: That’s next week on the Journal. In the meantime, for additional analysis from Glenn Greenwald and Amy Goodman, and to explore the life and legacy of I.F. Stone, go to the Moyers website at pbs.org. I’m Bill Moyers and I’ll see you next week.
This transcript was entered on June 7, 2015.