(Host) Want to get the news? Commentator Allen Gilbert wonders why so many folks seem to be going to the movies these days to find out what’s happening in the world.
(Gilbert) It is a strange phenomenon that in this election year, we seem to be getting most of our news from the movies.
First there was “Fahrenheit 911,” the Michael Moore movie about the terrorist attacks and the Iraqi war. Then there was “Outfoxed,” about the Fox News network. “Control Room” came along. That’s about the Middle Eastern news network, Al Jezeerah. The latest is “Orwell Rolls in His Grave,” which premiered last week in Vermont and other select locations.
How is it that so many people seem to be turning to films to inform themselves about political developments and current events? “Fahrenheit 911” has attracted record crowds across the country. It’s won international awards.
The answer to the popularity of these films might lie in “Orwell.” “Orwell” is about the consolidation of the news media, and how that’s affected news reporting.
The Vermont showing was special. It was hosted by Congressman Bernie Sanders, who is featured prominently in the film. Joining Sanders at a campaign fundraiser the other week was the producer and director of the film, — Pappas.
“Orwell” paints a chilling picture of the news we don’t get — and of the distortions of the news that we do get. Pappas draws on passages from George Orwell’s book “1984” as a sort of Greek chorus to set the scene for various segments and to give the film a narrative consistency. The technique is very effective.
“Orwell” tells of the effort by the FCC to make it easier for big news conglomerates to become bigger, by relaxing rules on media market monopolies. It looks at the 2000 presidential election, and offers convincing arguments that at the very least the full story was never reported. Gore may very well have won Florida decisively, and therefore should have won the election hands down. “Orwell” also reaches back to the 1980 election, when there was evidence that the Reagan campaign made secret deals with the Iranians and undermined the Carter administration’s efforts to have the hostages released.
“Orwell” runs the risk of appearing like a conspiracy theorist’s dream. You find yourself constantly shaking your head and asking, Can this be true? Can even a smidgeon of this be true?
I’m convinced that at least a shred of it is true. It is clear that the major news media — both broadcast and print — have let us down in recent years, especially in the reporting of the Iraq war. The country’s premier newspaper, “The New York Times,” has had to apologize for its slipshod war reporting. Fox News is widely accepted as a cheerleader for the Bush administration and the war effort. Looking back on the war, why would we ever think reporting on the war by any media outlet would be “fair and balanced” when reporters were “embedded” with the U.S. troops engaged in the war?
I have come to rely on news magazines for insightful reports from Iraq and the Middle Eastern. The “New Yorker”, especially, has broken the most significant ground in war-reporting. Much of the credit goes to veteran journalist Seymour Hersh. Jane Mayer also deserves mention, for her domestic political reporting. Mayer once worked at the “Rutland Herald.”
The “Atlantic”, a monthly, has also run thought-provoking pieces that synthesize and analyze complicated, sometimes conflicting, bits of information.
Go see “Orwell.” It might frighten you, it will probably anger you. But you’ll never watch, listen, or read the news in quite the same way. That alone is worth the price of admission.
This is Allen Gilbert.
Allen Gilbert is a former journalist, teacher and consultant currently serving as executive director of the ACLU of Vermont. He has a longtime interest in public policy issues.