by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
July 8, 2004
WE NEED 'M0ORE' SUBJECTIVITY IN JOURNALISM
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- I went to see Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" over the July 4 weekend.
For me, the film was a review of all the things I've written about over the past four years. If you are one of those people who doesn't solely rely on the corporate press for your information, there was little in the film that came as a shock. If you get most of your news from television, the film likely made your head explode.
No matter how loudly the right-wingers try to trash "Fahrenheit 9/11," they cannot discredit the central truths of the film. I can say this with confidence, because my files are bulging with much of the same documentation Moore used for his claims.
Moore brought together all the lies of the Bush administration and melded them into a fairly seamless and coherent narrative. That's why the film has had the impact that it has. But the frustrating part, to me, is the realization that Americans shouldn't have to plunk down money at their neighborhood cinema to find out things they should have been seeing on the nightly news and reading in their local newspapers.
When the history of this era is written, there should be a lengthy chapter devoted to how the press failed our nation at such a critical time. When we needed truth and needed it when it was still fresh and could make a difference, we didn't get it.
A truly vigorous and skeptical press could've prevented the U.S. invasion of Iraq. It didn't. Many of the same media outlets that are picking apart Moore's film didn't apply the same standards of accuracy when reporting on the multitude of lies that were used to justify the invasion.
(Read Michael Massing's "Now They Tell Us," from the Feb. 26, 2004 issue of The New York Review of Books, (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/16922) for one of the most complete catalogs of the pre-war failures of the press. Read it, and ask why so few journalists questioned the Bush administration's rationales.)
The slavish devotion to "objectivity" in journalism means that saying that the president is a liar isn't being objective, unless you also trot out some jamoke from the Republican National Committee to say that the president is actually being truthful. In the name of being "fair and balanced," you end up not telling the truth.
Notice how most of the attacks on Moore's film don't dispute the information in the film, but focus instead on the way the information was presented. But every news story is a product of interpretation, selectivity and point of view. Anyone working in the news business who denies this isn't telling the truth about how their profession works.
I think of what Hunter S. Thompson wrote in 1994 upon the death of Richard Nixon:
"Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism - which is true, but they miss the point," wrote Thompson. "It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful."
The failure of the press to break with those objective rules and dogma is why Moore's film exists. It is why the bookstores are filling up with books that slam the Bush administration and its invasion of Iraq. It is why the alternative news sites and blogs on the Internet have attracted so many readers. It is why the audience for the BBC and other non-U.S. news outlets has grown tremendously. They are all filling the vacuum created by the corporate media that have, for the most part, given up its commitment to honestly and fair reporting of the news. Being objective doesn't necessarily mean being fair and honest. The last four years of news coverage of President Bush and his policies is proof of that.
To honestly cover the Bush administration, subjectivity is definitely needed. How can you be objective in the face of watching the leadership of your country rush you off to a war in which the rationales for it defied all common sense and reason? How can you be fair and balanced when you are dealing with people who lie without consequence and know they can get away with it?
Certainly, "Fahrenheit 9/11" is subjective - one person's interpretation of the last four years of President George W. Bush. It sometimes tries to hard for the cheap shot or the easy laugh. But it is more accurate and honest than anything you'll see on CNN or Fox News Channel.
The ending of Moore's film will bring tears to your eyes. It did to mine. As he shows the faces of the people who are fighting and dying on behalf of this nation in Iraq, Moore speaks these words:
"They serve so that we don't have to. They offer to give up their lives so that we can be free. It is, remarkably, their gift to us. And all they ask in return is that we never send them into harm's way unless it is absolutely necessary. Will they ever trust us again?"
That is a question that should haunt every person who supported this war, who supported the architects of this war, who believed the justifications for this war in the press and who blindly followed a scheming band of men into the abyss.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.