(Host) Commentator Traci Griffith recently went to see the documentary “Farenheit 9/11” and the film prompted some thoughts on the role of America’s news organizations.
(Griffith) “Fahrenheit 9-11,” Michael Moore’s much anticipated, albeit controversial, documentary film was released to the public on June 25, 2004. As the only film in Cannes Film Festival history to warrant a press conference after being awarded its top prize, this small film now carries the torch held earlier this year by Mel Gibson’s “The Passion.” Moore’s film was discussed, discounted, heralded and vilified even before its release. Now, as with “The Passion,” the public can see the film and make up its own mind about the veracity of the film’s content.
Moore’s message is unapologetically straightforward: President Bush and his administration lied to the American people and concocted a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein to justify our presence in Iraq. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Moore’s perspective on the Iraq War and the Bush administration, we must all agree that this film does present an interesting viewpoint on the media’s role in the war.
Moore is unhappy with the media’s failure to question and challenge the administration’s decision to send our young men and women into Iraq. In Moore’s opinion, when the Bush administration suggested a connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq, the media failed to require proof of the connection and instead perpetuated the air of “patriotism” that discouraged dissent. In this, Moore is not alone. When we read of the Washington Post’s ombudsman questioning the Post’s coverage of the war, we cannot help but wonder what vital information was and continues to be omitted from the coverage of this war.
The First Amendment grants freedom of the press. However, every right has a corresponding responsibility. Freedom of the press was granted to create a balance of power between those who govern and those who are governed. The press is supposed to challenge the government and question its decisions in order to ensure that those who govern do so in the interest of the populace. Because of this purpose, the press should be held accountable for what it reports and how it reports the news.
However, the Bush administration did not create the media problem that Moore identifies in his film. It has come to be that the mass media and the information disseminated from it, is in the hands of very few. These few can advance their own agendas and can be easily dissuaded from advancing any other. In this culture of celebrity and fame, we cannot forget that the purpose of the press is not to run a 24-hour news cycle or to highlight J.Lo’s next marriage. It is to ensure that those in power are held to a high standard and we in turn must hold the press to a higher standard.
Traci Griffith is a professor of journalism at Saint Michael’s College.