Much of the establishment press has been especially critical of Michael Moore. In the past few days, it has questioned every word he has said, every line in his third documentary, “Fahrenheit 9/11.” The film attacks President George W. Bush, the Bush Administration, corporate America, and the media. It has been called propaganda and manipulative; Moore has been called obnoxious, arrogant, and detestable.
“Today Show” co-anchors Katie Couric and Matt Lauer who, like most of the infotainment TV industry are usually deferential and gushing to innumerable celebrities and politicians, were especially caustic in their interviews and statements about Moore and his film. Perhaps that’s because Moore’s scathing film includes images of a gushy Couric. Jonathan Foreman, the New York Post’s film critic, wrote that the film “is intended to look like and feel like journalism, except it would never be acceptable if you tried to publish it because it’s full of lies and half-truths.” Apparently, Mr. Foreman believes everything in the Post and the other 1,650 daily newspapers is completely accurate, that not only are the facts they present completely accurate but no relevant fact is deliberately left out.
“Fahrenheit 9/11” has a few factual discrepancies, for which the mainstream media have excoriated Moore, as if a couple of misinterpretations would denigrate the entire film. But, Moore also presents hundreds of undisputable facts and, ultimately, the “truth,” something most of the establishment media have been slow to publish or air.
In one of the scenes, he shows the President projecting a concerned look, telling the nation, “I call upon all nations to stop these terrorist killings,” then when he has delivered his “presidential sound bite” he picks up a golf club and tells the press, “Now watch this drive.” Was Moore the only one to have that footage? Or were the 50 or more reporters who “body watch” the President too much the sycophants to see the hypocrisy. Why didn’t we see it before? Were the reporters more concerned about not getting choice seats on the presidential press plane to raise objections to his handling of critical issues?
The media constantly whine how hard it is to get news from the Bush Administration; apparently, they are “forced” to attend daily press briefings at the White House and the Department of Defense to get any kind of news. Somewhere between when the nation’s journalists took News writing in their sophomore year and when they got the choice Washington assignments they forgot a basic lesson—it’s perfectly acceptable journalism to dig out the stories and not rely upon being hand-fed by corporate, governmental, and political “spokesmen.”
Matt Lauer and other millionaire TV journalists—the ones who interview every movie star shortly after their movies open—suddenly became “investigative” reporters and demanded to know if Moore wasn’t hyping the movie to make even more money from it, as if their own billion dollar conglomerates were pristine citadels of charity.
Among the questions Lauer and others asked Moore was how he got footage in Iraq. They were suspicious. The “embedded” press from the “big-name” networks and media outlets had “official” credentials to travel with the troops, and to listen to the generals and public affairs officers. The alternative press and hundreds of smaller publications, even if they had brilliant reporters with knowledge of the Middle East and the American military, were not embedded and, thus, were treated as yapping pests by the “larger,” more self-righteously important media. So, they figured unless Moore did something unethical, it was inconceivable that he actually got footage that the mainstream media didn’t—or couldn’t—or wouldn’t—get.
The New York Times, about two years late, admitted it was probably too deferential to the Bush Administration and didn’t challenge the President’s reasons why he believed he had to lead the nation into a war in Iraq. Hundreds of newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations, most probably believing they were being patriotic by supporting the President’s political agenda in the “War on Terror,” blindly accepted what they were told, seldom questioning now-proven lies and half-truths.
Walter Cronkite, who helped establish the now-dated concept that TV news should be—well, news—believes it is unpatriotic not to question the government. Other may agree with him, but they don’t practice it. Few questioned the President or his cabinet and advisors as rigorously as they did Moore. The opening weekend’s box office take for “Fahrenheit 9/11” should, at the very least, show journalists that the public not only wants, but demands, another view, something they don’t get from the lap-dog press that drools over daily news briefings as if they were Texas-sized steaks.
If it shows nothing else, “Fahrenheit 9/11”shows one thing—the American media have abrogated their responsibility to be this nation’s “watch-dog.” Had they properly done their job the past few years and not been detracted by every tawdry sex scandal they could dig up, “Fahrenheit 911” would not have been necessary—it would have been “old news.”
Walter Brasch, an award-winning journalist for more than 30 years, is professor of mass communications at Bloomsburg University. Rosemary Brasch is a family services specialist for national disasters for the Red Cross and a worker rights advocate. You may contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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