Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The Temperature That Hypocricy Burns At?

Its official: “Fahrenheit 911” came out of the blocks as the biggest grossing film of the weekend here in the United States, despite uneven nationwide distribution. A scan of the Portland Press Herald shows that it is only showing on one screen out of a potential fifty in Maine’s largest city but in a phone call from Brooklyn, NY, my old chum Alex testified that the line stretched around the block at his local fleapit on opening night. Corporate media has been doing its best to cast aspersions on Michael Moore’s integrity and methodology but Fat Mike from Flint has said himself to anyone who will listen that this is a partisan film and people are still flocking to the theaters. Perhaps his mistake was not claiming that his portrayal is “fair and balanced” like Fox News, or that he has “talent on loan from God” as Rush Limbaugh likes to describe himself. Perhaps Moore is afraid that if he followed Limbaugh’s example the lord as punishment would strike him deaf too.

ABC News, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Disney Corporation that refused to distribute Fahrenheit 911 in the first place, predictably had bad things to say about Moore. As did NBC News, whose parent company GE is heavily vested in military contracts and the reconstruction of Iraq and whose former celebrity CEO Jack Welsh came under fire in Moore’s books Stupid White Men and Dude, Where’s My Country? Despite the fact that neither TV channel declared their rather obvious conflicts of interest in their reporting about Moore’s film, I will give them credit for showing a modicum of balance in their reporting (they applied similar tests to Mel Gibson’s revisionist Passion of the Christ discussed here in March: check the archive)and for showing a great deal of creativity in their attacks (using former terror czar and Bush critic Richard Clarke to nit-pick at a couple of details, for example.) Now if they would only apply the same tests to the daily broadcasts of talk radio….

I do have to give negative marks however to NBC during the same newscast for looking askance at the tough questioning an Irish TV journalist gave to President Bush during his recent stop-over in the Emerald Isle. A puce-colored Bush almost exploded when Irish reporter asked her questions in the probing style of the European media (according to Bob Woodward in his book on the decision to attack Iraq, Plan of Attack, Bush did the same thing to British TV eminence Trevor McDonald in 2002. Pages 119-120). Maybe NBC and the other American networks need to take note of this approach rather than take the offensive stance that a foreigner was being rude to God on earth and should therefore be shipped off to Guantanamo.

My golly gumdrop goodness (to use a Rumsfeld-ism) I’m not suggesting that more aggressive reporting would have any effect on policy. Politicians are far too up their own ass and bought off by corporations to ever fully listen to the questions and for most of the public journalists are on a par with their slimy subjects when it comes to trustworthy-ness. Besides, Britain has an incredibly, deliciously feral press and Tony Blair ignored them (and his constituent population) so that he could join in the war started by his toothpaste sharing buddy George. However, although powerless to affect policy, aggressive and fair journalism can be instructive to the voting public and is fantastically fun to watch. After all, it is important to remember in this time of state funerals and elections that politicians work for us. Therefore journalists should ask the questions that best serve their viewers, listeners, and readers, not their chances of access to the club of celebrity. Michael Moore, in his biased and satirical way, is doing this, which may be why the mainstream media is so keen to pull him down as if he was a statue of Saddam Hussein.

Ironically the most glowing review for Fahrenheit 911 among the mainstream broadcast media came from Fox News. No doubt for his mistake the reviewer has been reassigned to covering sewage issue in Baton Rouge.

What is maddening is that the media is prepared to be (rightfully)skeptical of someone like Michael Moore and is willing to devote time and resources to fact-checking every line in Fahrenheit 911 (good) but prefers to take administration policy at face value (bad). Here’s an idea; instead of continuing to acquiesce to politicians (the people’s servants not masters)how about the media taking the rigor they show examining Moore, Mel Gibson, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jackson and turn it on those who claim to be working on our behalf? Its time for them to act as the fourth estate once more. The press should serve as an important role as the Supreme Court as a check and a balance on the legislative and executive branches of government. They are the tribunes of the people; they should be standing in the chariot of the Emperor, whispering in his ear “you are just a man.” Then perhaps “We report, you decide” can be more than the hollow and cynical slogan of Rupert Murdoch’s spin machine.

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