Amy Goodman's 'Empire'
But Goodman also has her critics--people who have clashed with her strongly held opinions or had the misfortune of being on the opposing side of a debate. Others find her brand of journalism too "ideological," too "reflexively left." "Before she went to Democracy Now! she did some very good pieces for NPR," says John Dinges, a former editorial director of National Public Radio and a professor at Columbia Journalism School. "But at some point she became more of an advocate than we were comfortable with."
The reality, of course, is that Goodman's brand of reporting is unflaggingly political. She covers a hurricane in Florida the same way she covers an election in Iraq, which is to say, with an eye to unearthing the forgotten victims or hidden handshake behind the story. And, as she herself has said, "I don't really think of it as, there's politics and then there's your life." But while some critics see this approach as advocacy, Goodman would call it just a matter of "going where the silence is."
"That is the responsibility of a journalist: giving a voice to those who have been forgotten, forsaken, and beaten down by the powerful," she wrote in The Exception to the Rulers, the book she co-authored with her younger brother, David Goodman, published last year. "It is the best reason I know to carry our pens, cameras, and microphones into our communities and into the world."
This strain of journalism is not for the weak-willed or faint of heart, and Goodman, perhaps not surprisingly, is neither. After twenty years in the progressive trenches, she is one of those quirky combinations of tough and compassionate, fearless and sensitive, headstrong and kindhearted. When confronting her opponents, for instance, Goodman can be relentless, even withering, but her friends sing paeans to her compassion and loyalty. In the same spirit, she doesn't flinch at the idea of flying off to a war zone, but the prospect of breaking that news to her mother makes her pulse race.
Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez, a colleague of Goodman's, sums up this paradox with his own idiosyncratic anecdote. "Amy's not the easiest person to work with; number one, she never sleeps. She's essentially always working and basically tires everybody out who tries to keep up with her," says Gonzalez, who is also a part-time co-host of Democracy Now! "But Amy can also be very thoughtful to her staff. She's always bringing in cupcakes for birthdays or taking photos to, you know, preserve the moment." He chuckles. "Whenever she's at my place, she spends more time with my daughter than with the adults."
On a blustery afternoon in early March, Goodman sits huddled in the tin-can compartment of a Long Island Rail Road train, en route to Long Beach to visit her 108-year-old grandmother. The idea is to have a chance to talk away from the whir and distraction of the studio, but even as the train barrels through tunnels and low-reception zones, Goodman's cell phone keeps buzzing with updates from her producers. "It's going to be a very interesting show tomorrow," she says, brown eyes twinkling, after a debriefing on one segment: a debate on the Democratic Party's decision to recruit antichoice candidates to run for Senate.
As Goodman is quick to point out, she is not herself a big fan of being on the other side of the microphone, at least when the subject is her own life. She is strenuously private, and personal questions tend to elicit a polite, pained expression: a suble tightening of the muscles around her lips and eyes. But she does enjoy telling a good story, of which she's collected quite a few over the years. And so, as the train rumbles past the bulky two-family homes of Queens and Long Island, she slowly begins unraveling the strands of her career, beginning with her accidental discovery of Pacifica Radio.