Friday, April 15, 2016

The media, power & justice: Docfactory/Jean-Philippe Tremblay's SHADOWS OF LIBERTY

SHADOWS OF LIBERTY, the 2012 documentary credited to DOCFACTORY and Jean-Philippe Tremblay (shown below), begins with a barrage of statements against our current U.S. media with no identification of any of the speakers. This is off-putting, but hang on: Post the opening-credits sequence, identification begins, and those speakers are an impressive lot. Ditto what they have to say -- all of which centers around the manner in which our mainstream media, whenever the corporate power that owns it is wielded, consistently works against transparency and truth.

We see this via a number of instances in which corporate power trumps the news. Roberta Baskin looks back on how CBS News covered (and then didn't) the NIKE employee abuse story. As an example of one of the "black holes" of journalism, we peruse again, via Kristina Borjesson, the infamous TWA flight 800 plane explosion, along with the cover-up that followed. This remains one of the sleaziest chapters in a history chock full of them.

We get some other good history, too: How, during the 1930s, the idea of for-profit took over the airways, leading to the more than 236 billion dollars per year that the media currently (or at least back in 2012, when this doc was made) brings in via advertising. Which, in turn, is why between 40 and 70 percent of what is considered "news" today comes not from actual reporting but from the work of corporate public relations.

We revisit one of the saddest chapters in American journalism history with Gary Webb and his story of how the CIA and the Contras helped sponsor America's crack cocaine "epidemic." (See Kill the Messenger, if you haven't already.) We hear about the Telecom Act and then the mergers -- one after another after another -- that followed this further encroachment on media accountability and responsibility. And then, of course, there was 9/11 and the lies (hugely bolstered by most of our media) that took us into Iraq and the resulting forever-quagmire.

Whistle-blowing? Oh, yes. Here's the tale of Sibel Edmonds and how she uncovered the Marc Grossman conversations with the Turks involving nuclear secrets, and was then fired for her trouble. And finally we have NBC's wondrous would-be "reality" series, To Catch a Predator -- surely some kind of nadir in the annals of television. (Oh  please: There are now so many that we've quite understandably lost count.)

For those of us who follow media, none of this will be news. But taken together, as it is here, what emerges is enough to maker an intelligent viewer despair at the state of our nation's journalism. (See Spotlight to have a modicum of that faith restored.) One might wish for more current events from this movie, but then again, it was made back in 2012 and researched a good deal prior to then. And almost everything we see and hear in the documentary remains as true and still as "under-reported" today as it was at the time it was"news,"

Two statements from this documentary remain particularly timely and important: "Our country was founded on the idea that if you give citizens the information they need, they can govern themselves." And "If we want the U.S. media to be better, we have to fight for this."  Amen.

From Bullfrog Films and distributed by Icarus Films, Shadows of Liberty comes with two versions on one disc: the theatrical version running 93 minutes and a shorter "classroom" version running just 53 minutes. 


Unknown said...

James, thanks for the great review of Shadows oF Liberty.

The correct company name for the original distributor is Bullfrog Films,

James van Maanen said...

OMG--so sorry about this. I am mixing up my frogs with dogs.
Anyway, I have now changed the name and the link.
And thank you so much for pointing out the mistake!