Friday, February 10, 2006

Mark Lawson's attack on George Clooney

Whenever a radical or critical movie intrudes into the endless dross, media commentators can be found to criticise it as 'one sided'. Thus Tony Parsons, ghastly Thatcherite turned ghastly Blairite, wriggled and squirmed on Newsnight Review over Le Carre's Constant Gardner, admitting that pharmaceutical multinationals probably did do terrible things, but this film was, after all, just too one-sided.

According to Mark Lawson in today's London Guardian, George Clooney, arch-patriot in the wake of 9/11, has become Hollywood's leading anti-Bush critic. Of his two new movies, Syriana is about oil, assassination and the CIA, while Good Night and Good Luck is about legendary American TV journalist Ed Murrow, who came to fame reporting the London Blitz, but went on to become a campaigning commentator who fought against McCarthyism when it was dangerous to do so, and became increasingly critical of the Vietnam war.

According to Lawson while Syriana is just the usual leftwing stuff you might expect from Michael Moore (and thus by implication to be instantly dismissed), Good Night and Good Luck is more interesting because it explores the question of partisanship in journalism, implying that the US media lies down in front of authority, and ought to stand up to Bush and rightwing corporate America.

This is what offends Mark Lawson. While careful to point out that no news or TV journalism can claim to be totally 'impartial' (for example saying that a programme which gives equal time to the three main UK parties is making assumption about which parties are important and worth reporting), he finally comes up with the bog standard liberal canard that what we need is not more opinion, but more reporting!

In fact, as Lawson himself tacitly admits, nearly everything we watch on TV news and current affairs programmes is filtered - through the lens of what is acceptable to TV editors and executives. In the US, with some minor exceptions (and of course the admirable TV and webcast Democracy Now!) virtually everything is from an implicitly right-wing perspective. But internationally some of the best TV reporting is openly partisan, and its admits its partisan in favour of the truth and justice - the work of John Pilger comes to mind.

Opinion isn't what's ruining American broadcasting, it's the fact that it's the opposite of democratic - mainly representing one corporate CNN-Fox News rightwing viewpoint, backed up by increasingly insane rightwing 'shock-jocks' on the radio.

Mark Lawson says we need 'more reporting'. But, for example, we have loads of reporting from Iraq - it just doesn't tell us what's really happening because its controlled and 'embedded', and often willingly so. A diversity of open political commentary - really diverse - would be a sign of more democratic openings. Mark Lawson's position is really a more sophisticated version of the 'objective reporting is what we need' line. And what he's doing is really launching an attack on a critical movie voice, which in Newsnight Review discussions on Michael Moore he's shown that he's really uncomfortable with. Openly politicising the arts was always uncomfortable for the liberal critic who finds such things, finally, seamy and distasteful.


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