On April 28, at New York City’s Symphony Space, FAIR celebrated our 25th anniversary with a remarkable line-up: political columnist Glenn Greenwald, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, MIT professor Noam Chomsky and filmmaker Michael Moore.
It was a night we’ll never forget—from Greenwald’s stirring opening address to Michael Moore closing the evening by leading a sold-out audience of 700 people in singing “Happy Birthday” to the FAIR staff.
The following are excerpts from the speeches given by each of our guests.
I realized very early on that if you’re someone who wants to meaningfully understand and analyze political conflicts, and especially if you’re someone who wants to have an influence on their outcomes, one does not have the luxury of ignoring the establishment media and its behavior, no matter how much one would like to. The way in which they mold public opinion and constrict the range of views that are heard, and serve as instruments of and delivery systems for political propaganda, is central to every political issue, large and small. And so if you’re someone who wants to meaningfully contribute to the political discourse, it is absolutely imperative to address oneself directly and substantially to media behavior.
Now, there are several approaches one can take to accomplish that.... One can very aggressively critique the products of media institutions in order to expose the falsehoods that they spew and highlight the rotted dynamic that drives them, in order to shame individual journalists into changing behavior—or, if that fails, to at least persuade as many people as possible that they don’t deserve credibility, that they ought to seek out alternatives, or at least more meaningfully and critically evaluate the products that they disseminate. That’s what FAIR has been doing so effectively for the last 25 years, and it’s what Noam Chomsky so brilliantly pioneered decades ago in a way that still centrally influences anyone who engages in meaningful criticism.
We need a media that is independent. When we cover war, we need a media not brought to us by the weapons manufacturers. When we cover the healthcare debate, we need the media not brought to us by the insurance companies and big pharma, the drug companies.
I remember full well in 2009, the great report that FAIR did—and we’re celebrating our 15th anniversary [at Democracy Now!], and every one of those years we’ve depended on FAIR’s studies, who came 10 years before us, but their work is so important—in that March week in 2009, when President Obama was holding his White House healthcare summit.... FAIR did the report that showed in that week leading up to the healthcare summit, when it was a huge conversation in the United States, they looked at all the networks and the newspapers around this country—only a handful of articles talked about single-payer. No mention on the networks of single-payer in that week leading up to this discussion, when half the people were at least for...a public option.
Either beating the drums for war, or beating the drums for war on—not only the poor, but on older people in this country, on everyone.... Which brings me to another of FAIR’s reports, a really important one right before the invasion of Iraq. It was February 5, 2003, when Secretary of State Colin Powell gave his push for war at the UN; he later said that would be a stain on his career, remember? February 5, 2003, about five weeks before the invasion of Iraq. It was the final nail in the coffin for so many. FAIR did a study of the two weeks around that speech, of the four major nightly newscasts: NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News, ABC World News Tonight and the PBS NewsHour With Jim Lehrer. They found there were 393 interviews done around war. Guess how many were with antiwar leaders or representatives of antiwar organizations, at a time when half the population was opposed to war. Zero’s an underestimate. Three—three of almost 400.
We’re here commemorating, celebrating, FAIR’s many years of real achievement. And since we’re all contrarians, it seemed to me only appropriate to start with something on which I disagree with them. I had to work, but I found something. It’s the cover story for the March issue. It’s about Egypt: “‘Balancing Act’ Comes Down on the Side of Dictatorship: On Egypt, Pundits Not Sure Democracy Is So Great.”
Now, that’s not wrong, but it’s missing something. To pick a cruel and unfair analogy, it’s as if we read something in Pravda, 1968, saying, “On Czechoslovakia, pundits not sure democracy is so great.” Well, we’d laugh because they never thought it was great, and the same question arises here. It’s not wrong, but there’s a presupposition that there was a time when the balancing act did come down on the side of democracy, not on the side of dictatorship, and the pundits were sure that democracy is great. Well, in fact, there is such a time, in enemy domains we celebrate democracy—well up to a point, not too much, enough to harm some official enemy. But that’s about it.
I’m happy to be here and happy to be here supporting FAIR, who have done so much good work over the years and have really been a shield for me in some ways, as I was describing with Sicko, and exposing the nonstop attack that my work often has to sustain. And I’ve learned things about myself by going on the FAIR website—I had no idea that Glenn Beck had said on the air,
quote, “I’m thinking of killing Michael Moore. I think if he was standing here right now I think I could literally choke the life out of him and I think that would be okay.”
The fact that this goes out over the airwaves and all the other things, obviously, that FAIR has told us about over the years, just makes your head spin. And the great job that they’ve done, especially, I think, in dealing with the New York Times—a paper that is apparently on its deathbed, and you have a mixed feeling about this, because you have this sort of wish that the Times was what it could be or should be, and then you have the reality of what it is and what it’s done.