Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Good Night, Good Luck, And Happy Blogging

As a parent of young children, I usually don't see movies until well after they've left the theaters (and usually late at night). I just finished watching Good Night, and Good Luck, and I was struck by how much the film seemed like a valedictory to the mainstream media.

The movie, which resulted in 6 Oscar Nominations, and one famously smug George Clooney Oscar acceptance speech, dramatizes journalist Edward R. Murrow's quest to end Senator Joseph McCarthy's red-baiting witch hunt. It is an entertaining and gripping story, and I can see why it was so popular with the Academy--it offers a vision of media being able to make a difference.

Yet after the end of the movie, the impression that stayed with me was how differently things would happen today.

Just today, the breaking news was that Reuters photographer Adnan Hajj may have digitally doctored the photographs he had been filing from Lebanon to make them more provocative. In response, Reuters pulled all of Hajj's photographs.

How was this deception uncovered? A conservative blog pointed out the suspicious photo, and a discussion on a message board for professional photographers quickly confirmed that doctored appeared to have taken place.

Award-winning science fiction writer David Brin has written about what he calls the transparent society, where everything can and will be examined and cross-examined by the general public. It's clear that we're already on our way.

With citizen journalism (in all its biased, amateurish, crackpot glory) flourishing, it's harder than ever to get away with raw deception. In a niche-filled world, there are people who hunger for the truth. Despite the horror he might feel at our Paris Hilton-obsessed society, I think Murrow would look at the work of his spiritual descendants and feel pleased.

7 comments:

Tim Taylor said...

Chris,

I really liked this movie. I'll admit that after watching it I felt like I needed to wipe off my face with a putty knife because of the seeming cloud of smoke that had covered it after watching these guys honk on cancer sticks non-stop.

I'm not 100% sure if I agree with your take on citizen journalism making it harder to deceive. It seems that political correctness is still in its full glory (in fact at times even more amped up).

Then again, there are dozens of instances of people standing up to state their points of view. Perhaps this platform has just made that easier to do.

Ben Casnocha said...

I watched about half of this awhile ago and turned it off...weird because I'm very interested in journalism. Not gripping at all, for me at least.

Chris said...

Tim:

Note that Ed Murrow died of lung cancer in 1965, the product of his heavy smoking habit.

Your comment about citizen journalism is right on--it's not that citizen journalism is harder to deceive--it's that citizen journalists don't have anything to lose.

One of the main tensions in the movie is the pressure that CBS brings to bear when sponsors begin to pull out.

A citizen journalist doesn't have to worry about losing his job or pleasing sponsors--she has truly free speech.

Ben:

I also found the movie pretty slow-moving. This seems to be a deliberate choice. But I think it reduces the chances that a younger, fast-paced generation will watch it.

tim taylor said...

Hmmm, I wonder about the "truly free speech" concept. I definitely get that, ostensibly, a citizen journalist has less to lose, certainly economically.

What I struggle with, a bit, is what people perceive they have to lose that makes them reticent to honestly post. What will this or that person think? Or, even more basic, what will "my readers" think?

Both are common questions without a doubt. When asked, they seem to ensure self-censoring.

It's interesting, like in the movie, the higher the stakes seem to be often times the greater the gatekeeper's reward.

Chris said...

As Bill Paley points out in the film, we all self-censor, albeit for different reasons.

Even diarists, who theoretically are only writing for themselves, tend to spin their writings.

This is no different for citizen journalists. I simply point out that an "amateur" (e.g. someone whose livelihood doesn't depend on a media company) is not subject to the pressures of external censorship.

The only way to get rid of self-censorship is to drug people!

Tim Taylor said...

If only Tim Leary was still around.

Reel Fanatic said...

This movie was indeed fantastic .. much better than that preachy Syriana! .. as for Morrow, not only would he approve, he would be out there raising digital hell!