Phil Donahue: “It’s apparently the only chance we’re going to have to feature news reporters… who are willing to behave inelegantly by sticking their nose under the tent to learn what the righteous and powerful have in store for us.”
PHIL DONAHUE, FORMER TALK SHOW HOST: I think the idea of creating a television news source that is not beholden to corporate interests is Nirvana. It’s apparently the only chance we’re going to have, to feature news reporters who don’t care if the White House doesn’t call them back, who are not groveling for access to the powerful, who are willing to behave inelegantly in sticking their nose under the tent to learn what the righteous and powerful have in store for us, discussions that would otherwise be closed to the public. We’re looking for journalists who don’t have to be popular to succeed. Journalism isn’t supposed to be revered, admired, and awarded every weekend at banquets. Journalists should think of themselves as the barking dog nipping at the heels of the powerful. You know, when I was a kid—I grew up in the ’50s—my wife’s parents used to say, “If they didn’t know what they were doing, they wouldn’t be in Washington.” And I believed this. Eisenhower. America—all good, all-powerful. Wow. How lucky was I? America, America. And then I met Noam Chomsky somewhere along the way. And, you know, I remember saying, “What are you saying?” And he looked at me, and he said, “Never, ever trust the state.” And I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Not trust the state? This is a child of the ’50s hearing—I came of age in the ’50s. And then I looked up to see that a president had lied to us, set us to a war in southeast Asia that cost 58,000 people. I learned about the decisions that were being made behind closed doors. I remember radical kids with tie-dyed T-shirts, antiwar types coming in to my television show and saying, “The FBI is spying on us, they’re spying on us!” And I thought, oh, come on. You know. You’re not that important. And then I—I’m too soon old, too late smart. I realized those kids were telling the truth. And then I saw that the IRS was kicking hard-working middle-class people around. And I thought to myself, Noam Chomsky, Noam Chomsky. Never trust the state. That’s what a citizen should be doing: not trusting the state; dissenting; being scratchy like the little barking dog. That’s the way democracy is promoted, and we have a Constitution that permits that, that not only permits it but encourages it, calls for it. What a wonderful, wonderful idea is this republican experiment called the United States of America. But it’s not going to work if we don’t stretch and exercise the freedoms that it allows, guarantees. I do think it’s important that before we start wringing our hands and saying, “Ain’t it awful,” we have a responsibility to get in the suit of the–for example–news director of the local television station. If he leads with a city hall issue that has nothing in it that goes boom! and no pyrotechnics, against competition that leads with broken heads and bodies and car crashes, and that fare draws a larger audience, the man who wanted to serve the public interest loses his job because he loses in the ratings war. So at least we have a responsibility to understand this. As long as the largest audience is [inaudible] we’re going to have probably more razzle-dazzle than an examination of issues that you and I might call much more important.
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