In response to Vilon’s request for opinions about Michael Moore’s appearance on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, I finally found the time to chase the video at YouTube. Oddly, the same video direct from CNN wouldn’t load on any of the computers I use.
Both of the fellows have their specifical style and approach. Moore is a provacateur, whereas Blitzer is more nearly an announcer. So Moore presents lots of opinions and information and asks for commentary, apology, and response. He’s also generous enough to offer compliments when warranted. Blitzer merely facilitates transitions from one chunk of news to the next, or one question to the next. Blitzer assiduously deflects questions and avoids facing up to Moore’s debate, while Moore answers many (though not all) questions directly. Of the two, I’m much more inclined to trust Moore, despite his open partisanship — especially considering his partisanship is for the American people instead of monied interests. And besides, the slick production values and unruffled equanimity of news anchors gets tiresome after a while.
Even with a relatively long interview (by network news standards, almost 11 mins.), they don’t resolve any issues. Perhaps that’s not the role of the mainstream media (“MSM”), but Moore clearly went in asking for an apology, as well as why CNN, through its medical correspondent, was so intent on criticizing Sicko and the facts the movie presents. Moore believes that Sicko‘s presentation stands up to scrutiny, just as Fahrenheit 911 has stood up for three years now, but CNN’s muckracking doesn’t. The issue is largely swept aside by Blitzer, despite Moore’s repeated jabs and refocusing.
Ezra Klein suggests that the MSM feels justifiably threatened by Moore but is willing to give many other public figures a pass on their lies, misrepresentations, and weaseling — especially politicians campaigning for office. Moore himself accuses (none too subtly) CNN of being bought and paid for by its sponsors. The notion that a pharmaceutical company, an medical insurance company, or a lobbyist for the same might sic CNN on Moore, setting them on a search and destroy mission to invalidate Sicko, is perhaps a bit conspiratorial but certainly not without precedent.
Both of these are good explanations why Moore appears to be singled out for special attention. I suspect that neither explanation is the full story, however, and that deeply entrenched assumptions and structural underpinnings of how the news is gathered, shaped, and disseminated have as much to do with the apparent imbalance. For instance, Sicko is a far more significant media event than almost any campaign appearance by a candidate and therefore draws more fire. Further, the MSM has a reflexive impulse to “balance” a story even when the opposing perspective is part of the lunatic fringe. (Dismissals of the gravity and imminence of global warming are good examples.) Even further, the business nature of the news (which Blitzer cops to right out loud), especially now that network news bureaus are part of entertainment divisions rather than being independent operators in the public trust, requires that a constant flow of salacious crisis mongering be presented, except of course when a true crisis occurs and the networks can’t gather information quickly enough to meet the demands for immediacy and therefore resort to recycling the same few known facts laden with reckless conjecture. This periodicy is a strong market force, considering the commodification of the news as entertainment or theater. In contrast, the shenanigans of politicians are so legion by now and we’ve become so inured to them that they frankly lack the punch offered by Moore’s movies, offered at the interval of several years each. So much for the watchdog role of the Fourth Estate.
Lastly, Moore asks (not so rhetorically) when the public will simply tune out the MSM in disgust at the poor reporting, complicity with the lies of the government, failure to follow up on its own failings, etc. ad nauseum. It’s a good question, and I for one have indeed tuned out. As with food, garbage in/garbage out. I don’t want my perception and thinking polluted with others’ propaganda. The news I do absorb is typically well filtered (laid bare) by the time it gets to me, and I’m careful to think critically about what I’m being told. But Moore’s question is also curiously naive. The news is no longer the lauching point for public debate. Indeed, public debate is nearly dead in modern America, rather ironically so considering our abundant access to information. Instead, we have specialized institutions, such as TruthOut and Mirror on America, performing the former functions of the press but which are mostly ignored by the general public because they’re not nearly as entertaining as watching celebrity self-destruction, staged “reality” TV, or the likes of Bill O’Reilly purportedly eviscerating an interview subject. It’s bread and circuses, and the MSM, following the mob, has abandoned its principles and ideals, becoming instead a carnival freak show, while a few underfunded and unnoticed holdouts labor in the trenches. The same thing has happened to the ACLU. It’s much easier and efficient for the MSM to alight on the subject of citizen’s rights, “balance” the debate with soundbite propaganda, and move on to the next issue than it is to actually go to court and advocate. It also gives the MSM a more profitable product to sell. Why feed the public quality news when the masses are better satisfied with the news equivalent of Cheez Whiz?