Media

Fahrenheit 9/11

I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 last Sunday, and to my surprise I wasn’t all that impressed. It was still good, but I didn’t like it nearly as much as I liked Roger & Me or Bowling for Columbine.

To some extent I think it’s that I had already heard most of this story already. I’ve been following the play-by-play through the various Congressional hearings, 9/11 commissions, and tell-all books so the only big surprises was in seeing all the video Moore dug up. But the big problem was that the movie lacked the solid focus that Roger and Columbine had.

Roger & Me tells the “simple” story of a city’s economic decline and the distant decision-makers who cause it. Columbine wanders around more, but every turn still asks the same question: why are our children dying? Perhaps it’s because the story kept shifting as he was making the film, but Fahrenheit 9/11 feels more like a montage. It starts with the story of an incompetent president used to getting whatever he wants from his Daddy’s connections, turning to the deep connections between the Bushes and the House of Saud (and for that matter, the Bin Ladens), shifting again to talk about how the rich reap the spoils of wars fought with the blood of the poor, and ending with an Orwellian moral that the only way the haves can keep the have-nots from demanding equality and justice is to keep them frightened by war eternal. These are all solid themes and the movie follows them all reasonably well (though sometimes it got a little too sophomoric for my taste) but when the lights came up I didn’t feel like he’d tied them together.

I’ll probably see it again before it leaves the theaters and see if I feel the same way the second time. Anyone else feel the same way after seeing it?

Foxnews raves about Michael Moore?

Here’s something I didn’t expect to be saying: Fox News just gave Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 a rave review!

I hadn’t been following the film since Disney tried to bar Mirimax from distributing it. (Depending on who you believe, that was either because they were worried Jeb Bush would rescind special tax advantages for Disney World or just because Disney was chicken about being associated with controversy.) While I wasn’t looking it seems Mirimax’s co-chairmen Harvey and Bob Weinstein purchased all worldwide rights from Disney, and the film will be distributed by Lions Gate Films (a Canadian company) along with IFC Films and the Weinstein brothers’ own ad-hoc Fellowship Adventure Group.

The trailer looks pretty darned good — film opens nation-wide Friday, June 25th.

Dave Weisberg on echo chambers

Nice article on echo chambers by Dave Weinberger over at Salon. A few key quotes:

Conversations iterate differences within agreement… The fact that conversations start from a base agreement is not a weakness of conversations. In fact, it’s a requirement.

No, if you want to see a real echo chamber, open up your daily newspaper or turn on your TV. There you’ll find a narrow, self-reinforcing set of views. The fact that these media explicitly present themselves as a forum for objective truth, open to all ideas, makes them far more pernicious than some site designed to let people examine the 8,000 ways Hillary is a bitch or to let fans rage about how much better Spike was on “Buffy” than he’ll ever be on “Angel.”

We are at a dangerous time in the Internet’s history. There are forces that want to turn it into a place where ideas, images and thoughts can be as carefully screened as callers to a radio talk show. The “echo chamber” meme is not only ill-formed, but it also plays into the hands of those who are ready to misconstrue the Net in order to control it. We’d all be better off if we stopped repeating it and let its sound fade.

Durbin on CBS’ censorship of MoveOn.org

As most of you have no doubt heard, the MoveOn.org Voter Fund sponsored contest for anti-Bush political ads called Bush In 30 Seconds. The winner was a very nice piece, IMO, called Child’s Play, and MoveOn tried to purchase time to play it during the Superbowl halftime tomorrow. CBS refused, claiming they have a policy against airing advocacy ads. (Though apparently some advocacy ads, like the one that will liken the tobacco industry to a company that sells ice cream mixed with shards of glass, is OK.) MoveOn is running the ad on other stations, and is calling on viewers to switch channels to CNN at 8:10pm and 8:35pm EST to watch it — I have to wonder which sponsor CBS plans to saddle with the $1.6 million slots that get caught in these one-minute-boycott periods.

Of all the editorials and discussion on the subject, the bit that interests me most is this segment of Senator Richard Durbin’s (D-Il) speech on the Senate floor a few days ago:

Now let’s connect all the dots because there is something more direct and topical behind this CBS decision, from my point of view. These are the same executives at CBS who successfully lobbied this Congress to change the FCC rules on TV station ownership to their corporate advantage. The provision that was sneaked into the Omnibus appropriation bill that passed last week and has been signed by the President. It establishes a new ceiling of 39 percent as the maximum percentage of American TV viewers in a market that may be reached by TV stations owned by any one company. Remember that number, 39 percent.

Before the FCC adopted rules in June to raise the cap to 45 percent, the cap was limited to 35 percent. Upset at what the FCC had done, a strong majority in the House and Senate agreed to roll back the FCC rule and take it back down to 35 percent. Why is this important? The White House and the Republicans in this conference on this Omnibus appropriation bill, with no Democrats present, came up with a figure of 39 percent as the new cap–39 percent. What is so magic about 39 percent? Allow me to explain. This wasn’t chosen at random; it wasn’t a good-faith compromise. No, it just so happens that Viacom, which owns CBS, currently owns stations reaching 38.8 percent of American households, and Rupert Murdoch’s news corporation, the owners of that “fair and balanced” Fox Network, owns stations reaching 37.8 percent.

Interesting. Interesting that the White House and Republican leaders in Congress pushed a provision in a spending bill in the dark of night, without Democrats present, that benefited two corporations when it came to their ownership of television stations–Fox, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party, and now Viacom, CBS. Both entities currently violate the old FCC limitation. They needed this new language. They would have been forced to sell off stations if their Republican friends in Congress and the White House had not come through for them.

So the White House and the congressional Republicans give CBS a significant corporate favor and CBS rewards them by killing an ad critical of the Bush White House during the Super Bowl. Doesn’t that sound like a perfect subject for a “60 Minutes” investigation? Oh, I forget. “60 Minutes” is a CBS program. I don’t think we are going to hear about this on “60 Minutes.” I don’t think Mike Wallace and Lesley Stahl are going to be taking an undercover camera into the boardrooms of CBS to find out what is going on there.

References

Adopt-a-journalist: Zone defense or man-to-man

There’s been some discussion over at PRESSthink about the idea of individual bloggers adopting a single journalist to follow for the presidential campaign. There are a lot of links and discussion off that site, the post that brought it to my attention was Dave Winer’s post that we should track candidates by issue, not the journalists. I agree with Dave, but I don’t think we need to make that choice.

The nice thing about blogs is that we don’t have to choose between adopting candidates, journalists or issues (zone defense vs. man-to-man, as it were). Bloggers should adopt any combination of candidate, journalist, or issue to watch, and then send those posts to the appropriate aggregator(s).

The nice thing about reading aggregators is we won’t be stuck with one blogger’s inherently-biased view about a particular subject, nor will we only have mini-experts on the issue at hand. For example, the Krugman aggregator will have posts by the various bloggers who adopt Krugman, but also the occasional post by bloggers who adopt Bush (when they reference a Krugman article) or the middle-class tax cut (when they talk about that topic). And best of all from my perspective, if people start reading aggregators instead of individual blogs they might occasionally stumble across a post with which they disagree, and that sounds like a fine thing to happen.

Update: fixed my link to Dave’s post.

The Deceitful Krauthammer

Last Friday, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote a rather snide piece on Howard Dean, drawing on his own previous career as a psychiatrist to diagnose what he calls “Bush Derangement Syndrome: the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency — nay — the very existence of George W. Bush.” With obligatory sideswipe at Barbra Streisand, he paints Dean as a previously sane and intelligent man struck by this new disease, and uses two quotes from recent interviews to back up his tongue-in-cheek diagnosis.

Now I have no problem with snide columnists, though sometimes I wish there weren’t quite so many of them. However, I do have problems with columnists who deliberate edit quotes to make readers think something was said that wasn’t. Here’s one of Krauthammer’s quotes — play along at home and see if you can spot where he tries to pull the wool over your eyes:

That’s what has researchers so alarmed about Dean. He had none of the usual risk factors: Dean has never opined for a living and has no detectable sense of humor. Even worse is the fact that he is now exhibiting symptoms of a related illness, Murdoch Derangement Syndrome (MDS), in which otherwise normal people believe that their minds are being controlled by a single, very clever Australian.

Chris Matthews: “Would you break up Fox?”

Howard Dean: “On ideological grounds, absolutely yes, but . . . I don’t want to answer whether I would break up Fox or not. . . . What I’m going to do is appoint people to the FCC that believe democracy depends on getting information from all portions of the political spectrum, not just one.”

Some clinicians consider this delusion — that Americans can get their news from only one part of the political spectrum — the gravest of all. They report that no matter how many times sufferers in padded cells are presented with flash cards with the symbols ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, New York Times, Washington Post, L.A. Times — they remain unresponsive, some in a terrifying near-catatonic torpor.

If you answered that the trick is with “those suspicious ellipses which broke up Krauthammer’s pleasing text” then you’ve been reading the same Daily Howler articles I have. As the Howler points out, the official transcript for the Hardball interview gives a whole different context than you get from Krauthammer (missing text in bold):

       MATTHEWS: …Ted Kennedy was part of that deregulation, the deregulation of radio. There are so many things that have been deregulated. Is that wrong trend and would you reverse it?
       DEAN: I would reverse in some areas.
       First of all, 11 companies in this country control 90 percent of what ordinary people are able to read and watch on their television. That’s wrong. We need to have a wide variety of opinions in every community. We don’t have that because of Michael Powell and what George Bush has tried to do to the FCC.
       MATTHEWS: Would you break up Fox?
       (LAUGHTER)
       MATTHEWS: I’m serious.
       DEAN: I’m keeping a…
       MATTHEWS: Would you break it up? Rupert Murdoch has “The Weekly Standard.” It has got a lot of other interests. It has got “The New York Post.” Would you break it up?
       DEAN: On ideological grounds, absolutely yes, but…
       (LAUGHTER)
       MATTHEWS: No, seriously. As a public policy, would you bring industrial policy to bear and break up these conglomerations of power?
       DEAN: I don’t want to answer whether I would break up Fox or not,
       because, obviously
       (CROSSTALK)
       MATTHEWS: Well, how about large media enterprises?
       DEAN: Let me-yes, let me get…
       (LAUGHTER)
       DEAN: The answer to that is yes.
       I would say that there is too much penetration by single corporations in media markets all over this country. We need locally-owned radio stations. There are only two or three radio stations left in the state of Vermont where you can get local news anymore. The rest of it is read and ripped from the AP.
       MATTHEWS: So what are you going to do about it? You’re going to be president of the United States, what are you going to do?
       DEAN: What I’m going to do is appoint people to the FCC that believe democracy depends on getting information from all portions of the political spectrum, not just one.

When you see the whole context it’s clear that “no detectable sense of humor” Dean was joking when he said he would break up Fox — obvious when you leave in the audience laughter and Matthews’ comments of “no, seriously.” More importantly, Dean wasn’t answering the question “would you break up Fox” but the more general question “would you break up large media companies,” a question that conveniently fell between Krauthammer’s ellipses. What Krauthammer paints as a liberal conspiracy-theory answer is actually a plainly-stated position on the media consolidation limits currently being debated in Congress. Krauthammer could have honestly argued with Dean’s position, as did Chris Matthews, but instead he chose to pretend Dean was answering a different question and then make fun of him.

Krauthammer leads the column with his other quote:

Diane Rehm: “Why do you think he [Bush] is suppressing that [Sept. 11] report?”

Howard Dean: “I don’t know. There are many theories about it. The most interesting theory that I’ve heard so far — which is nothing more than a theory, it can’t be proved — is that he was warned ahead of time by the Saudis. Now who knows what the real situation is?”

— “The Diane Rehm Show,” NPR, Dec. 1

He then builds from the quote to his core accusation:

…When he avers, however, that “the most interesting” theory as to why the president is “suppressing” the Sept. 11 report is that Bush knew about Sept. 11 in advance, it’s time to check on thorazine supplies. When Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) first broached this idea before the 2002 primary election, it was considered so nutty it helped make her former representative McKinney. Today the Democratic presidential front-runner professes agnosticism as to whether the president of the United States was tipped off about 9/11 by the Saudis, and it goes unnoticed. The virus is spreading.

Unlike Hardball, The Diane Rehm Show doesn’t have an online transcript, but it does have a streaming audio link. The quote in question is between 42:00 and 43:30 (or just listen to the whole interview, it’s interesting). Again, here’s the full context:

Diane Rehm: “Why do you think he [Bush] is suppressing that [Sept. 11] report?”

Howard Dean: “I don’t know. There are many theories about it. The most interesting theory that I’ve heard so far — which is nothing more than a theory, it can’t be proved — is that he was warned ahead of time by the Saudis. Now who knows what the real situation is, but the trouble is by suppressing that kind of information you lead to those kinds of theories, whether they have any truth to them or not. And eventually they get repeated as fact. So I think the president is taking a great risk by suppressing the key information that needs to go to the Kean Commission.

Now it may be that three years in California’s liberal environment has addled my brain, but to me it looks like Dean isn’t defending the Saudi tip-off theory at all, but is rather saying that even outlandish theories like this one are getting bandied about because Bush hasn’t been forthcoming with the evidence of what really did happen.

One might wonder why a Pulitzer prize-winning columnist would use these at best negligent and at worst deliberately deceitful quotes, but donning my own psychologist’s lab coat I think I have the answer. If you carefully re-reading Krauthammer’s column, it’s clear that he has he has subconsciously embedded the true cause of these journalistic lapses:

It has been 25 years since I… was considered so nutty… the very sight of… Thanksgiving turkey… caused dozens of cases of apoplexy. What is worrying… is… the… neurologically hazardous punditry… of… Murdoch… in which otherwise normal people… can get their news from only one part of the political spectrum.

Clearly this column was the product of a disturbed mind, with the psychotic episode triggered by a combination of holiday feasting and too much Fox News.

Actually, scratch my last quote and comment — it was childish and cruel of me to distort Krauthammer’s words that way. If I were a professional columnist and not just a blogger, I hope I would be ashamed of myself.

References