An Open Letter to Democracy Now!

dnDear Democracy Now!,

I’ve been a regular viewer of DN! for about four years, starting when I was 17. I saw Amy when she spoke in Austin earlier this year and interviewed Juan Gonzalez for a community radio program when he was in town. Thank you for all your hard-work, your program is fantastic, I salute the whole team. It is vital independent media.

Still, I believe DN! could be better. Please consider the following as constructive criticism. I will keep this as short as possible; I know you’re busy.

1. On your blog you note that the Guardian credited DN! with the Olympia informant story, but the New York Times did not. But DN! did not credit either of the independent media outlets where the story first appeared – Seattle Indymedia and Infoshop News. As a former member of Austin Indymedia and an independent journalist, it is frustrating to see how infrequently DN! acknowledges other progressive media or convergences like the Allied Media Conference. At minimum, if DN! is serious about promoting independent media, why not have a list on your website linking to other sources for your audience to check out?

2. I’m glad DN! is on Twitter now. Why not further extend the buzz and reach of your material through YouTube? Open an official DN! channel. Al Jazeera English has one. I don’t know if every program/interview could be uploaded there, but surely notable excerpts and exclusive interviews could be made available. Barring that, at least include embed codes for the Flash videos on your website so that others can easily post DN! videos on their websites.

You asked viewers to e-mail questions for the Rep. Henry Waxman interview, but you did not identify any questions as viewer-submitted. Consider opening an account on Reddit.com, a popular news/social site used by many progressives where they can vote responses up and down. Ask for questions there. You’ll receive a large set of quality questions, and the best ones will be voted to the top of the thread by users.

3. When Amy was last in Austin on her book tour, I asked her about the Washington Stakeout. Sam Husseini started the project out of frustration with the alternative media’s failure to directly confront the political class when they take press questions in Washington D.C.. Amy was rushed at the time, but she heard my question and only said, “I think what Sam is doing is great.” It’s been difficult for Sam to sustain the project himself – his point was that established outlets like DN!, seemingly satisfied with only occasional access to power-brokers, are ignoring an opportunity to regularly ask serious questions of politicians. Will DN! support this project, or send a reporter to Washington?

4. This leads to the next point. I’ve noticed a pattern recently wherein DN! does not challenge the assertions of Democrats and other powerful mainstream figures in the way Amy did in her notoriously combative interview with Bill Clinton. There are too many prepared questions, instead of needed follow-ups to interviewees’ weak or dishonest arguments. Sonali Kolhatkar of Uprising Radio on KPFK, in contrast, often conducts more fluid and critical interviews.

Amy and Sharif Abdel Kouddous did not ask a single detailed follow-up question challenging Representative Waxman, for example, on his defense of cap-and-trade or his politican-speak defense of Senator Max Baucus. No wonder he said, “I’m not worried” about continuing the interview after the break when Amy suggested he was worried about tough questions. Howard Dean’s dismissal of single payer was not meaningfully challenged. When Dennis Kucinich implied that Obama’s healthcare plan might be worse than what we have now, Amy did not ask him to explain!

5. Last comment. Play more hip-hop. Interview more young artists. So much of the music played during the breaks is old folk music, so many of the cultural and artistic figures you interview are elderly and past their prime. My generation is not well represented on Democracy Now!. There should be a balance, perhaps even a bias, towards promoting and interviewing new artists like K’Naan (thank for that, by the way). Invincible, Blu, Rebel Diaz, Blue Scholars, Lupe Fiasco, Mos Def, The Roots, Raashan Ahmad, Jean Grae, Joell Ortiz, Aloe Blacc, Apani B, Silent Knight, Bun B…

That’s a small selection of the artists my friends and I enjoy. Many of them are based in your city! Please give hip-hop and other under-represented genres an airing on your program – along with an issue that hip-hop helped put on the map: police brutality, and resistance to it. DN! only covers police brutality when a major shooting hits the national press, even though there are incidents every day all across the country.

I’d appreciate it if you could acknowledge receipt of this letter. Keep up the great work!

Best,
Ansel

3 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Democracy Now!”

  1. Nice comments, I love DN! but I totally agree with the criticisms. Hopefully they will enact some of the suggestions. They would be stronger as a show by doing so.

  2. I agree that Amy’s combative style questioning of yore has of late dulled a little bit. There were a few times where she amazingly asked one soft-ball question after another with no follow up. I almost had the impression I was watching the same sort of “wink-wink, I won’t ask tough questions because we both work for the same corporate interests” type of questioning I’d expect from mainstream media. Several forums are suggesting Amy’s selling out?
    Overall, though, DN still airs stories that challenge the status-quo, and gives a voice to independent thinkers and intellectuals. Something glaringly lacking from other so called news outlets. For this reason, I still watch.

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