What was it that influenced you to become an investigative writer, public speaker and democratic advocate when you were a teenager and what were the steps you took to get there?I was raised in a a very loving, Catholic, Republican family in central Wisconsin. I really believed in the moral, spiritual and patriotic teachings I received. But when I was 14 in 1967 I realized that the war in Vietnam was contrary to everything I had been taught to believe, and I began to question everything else. I became an anti-war activist in my high school and my community, and in 1970 was organizing the first Earth Day teach-in at our high school. I only wanted to be one of two things: a back-to-the-lander living simply in the woods, or a head-butting revolutionary working to make democracy, human rights, environmental sustainability and peace real. After a couple years of the former, the latter won out and I've been working in the public interest sector as an organizer, researcher, writer and speaker for 35 years.
I recently found out about the IVAW and the Winter Soldiers conference when it aired on Like It Is and wanted to thank you for hosting Coffee with the Troops. Do you find that there are any people in our government who are interested in hearing the soldiers accounts and more importantly taking action? Did any attend CWTT?Sheldon Rampton and I wrote two books exposing the propaganda that sold the war in Iraq. The first, Weapons of Mass Deception, was a New York Times best seller in the summer of 2003. In 2006 I had the opportunity to meet members of the Iraq Veterans Against the War and I realized immediately this was the most important anti-war organization because these were the patriotic, bright young people who fought the war, and they each felt compelled to speak out and oppose it. I organized Coffee with the Troops at the Yearly Kos (now Netroots Nation) event in Chicago in the summer of 2007 because I was and I am appalled by the liberal Democratic partisans in the blogosphere and in MoveOn and the Pelosi wing of the party who seem to be resigned to using the war as a political club against the Republicans but lack the guts to stop funding the war, which is the only way to stop it. CWTT was well attended and viewable on YouTube. However, most politicians lack the courage to really sit down with anti-war soldiers and admit what this horrific war is doing to America, much less the hundreds of thousands of people we've killed in Iraq for no real reason other than lies and propaganda.
I can't say that I was shocked to find out about the New York Times report on The Pentagons influence on military analysts who frequent television talk shows. I was really more angered and saddened. How did it come about that you were invited to the NewsHour and did you find that they were the only news organization who would touch the story?I know that in 2003 when our book on the propaganda campaign that sold the war came out, Weapons of Mass Deception, it was widely read and used by the researchers and reporters at the NewsHour. Perhaps that is why I was invited to appear on the show. David Barstow, the brilliant reporter for the New York Times who researched and wrote the story, was the obvious choice but because he was still working on the story he was not giving interviews. I suspect that Judy Woodruff found me to be a bit too aggressive in style, but I had to confront the outrageous indifference and ridicule that Bob Zelnick expressed toward this very important story. Every major TV network and the Pentagon refused to provide a guest for the NewsHour, and the TV networks who were duped into being used by the Pentagon military analyst program have essentially blacklisted the story because it reflects so poorly on them. That tells us everything about the pathetic state of TV journalism; it's basically an oxymoron.
So many problems have been set in motion in this country for so long that I have a hard time believing that things will get any better with a new president. Do you think government controlled media will come to an end? What do you see for the future?A handful of big corporations dominate the mainstream media, and TV is where most Americans get most of their news. TV news generally avoids criticism of their advertisers, and they pander to the government especially on stories of war and foreign policy. TV concentrates on the celebrity culture, sensationalism, horror, pet stories and fluff that will glue eyes to the tube and reap dollars from advertisers. It is a terrible medium for education but a devastating means of dumbing-down and propagandizing a nation. This situation is only getting worse. For critical thinkers the online media can provide a tremendous amount of information, as long as we can win and maintain a "net neutrality" so that little websites like www.PRWatch.org can be as easily found in online searches as corporate and government sites. This sort of level playing field allows people access to a wide variety of information that is blocked out of the mainstream media because it challenges the powers that be. In my clouded crystal ball I unfortunately see a decade or more of hellacious interlocked global crises -- energy, environment, food, population, extremes of wealth and poverty, political fanaticism, nuclear proliferation, toxic pollution -- creating a period like the Great Depression and World War II, but a 21st century version. That's a gloomy forecast, but we've spent the past decades breeding some really nasty problems and they are coming home to roost, big time. It will require average people rising up and working for fundamental change to address these crises, and that's one reason why I love the Iraq Veterans Against the War, they are the sort of brave young leaders we need more of.
I try to inform myself as much as I can with not only American politics, but also world issues. How do you manage to do it and do you ever become overwhelmed with the enormity of it all?I'm incredibly lucky because I actually get paid by my non-profit organization to work with nine brilliant colleagues who attempt to understand, communicate, and address the truth about these issues. Yes, I can become overwhelmed, but that's when I pull back and find time to go the country, listen to the Ipod (stuck in the music of the 60s) and read some books. It's very important that we take care of ourselves and each other.
What news sources would you recommend for people seeking objective, unembedded news?As my friend journalist Mark Dowie would say, 'objective news' is a myth. Everyone has a point of view. Accurate, fair and documented information with a clear transparency in terms of sources and biases is much better than the 'neutral point of view' concept which is really another oxymoron. I like feeding terms into search engines like Google, and I like looking at the news that is most censored out of the mainstream US media, news from reputable journalists on the left side of the spectrum easily found aggregated on Common Dreams, on Democracy Now, and at Alternet. When you find a good journalist like David Barstow at the New York Times, it's worth putting a Google alert on his name and following his reporting. The present and future of information is online, and its important to support Free Press and other groups fighting for media reform.
What brings you comfort and joy?I'm a simple guy and I love being in the North Woods canoeing, hiking in the mountains, kayaking or snorkeling on a beach, traveling by bus with my wife in Mexico, walking with the dog. Part of me could drop out and be that nature boy I was living off the land in my early twenties in the woods in northern Wisconsin. I love seeing and knowing people who are happy in their work, who are salt of the Earth and care for each other, and who are solidly on the side of the underdog in a world where the wealthy few dominate our media and our economic and political lives. I love people who really care for other people and who value the simple pleasures and the basic rights common to us all. The revolution will not be televised, but it can be lived.