Archive for the ‘Journalists’ Category

Spotlight

December 31, 2015

Spotlight_(film)_poster

My father was raised as a Catholic. He left the Catholic Church as a young man. I remember when I was growing up, my younger brother once attended a party at a neighbor’s house. My family learned afterwards that he had spoken to a priest at the party. My father become extremely upset when he heard about this. The rest of us couldn’t understand why.

Spotlight tells the story of the Boston Globe investigation of child sexual abuse in the Boston archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church. When Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) arrives as the new editor of the Globe, people are afraid he’s going to cut jobs. Instead, he suggests to the paper’s Spotlight investigative team, led by Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), that they investigate a case of a local priest who has been accused of molesting a child. In the course of their investigation, they learn that there may be as many as 87 pedophile priests in the city. They eventually learn that Cardinal Law, the head of the archdiocese, has been aware of this for over a decade.

I’ve never been able to share the admiration that some leftists have for Pope Francis. He is part of the system that produces the sort of behavior depicted in this film. It tells us something that the Church’s reaction to the scandal in Boston was to promote Law. At the very least, Law should have removed these pedophiles from the priesthood. Instead, he moved them from one parish to another, knowing that they would likely carry out the same abuses. Even in terms of self-interest, such behavior makes no sense. These pedophile priests cause people to leave the church. They undermine its moral authority. They cause the church to become embroiled in costly lawsuits. The fact that the church leaders can’t see this shows that they are out of touch with reality, let alone common decency.

Advertisements

Best of Enemies

September 14, 2015

Best_of_Enemies_poster

Best of Enemies is a documentary about the series of “debates” that took place between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal during the 1968 Republican and Democratic conventions. Written and directed by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville. It’s an odd film, since it typifies the very phenomenon that it seeks to criticize. The film alleges that these debates were the beginning of the “talking heads” approach to news programming, and it alleges that political discourse is the poorer in this country because of this. Yet in its own narrow focus on the personalities of the two men, the film merely becomes an example of this same approach. There is little discussion of the issues that the two men debated – quite important issues the included the Vietnam War, poverty, and the right to protest.

This film is more-or-less even-handed in its depiction of the two men, with interviews with friends and admirers of both of them. It probably won’t change anyone’s opinion of either one of them. There are some amusing moments, but because of its shallowness, it never really rises above the level of fluff.

The Diminishing of Christopher Hitchens

March 14, 2015

article-2047572-0E51BF0A00000578-924_468x617

A foundation has recently announced that it will be handing out an annual journalism award named after Christopher Hitchens. One of the judges for this award will be Christopher “Thanks, Dad!” Buckley, so you know beforehand that this will be yet another meaningless award that we can all safely ignore.

I stopped paying attention to Hitchens back in 2001, when he wrote that the 9/11 attacks gave him a feeling of “exhilaration”. (Katha Pollitt rightly called this “childishness”.) At the time, I made the naive, but nonetheless reasonable, assumption that everyone else had done the same thing. I gradually became aware that I was sadly mistaken about this. (Personal disclosure: I never met Hitchens, but he once spat a cigarette at a friend of mine.) Hitchens became a noisy advocate for the illegal invasion of Iraq. In spite of this, Hitchens is greatly admired today, but he is admired for the wrong reasons.

Hitchens’s most important work is also his least influential: The Trial of Henry Kissinger, in which he convincingly argued that Kissinger is a war criminal and possibly a traitor as well. Today, Kissinger is widely feted, and he even makes appearances on comedy shows. When an anti-war group recently interrupted Kissinger’s testimony before a Senate Committee, Sen. John McCain called them “low-life scum”. McCain apparently doesn’t mind the fact that he spent six years in a North Vietnamese POW camp because Nixon and Kissinger prolonged the Vietnam War. Such forgiveness is truly touching to see. (This same McCain once said that he wouldn’t mind if US troops were in Iraq for the next 100 years. This is masochism as foreign policy.)

According to Vanity Fair: “… the foundation intends both the prize and the award ceremony to celebrate and draw public attention to the values that marked Christopher Hitchens’s life and career…” What it will actually celebrate is the moral bankruptcy of our society.

When Bad Things Happen to Bad People

December 6, 2014

newrepublic

The Silicon Valley billionaire, Chris Hughes, has bought The New Republic. He has fired two of the editors, Franklin Foer and Leon Wieseltier, and he has announced he is going to transform the journal into a “digital media company”. This has provoked a great gnashing of teeth and howls of outrage from journalists. “One of journalism’s great publications” (according to The Daily Beast) is being destroyed. I, for one, can only say “Good riddance”. This illiberal “liberal” magazine has been an eyesore on newsstands for as long as I can remember. The writers and editors at TNR have been wrong on almost every major issue of the past thirty years. They supported the contras. They supported the welfare “reform” act. They supported the invasion of Iraq. TNR did, however, provide us with some schadenfreude when its best writer was exposed as a pathological liar, which was the only good it ever did. So, more power to you, Chris Hayes. Burn this house down!

Rumor has it that National Review is also in trouble. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Kill the Messenger

November 16, 2014

Kill_the_Messenger_poster

Kill the Messenger, directed by Michael Cuesta from a screenplay by Peter Landesman, tells the story of Gary Webb, the journalist who reported on contra drug-dealing in the US, and who was blacklisted by the news media for his efforts. The film follows Webb (Jeremy Renner) as he gradually uncovers the story and then writes about it for the San Jose Mercury News. The article causes a sensation, but then it immediately comes under attack from major news outlets, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times. Webb then struggles to defend the article, as well as his reputation.

An interesting question here is: why was Webb’s article so controversial? I remember during the 1980’s hearing rumors that the contras were running drugs. A Senate committee eventually confirmed this as true. So why did Webb’s revelations upset so many people? I can only guess it was because Webb drew an explicit connection between the contras and the crack cocaine epidemic that swept South-Central Los Angeles in the 1980’s. I remember at the time, some journalists expressed fear of “black anger” as a result of Webb’s article.

This film suggests another possible motive: reporters at major newspapers were incensed that they had been scooped by a mid-size paper. Webb was, in that respect, a victim of the news media pecking order. What this movie also makes clear is the extraordinary vindictiveness of these people: even after the CIA admitted that Webb’s story was basically true, he was unable to get work at any newspaper.

Kill the Messenger is a tribute to a courageous reporter.

Nightcrawler

November 3, 2014

Nightcrawlerfilm

Filmmakers seem to have it in for the news media nowadays. First there was Gone Girl, and now there is Nightcrawler, written and directed by Dan Gilroy. (There is also Kill the Messenger, about the media’s trashing of Gary Webb, which I have yet to see.)

Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a petty thief living in Los Angeles. One night he sees a freelance camera crew filming an accident. He gets the idea that he might be able to make a living this way. He steals an expensive bicycle, and he takes it to a pawn shop and trades it in for a camcorder and a police scanner. He struggles at first, but then he manages to get some graphic footage of a crime scene. He takes it to a local TV station. The station manager, Nina Romina (Rene Russo) buys the film, and she offers him advice on what things to look for. Louis then hires an assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed). Louis sees an enormous opportunity for himself when he arrives at a home invasion before the police do.

Louis Bloom speaks in a mixture of self-help cliches and technocratic jargon. At times he sounds almost as though he were giving a TED talk. (I have had bosses who have said some of the same things to me that Bloom says to people.) He is an embodiment of our society’s penchant for hype and boosterism. Yet underneath his glib facade is a man with no empathy for other people, who is willing to commit murder just to get ahead. The film implies that it is these very qualities that make it possible for Louis to be so successful at what he does.

Nina tells Louis that her station promotes the idea that urban crime is spreading into suburban areas. She tells him that she prefers him to cover crimes in wealthy neighborhoods in which the victims are white. She is open and honest about the station’s fearmongering.

Nightcrawler is a powerful indictment of the news media.

Gone Girl

October 29, 2014

gone-girl-40653-poster-xlarge

Gone Girl is a film directed by David Fincher, with a screenplay by Gillian Flynn, based upon her own novel. The film is a thriller with elements of social criticism in it.

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home one day to find that his house has apparently been broken into and that his wife, Amy (Amanda Pike) is missing. During the subsequent police investigation, Nick makes conflicting statements, and it is gradually revealed that he was emotionally estranged form Amy. Because Amy is the daughter of a writer of a popular series of children’s books, the case draws national attention. Suspicion begins to grow among both the police and the public that Nick murdered Amy. Nick’s sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), is suspected of being his accomplice.

What I found most interesting about this film is its devastating portrayal of the news media. Many of the events in this film are driven by a cable news reporter named Ellen Abbot (Missi Pyle), a character who is clearly modeled after Nancy Grace. Her sensationalist and biased reporting on the case help to create a lynch mob atmosphere in the small town in which Nick and Margo live. Gone Girl depicts the destructive effects of news reporters who try to identify “good guys” and “bad guys” in every situation, even though reality is rarely ever that simple. (I would argue that a similar criticism could be made of the Left, but I won’t go into that here.)

SPOILER ALERT. I AM ABOUT TO GIVE AWAY AN IMPORTANT PLOT TWIST

The early scenes create a strong feeling of suspense, as well as of foreboding. However, when, about halfway through the film, we learn what actually happened to Amy, it becomes basically a melodrama, and a somewhat cynical one at that. The film implies that the reason for Amy’s destructive behavior is that she is an emotionally needy sociopath. There is, however, a vague class consciousness here as well. Amy has a trust fund from her parents, and it appears that a sense of entitlement is part of her emotional make-up.

There is some psychological nuance, however. When Amy sees Nick apologize to her on TV for his behavior towards her, she decides to go back to him. Later, Nick tells Amy that he didn’t really mean it when he made that apology. She tells him she doesn’t care, that she would be happy to have him pretend to be the person he was at that moment. It’s clear at this point that Amy sees little distinction between fiction and reality. This may have something to do with the fact that Amy’s mother used her as the fictionalized subject of her children’s books.

And there is a deeper social criticism here as well. This film implies that many of us are like Amy: we are attracted to fake sentiment. After Amy returns, the media accept her implausible story of being kidnapped. People want to believe her story is true. Someone suggests that Nick and Amy should be in a “reality” TV show. Later, when Nick threatens to leave their loveless marriage, Amy tells him that the public will hate him for it. At this point, the public has become an almost tangible presence in their household. They are aware that they are constantly being watched by the media. Their fake marriage appeals to a society that watches obviously staged “reality” TV shows. At one point, Margo suggests to Nick that he too has come to like the spectacle of their fake marriage.

This movie goes on a bit long. Some things could have been cut out of it. Still, for all its flaws, Gone Girl is the most interesting and thought-provoking American film that I have seen in a long time.

Chicken Little Comes to CounterPunch

May 15, 2014

Chicken-Little-Cluck-2
John Pilger

The May 14th edition of CounterPunch has an article by John Pilger with the ominous title of A World War is Beckoning. Pilger begins by asking a couple of rhetorical questions:

    Why do we ­tolerate the threat of ­another world war in our name? Why do we allow lies that justify this risk?

Uh, maybe because there is no threat of another world war in our name? I suspect that isn’t the answer that Pilger wants to hear. Later on, he writes:

    For the first time since the Reagan years, the US is ­threatening to take the world to war. With eastern Europe and the Balkans now military outposts of Nato, the last “buffer state” bordering Russia is being torn apart. We in the west are backing neo-Nazis in a country where Ukrainian Nazis backed Hitler.

Pilger needs to get a grip. Placing mild economic sanctions on Russia is not “threatening to take the world to war”.

    Having masterminded the coup in February against the democratically elected government in Kiev, Washington’s planned seizure of Russia’s ­historic, legitimate warm-water naval base in Crimea failed.

There is evidence that the US has meddled in Ukraine’s internal affairs, but it doesn’t necessarily follow from this that the US “masterminded the coup in February”. And he offers no evidence for his amazing claim that US planned to seize Russia’s naval base in Crimea. This would have been an act of war, not to mention an incredibly stupid thing to do.

This is an example of the Chicken Little argument that has become popular among the Left in recent years. For the past three years some on the Left have been screaming that Obama wants to go to war with Syria, yet said war has failed to materialize. We need to try to understand what the people in power are actually trying to do, rather than just assume that they have the most evil intentions imaginable.

There is a good deal that the Obama administration can be criticized for in this situation. And too many people in the media have given Obama a pass on this. (Even worse, some of them have urged the president to “get tough” with Putin.) There needs to be a congressional investigation of the role that the State Department and the CIA have played in the recent events in Ukraine. I’m afraid, however, that this will probably never happen. (Because, you know, Benghazi is far more important.)

Russell Brand and Jeremy Paxman

October 27, 2013

uktv-bbc-newsnight-jeremy-paxman-1

I finally got around to watching that video of the Jeremy Paxman interview with Russel Brand that has caused so much comment on the Internet. Although I’m not a fan of Russell Brand (I find him annoying), I have to say that I found this interview refreshing. You would never hear anyone say these sorts of things on American TV. Here in the U.S., we seem to get an endless parade of washed-up rock singers, over-the-hill movie actors, and former Saturday Night Live cast members all stupidly babbling about how Obama is a “socialist”. Whatever his faults may be, Brand at least pays attention to what’s going on in the world.

Jeremy Paxman starts out by making the idiotic “if you don’t vote, you can’t talk about politics” argument, and then goes to the inane “you can change the world by voting” argument. These are things that I’ve heard American liberals say. These are just ways of evading discussion of how seriously screwed up our world is. Brand is at least willing to acknowledge this, even if his arguments are sometimes confused.

It’s Alive!

July 26, 2013

its_alive_4

I recently received an e-mail on Pinterest that said this:

    Trending on Pinterest…
    Is anything related to the newborn British royal baby. Pinners are continuing the baby-fever with party ideas fit for a prince, souvenirs and – our favorites – boards featuring historic baby pictures from years past.

CNN is still covering the birth of the royal baby. MSNBC has devoted enormous coverage to it. (I guess it saves them from having to discuss Snowden and the NSA.) It seems tactless to point out that the US fought a war to separate itself form the British monarchy.

Despite (or perhaps because of?) our theoretically egalitarian society, Americans tend to be suckers for aristocrats, both real and pretend. You may recall that Mark Twain made this point in Huckleberry Finn. When Erich Stroheim, the son of a Viennese hatmaker, arrived at Ellis Island, he gave his name as Count Erich Oswald Hans Carl Maria von Stroheim und Nordenwall, which was as shrewd a career move as any man ever made. He had a lucrative film career playing aristocrats (although in an often unflattering manner).

Americans mourned the death of Princess Diana, and they swooned over The King’s Speech, which told us that Britain was saved from the Nazis by Geroge VI and his speech therapist.

We might as well just surrender.