Moore's Ax Falls on a Derelict Media Too

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by IJ Reilly, Jul 7, 2004.

  1. IJ Reilly macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #1
    I don't usually post op-ed pieces, but this one is especially interesting...

    'Fahrenheit 9/11' exposes 'balance' as a cop-out.
    By Neal Gabler

    July 7, 2004

    No one can accuse documentarian and bedraggled, beer-bellied gadfly Michael Moore of having a hidden agenda. He has raised a firestorm of controversy and generated a torrent of publicity not only by bludgeoning President Bush with his feature-length attack, "Fahrenheit 9/11," but also by declaring that he made the film in hopes of booting Bush from office.

    In the end, he isn't likely to affect the presidential race. But "Fahrenheit 9/11" may have an altogether different effect: a change in the practice and the values of journalism. What Moore and the film have done is take dead aim on one of the most sacred of journalistic shibboleths: the idea that journalists are supposed to be fair and balanced. This isn't just a function of Moore having a point of view to push; there have always been provocateurs. Rather it is a function of the film revealing the harm that balance has done to our public discourse and the distortions it has promoted.

    The words "fair and balanced" have been largely discredited in recent years because of the Fox News Channel, which uses them to mean not that Fox takes an objective, evenhanded approach to the news but that the cable channel is redressing the purported liberal bias of the mainstream news media, balancing them. But Fox aside, the idea of "fair and balanced" is still a mainstay of most journalistic practice, at least in theory. Reporters are not supposed to take sides. For every pro on one side of the scale there must be a con on the other. If the 9/11 commission declares that there is absolutely no credible evidence of any collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, the press must also prominently post Vice President Dick Cheney's view that there was a relationship, whether he provides evidence or not. If the preponderance of scientific opinion says global warming threatens the environment, the press must still interview the handful of scientists who dismiss it. That's just the way it is.

    And then into this staid and carefully counterpoised media culture came Moore, who chortled on "The Daily Show" recently that he was unfair and unbalanced. But he was only half right. Obviously "Fahrenheit 9/11" is not balanced in its approach to Bush. There are no Bush spokesmen giving the Bush spin. But by the same token, virtually every factual statement in the film, as distinguished from Moore's interpretation of those facts, is accurate. In short, the film isn't balanced, but it may be fair.

    Even before Fox appropriated them, the words "fair and balanced" had been yoked as if they were somehow synonymous, but if by "fair" one means objective and unbiased, then more often than not "fair" and "balanced" may be mutually exclusive. To cite one glaring example of just how balance can transmogrify into unfairness, there is the story of a television host who once invited Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt on his program and then had a Holocaust denier as a counterweight, implying that the two sides were equally credible.

    It should come as no surprise that conservatives have increasingly relied on this little journalistic loophole. They have come to realize that they can do all sorts of things, the more egregious the better, and the press will not call them out because balance, if not fairness, requires that the press not seem to be piling on. So the Bush administration can fashion a prescription drug program that is a shameless giveaway to the industry or continue to insist that the war in Iraq is the front line in the war on terror, knowing full well that the press will not report a giveaway as a giveaway or a trumped-up link to terror as a trumped-up link without also giving at least equal measure to the administration's own spin, even if it is demonstrably false.

    At the same time, the adherence to balance that has so clearly aided conservatives has made liberals seem like the hapless fellow in a science fiction movie who keeps trying to convince everyone that the kindly new neighbors are actually aliens, only to be dismissed as a paranoid. Take Bill Clinton. However one felt about Clinton, it was perfectly obvious that the right had conspired to gang up on him just as he and Hillary said, though the press shrugged off the charge. After all, to privilege it wouldn't have been balanced.

    In noisily forswearing balance for genuine fairness, Moore has shamed an American press corps that, for fear of offending conservatives, refused to report what Moore was now reporting — everything from the cursory interviews the FBI conducted with members of Osama bin Laden's family in America before letting them leave to the eagerness of big business in exploiting Iraq to the astonishing fact that only one of the 535 members of Congress has a child serving in the military in Iraq. And that shame, added to the film's success, may be the reason why Moore has not been summarily dismissed by the mainstream media as a left-wing shill.

    The media know that whatever "Fahrenheit 9/11" exposes about Bush, it also has exposed something arguably even more important about them: that balance is itself bias and that under its cover they have protected a president whose administration, if examined fairly, may very well be indefensible.​

    http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-gabler7jul07,1,7449588.story
     
  2. skunk macrumors G4

    skunk

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    #2
    Too fecking right. This questioning should also extend to the vocabulary used by the Administration, as repeated in quotations without any comment: "terrorists", "collateral damage", "intelligence", "sovereignty".
     
  3. Chip NoVaMac macrumors G3

    Chip NoVaMac

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    #3
    It does point out the problems with the media today. Maybe I missed it, but one of the issues I see is also the "consolidation" of media ownership.

    For those that don't live in the DC area and the politics that is so much of our daily and personal lives, access is everything in this area. Hit too hard and your reporter is out of the loop on better information and interviews.

    Got a bill that affects your industry? As an industry, hit too hard and your bill never sees the light of day.

    I really wanted to see a reporter at Bush's press conference a couple or so months ago stand up and say, "Mr. President, with all respect, you are here to answer our questions. Not to follow your administrations 'talking points'. These are the questions that the American People want answered."
     
  4. zimv20 macrumors 601

    zimv20

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    #4
    you should check out the Scottie & Me columns by Russell Mokhiber. he covers the back and forth between himself and Scott McClellan at the press briefings. (it used to be called Ari & I).

    some time ago, Russell's columns stopped. i sent him an email asking why, he said it was because he pissed off Ari and got sent to the back of the room. it took a few weeks for him to make his way back towards the front so he would get called on again.
     
  5. Chip NoVaMac macrumors G3

    Chip NoVaMac

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    #5
    Thanks for the link and chuckle.

    Also thanks for backing up my assertions. I was afraid that some here would jump on it as "leftist whining".
     
  6. IJ Reilly thread starter macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #6
    Gabler has a knack for putting his finger on important subtleties. One of the implications I take from his argument is that conservatives have, ironically, adopted a kind of moral relativism by promoting a concept of "balance" that treats all ideas as having equal opposites.
     
  7. blackfox macrumors 65816

    blackfox

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    #7
    Very interesting, I admit I had never thought about these issues in that way before...

    But, I wonder...where do you draw the line?

    On one hand by showing both sides of an issue, whatever there actual merit, you tend to legitimize them both. On the other hand, can you only show the side of an issue that seems to have the most merit?

    Who decides the merit? Journalists? The Public? As noted, obviously Fox only shows a particular side of the issue, which is dishonest and damaging to the publics' right to know...so again, who has the discernment to handle these issues correctly, w/o a firestorm of backlash from those crying "unfair"?
     
  8. Daveman Deluxe macrumors 68000

    Daveman Deluxe

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    #8
    I think that the real problem is that news corporations are unwilling to report the bad news on one side of the issue if there isn't an equal amount of bad news to report on the other side. As a result, some news just doesn't get reported. Also,

    That's a VERY important problem. The press simply will NOT report the facts without giving the other side of the issue. If a Senate commission were to find that the sky is blue, whereas the administration wants to keep a lid on this and tell everybody that the sky is actually red, the press would not report on the fact that the sky is blue, without also publishing at the same time, "Nuh-uh."

    In the interest of "balance", spin is unquestioningly introduced into what the press publishes. The media simply doesn't call things as they are, all in the name of balance. Suppose Bush were to sign into law a bill giving $3Bn in pay incentives to bring quality teachers to inner-city schools. The headlines would read "Bush gives $3Bn to inner-city schools". However, a successful pay incentive program would actually cost about $30Bn (read Matthew Miller's book, The Two Percent Solution to learn more). In light of that, wouldn't it be more informative for the headline to read, "Bush gives 10% of actual need to inner-city schools"? However, that's not balanced.

    Note: Please don't get caught up in debating the merits of my inner-city schools example. I'm simply including it as an example of "balance" obfuscating the truth.
     
  9. zimv20 macrumors 601

    zimv20

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    #9
    it should be up to the managing editor, w/ the journalists adhering to whatever standard s/he sets. i disagree that all views must necessarily be represented in each piece. for example, if it's a piece about the push to put another manned mission on the moon, i expect there to be pros and cons of such a mission. i do not, however, expect there to be time given to the lot who believe we've never put a man on the moon.

    where Fox and other outlets break down is twofold:
    1. changing editorial practice to appease sponsors and (worse) the political leanings of the owning corporation, and
    2. changing editorial practice to appease viewers

    ideally, i'd like to trust my news outlets to deliver to me what they think i should know, not what they think the general public wants to see (lowest common denominator).

    the system is more or less broken. watch the locals put up their 1/2 hour nightly news segments and you'll see patterns forming, stories arranged to heighten and release tension. and they always end on an upnote. why the manipulation? 'cuz that's what viewers respond to, and that's what attracts the advertisting dollars.

    it used to be accepted practice for news shows to be loss leaders; the stations felt that delivering the news was a duty. now it's expected that the news makes money, and to do that it has to be entertaining and, ultimately, uplifting. and that process, imo, removes the part of the news that challenges the viewer.

    there's a lot of reasons we're at the sorry state we are today, and the public's lack of interest in holding the media to a higher standard is just one problem.
     
  10. IJ Reilly thread starter macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #10
    Journalists should have the knowledge, professionalism (and courage) to sort out legitimate, competing viewpoints from political spin and total nut jobs, and to report the former instead of the latter. Gabler is saying that journalism has forsaken this task for the much easier job of reporting "both sides" of a debate, whether or not both sides are factual and worthy of airing.
     
  11. Chip NoVaMac macrumors G3

    Chip NoVaMac

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    #11
    There is a balance. And that is the ever popular "we have no comment at this time". Or maybe having the helicopter rev up and fake that you didn't hear the question. It worked for Reagan.
     
  12. sorryiwasdreami macrumors 6502a

    sorryiwasdreami

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    #12
    One thing that could be misinterpreted here is saying that Michael Moore is a journalist. I'm not sure that he is; he is a writer and a documentary film maker. Although Michael tells extraordinary and entertaining true stories which involve current events, I don't think that we can call his films "the news."

    However, I feel the reason Fahrenheit 911 is being considered journalism is because you don't really get the truth when you watch or read "the news." Michael is venturing to show Americans what really goes on and how things truly work, whereas the news stations are censored by the men in charge of the networks.

    For the news to succeed from a ratings standpoint on television, you have to scare people to watch it. For example, "Killer bees make their way up from the Mexican Boarder; tonight at eleven." "Mad cow disease outbreak stemmed from local McDonalds." Etc.

    It's how networks make money; through the advertisements in between the tidbits of journalism. Unfortunately not all the real news, or relevant and important issues, are even reported. If they are, most Americans don't have access to them through 6 o'clock television.

    However, most Americans do have access to the movies and the internet (the later which is the last free-reign frontier for uncensored information) and this is where Michael Moore succeeds; not to mention that his film was a Cannes film festival winner - it's a legitimately good piece of film making.

    So, I'm not sure if the documentary should be considered journalism; even if it is biased, balanced, unbalanced, or what have you. Besides, he isn't really reporting. He's interviewing and letting the actual people in question speak. The information doesn't have to go through a reporter the way a newspaper or news network does. It's pure documentation of events. It's our choice if we want to believe them or not.
     
  13. Chip NoVaMac macrumors G3

    Chip NoVaMac

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    #13
    Or..

    "Is that hamburger you eating poisoned? Film at eleven."

    News is now money as one has already pointed out. Why else does my NBC4 local morning news tease with 'insert your interest here' "coming up next" - only for it to take three commercials before they get to it.
     
  14. mactastic macrumors 68040

    mactastic

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    #14
    Kinda makes that 'liberal media' line ring hollow, doesn't it? Indeed it is the 'corporate media' now, with fewer and fewer companies controling the content. Plus look at the (and pardon the pun what with the timing and all) pipeline between a 'news' source like Drudge and the mainstream media. If a rumor is buzzing loudly enough in the echo chamber, it makes it into the major media outlets, as a 'discussion of this rumor floating around'.
     

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