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Following the Rulers 

Book Review: The Exception to the Rulers

Published May 5, 2004 at 8:26 p.m.

Subtitled Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers and the Media That Love Them, the Goodmans' book offers a breathless read about issues Amy has investigated: massacres in East Timor, dictatorship in Nigeria, the backlash of 9/11 uber-patriotism and Bush administration wars, among others. It also takes aim at press coverage of those topics. "This is not a media that is serving a democratic society, where a diversity of views is vital to shaping informed opinions," the Goodmans contend in an introduction. "This is a well-oiled propaganda machine that is repackaging government and passing it off as journalism."

Given Amy's wider name-recognition, her recollections provide the core of every chapter. "I like telling a good story," says David, 44. "And my sister has great stories. So we wanted the book to be mostly in her voice. I did new reporting and research to help provide an analysis of what's going on today."

These unabashed leftists, originally from Long Island, launched their tour at a recent signing in the Big Apple. Guests there included Oscar-winning actor Tim Robbins, whose significant other is blurbed in a Hyperion press release: "At times when people are told to 'watch what they say,'" movie star Susan Sarandon suggests, "Amy Goodman is not afraid to speak truth to power. She does it every day."

"Democracy Now" has been a daily program on Pacifica's WBAI-FM since 1996. "It's an unembedded, international, independent, grassroots news hour," Amy says. "We're carried by more than 220 stations in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia. And growing quickly. There are two to three radio and TV stations a week picking it up."

Vermont Pubic Radio is not among them. After being presented with about 2500 signatures on a December 2003 petition, VPR President and General Manager Mark Vogelzang used the company website to outline his reasons for not carrying the popular alternative program. He postulates that the opinions expressed on "Democracy Now" do not reflect "a nonpartisan approach."

David dismisses that explanation. "What's VPR afraid of?" he asks. "This is the most politically diverse state in the country and we have the most boring public radio."

In addition to doing Amy's live show at almost every stop on the tour via a remote satellite hookup, she and David have planned several readings and public gatherings. "'Democracy Now' flies beneath the radar of mainstream media, but a huge audience turns out whenever she speaks somewhere," David says. "There's an appetite for passionate, fierce reporting from progressives. Amy is one of the heroes."

Though two years older than her brother, Amy looks like his slightly anemic twin. "I'm 47 today," she acknowledges during an April 13 telephone chat. It is, by all accounts, a rare instance of personal revelation. A 1999 New York Times profile described her as a person who would "disclose nothing of her private life." Amy sidesteps such inquiries, saying, "What I am is what I do."

And what she does can be extremely dangerous. In 1991 Amy and colleague Allan Nairn were badly beaten by soldiers while covering East Timor, which Indonesia had occupied with an iron fist -- helped by U.S. support and world apathy -- for 15 years. The experience reinforced her credo: "Go to where the silence is." Perhaps Amy's own silence about personal matters is insignificant compared to the darkness she illuminates.

David Goodman is not

exactly a slacker, either. His resume includes Fault Lines: Journeys Into the New South Africa, a 1999 book that documents a nation emerging from apartheid. After several forays to South Africa since 1984, in the mid-1990s he moved to Cape Town for a year with his wife, Sue Minter, and their toddler daughter. Apartheid had been dismantled and Nelson Mandela was president. "It was such a historic moment to witness, like seeing Gandhi in India or Martin Luther King in America," he says.

David is less guarded than his sister. At his rustic house on a rutted dirt road, the walls are decorated with an array of colorful baskets, tapestries and masks. Art by his kids -- Ariel, now 12, and Jasper, 4 -- adorns the study that doubles as a mudroom. Laminated press passes hanging on a nail are souvenirs from the frontlines of his career.

Not far from David's computer, a large poster depicts a doctor holding a stethoscope that bears the image of a mushroom-shaped cloud. The doctor is his late father, ophthalmologist George Goodman, a civil-rights activist who started a Long Island branch of the anti-nuclear group Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The wife who survives him, Dorothy, was a college English teacher who became a social worker. The Goodman family, which includes two other sons, is descended from Hasidic rabbis but remains devoutly secular and immersed in activism. "Politics was always part of our debate and conversation," David recalls.

He edited his high school newspaper, even winning a major scholastic feature-writing award, before heading to Harvard, which is also Amy's alma mater. "I was disillusioned that journalism there was a grooming club for the corporate media establishment," David says. "All my classmates are now with the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. I had no interest in that."

The Cambridge sojourn did bring him at least one bonanza: That's where David met the woman he would marry. After graduating in 1983, he stayed in Beantown for a dozen years and worked as a freelancer for The Nation, The Progressive, The Boston Globe and Boston Magazine.

David's interest in current events was, and still is, balanced by a devotion to outdoor activities. Consequently, he has penned several paperback guidebooks on skiing. But global woes continue to beckon. After Fault Lines came out, he got assignments from a range of newspapers and magazines. "One day, UNICEF called," he says. "I'd been pegged as something of an Africa and conflict specialist. They wanted me to write dispatches about the situation for women and children in places like Liberia, Sudan, Zambia and Albania."

So why did the worldly David, his wife Sue -- now a planner for the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Affairs -- and their offspring relocate to the Green Mountain State in 1991? "We were crazed weekend warriors who'd bomb up here to ski, rock climb, whatever," he explains. "Mount Mansfield was a prime target of our adventures. And Vermont's progressive politics provides a respectable cover for two ski bums."

In 1992 David co-founded the Vermont chapter of the National Writers Union, which he chaired for five years.

These days his life is dominated by a tour for The Exception to the Rulers, set to last through July. The book packs a punch. In discussing the salient topics during their publicity blitz, David and Amy agree on what's at stake. "When you have an uncritical media reporting a kind of stenography from the White House," he tells an NPR station calling from Illinois, "they act as a megaphone for those deceptions and lies."

Amy later echoes his comments, but with slightly different mixed metaphors. "The media has reached an all-time low as a conveyor belt for lies of the administration," she charges. "Journalism is the only profession protected by the Constitution, so it's essential to the functioning of a democratic society. They have acted as cheerleaders for the war in Iraq."

A more playful Amy emerges when she points out the absurdity of an initial recommendation for people who buy The Exception: The online bookstore misconstrued the subtitle's mention of oily politicians. "They figured our readers might also be interested in acne products," she recounts with a giggle. "How wonderful! It's crossover marketing to teenage girls."

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Susan Green


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