Thursday, November 03, 2005

In [blank] We Trust

I saw the move "Good Night, and Good Luck" last night, which attempts to portray a brief period in history where Edward R. Murrow, a celebrated and trusted news reporter, exposed "the junior senator from Wisconsin" Joseph McCarthy's communist witch-hunts to the light of public scrutiny.

It was a decent movie, with very few cheap theatrical tricks to maintain the audience's attention, relying instead on the fascinating situation and material itself to hold interest. While it was clear that Director Clooney was emphasizing certain parallels with some of today's political demagoguery and scare-mongering, it was nonetheless compelling and thought provoking.

Aside from the obvious thoughts ("wow, politicians haven't changed much, and clearly the tactics of creating fear, uncertainty, and doubt, combined with innuendo and guilt by association, work as well today as they did then"), there were some more depressing thoughts as well. (More depressing?? Hold on - you'll see...)

There are a number of obvious examples where today's politicians and special interest groups use half-truths, innuendo, and fear mongering to influence the American public into acting the way they want (or more usually, not acting at all so that those in power can continue).
  • Tom Delay having a judge removed from his case because the judge had in prior years contributed to the DNC and MoveOn.org

  • Ronnie Earl using as many grand juries as it took to get a charge against Delay that would stick

  • Dick Cheney using classified information and his faithful assistant Scooter to expose an undercover CIA agent to deflect attention from the crumbling facade covering the justification for the invasion of Iraq

  • Partisan pundits of both sides using only supporting facts (or made up ones - who ever remembers the retractions?) that supports their case of the day (even if that case may be 180 degrees out from the case made the year before - who remembers who said what a year ago?).

While these may not be the most stark examples, they were no further away than today's news - these tactics are so common that there isn't a day goes by where you can't pluck as many or more from the ether. No one in The Power Game is clean, and all have found that these tactics work to deflect, confuse, and divert attention from the real issues and facts.

The more depressing thought that "Good Night" evoked is this - Where is the Murrow for today? Where is investigative journalism? What person has established enough of a record of veracity and trust that they can take on some of the most powerful liars and cheats in the world, and win in the court of public opinion? Where is the pen still mightier than the sword?

As I've said before (La, La, La...I can't hear you), the plethora of information channels means that most people get their information from sources that are already slanted to their perspective, so no counter arguments or facts are heard.

Reporting has become entertainment, and the resulting popularity contest means that no pool reporter would dare jeopardize their pool pass by calling out blatant hypocrisy when they see it - and they see it every week. But to report on it would mean the end of their access, and therefore the end of their public exposure and climb to celebrity.

We have Murdochs instead of Paleys that own the media channels; all news departments are owned by entertainment companies; punditry (which is cheap) has replaced investigative journalism (which is expensive, and hard).

McCarthy was just born a generation too early - today, he could be a contender for President.

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