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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

GOP 'Media Fairness Caucus' Not Really About Media Fairness

TPt9/11 ad imagery
Entertainment critic Tom Shales wrote in the Washington Post, "Factually shaky, politically inflammatory and photographically a mess, The Path to 9/11 -- ABC's two-part, five-hour miniseries tracing events leading up to the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- has something not just to offend everyone but also to depress them." This won't be the first or the last time I admit to liking bad reviews better than good ones. A writer doesn't often go out of their way to really get you to understand how great something is, but their creative juices really flow when they try to get you to appreciate just how mindnumbingly awful something is. Maybe it's the need to punish a movie, TV show, CD, whatever for wasting the reviewer's time, but the best writing is almost always in the worst reviews.

And Shales is the master of the bad review; TPt9/11's camera work "isn't cinematography; it's vivisection." Aired in 2006 (September 10-11, of course), the miniseries itself was a "grueling assault... on the senses that may also be an assault on the truth." In short, it was pretty bad.

But the problem most had with it was that it wasn't its artistic merit, but its historical accuracy -- it didn't have any. Written and produced by a group of conservatives, it portrayed the Bush administration as nearly faultless and the Clinton White House as bumbling bureaucrats. Events that never happened were presented as fact -- at one point, Sandy Berger pulls a squad who has Osama Bin Laden in their sights, supposedly because Berger couldn't get authorization to take the shot. In another scene, Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright refuses to fire missiles at Bin Laden for the same reason. It wasn't true, but ABC defended the scenes as "dramatizations" -- The Path to 9/11 was fictionalized, which meant it'd have a lot of stuff that wasn't true, but was dramatic. ABC sent advance copies to and held pre-screenings for right wing bloggers and people like Rush Limbaugh. Albright and Berger requested advance copies, but never received them. TPt9/11 was, without any doubt, right wing propaganda and was sent and shown in advance only to those who could be relied on to praise its accuracy and historical importance. The fact that it aired in the fall of an election year wasn't lost on many. Maybe if it hadn't sucked so bad, the Democrats wouldn't have won so many seats. I'm not sure anyone other than conservatives even watched it.

But that was then, this is now. When they aired TPt9/11, ABC was the finest network ever to grace American airwaves. At least, if you asked someone on the right. "Unlike the tone of too much of our reporting on terrorism, where anyone who fights terrorism is depicted as either assembling naked Muslim pyramids if in Iraq, or listening to Grandma's phone calls if at home, this film treats the fight against terror as deadly business, and not just deadly business but a noble struggle for the survival of our nation," wrote right wing "media watchdog" Brent Bozell.

Now ABC is the worst network ever to abuse the airwaves. Yesterday, the newly-formed Media Fairness Caucus, a group of Republican congress members worried about "liberal media bias," sent a letter [PDF] to ABC's President David Westin:

Health care reform is an extremely complex issue involving one of the largest sectors of the economy. Directly or indirectly, it will touch the lives of all Americans. The decision by ABC News officials to devote an entire day, June 24, to the "President's health care agenda" culminating with a primetime healthcare "town hall" gives the American people a slanted view of an important subject.

The manner in which the news programming is being presented -- at the White House with the President and First Lady and without opposition -- is unprofessional and contrary to the journalistic code of ethics to present the news fairly and independently. This is a not [sic] a Presidential news conference open to all news outlets. This is an exclusive arrangement from which the President and his viewpoint stand to gain. It's as if ABC News is providing in-kind free advertising for President Obama...

It goes on like that. To give you an idea of how seriously you can take these people, consider that the caucus was put together by Republican Sen. Lamar Smith, who once said, "The greatest threat to America is a liberal media bias." Forget terrorism, our big problem is people like Rachel Maddow. So feel free to take them as seriously as you would that statement.

For his part, Westin blows off the letter and the caucus, calling Republican protestations about tonight's programming a "sorry spectacle."

"Unfortunately, [Republicans] have found it appropriate to criticize a program that has not yet aired," he wrote back. "Contrary to your assertions, this will not be 'slanted' in any way – much less a 'day-long infomercial' or 'in-kind free advertising' as you allege."

If only there were some way for dissenting opinions to be heard on broadcast programming... Maybe some requirement or something. Maybe some sort of "media fairness" thingy would be what Republicans like Lamar Smith are looking for...

Media Fairness Brief, issued by the office of Lamar Smith, 6/3/09:

Thousands Sign Petition to Protect Free Speech

Nearly 400,000 Americans have signed a petition to protect free speech and oppose the reinstatement of the so-called Fairness Doctrine, according the Free Speech Alliance (FSA).

The FSA delivered the petitions to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging them to allow a stand-alone floor vote on the Broadcaster Freedom Act, which would prevent reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine.

The FSA is made up of 67 organizations representing millions of Americans dedicated to defending free speech against a return of the Fairness Doctrine or any other assault on the First Amendment and talk radio.

All the fairness doctrine does is require broadcasters to set aside time for dissenting opinion -- like letters to the editor in the newspaper. It's not equal time and the only reason it you could call it an "assault" on talk radio is because they'd have to let people on the air to point out all the BS. As it is now, they just hang up on you. If Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity were fact-checked on their own shows, it'd be harder to fool all the chumps they're fooling now.

So Smith's "Media Fairness Caucus" isn't about media fairness -- he's against that. He's for both sides of the story when his isn't the side being presented (and, frankly, there's no evidence at all that it won't be). If it's something like The Path to 9/11, well that's just fine.

ABC's Westin calls Smith's caucus's letter "political high theatre, to be used to gain votes or energize political bases or simply to raise funds."

"I would have thought that a subject as important as the health care received by the American people would rise above this sorry spectacle," he said. "Our citizens need and deserve more."

We do and, if hypocrites like Lamar Smith and the Republican party have anything to say about it, we won't get it.


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