Laura Anne Harris talks to Nermeen Shaikh, a producer of All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception and the Spirit of I. F. Stone from the independent news organization Democracy Now, about the influence of I. F. Stone on Amy Goodman and Democracy Now.
Fred Peabody’s All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception and the Spirit of I. F. Stone documents the influence of 1960s journalist I. F. Stone on today’s venturesome independent journalists and documentary filmmakers, such as Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman and filmmaker Michael Moore.
Peabody focuses on Stone’s coverage of the McCarthy witch hunt, the Vietnam War, and the Nixon administration in his weekly paper, I. F. Stone Weekly. Even without access to the White House Press Gallery, he was very influential on the American Left, with such subscribers as Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein. Peabody finally turns his gaze to Peabody’s closest successors, today’s five leading indie journalists or organizations who are fighting to inform the general public on news stories that are not being covered by corporate media conglomerates.
One of these news organizations featured in the film is Democracy Now!, founded by the courageous and influential Amy Goodman. I interviewed co-producer Nermeen Shaikh about Goodman’s participation in Peabody’s film and Democracy Now’s legacy.
The Seventh Row (7R): How did Fred Peabody and Democracy Now collaborate for this documentary?
Nermeen Shaikh (NS): He got in touch with Democracy Now, saying he wanted to feature Democracy Now in this documentary that he’s working on. And he’d like to interview, of course, Amy [Goodman]. I think her’s is the first he did. Then, he interviewed Sharif and me. I don’t know at what point he decided Democracy Now would be a significant part of the film, but he wanted all three of us.
7R: How has I.F. Stone personally influenced your work and Democracy Now?
NS: It’s been an immense influence. Democracy Now is really Amy’s vision. The way that Amy has worked, it’s really remarkable. This radio program [is] in a tiny space, more or less a closet. She’s really built it up. A lot of the appeal of Democracy Now is a direct [result] of I.F. Stone’s work, his legacy, and how it is that Democracy Now developed: not assuming what the [government said] was self evidently true and going to [another] source.
The source in Democracy Now’s case is not government documents or policymakers but rather the people. who are affected on the ground. In our reporting, that is very obvious. Principally, it was Amy’s really quite remarkable work, which I’ve never seen in any other human being before. Her commitment to both of these ideas, in a sense, are a continuation of what I.F. Stone did in his work.
7R: In the past, had you personally worked in different news organizations. How different are the work environments?
NS: Whatever I say will be insufficient — it’s an amazing place to work. In my experience, there’s no place that’s even come close. It’s entirely without hierarchy. We are the producers, and Amy is the executive producer. It is really her vision that we carry forth. But it’s not as though she lays down the law and we’re simply the people who find the way to make that happen.
She takes our ideas very seriously, and everybody is treated as an equal. All we have to do with each individual case is make an argument for why a story should be covered, why a particular guest should be invited onto the program. And then it’s not as though, by fiat she says ‘Yes,’ or ‘No.’ It’s about “How is this?” or “This guest will have a certain news value or a certain kind of depth or significance.” Also a credit to Amy is the management, the kinds of people they hired. We all have a kind of similar sensibility, and that makes for an extraordinary work environment. We all work together, have a common orientation, [and] sensibility.
[quote type = center]I’ve been very struck by the number of teachers, professors, and students who have told us how much they rely on our content. Every single day, every segment of ours is transcribed.[/quote]
7R: Since starting to work for Democracy Now, how has social media changed to help get news stories out there as a way to stay informed and become activists for change?
NS:When Amy started Democracy Now, they weren’t on television, [and] they couldn’t afford the price of being on Satellite TV. Right from the beginning, the content of Democracy Now was online. Four days a week, there are students, grade school children up to graduate students, who come to Democracy Now. They watch the live broadcasts, and we have a discussion with them afterwards. I’ve been very struck by the number of teachers, professors, and students who have told us how much they rely on our content. Every single day, every segment of ours is transcribed.
We have a massive internet following. You can tell from the number of views. It’s been growing in the last five years, for sure. We don’t have the means of corporate advertising or government funds to be able to pay for massive billboards of Democracy Now in Times Square. Every place we go, [Amy and I] distribute these tiny little pamphlets, which give you all the details of where Democracy Now airs in the US, in addition to the website. It is a manual [that’s] also very effective.
[quote type = center]The commercialization of the media, that was in fact necessary to keep the 24 hour network going, meant that soon these news channels became subject to different corporate interests.[/quote]
7R: This may seem like a naive question, but why do governments still lie when we’ve been told politicians lie. Why isn’t there more transparency?
NS: At this point, institutions, if we just speak of the American State, are very strong. If you look at Congress, the Senate, the Pentagon, or the White House, they have a logic of their own [regarding] the individuals who go through them. Rather than the institutions changing dramatically, as a consequence of the administration, it’s that whomever comes to occupy those offices has to reproduce the logic of that institution.
That’s, of course, a very charitable interpretation. In a sense, it removes the ownership from the individuals. A more cynical interpretation is that those who are in elected office will do whatever [to] assume even greater power, at the expense of the truth.
The crucial point, which the film brings out very well, is now we have a television media where we have 24 hour news. You’re constantly having to produce news and content of some kind. At the same time, the commercialization of the media, that was in fact necessary to keep the 24 hour network going, meant that soon these news channels became subject to different corporate interests.
[quote type = center] If [these] lies are constantly being reproduced or reinvented [by the media] as some variation of the truth, that’s also a massive problem. [/quote]
As we learned from I. F. Stone’s experience of governments lying, the media [was] not acting as a corrective to those lies. As these media organizations, for these reasons, have become more powerful and [had] a wider reach, it’s [resulted in] corrosive effects. If [these] lies are constantly being reproduced or reinvented [by the media] as some variation of the truth, that’s also a massive problem. That’s where the benefit of independent media comes from. If one knows how to look and where to look, that’s the only possible corrective.