Tuesday, August 30, 2005

With Friends Like These...

In all the accusations of PBS's liberal bias and the right-wing criticism of Bill Moyers, I never heard any mention of "Washington's Other Scandal," a Frontline episode, hosted by Moyers, that presented compelling and shocking evidence of campaign finance abuses in both parties, with a particularly sharp focus on Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign.

A PBS synopsis of the program includes the following:

In his 1992 campaign, Bill Clinton vowed to clean up the country's campaign money system. However, in his 1996 re-election campaign, he ran one of the most reckless fund-raising operations in the history of American politics. The story is told through candid interviews with former Clinton political consultant Dick Morris, former White House deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes and former DNC Chairman Donald Fowler all of whom were caught up in the fundraising frenzy. In addition, this FRONTLINE report uses White House videotapes - never meant to be seen by the public - to reveal the private conversations at intimate fundraising dinners and the infamous White House coffees.

Of course, Republican campaign finance abuses came under the program's scrutiny as well, which may explain why Kenneth Tomlinson and his ilk would prefer to keep this excellent bit of TV journalism under the rug.

(Also available on Blogcritics.org.)

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Review: The Aristocrats

By now it's no mystery that The Aristocrats, the documentary film by Paul Provenaza and Penn Jillette, is relentlessly, gleefully vulgar. The film is an extended deconstruction of a classic joke, presented in various forms by an impressive roster of stand-up comics and comedic actors who riff on the joke's core theme.

That the film works as a comedy has little to do with the joke itself. Rather, the big laughs the film delivers are fueled by the palpable sense of guilty pleasure the performers exhibit in their extemporaneous philosophical exploration of the boundaries of moral and cultural taboos of the sort that throughout history have gotten people burned as witches, thrown in jail, locked up in asylums, fired from their jobs as middle school gym teachers and clergymen, or courted by Jerry Springer's scouts.

While the film is not overtly political, the issue of free speech lingers in the periphery. But if Lenny Bruce's crusade was about free speech, THE ARISTOCRATS is about something more. The film is a celebration of the gratuitous use of foul language, an act of profound political subversion in itself. If such language is indeed a threat to the national moral fiber, then this film is a sign of the coming apocalypse.

But anyone who ever attended junior high was exposed to language at least as awful, if not more so, than the language presented in The Aristocrats. And most of us have grown up to become responsible citizens who rarely use that kind of language, usually only after slamming a car door on a thumb or when describing an IRS auditor.

If an American apocalypse is in the cards, it won't happen because people laugh at THE ARISTOCRATS, or use bad language, or tell astonishingly filthy jokes. It will happen because what passes for political discourse in this country perpetuates a cultural and political mythology that brands liberals as traitors, conservatives as fascists, Christians as the American Taliban, and dozens of other equally offensive Red State/Blue State, black/white, rich/poor stereotypes. The real fiber of this country is lost as the language of 21st century American politics erases the middle ground and pulls the plug on mutual respect and the thoughtful consideration of opposing ideas.

Language is powerful, and words matter. But The Aristocrats gives one pause to consider what kind of language is truly offensive and which words pose the greatest threat to the American way of life. For that reason, this unabashedly vile, uncomfortably funny film is well worth seeing. You may blush, you will squirm, but you will emerge undamaged, and probably in a better mood than when you entered the theater.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Citizen Journalists

Citizen journalism was prominent among the topics under discussion at last night's Cleveland Weblogger's Meet-Up (several members of the group are conducting a series of interviews of Cleveland mayoral candidates).

How timely, then, that the latest Poynter E-Media Tidbits newsletter should include this brief post on the very same topic. The post references a report from Clyde Bently of the Missouri School of Journalism, in which Bentley asserts that, "Readers and potential contributors are not interested in a rehash of events and issues that are already covered by the city's other news media. Rather, they are interested in issues that go largely ignored on the nightly news."

Is this editorial gap a function of faulty assumptions on the part of mainstream media about what the audience wants, or is it a result of decisions made by those who control the media about what they want the audience to see?

Either way, citizen journalism is drawing the same sort of attention from MSM news outlets that P2P file sharing continues to draw from the music industry.

(Also available on Blogcrtiics.org.)