Thorough new UCLA study finds U.S. media more left-wing than previously thought

December 19, 2005

CONTENTS

1. Major new impartial study finds 18 of top 20 U.S. media outlets have left-wing bias
2. Only Fox News’ “Special Report,” and The Washington Times score right of center
3. Even The Wall Street Journal news pages lean left
4. UCLA says “numerous safeguards taken” to ensure accuracy in its study
5. Good Luck, George Clooney
6. “Media bias is real, finds UCLA political scientist” (UCLA News, Dec. 14, 2005)
7. “Journalism, Hollywood-style” (By Terry Teachout, Commentary, Dec. 2005)



MAJOR NEW IMPARTIAL STUDY FINDS:
18 OF TOP 20 U.S. MEDIA OUTLETS HAVE LEFT-WING BIAS

[Note by Tom Gross]

It is an open secret among journalists (though still not realized by much of the public) that many media professionals allow their political opinions to cloud what they often present as straight news reporting, and that in the vast majority of cases, those political opinions are left-wing.

Such accusations of bias are nothing new, and therefore I don’t often send them on this list. However, worthy of note is a very thorough new study, undertaken over the last three years by professors from UCLA (in California), using a team of 21 research assistants all over America. The report, which was released on Friday and is published in the new issue of the “Quarterly Journal of Economics,” finds that the left-wing slant among journalists in the American media is much greater than previously thought.

Of the 20 major American media outlets studied, 18 scored left of center, with CBS’ “Evening News,” The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times ranking second, third and fourth most liberal.

ONLY FOX NEWS’ “SPECIAL REPORT,” AND THE WASHINGTON TIMES SCORE RIGHT OF CENTER

Only Fox News’ “Special Report With Brit Hume” and The Washington Times scored right of the average U.S. voter. Of the print media, USA Today was nearest to the center according to the study, though still slightly to the left.

The most centrist TV news programs (although again slightly to the left) proved to be the “NewsHour With Jim Lehrer,” CNN’s “NewsNight With Aaron Brown” (which has recently been ditched by CNN), and ABC’s “Good Morning America”.

EVEN THE WALL STREET JOURNAL NEWS PAGES

Also of note is that those few media with conservative-leading opinion pages, such as The Wall Street Journal, score left-of-center in their news pages indeed, in the case of the Journal, even to the left of the average American Democrat.

One result that may surprise some conservatives is that National Public Radio (NPR), is not as left-wing as many private news media.

UCLA SAYS “NUMEROUS SAFEGUARDS TAKEN” TO ENSURE ACCURACY IN ITS STUDY

The UCLA-led study is believed to be the first attempt at objectively quantifying bias in a range of media outlets and ranking them accordingly.

UCLA says: “The researchers took numerous steps to safeguard against bias or the appearance of same in the work, which took close to three years to complete. They also sought no outside funding, a rarity in scholarly research.”

Below, I attach a news release about the report from UCLA. (The full report can be found on pdf at www.polisci.ucla.edu/faculty/groseclose/Media.Bias.pdf.)

Interestingly the mainstream (left-wing) media have not so far written at all about UCLA findings against them, according to a thorough Google search I have undertaken today.

News reporting, of course, should be neither left nor right-wing, but strive for balance; opinion should be left to the opinion pages.

It is probably because of the left-wing slant of mainstream media that right-wing talk radio and blogs have gained such enormous audiences in recent years.

It should be noted that the UCLA survey covered American news reporting in general, and the left-wing bias of non-American media (such as the BBC) is considerably greater, and greater still when it comes to covering pet hates of many journalists, such as the state of Israel.

GOOD LUCK, GEORGE CLOONEY

The second piece attached below (“Journalism, Hollywood-Style”) by Terry Teachout in this month’s Commentary magazine, notes that: “There has always been something faintly silly about Hollywood’s worshipful portrayal of journalists. With the exception of such cynical comedies as Howard Hawks’s His Girl Friday (1940), most American movies purporting to show journalism as it is take for granted the trustworthiness and good intentions of the average reporter. Not surprisingly, these films are usually the work of outsiders who know nothing about the daily workings of newspapers, magazines, or TV news divisions.”

Teachout, a leading cultural critic, outlines liberal Hollywood’s historic portrayal of how it believes American news reporting has been accurate. The most recent is George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck. Teachout writes: “Clooney, the latest of Hollywood’s Left-liberal actors to go behind the camera and make politically oriented films of his own, has added to the mix a more telling form of idealization: in this movie, he also becomes the latest Hollywood director to make a film in which the truth about American Communism is deliberately falsified.”

-- Tom Gross



FULL ARTICLES

MEDIA BIAS IS REAL, FINDS UCLA POLITICAL SCIENTIST

Media bias is real, finds UCLA political scientist
UCLA News release
December 14, 2005

www.newsroom.ucla.edu/page.asp?RelNum=6664

While the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal is conservative, the newspaper’s news pages are liberal, even more liberal than The New York Times. The Drudge Report may have a right-wing reputation, but it leans left. Coverage by public television and radio is conservative compared to the rest of the mainstream media. Meanwhile, almost all major media outlets tilt to the left.

These are just a few of the surprising findings from a UCLA-led study, which is believed to be the first successful attempt at objectively quantifying bias in a range of media outlets and ranking them accordingly.

“I suspected that many media outlets would tilt to the left because surveys have shown that reporters tend to vote more Democrat than Republican,” said Tim Groseclose, a UCLA political scientist and the study’s lead author. “But I was surprised at just how pronounced the distinctions are.”

“Overall, the major media outlets are quite moderate compared to members of Congress, but even so, there is a quantifiable and significant bias in that nearly all of them lean to the left,” said co-author Jeffrey Milyo, University of Missouri economist and public policy scholar.

The results appear in the latest issue of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, which will become available in mid-December.

Groseclose and Milyo based their research on a standard gauge of a lawmaker’s support for liberal causes. Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) tracks the percentage of times that each lawmaker votes on the liberal side of an issue. Based on these votes, the ADA assigns a numerical score to each lawmaker, where “100” is the most liberal and “0” is the most conservative. After adjustments to compensate for disproportionate representation that the Senate gives to low-population states and the lack of representation for the District of Columbia, the average ADA score in Congress (50.1) was assumed to represent the political position of the average U.S. voter.

Groseclose and Milyo then directed 21 research assistants most of them college students to scour U.S. media coverage of the past 10 years. They tallied the number of times each media outlet referred to think tanks and policy groups, such as the left-leaning NAACP or the right-leaning Heritage Foundation.

Next, they did the same exercise with speeches of U.S. lawmakers. If a media outlet displayed a citation pattern similar to that of a lawmaker, then Groseclose and Milyo’s method assigned both a similar ADA score.

“A media person would have never done this study,” said Groseclose, a UCLA political science professor, whose research and teaching focuses on the U.S. Congress. “It takes a Congress scholar even to think of using ADA scores as a measure. And I don’t think many media scholars would have considered comparing news stories to congressional speeches.”

Of the 20 major media outlets studied, 18 scored left of center, with CBS’ “Evening News,” The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times ranking second, third and fourth most liberal behind the news pages of The Wall Street Journal.

Only Fox News’ “Special Report With Brit Hume” and The Washington Times scored right of the average U.S. voter.

The most centrist outlet proved to be the “NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.” CNN’s “NewsNight With Aaron Brown” and ABC’s “Good Morning America” were a close second and third.

“Our estimates for these outlets, we feel, give particular credibility to our efforts, as three of the four moderators for the 2004 presidential and vice-presidential debates came from these three news outlets Jim Lehrer, Charlie Gibson and Gwen Ifill,” Groseclose said. “If these newscasters weren’t centrist, staffers for one of the campaign teams would have objected and insisted on other moderators.”

The fourth most centrist outlet was “Special Report With Brit Hume” on Fox News, which often is cited by liberals as an egregious example of a right-wing outlet. While this news program proved to be right of center, the study found ABC’s “World News Tonight” and NBC’s “Nightly News” to be left of center. All three outlets were approximately equidistant from the center, the report found.

“If viewers spent an equal amount of time watching Fox’s ‘Special Report’ as ABC’s ‘World News’ and NBC’s ‘Nightly News,’ then they would receive a nearly perfectly balanced version of the news,” said Milyo, an associate professor of economics and public affairs at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

Five news outlets “NewsHour With Jim Lehrer,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” CNN’s “NewsNight With Aaron Brown,” Fox News’ “Special Report With Brit Hume” and the Drudge Report were in a statistical dead heat in the race for the most centrist news outlet. Of the print media, USA Today was the most centrist.

An additional feature of the study shows how each outlet compares in political orientation with actual lawmakers. The news pages of The Wall Street Journal scored a little to the left of the average American Democrat, as determined by the average ADA score of all Democrats in Congress (85 versus 84). With scores in the mid-70s, CBS’ “Evening News” and The New York Times looked similar to Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who has an ADA score of 74.

Most of the outlets were less liberal than Lieberman but more liberal than former Sen. John Breaux, D-La. Those media outlets included the Drudge Report, ABC’s “World News Tonight,” NBC’s “Nightly News,” USA Today, NBC’s “Today Show,” Time magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, NPR’s “Morning Edition,” CBS’ “Early Show” and The Washington Post.

Since Groseclose and Milyo were more concerned with bias in news reporting than opinion pieces, which are designed to stake a political position, they omitted editorials and Op-Eds from their tallies. This is one reason their study finds The Wall Street Journal more liberal than conventional wisdom asserts.

Another finding that contradicted conventional wisdom was that the Drudge Report was slightly left of center.

“One thing people should keep in mind is that our data for the Drudge Report was based almost entirely on the articles that the Drudge Report lists on other Web sites,” said Groseclose. “Very little was based on the stories that Matt Drudge himself wrote. The fact that the Drudge Report appears left of center is merely a reflection of the overall bias of the media.”

Yet another finding that contradicted conventional wisdom relates to National Public Radio, often cited by conservatives as an egregious example of a liberal news outlet. But according to the UCLA-University of Missouri study, it ranked eighth most liberal of the 20 that the study examined.

“By our estimate, NPR hardly differs from the average mainstream news outlet,” Groseclose said. “Its score is approximately equal to those of Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report and its score is slightly more conservative than The Washington Post’s. If anything, government-funded outlets in our sample have a slightly lower average ADA score (61), than the private outlets in our sample (62.8).”

The researchers took numerous steps to safeguard against bias or the appearance of same in the work, which took close to three years to complete. They went to great lengths to ensure that as many research assistants supported Democratic candidate Al Gore in the 2000 election as supported President George Bush. They also sought no outside funding, a rarity in scholarly research.

“No matter the results, we feared our findings would’ve been suspect if we’d received support from any group that could be perceived as right- or left-leaning, so we consciously decided to fund this project only with our own salaries and research funds that our own universities provided,” Groseclose said.

The results break new ground.

“Past researchers have been able to say whether an outlet is conservative or liberal, but no one has ever compared media outlets to lawmakers,” Groseclose said. “Our work gives a precise characterization of the bias and relates it to known commodity politicians.”

 

JOURNALISM, HOLLYWOOD STYLE

Journalism, Hollywood-style
By Terry Teachout
Commentary magazine
December 2005

www.commentarymagazine.com/article.asp?aid=12005071_1

There has always been something faintly silly about Hollywood’s worshipful portrayal of journalists. With the exception of such cynical comedies as Howard Hawks’s His Girl Friday (1940), most American movies purporting to show journalism as it is take for granted the trustworthiness and good intentions of the average reporter. Not surprisingly, these films are usually the work of outsiders who know nothing about the daily workings of newspapers, magazines, or TV news divisions. Even when a branch of the media is shown as gravely flawed, as in Sidney Lumet’s Network (1976), James Brooks’s Broadcast News (1987) or Michael Mann’s The Insider (1999), one need not look too hard to find the starry-eyed idealists in the woodpile, earnestly speaking truth to power.

If George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck, a docudrama about Edward R. Murrow the title is the catchphrase with which Murrow closed his radio and TV newscasts in the 1940’s and 50’s were merely another such exercise in hagiography, it would be unworthy of consideration for other than its purely cinematic qualities. But Clooney, the latest of Hollywood’s Left-liberal actors to go behind the camera and make politically oriented films of his own, has added to the mix a more telling form of idealization: in this movie, he also becomes the latest Hollywood director to make a film in which the truth about American Communism is deliberately falsified. Moreover, in a piece of bad timing, his film happens to have been released simultaneously with Bennett Miller’s Capote, in which a serious effort is made to suggest precisely some of the inherent moral ambiguities of real-life journalism that Good Night, and Good Luck mostly overlooks.

What the two films have in common is the meticulous reproduction of surface appearances that is characteristic of modern-day Hollywood’s efforts to evoke the past.

Good Night, and Good Luck is especially noteworthy in this regard. Handsomely shot in black-and-white, it duplicates with uncanny exactitude the on- and off-air appearance of See It Now, the CBS news program that Murrow hosted and co-produced between 1951 and 1957 in collaboration with Fred Friendly (played by Clooney, who also co-wrote the script). One might be looking at the same TV studio from which See It Now was telecast a half-century ago. Similarly, David Strathairn, who plays Murrow, flawlessly reproduces the familiar cadences of the newscaster’s speech and even manages to suggest his famously saturnine good looks, despite the fact that Strathairn is far less imposing, both vocally and physically, than his model.

In Capote, Philip Seymour Hoffman, like Strathairn a much-admired actor, delves even more deeply into the quirky personality of his character, the celebrated writer Truman Capote (1924-1984). He, too, has the difficult task of imitating his subject’s distinctive and well-remembered speaking voice, which Norman Mailer once described as “a dry little voice that seemed to issue from an unmoistened reed in his nostril.” Hoffman’s success in doing so without stooping to caricature is typical of his performance as a whole, which suggests Capote in all his complexity and peculiarity.

Much the same can be said of the rest of Capote, which tells the story of the writing of In Cold Blood, Capote’s 1966 best-seller about the 1959 murder of a Kansas farmer, Herbert Clutter, and his family. To be sure, Bennett Miller, unlike Clooney, has not gone out of his way to duplicate literally the world of which Capote wrote. The scenes set in Kansas, for example, were actually shot in Canada.1 Still, Capote is both sufficiently and specifically evocative of an America far removed from the present, and the viewer willingly enters into it as if it were the real thing.

On the other hand, many of the same things might be said of any number of recent Hollywood films. To replicate the decor of a New York TV studio circa 1954, after all, requires in the end nothing more than a combination of diligent research and painstaking execution. If mere visual verisimilitude were all that mattered, then Quiz Show (1994), Robert Redford’s sanctimonious docudrama about the TV quiz-show scandals of the 50’s, would be a masterpiece. Even a piece of acting as precisely and imaginatively re-creative as Jamie Foxx’s impersonation of Ray Charles in Taylor Hackford’s Ray (2004) is vitiated by the fact that Foxx is too often called upon to do little more than spout the usual Hollywood-style cliches.

The screenplay of Capote, written by Dan Futterman, departs drastically from this norm, not merely because of its avoidance of cliche but because of its emotional detachment.

Capote, for instance, is shown not as the fearless crusader beloved of filmmakers but as a hugely ambitious writer who sees the Clutter murders as little more than a heaven-sent opportunity to try out his own literary theories on the grandest possible scale. Indeed, he antagonizes Alvin Dewey, the Kansas detective in charge of the case, by assuring him upon his arrival that he “doesn’t care” who killed the Clutters. To him, their mysterious deaths are the ideal subject matter for the “nonfiction novel” he has dreamed of writing, and in pursuit of that goal which he hopes will make him rich and famous he is prepared to do anything whatsoever.

To be sure, Capote commits no spectacular peccadilloes along the way to writing In Cold Blood apart from bribing a prison official, a transgression which may or may not have happened in real life (we have only his word for it). His gravest offense is to feign intimacy with the naive Kansans who are in a position to tell him what he wants to know and, later, with the two killers, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, to whom he misrepresents himself as a crusading journalist seeking to have their convictions overturned.

In fact, we know that Capote had no doubt of their guilt. Though he identifies himself emotionally with Smith, and assists both men in finding counsel to make their appeals, his real interest lies elsewhere: he cannot finish his book until they are executed, and once he realizes this, he abruptly breaks off contact with them. For all of his protestations of friendship, not to mention his claim that “the book I’m writing will return [Smith] to the realm of humanity,” he is no more truly interested in Smith or Hickock than in Alvin Dewey (or, for that matter, the Clutters), and the coldbloodedness with which he courts their favor is presented with a candor hardly less shocking than the murders themselves.

This is not to say that Capote offers a totally unsympathetic view of its eponymous subject. Capote is clearly tortured by the morally equivocal position in which he finds himself vis-a-vis Smith and Hickock, so much so that the resulting tension ultimately destroys him (though not before In Cold Blood is serialized in the New Yorker and becomes a best-seller). Even so, he continues to subordinate all other ethical considerations to the claims of his own unswerving ambition, and no small part of the artistic success of Capote derives from the fact that Bennett and Futterman never let us forget this. However fine the resulting book may have turned out to be and the film leaves us in no doubt that it was very fine indeed we know what Capote was willing to do to write it, and are appalled by the knowledge.

Not only is this cold-eyed detachment far removed from the partisanship of most films about journalism, but Capote is also largely faithful to the factual record of the writing of In Cold Blood. Indeed, it may be more faithful than In Cold Blood itself, whose claim to being (in the author’s words) “a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences” has been substantially challenged in the years since its publication.2 While Bennett and Futterman have made no attempt to indicate the extent to which In Cold Blood departs from the truth, their dramatization of its writing, a certain amount of compression and simplification notwithstanding, is in most relevant ways true to life.

Moreover, the movie seems true to life, in that the audience has no difficulty believing that the real Capote would have behaved more or less the same way as his on-screen counterpart. For unlike filmgoers of an earlier generation, most of us have by now seen too many high-profile cases of journalistic fraud to take the work of any journalist, however celebrated, at face value.

George Clooney, in sharp contrast to Bennett Miller, opts for the traditional pieties of on-screen journalism, which are all the more irritating because of the technical skill with which they are dished up.

Like Capote, Good Night, and Good Luck deals with a self-contained episode in the life of its subject. In 1954 Murrow and Fred Friendly devoted three episodes of See It Now to various aspects of the anti-Communist “witch hunt” led by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. The most widely remembered of these telecasts, aired on March 9, was (as Murrow put it) “a report on Senator McCarthy told mainly in his own words and pictures.” The purpose of the program was to brand McCarthy as a purveyor of “smears” and “half-truths.” In Murrow’s words:

“It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one, and the junior Senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between internal and the external threats of Communism.... The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies.”

What was remarkable about “A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy” was not the critical position it took McCarthy had already been under attack by numerous other journalists for some time but the fact that Murrow was using See It Now to criticize him. It had been the long-standing policy of the news division of CBS not to editorialize on the air, and though Murrow closed his nightly radio newscast with a commentary on the day’s events, these “end pieces” were kept separate from the reportage to which the remainder of the program was devoted. Similarly, See It Now had never before explicitly attacked a politician, or advocated political positions of its own. In doing so on this occasion, Murrow crossed a still-bright journalistic line in prime time, and without first seeking the approval of his corporate overseers.

In Good Night, and Good Luck, Murrow’s actions are presented not as imprudent or inappropriate but as an act of high political courage, even nobility. At the time, however, he was sharply criticized by liberals and conservatives alike for having attacked McCarthy under the guise of reporting on him, thereby abusing the power of the press. Moreover, Murrow himself was well aware of what he had done and, by all accounts, full of misgivings about it. “Is it not possible,” he had written on an earlier occasion, “that . . . an infectious smile, eyes that seem remarkable for the depths of their sincerity, a cultivated air of authority, may attract huge television audiences regardless of the violence that may be done to truth or objectivity?” Those words would come back to haunt him after “A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy” was telecast.

Murrow’s doubts, however, go unremarked in Good Night, and Good Luck. So does the fact that McCarthy’s witch hunt, however irresponsible in practice, was at least nominally motivated by the existence of actual witches.

As is now widely acknowledged by scholars of the period and as American intelligence officials knew at the time the American Communist party was used by the Soviets as an intelligence apparatus through which, starting in the early 30’s, Soviet spies successfully infiltrated the U.S. government. Yet with the exception of one glancing, carefully unspecific reference to Alger Hiss, the script of Good Night, and Good Luck takes no notice whatsoever of this well-known fact. Rather, we are invited to suppose that the activities of Hiss, Julius Rosenberg, and other Soviet agents were nothing more than a paranoid fantasy on the part of McCarthy and his supporters.

We know better, but, damningly for Clooney’s project, Murrow himself did not. He had been, for example, one of the most vocal defenders of Laurence Duggan, a State Department official who committed suicide in 1948 after the House Un-American Activities Committee revealed that Whittaker Chambers, the Soviet agent who was Hiss’s controller, had identified him as another agent. Decoded Soviet cables made public years later proved that Chambers was telling the truth, just as he had told the truth about Hiss.

Needless to say, Duggan goes unmentioned in Good Night, and Good Luck. Instead, Clooney devotes several minutes of the film to footage from another episode of See It Now in which McCarthy is shown interrogating Annie Lee Moss, a Pentagon employee who worked in the Signal Corps code room, a highly sensitive area. McCarthy accused Moss of having been a Communist without offering evidence to back up his claim. Murrow in turn offered this interrogation as proof of McCarthy’s irresponsibility yet, again, no mention is made in Good Night, and Good Luck of the fact that the Communist party’s own records later proved Moss to have been a party member.

Clooney’s unwillingness even to acknowledge such inconvenient facts, much less engage them, makes it impossible to take Good Night, and Good Luck seriously as a historically informed portrayal of McCarthy and his activities. But, then, that was not his purpose in making the film.

In reality, as Clooney has readily admitted, Good Night, and Good Luck is intended to persuade its viewers that journalists today have abdicated their responsibility to do as Murrow did.3 As he recently told a Washington Post reporter:

“I’m not a journalist, I’m just an observer, but there are times when the media takes a bit of a pass at asking the tough questions. The bigger concern is when Judith Miller writes stories saying there are definitely weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq], and then the New York Times later apologizes because they say, ‘Listen, we should have asked tougher questions.’ That’s a dangerous place to go. . . . When I was growing up, my father’s argument was always, it’s not just your right, it’s your duty to question authority. Always.”

Here, Clooney echoes the New Left mantra endlessly regurgitated by aging baby boomers longing to assuage their liberal guilt by keeping faith with the never-to-be-questioned commandments of the 60’s. Presumably it has never occurred to him, or to his fellow Hollywood liberals, to question the authority by which the news media offer themselves up as sole purveyors of the truth. Hence his determination to romanticize Murrow and, by extension, all reporters who dare to “question authority.”

Despite his nagging doubts about the McCarthy broadcast, Murrow himself was given to the same romantic view of the journalist’s calling. At the beginning and end of Good Night, and Good Luck, we see him giving a speech to the Radio-Television News Directors Association in which he declared that commercial TV had a responsibility to explain the world to its viewers:

“Let us dream to the extent of saying that on a given Sunday night the time normally occupied by Ed Sullivan is given over to a clinical survey of the state of American education, and a week or two later the time normally used by Steve Allen is devoted to a thoroughgoing study of American policy in the Middle East. Would the corporate image of their respective sponsors be damaged? Would the stockholders rise up in their wrath and complain? Would anything happen other than that a few million people would have received a little illumination on subjects that may well determine the future of this country, and therefore the future of the corporations?”

Clooney offers this speech, delivered by Murrow in 1958, as the last word on the responsibilities of the journalist. But in showing it without comment, and similarly recounting the story of “A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy” without any explanatory historical context, he tells us far more about his own political beliefs than about the realities of network TV news. For just as Murrow blindly defended Laurence Duggan, so did CBS News besmirch its reputation a half-century later by airing a report on President Bush’s National Guard service that was shown almost immediately to have been based on forged documents a report whose timing was clearly intended to influence the results of the 2004 presidential election.

To watch Good Night, and Good Luck is to ask why, in the wake of such oft-repeated fiascos, anyone in his right mind would suppose today’s mainstream news media capable of making “a thoroughgoing study of American policy in the Middle East” based on anything other than the unexamined prejudices of the journalists who made it.

What has changed since 1958, of course, is the willingness of a fast-growing number of Americans to continue taking for granted the objectivity of the news media.4 With the emergence of such decentralized “new media” as blogs and talk radio, it is no longer necessary to settle for whatever news CBS and the New York Times see fit to publish. As a result, Edward R. Murrow’s successors do not wield anything remotely approaching the influence they had well into the 80’s and beyond, nor is it likely that they will ever do so again. And for all the unabashed nostalgia with which Good Night, and Good Luck portrays those long-gone days, it seems far more likely that Capote offers a truer picture of the skepticism with which ordinary Americans now view the reporters they once trusted to tell the truth.

[Footnotes]

[1] Richard Brooks’s 1967 film of In Cold Blood, by contrast, was shot in the locations described by Capote in the book, including the house in Holcomb, Kansas, where the Clutters were murdered.

[2] For a concise but thorough summary of the numerous distortions and fictionalizations introduced by Capote, see Van Jensen’s “Writing History: Capote’s Novel Has Lasting Effect on Journalism” (Lawrence, Kansas Journal-World, April 3, 2005, available online at http://www2.ljworld.com/ news/2005/apr/03/writing_history_capotes).

[3] One suspects that Clooney also had in mind HUAC’s various investigations of Communist attempts to infiltrate the U.S. film industry, it being taken for granted by the vast majority of present-day Hollywood liberals that the only villains in that particular “witch hunt” were those ex-Communists like Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg who “named names,” identifying their former compatriots most of whom were in fact Stalinists of the deepest dye to FBI and HUAC investigators.

[4] Significantly, Good Night, and Good Luck was bluntly criticized for its distortions and evasions by a handful of mainstream-media commentators, among them Jack Shafer, the press critic of Slate, and Stephen Hunter, the film critic of the Washington Post, the latter of whom wrote that the film “does a disservice to history: it suggests that McCarthy was an arbitrary sociopath disconnected from a larger issue... But nothing in real life is ever that simple, and to pretend that it is has to be a lie itself. That’s the truth that should be spoken to the power that Clooney represents.”


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.