Media Hero: Juan Gonzalez

In late 2003, a squad of New York-based national guardsmen came back from Iraq complaining of mysterious ailments, pains in their sides, rashes, and dizziness. When the Army refused to provide medical tests, the men turned to Juan Gonzalez, New York Daily News reporter and Democracy Now! co-host. The soldiers picked the right man. The award-winning reporter had broken the story of the White House cover-up of air-quality hazards around Ground Zero. Two years later, despite official denials, thousands of firemen, volunteers and residents are sick with respiratory problems.

The soldiers believed they had been exposed to depleted uranium (DU), the controversial radioactive metal used by the U.S. military in its munitions. In Iraq, they had slept for months just feet from a tank destroyed by DU rounds.

Gonzalez convinced the Daily News to pay for expensive medical tests. The result was a journalistic coup—and a medical nightmare. Four of the nine soldiers tested positive for DU. The front-page story forced the Army to begin testing all the soldiers from the unit. Tragically, in 2004, another soldier whom Gonzalez helped get tested had a child born missing one hand and most of the fingers on the other. He too tested positive for DU.

Not all of Gonzalez's battles have been with the “powers that be.” In 2001, he resigned from Pacifica's WBAI radio station when it erupted in bitter inner-office warfare. But he returned a year later to help his co-host Amy Goodman propel their two-hour daily show to new-found national prominence.

What's less known is Gonzalez's tireless work to help the next generation of minority journalists. As president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Gonzalez pushed through an initiative he dubbed the Parity Project, to boost the employment of Latino journalists.

It's already seeing results. The first two newspapers to take part in the project increased the number of Latinos and other minority journalists by an average of 41 percent. Others are following suit. The soft-spoken Gonzalez hasn't been afraid of ruffling feathers, calling on his fellow minority journalists to work harder to reach out to white reporters and executives.

Jay Rosen, chair of New York University's journalism program, says of Gonzalez, “Some people are just temperamentally truth-tellers.”

Someone buy this guy a cape.

Anthony Lappé is executive editor of the Guerrilla News Network.
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