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See the Bush in 30 Seconds Ad produced by Mike Cuenca.


Michael Moore is a journalist, even if he doesn't claim to be.  
By Mike Cuenca | July 20, 2004
Throughout the mainstream media coverage of Fahrenheit 9/11, we're told that the movie is Moore's "opinion." But Moore's movie is journalism; a documentary, as surely as any documentary ever made. It's a journalistic presentation of factual historical information. But, as is often done by those who are reason-deficient, these critics are exaggerating a grain of truth and using it to generalize about a message they oppose or are afraid of.

The grain of truth in this instance is that Moore's film contains some statements of his opinions and those of some of our soldiers, citizens and elected officials. But those statements of opinion are a tiny fraction of the information presented in the film. The solid foundation of Moore's film—presented in support of the opinions—is proven, undisputable factual information that has been and is available to journalists worldwide. In fact, throughout the film, mainstream U.S. journalists are themselves providing the statements of fact in archival news footage. And the majority of the information presented comes directly out of the mouths of George W. Bush and his closest associates.

Every "documentary" we watch, whether it's a feature-length motion picture like Fahrenheit 9/11, or a one-minute news segment on the CBS Evening News, is presented from one perspective or point-of-view, depending on the producer. I'd guess most people understand that reporters look for "angles" when covering the news. Journalists are taught to analyze the information available and then to look at it from different "angles" to develop a coherent and—hopefully—logical description of the story.

If Moore's angle or perspective or point-of-view is different than the perspectives or conventional wisdom of mainstream journalists, that makes him no less a journalist. He's merely done what all journalists do: present a particular set of facts in a particular order and association, to show another way of looking at the story—another "angle" on the story.

However, there is a distinct and important difference between Moore's presentation and the presentations of "journalism" in the Wall Street Journal or the Today Show or the Nightly News: Moore acknowledges that he's speaking from his personal perspective, to produce a particular reaction from viewers. Conversely, the mainstream journalists of our era are in denial of their biases and hide behind the myth of "objectivity." In extreme cases, illustrated most effectively by Fox News, they actually claim to be "fair and balanced" when in truth they are unabashed proponents of a particular, ideology-driven point of view.

"Objectivity" is a myth because, generally, human beings aren't objective. How many people do you know that really see things without any bias or prejudice or preconception? People don't automatically become objective by becoming a newspaper reporter or network news anchor. Their personal perspectives and self-interests always, naturally, affect their "angles."

The respectable goal of "balance" in our presentations of news has been perverted and distorted. In a physical sense, a balance is a scale, such as the scales used by merchants or as a symbol of justice. Scales work on the principle that you take objects that vary in size, shape and weight, or facts that vary in importance or significance and then place them on one side or another of the scale until the two sides "balance," or come to an equal position. And sometimes the scale simply won't balance because you can't put enough objects or facts on one side to counter the "weight" of the objects or facts on the other side. For example, if you put a one-ton boulder on one side of a scale and use only feathers for the other side, you may never succeed in creating a balance. One side is obviously more powerful and weighty than the other.

Too often in journalism today, though, when the facts and circumstances placed in the balance tilt heavily to the side opposite conventional wisdom or the official establishment position, journalists nonetheless favor the weaker side and say that they're being "balanced" simply because they may have mentioned the alternative possibilities. But it's not a simple balance of consideration we should seek, because not all facts are equal in significance and import. We should seek a reasoned premise or conclusion based on the results of attempting to balance the facts, the results of weighing the facts.

For example, as we consider the various reasons we may be fighting a war in a country that has some of the largest reserves of oil in the world, we place on one side of the scale the fact that our current president is an oil-company executive from an oil company family. We add to that side the fact that the people who have given him the most money for his political campaigns are the executives of oil and energy companies. We add to that side the fact that our vice president is the recently semi-retired CEO of an oil production services company. We add to that side the fact that our president and his family has long-standing, financially interdependent relationships with other powerful oil company families in the region where we just happen to be waging a war. On the other side of the scale, the only counterbalances we can place against those facts aren't even facts, they are simply the self-serving and unrealistic statements by the president and the vice president that they're not affected by their personal interest in oil when making policy. Of course, we also place on that side of the scale our own desperate hope that our president would not allow his personal interests to affect his foreign policy decisions. So, on the one side, we have facts and circumstances, while on the other side, we have only the assurances of our president and vice president and our hope—or "faith," if you will. Consequently, the side that leans toward an indication that we're fighting a war for oil in the Middle East weighs a lot more heavily than the side that could counter that indication.

Unfortunately, though, too many journalists refuse to accept that imbalance of evidence and what it indicates. Even though, in this particular example, there is much more reason to believe that our president is allowing his personal interests to affect the foreign policies of our nation, journalists are telling us there's no way that could be possible. Even journalists we might consider more "liberal" are discounting that possibility. Because this type of journalism is heavily reliant on self-serving assurances and hope, we could call it "faith-based" journalism. And this faith-based journalism can be detected in too many subjects and stories presented by the mainstream media.

Where we really need a balance in journalism is in our skepticism. In the modern practice of journalism, the vast majority of journalists are extremely critical and skeptical about anything that questions the status quo; that may come from what they consider the left or from people or sources they consider "liberal". Conversely, they accept with little skepticism or critique the statements and spin that they're fed by the people they see as "conservative" or as being on the right.

The mainstream media ignored and/or downplayed nearly every "angle" presented in Fahrenheit 9/11. I think it's pretty easy to see that they're now hoping to discredit the movie because it serves to remind us of their own failure to present alternate perspectives on the news and to thereby effectively serve democracy. But when mainstream journalists criticize Moore for only telling one side of the story, they're damning themselves, because if he's guilty of telling only one side of the story and those other journalists didn't tell that side of the story, they're equally guilty of one-sided journalism.


 


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