Thursday, July 15, 2004

AP: "F9/11" is "News"

The headline reads 'Fahrenheit 9/11' Brings News to Theaters. No, it's not a Michael Moore press release. Believe it ir not, this is an Associated Press news story. It's written by the AP's ranking "Television Writer," Frazier Moore.

NEW YORK - Time was, you had to go to the movies to see the news. Then came television, which brought newsreels right into your home.

Now, in this election year a half-century later, people in huge numbers have found that getting news about the war in Iraq and the politics behind it makes a trip to the multiplex well worth the bother. [Emphasis added]

Moore is someone who presumably would identify himself as being in the "news" business, albeit in the entertainment branch. He reviews TV shows, but he also covers the business end of entertainment. He writes hard news as well as soft news.

Presumably, his editors also think they are in the "news" business, and presumably they got to be editors because they were thought to have some sort of head on their shoulders. And ditto for the people who send these articles out to the Internet, routed into the "news" bins of various Web services (such as Verizon, where my girlfriend, who has seen "F9/11," saw this and was aghast).

And so the AP thinks 9/11 is "news," comparable to (actually superior to, if I read this right) the evening TV news.

Frazier Moore continues:

Moore, of course, knows how to make a splash. Last year a billion viewers saw him accept his "Bowling for Columbine" best-documentary Academy Award by denouncing the war of a "fictitious president ... Shame on you, Mr. Bush!"

But then he elaborated on that theme with "Fahrenheit 9/11," and the public response has been greater than anyone could have imagined, setting off shock waves even beyond its record-busting $80 million box office. His is a film that is firing up the public, both pro and con - even people who haven't seen it.

And it's done something else. In the way the film frames the presidency of George W. Bush ("Was it all just a dream?" Moore muses over images of Al Gore celebrating his short-lived win) "Fahrenheit 9/11" has managed to upstage mainstream TV journalism.

The parenthetical reference here shows that Frazier Moore has taken MM's bait and swallowed it whole. He fell for the very first deception in the film, in the opening scene from election night 2000. Al Gore rocks out on stage while the band plays and the crowd cheers, under a sign reading “Florida Victory.” Moore lets you think they're celebrating an election they think they won.

They're not. Gore was in Florida, doing last-minute campaigning, early on election day, before the polls had even opened. That's when the rally took place. Then Gore followed long-standing tradition and went home (to Tennessee) to await the results. Frazier Moore might have realized this if he'd managed to check his own wire services archives [Reference: “Gore Campaigns Into Election Day,” Associated Press, Nov. 7, 2000].

But of course, he didn't, and of course, that's what MM was counting on him not doing.

The article then takes a merry romp through Moore's history in TV and film, the "investigative" projects he has "masterminded," including the "prankishly muckraking Awful Truth on Bravo. We're asked to chuckle at the "effort by Moore to broker peace in Bosnia by getting the ambassadors of Serbia and Croatia to serenade each other with the 'Barney' song." People are dying in concentration camps, but I'm going to get some yuks out of this and enhance my reputation -- way to go, MM.

This is contrasted, in the article, with the scandal-rocked and compromised newtwork news programs. The decade-old rigged "fiery-truck crash" at "Dateline NBC" is invoked. Gods know, the network news is awful enough. But it ignores the fact that "F9/11" is one long series of rigged explosions.

We're told that "Moore could never fit the TV news mold," but that's another point in his favor. "But bulky, bluejeans-clad Moore is a committed outsider with a scruffy look and a liberal agenda. Long ago he staked his claim as a reporter-provocateur well apart from the manicured journalistic mainstream."

So he's an obese slob because that's his look, you see. But how does that make him less phony than the manicured talking heads? They have their look. He has his.

All the more surprising, then, that the TV-news establishment, issuing free content around the clock, could be eclipsed by an independent film that costs good money to see, and, until just weeks ago, hadn't even landed a theatrical distributor.

So what does "Fahrenheit 9/11" give its audience that newscasts thus far don't?

For starters: the video footage of recuperating U.S. soldiers, Iraqi casualties, President Bush in that classroom paralyzed for seven minutes after learning of the terrorist attacks. This is video you have likely seen nowhere else, and you emerge from the theater wondering, "Why the heck not?"

U.S. soldiers have been missing overall from the big media coverage, as I and others have complained. But the wounded hardly have been hidden -- the New York Times did a big take-out on artificial limbs, for instance. So have real Iraqis been missing from coverage -- and there are far more live ones than dead ones. And the live ones still will tell you they're better off with Saddam gone, no matter the cost. But that's missing from "F9/11," too.

Bush in the classroom? What would you have done? What should he have done? Had he run out of there post-haste, I'm sure MM would have filled that spot in his screed with images of Bush leaving terrified school kids in his wake, while his limo peels out like the General Lee as his handlers hustle him off to some top-secret bunker.

MM also pointedly avoids showing dead Americans in the 9/11 sequence. I've heard that his presentation of that event is tasteful and artistic. But it also layers a level of abstraction into it, unlike the graphic and gory footage he cherry-picks Iraq.

And of course he won't show you the hundreds and thousands of success stories from the Iraq liberation -- the people rebuilding their nation, with or without American help, the exploration of new freedoms. Not only is it missing from "F9/11," it's absent from Frazier Moore's fawning apotheosis of the film into "news."

"Fahrenheit 9/11," which won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival in May, tackles grand themes with humor, fury and naked partisanship that insists upon a response from the viewer.

And it provides a bracing alternative to the claims for objectivity that reign at TV news outlets (including, naturally, the "fair-and-balanced"-boasting Fox News Channel, whose lack of objectivity is probably its greatest asset). These Big Media news providers have served as Bush administration facilitators ever since his disputed election, declares Moore, a little guy whose message is unmistakably his own.

The slap at Fox News is predictable, for someone who's taken the "F9/11" bait, because Fox News seems to be a main target in that film. Yet a September 2003 academic study, "A Measure of Media Bias," by professors from UCLA, Stanford University, and University of Chicago, used a statistical measure to survey the degree of political leaning in the major media. It found that, "[a]ll of the news outlets except Fox News’ Special Report" leaned well to the left. Fox News’ Special Report, by one of the two measures used in the survey, was "the most centrist" in terms of news coverage (not opinion).

The AP story then goes on to wilder and wilder paeans of MM, "a known quantity, a media force who charts his own path." In fact, he's portrayed as the steady hand at the tiller of a media that has been swallowed up by corporate interests. Gee I guess that explains the NBC News fiasco with the exploding gas tanks. They were serving corporate interests.

As usual, AP puts Web site references at the end of its stories. But in this case there's only one: Moore's Web site.