In a 1958 address that television newsman Edward R. Murrow gave to to a gathering of his fellow broadcast journalists, he warned about the abuse of power perpetrated by a medium that was devolving into "decadence, escapism, and insulation." The film Good Night and Good Luck recreates this speech in its re-enactment of Murrow’s investigation into illegal government activities waged against citizens by Senator Joe McCarthy who conducted a witch-hunt in search of communist infiltrators during the early 1950s. Murrow stood up against William Paley, his boss at CBS, and his show's sponsor, Alcoa Aluminum, to expose government tactics of breeding fear in America. It's obvious that film director/writer/actor George Clooney’s tale resonates today with the current "War on Terror" and the lapdog that corporate media has become in marketing American imperialism.
At least the audiences who saw the film recently at the Naro Cinema considered the parallels obvious. At the end of Good Night, moviegoers walked out of the theater shaking their heads while lamenting the current state of television journalism. I heard comments such as "Where is our Edward R. Murrow today when we need him?" I expected the movie to catalyze a rash of self-critical analysis on op-ed pages concerning corporate media serving their own profit-driven interest rather than fulfilling its commitment to serve the public interest. And maybe there would be a few articles calling into question the consolidation of media giants into a handful of companies that determine just what news reaches us. After all, media conglomerates Disney, General Electric, News Corp, Sony, Times Warner, and Viacom control the big four networks, most cable channels, and vast holdings in radio, publishing, movie studios, music, and the internet.
This self-examination by the media never happened on the editorial pages of the mainstream press. Other than a few published reviews of Good Night (including Portfolio critic Greg Epps' incisive review of the film), it seems only the movie-going audience was discussing the continuing erosion of a free press. So where can we find critical analysis? WHRV–FM carries on Tuesday mornings at 11:00 a.m. the excellent program Counterspin produced by media watchdog FAIR. And Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now has been picked up by WNSB-FM on weekday mornings at 10:00 a.m. These programs confirm that media has become even worse than anything Murrow had warned us about. Locally, our television news and political coverage continues to deteriorate and The Tribune Company recently announced that they were laying off reporters at the Newport News Daily Press, even though the newspaper chain is reporting good profits.
But there is a noticeable change in the wind, as more of us get our news from alternative sources: indy media, small newspapers, and independent movie houses. Non-fiction films made by socially conscious filmmakers are again making the local neighborhood theater an important media outlet and a resource for building community and grassroots activism. Important websites like www.truthout.org and www.alternet.org offer more news and analysis than one can have time to read. The fact that you’re reading my opinion in a publication owned by a medium sized media company gives evidence that a few Murrows can still be found in key editorial positions and as long as ad revenue remains good, we'll still get to have an alternative voice. Filmmaker Michael Moore refers to this as the greed factor and it allows him to get huge audiences for his controversial films while working within a conservative corporate media system.
Communism is no longer the threat to democracy that was once perceived. Capitalism may have won the cold war but the centralized, anti-democratic forces that we once feared are now emanating from within our own economic system. We've allowed the activities of multinationals to be protected by corporate law so that they need not swear allegiance to any government or people, only to the bottom line. And so they're able to profit from war, environmental destruction, animal torture, and human-rights abuses.
It's up to all of us to unplug ourselves from this unsustainable system, to relocalize our economies, to network among ourselves, and to exercise our democratic rights. You can join us in this conversation by sending an e-mail to email@example.com and indicate if you want to get on the Enlightened Cinema e-mail list and/or join our web news group, GaiaCircle.
Tench Phillips 3d is co-owner of Naro Expanded Cinema in Norfolk.
The Best New Movies That You’ll Never See (on television)
These are recent films that premiered at NARO Cinema during one of the following programs: Green Screen Film Festival, Cinema for a Sustainable Future, Festival for Peace, or New Non-Fiction Film. As these films become available on DVD, you’ll find them for rental at NARO Video. Just don’t look for them to show up on any of the hundreds of commercial cable and satellite channels, since the messages in these films present a conflict of interest for their corporate advertisers.
Because a corporation has been granted constitutional rights as a legal person, exactly what kind of a person is it? This entertaining film is anything but dry and convincingly makes the case that the large, modern corporation is a psychopathic personality. Available at www.thecorporation.com
The Future of Food
Since the 1980s, agri-business giants like Monsanto have been patenting lifeforms by genetically modifying organisms in order to control the planet’s food supply. This is a nightmare scenario of suicide genes, science hijacked by corporate interests, and corporate lawsuits against small farmers world-wide. And it all happened without the public's knowledge or consent. Available at www.thefutureoffood.com
The Great Warming
Irrefutable facts are presented about global climate change that have mankind’s fingerprints all over them. The film explores ingenious remedial actions by governments world-wide with the exception of the US, the world’s leading greenhouse gas producer.
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
The inside story of the greatest business scandal of the last century reveals the connections between corporate chiefs and their friends in the Bush administration that allowed them to get away with it.
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
Hugo Chavez, the democratically elected president of Venezuela, survived a 48-hour coup orchestrated by the oil and television oligarchies, during which the people took to the streets to protest against the new and illegal US-backed dictatorship. An Irish film crew that happened to be filming in the presidential palace documented the thrilling events up close and personal.
Two young, penniless citizen activists are sued under British law by McDonald’s for leafleting in front of one of their stores and after a ten-year-long court case that the company eventually loses, the precedent of freedom of speech in Europe is transformed.
Living sentient beings have become just another industrial commodity in a cruel factory farm industry that tortures our animals and in the process de-humanizes us. The heroic efforts of the members of The Farm Sanctuary are recorded as they rescue diseased and dying animals from dead heaps at slaughterhouses and return them to a life on a traditional family farm. Available at www.tribeofheart.org
The True Costs of Food
When the ecological costs of environmental degradation and adverse human health are factored into a centralized system of plant and animal production and distribution, the price of supermarket groceries goes way, way up in this entertaining animated short film. Available at www.truecostsoffood.org
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism
This is an inquiry into the consolidation of corporate media, the silencing of diverse viewpoints, the marketing of war, and the erosion of rights in the public interest. Available at www.outfoxed.org
Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price
Americans don't even realize how much they've lost in exchange for cheap consumer goods from China. Film crews on three continents show the human costs of globalization and the corporate assault on families and communities in this country. Available at www.walmartmovie.com
Caught in the Crossfire: The Untold Story of Fallujah
Iraqi and American filmmakers document the destruction of the city of Fallujah and the resulting civilian casualties of war in this short film. The journalists who made the film aren't in bed with the military, so their story is different from that seen on corporate television. Available at www.conceptionmedia.net
Oil on Ice
The last great US oil field inconveniently lies underneath the fragile birthing grounds of the largest migrating caribou herd in North America, within the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. It's teetering on the verge of being plundered in order to give more profits to oil companies who will sell off the oil to China. If this film were to find an audience, there would be a better future for the caribou and a less secure one for many politicians. Available at www.oilonice.org
The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream
Will the high cost of energy drive oil addicted America into fascism or can we make a speedy transition to a new era of clean, renewable resources? Available at www.endofsuburbia.com