Thursday, February 24, 2005

And the winner is . . .

With the Oscars about to commence, it is worth noting that Mike Leigh's "Vera Drake" a film about a dowdy middle-aged woman who also happens to be a back-street abortionist in 1950s London, has been nominated for Best Direction, Best Actress, and Best Original Screenplay. What is remarkable about the movie is how Leigh paid to make it: Public funding via the UK Film Council. Established in 2000, the Council uses Lottery money to support the British film industry and movies such as “Vera” that doubtless would have never found funding otherwise. While a number of countries provide government support for provocative and oftentimes critically acclaimed movies to get made (eg. Canada, Australia, etc.) it's unimaginable that public monies would be used to fund anything nearly so controversial in the US, where PBS' "Buster" cartoon series which features a brief appearance by two gay mothers has the Bush Adminstration foaming.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Liberal journalism

Just to get the ball rolling, I thought I'd turn to something I first brought up in my mediaville blog last month: a Columbia Journalism Review, editorial that shows justified concern about the threat to U.S. liberal (and I mean "liberal" in its original - see below - sense) journalism posed by "well-financed bias-busters, slews of books, think tanks, and radio and television icons, all singing" the same song as the recently deceased conservative media critic, Reed Irvine. I suppose they should have been worrying about this 20 or 25 years ago, but oh well ... The editorial goes on to note, almost plaintively, that "Without some rough agreement on what is significant, citizens will not get the intellectually honest debate that citizenship requires." How do we get that agreement? "Journalists, whatever their inner political leanings, must work harder at being honest brokers of information, worthy of respect." Work harder? Doesn't sound terribly promising, does it? And what about those nasty liberal bashers?

    Honest conservatives, meanwhile, should consider a pair of New Year’s resolutions: first, recognize that challenging political power and holding it to account is the legitimate role of the press in a democracy, not some liberal plot. Second, swear off defining any story that is uncomfortable to you as an example of liberal bias. Such a tactic probably won’t work in the long run, anyway. As somebody once noted, facts are stubborn things.

Yes indeedy. Yet unfortunately facts are increasingly anathema to everyone in spin-control Washington - but especially to those on the conservative side. Perhaps the problem is that the very notion of a combative Fourth Estate press is itself a liberal idea - steeped in the values of progressive liberalism as understood by late 18th-century philosophers and at least some of America's Founders, but increasingly derided in today's world. I'm reminded of a chilling comment by Nick Higham, a special correspondent for BBC News 24 (reported in Lori Robertson’s article, "The British invasion," in AJR, December/January 2004 - an article we'll surely return to in future posts). Higham's talking about the Iraq War, but you could apply the reasoning more broadly to the changing national culture:
    I think Americans, particularly conservative Americans, have a problem with the BBC approach because impartiality, which is the BBC’s fundamental watchword, is itself a liberal notion. … And our commitment to impartiality comes out of what is fundamentally a small “l” liberal culture, liberal media culture, in which objectivity, impartiality are thought to be good in themselves and achievable. …. The impression I get is that a lot of Americans just don’t get that …. And to them it’s much more important that the news media are supportive of the national effort, particularly when you go to war” (Robertson, 2003).

My point, I suppose, is that it's a bit crap for CJR to wring their editorial hands and urge journalists to "work harder". What they need is a call to arms! Something stirring to save journalism before it really is too late. On the other hand, maybe I'm wrong; maybe conservative tactics "probably won’t work in the long run" - but they've worked very well for a very long time so far. Now, in case CJR hasn't noticed, Republicans run everything in Washington, DC, and the news media are increasingly joke fodder for Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show". So when are conservative tactics going to stop working?

Well, that should get things up and running.

Monday, February 21, 2005

First test

Let's see if this one works ...