July 08, 2004

Moore's Ax Falls on a Derelict Media Too: 'Fahrenheit 9/11' exposes 'balance' as a cop-out.

It's the Media, Stupid.

LA Times: In noisily forswearing balance for genuine
fairness, Moore has shamed an American press corps
that, for fear of offending conservatives, refused to
report what Moore was now reporting everything from
the cursory interviews the FBI conducted with members
of Osama bin Laden's family in America before letting
them leave to the eagerness of big business in
exploiting Iraq to the astonishing fact that only one
of the 535 members of Congress has a child serving in
the military in Iraq. And that shame, added to the
film's success, may be the reason why Moore has not
been summarily dismissed by the mainstream media as a
left-wing shill.
The media know that whatever "Fahrenheit 9/11" exposes
about Bush, it also has exposed something arguably
even more important about them: that balance is itself
bias and that under its cover they have protected a
president whose administration, if examined fairly,
may very well be indefensible.

Break the Bush Cabal Stranglehold on the "US
Mainstream News Media," Show Up for Democracy in 2004:
Defeat Bush (again!)


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http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-gabler7jul07,1,7449588.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions

COMMENTARY
Moore's Ax Falls on a Derelict Media Too: 'Fahrenheit 9/11' exposes 'balance' as a cop-out.
By Neal Gabler

July 7, 2004

No one can accuse documentarian and bedraggled,
beer-bellied gadfly Michael Moore of having a hidden
agenda. He has raised a firestorm of controversy and
generated a torrent of publicity not only by
bludgeoning President Bush with his feature-length
attack, "Fahrenheit 9/11," but also by declaring that
he made the film in hopes of booting Bush from office.

In the end, he isn't likely to affect the presidential
race. But "Fahrenheit 9/11" may have an altogether
different effect: a change in the practice and the
values of journalism. What Moore and the film have
done is take dead aim on one of the most sacred of
journalistic shibboleths: the idea that journalists
are supposed to be fair and balanced. This isn't just
a function of Moore having a point of view to push;
there have always been provocateurs. Rather it is a
function of the film revealing the harm that balance
has done to our public discourse and the distortions
it has promoted.

The words "fair and balanced" have been largely
discredited in recent years because of the Fox News
Channel, which uses them to mean not that Fox takes an
objective, evenhanded approach to the news but that
the cable channel is redressing the purported liberal
bias of the mainstream news media, balancing them. But
Fox aside, the idea of "fair and balanced" is still a
mainstay of most journalistic practice, at least in
theory. Reporters are not supposed to take sides. For
every pro on one side of the scale there must be a con
on the other. If the 9/11 commission declares that
there is absolutely no credible evidence of any
collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein and
Al Qaeda, the press must also prominently post Vice
President Dick Cheney's view that there was a
relationship, whether he provides evidence or not. If
the preponderance of scientific opinion says global
warming threatens the environment, the press must
still interview the handful of scientists who dismiss
it. That's just the way it is.

And then into this staid and carefully counterpoised
media culture came Moore, who chortled on "The Daily
Show" recently that he was unfair and unbalanced. But
he was only half right. Obviously "Fahrenheit 9/11" is
not balanced in its approach to Bush. There are no
Bush spokesmen giving the Bush spin. But by the same
token, virtually every factual statement in the film,
as distinguished from Moore's interpretation of those
facts, is accurate. In short, the film isn't balanced,
but it may be fair.

Even before Fox appropriated them, the words "fair and
balanced" had been yoked as if they were somehow
synonymous, but if by "fair" one means objective and
unbiased, then more often than not "fair" and
"balanced" may be mutually exclusive. To cite one
glaring example of just how balance can transmogrify
into unfairness, there is the story of a television
host who once invited Holocaust historian Deborah
Lipstadt on his program and then had a Holocaust
denier as a counterweight, implying that the two sides
were equally credible.

It should come as no surprise that conservatives have
increasingly relied on this little journalistic
loophole. They have come to realize that they can do
all sorts of things, the more egregious the better,
and the press will not call them out because balance,
if not fairness, requires that the press not seem to
be piling on. So the Bush administration can fashion a
prescription drug program that is a shameless giveaway
to the industry or continue to insist that the war in
Iraq is the front line in the war on terror, knowing
full well that the press will not report a giveaway as
a giveaway or a trumped-up link to terror as a
trumped-up link without also giving at least equal
measure to the administration's own spin, even if it
is demonstrably false.

At the same time, the adherence to balance that has so
clearly aided conservatives has made liberals seem
like the hapless fellow in a science fiction movie who
keeps trying to convince everyone that the kindly new
neighbors are actually aliens, only to be dismissed as
a paranoid. Take Bill Clinton. However one felt about
Clinton, it was perfectly obvious that the right had
conspired to gang up on him just as he and Hillary
said, though the press shrugged off the charge. After
all, to privilege it wouldn't have been balanced.

In noisily forswearing balance for genuine fairness,
Moore has shamed an American press corps that, for
fear of offending conservatives, refused to report
what Moore was now reporting everything from the
cursory interviews the FBI conducted with members of
Osama bin Laden's family in America before letting
them leave to the eagerness of big business in
exploiting Iraq to the astonishing fact that only one
of the 535 members of Congress has a child serving in
the military in Iraq. And that shame, added to the
film's success, may be the reason why Moore has not
been summarily dismissed by the mainstream media as a
left-wing shill.

The media know that whatever "Fahrenheit 9/11" exposes
about Bush, it also has exposed something arguably
even more important about them: that balance is itself
bias and that under its cover they have protected a
president whose administration, if examined fairly,
may very well be indefensible.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Neal Gabler, a senior fellow at the Norman Lear Center
at USC's Annenberg School for Communication, is author
of "Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered
Reality."


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Posted by richard at July 8, 2004 02:06 PM