In his Wall Street Journal column yesterday, Tom Frank paid homage to Richard Hofstadter's famous essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." As Frank noted, Birthers convinced that Barack Obama's birth certificate was forged in a plot to turn the United States into a fascist state are heirs to a long tradition of conspiracy thinking that has periodically flourished on the fringes of the American right.
But the paranoid style has seeped into some institutions on the left as well. For proof, look no further than a recent meeting of the Pacifica radio network's National Board, where a resolution was introduced that requires all programmers to disclose funding sources above $5,000. "The reason I created this motion," Chris Condon, a member of Pacifica's National Governance Committee, explained, "is because there has been a lot of debate about whether or not Amy Goodman has received CIA conduit foundation funding from the Ford Foundation and other places."
Amy Goodman is, of course, the co-host of Democracy Now!, an unabashedly progressive news program that airs on over 800 stations across the country. As anyone who has listened to even five minutes of the program knows, Goodman is about as likely to be on the payroll of the CIA as Howard Zinn or Noam Chomsky. She has probably devoted more airtime to dissecting the CIA's transgressions in the past decade than any other member of her profession.
No matter, the Governance Committee at Pacifica passed the resolution, a step taken to discover whether you-know-who has been funneling money to Goodman to cover up "the truth" about 9/11. "We'd like to know what kind of 9/11 coverage the Ford Foundation paid for," said Condon. "The whole issue of 9/11 and Amy Goodman has been ongoing for years and years and years."
The disquieting coverage was apparently just journalism, as when Goodman had the gumption to ask David Ray Griffin, a 9/11 Truther who appeared on her program several years ago, to name some engineers who supported the theory that passenger planes could not have brought down the Twin Towers. (The real cause was explosives set off by the attack's covert plotters, 9/11 Truthers allege.) When Griffin referred vaguely to the notes in his book, Goodman persisted: "Name just one. Name just one structural engineering expert who said it is not feasible that the planes caused the towers to go down." "I'm sorry, I don't have that information at my fingertips," Griffin replied.
The suspicions about Goodman would be laughable were they not coming from board members at an independent radio network with a proud history of promoting progressive dialogue and dissent. Pacifica was founded by conscientious objectors a half-century ago and has stations in some of the largest markets (New York, Los Angeles, Washington) in the country. In the late 1990s, some of the network's supporters fought off what they believed was an attempt by the National Board to standardize programming and soften its edge.
The struggle was successful, but the unintended consequence was to democratize Pacifica in a way that has ended up empowering many cranks. Instead of serving as a vibrant home for incisive programming that challenges the assumptions of mainstream debate, the network has fallen into the hands of sectarians and crackpots whose control over the Governance Committee may be strong but whose hold on reality appears tenuous.