The River

Friday, June 25, 2004

Consider the alternatives

Found a great interview today, courtesy of BuzzFlash, with Robert Kane Pappas, director and producer of the documentary "Orwell Rolls in His Grave." Really a must read.

An excerpt:

BuzzFlash: And Fox knows how to use modern technology to be graphically attractive, visually enticing.

Robert Kane Pappas: They’re brilliant technicians. They know how to move images on the screen and use music. They’re as good as or better than CNN, NBC, they’re tops in that field. There are a lot of very talented editors and graphics people working at Fox.

BuzzFlash: The most basic political technique of the right wing and the Republican party is character assassination. We’ve seen a shift perhaps from the discussion of politics into a dissection of personality. We saw that tellingly, of course, in the Clinton administration, with "Slick Willie" and so forth. Then we saw The New York Times and Washington Post adopt the Republican party attack on Al Gore -- that somehow he was a liar -- without really seriously questioning the massive deception and lies of the Bush campaign in 2000. They have started up with John Kerry, following the Republican line, saying he’s a waffler.

Robert Kane Pappas: If you wrote or sold a product so deceptively, you’d be in jail or out of business.

BuzzFlash: What is it about television? Most of the right wing commentators attack personality and character more than they even attack public policy.

Robert Kane Pappas: But it’s a technique. Some of this is real dark science. I remember in the run-up to the 2000 election, after the first debate -- and I believe it could have been planned because it was worked out so quickly -- one of the networks put together a montage of close ups of Al Gore expressing impatience with Bush’s answers -- exhaling. They strung together these two- and three-second clips. And within hours, on all the news shows the debate centered on Al Gore’s expressions, not the substance of the debate. They were able to absolutely change the discussion from what these guys were talking about, to a discussion about Al Gore’s facial expressions, giving Bush a complete free ride. Bush was barely coherent in the first debate, but it was all about Al Gore. That shows the amazing power of video.

The same thing happened with Dean, when he exhorted his followers following the Iowa Caucuses.


Fitting that I should run across this today, when Michael Moore's documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11", opens in more than 850 theaters across the U.S. We seem to be going through some sort of documentary renaissance.

"Control Room" (about Al Jazeera during the Iraq invasion) and "Supersize Me" (about the evils of fast food) are playing right now in Atlanta. Coming soon is "The Agronomist", a Jonathan Demme-directed film about Haitian national hero Jean Dominique, the journalist and freedom fighter who owned and operated Haiti's only free radio station, and was assassinated in 2000.

Also due out soon is "The Corporation", which examines the power businesses gained when the Fourteenth Amendment was used to designate them "persons." From the link above: "The filmmakers show four examples of corporations at work -- including garment sweatshops in Honduras and Indonesia -- to demonstrate that this ”legal person” is inherently amoral, callous and deceitful. The corporation, the film points out, ignores any social and legal standards to get its way, and does not suffer from guilt while mimicking the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism."

There's also a short documentary by Indymedia featuring journalist Amy Goodman of the Democracy Now! radio show called "Independent Media in a Time of War" (independent from "the corporation"). You can read the transcript online. Here's an interesting bit:

AMY GOODMAN: Why is it if they have these retired generals on the payroll, they don't have peace activists and peace leaders also on the payroll? So let's have the same number of reporters embedded with Iraqi families, let's have reporters embedded in the peace movement all over the world, and maybe then we'll get some accurate picture of what's going on. Aaron Brown had some interesting comments. He said "no", because these generals are analysts. He said he admits they came late to the peace movement. But once the war started those voices are irrelevant because then the war is on.

AARON BROWN: It's just not the relevant question right now.


AARON BROWN: Because it's over. It's on. It's being done.

AMY GOODMAN: I asked him, well how would the Vietnam War have ended then? And do you think we would have seen the most famous picture from the Vietnam War, that picture of the little girl with the Napalm burning all over her? Would we have seen that picture that helped end the war? And he said, "well, of course". I said, "how?". We're seeing these romanticized pictures of soldiers against sunsets and the planes on those aircraft carriers that the embedded photographers are getting at the sunrise hour.

The Newsday reporter who did this profile today asked about my engaging in advocacy in journalism. And I said, "the establishment reporters are my model".

NBC: Revolutionary coverage, the power of NBC news.

AMY GOODMAN: Think about Dan Rather the night that the bombs started falling on Iraq. He said, "Good Morning Baghdad"

DAN RATHER: CBS news has been told...

AMY GOODMAN: And Tom Brokaw said "we don't want to destroy the infrastructure of Iraq because we're going to own it in a few days.

TOM BROKAW: Shock and awe...

AMY GOODMAN: And Peter Jennings was interviewing Chris Cuomo who is a reporter for ABC and he was out on the street, where we were, Times Square, thousands of people in the freezing rain who had come out to protest the war. They had all sorts of signs that were sopping wet and people were trying to keep the umbrellas up and the police charged a part of the crowd. Jennings said to Cuomo "what are they doing out there, what are they saying?" And he said, "well they have these signs that say no blood for oil but when you ask them what that means they seem very confused. I don't think they know why they're out here." I guess they got caught in a traffic jam. Why not have Peter Jennings, instead of asking someone who clearly doesn't understand why they're out there, invite one of them into the studio? And have a discussion like he does with the generals.

NEWS CLIP: It's captivating to watch this technology at work.

AMY GOODMAN: Why don't they also put doctors on the payroll. That way you can have the general talking about the bomb that Lockheed Martin made and the kind of plane that drops it and whether it was precision guided or not. And then you can have the doctor talking about the effect of the bomb. Not for or against the war, just how a cluster bomb enters your skin and what it means when your foot is blown off, if you're lucky and you're not killed. So why not have doctors and generals at least. But this is just to show how low the media has gone.


What else? How about "Waiting for Martin", which professes to be fighting the humour deficit in Canada, as well as the pro-business, cost-cutting agenda of Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, and is said to be inspired by Michael Moore's "Roger and Me."

The Palme d'Or awarded at Cannes to "Fahrenheit 9/11" should inspire a few more filmmakers and accelerate what seems to be a trend. Hopefully. The suppression of information by mass media is forcing it into other outlets. In addition to the new documentaries, we've also seen a flood of non-fiction books exposing the Bush administration. There's also this phenomenon called "blogs."

UPDATE: One more (via American Samizdat): "Thirst", about the rush to privatize water. From the link (an Alternet story):

The grab for corporate control of water is indeed already here in our own backyards. But the conflict over water supplies perhaps most familiar to news-savvy audiences is the place where Thirst goes first: to Cochabamba, Bolivia. After the country auctions off the water system of its third-largest city to U.S.-based Bechtel Corporation in 1999, residents experience water price hikes of 30-300%, and the situation eventually erupts in a cross-class protest that makes headline news worldwide.

By April 2000, the government responds to civil unrest by declaring martial law. Shortly thereafter, Victor Hugo Daza, a 17-year-old peaceful protester, is shot dead in the streets by a government sniper.

Daza's death doesn't quell dissent the way it was intended to. In fact, protests heat up to the point that water consortium execs beat a hasty retreat, and Cochabamba's water system gets handed over to a community-run utility. In an unlikely turn of events, the citizens actually get what they want; water gets treated like a human right, not as the last frontier of the commercialization and privatization of earth's natural resources.

"They're on the defensive in the global South," Kaufman explains. "In many ways, they're ahead of us responding to what's in the near future for all of us."

In point of fact, American cities and towns are the new staging ground for rapid and strategic power plays over who controls water supply. In 2004, 85% of U.S. municipal water systems are publicly owned, with a shocking 15% already in the hands of corporations. Unbeknownst to most residents, municipal governments are being heavily courted in the here and now to turn over control of their water supply to multinational companies like Suez Water, whose U.S. subsidiary took control of Atlanta's water in 1999.

Atlanta? Hey, I don't remember seeing this in the AJC!

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