[FoRK] On Hitchens on Moore (on Donner, on Blitzen)

Owen Byrne owen at permafrost.net
Tue Jun 29 17:37:12 PDT 2004

Nice editorial. Something to send any media people you know. Title of 
the article is "Shoveling Coal For Satan"

> * WWW.NYPRESS.COM | JUNE 29, 2004*
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> /To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to 
> promote those terms to the level of respectability. To describe this 
> film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that 
> would never again rise above the excremental... Fahrenheit 9/11 is a 
> sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise 
> in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice 
> masking itself as a demonstration of "dissenting" bravery./
> —Christopher Hitchens,
> Slate.com, on Michael Moore
> Well, that's rich, isn't it? Christopher Hitchens crawling out of a 
> bottle long enough to denounce Michael Moore as a coward. I can't 
> imagine anything more uplifting, except maybe a zoo baboon humping the 
> foot of a medical school cadaver.
> /All/ journalists are cowards. Hitchens knows it, I know it, everybody 
> in this business knows it. If there were any justice at all, every 
> last goddamn one of us would be lowered, head-first, into a 
> wood-chipper. Over Arizona. Shoot a nice red mist over the whole 
> state, make it arable for a year or two. A year's worth of fava beans 
> and endive for the children of Bangladesh: I dare anyone in our 
> business to say that that wouldn't represent a better use of our 
> rotting bodies than the actual fruits of our labor.
> No one among us is going to throw that first stone, though. Not even 
> Chris Hitchens, a man who makes a neat living completing advanced 
> /Highlights for Children/ exercises like the following: "Denounce a 
> like-minded colleague, using the words 'Lugubrious' and 
> 'Semienvious.'" Such is the pretense of modern journalism, that we are 
> to be lectured on courage by a man who has had his intellectual face 
> lifted so many times, he can't close his eyes without opening his 
> mouth. By a man who, if the Soviets had won the Cold War, would be 
> writing breathless features on Eduard Shevardnadze for three bucks a 
> word in /Komsomolskaya Vanity Fair/ ("Georgia on His Mind: Edik Speaks 
> Out." Photos by Annie Liebowitz...).
> Which is fine, good luck to him, mazel tov. Everybody's got to make a 
> living. But let's not leave people confused out there. The idea that 
> anyone in today's media is either courageous or cowardly on the basis 
> of what they write or broadcast is ridiculous.
> Hitchens, like me and everyone else out there publishing, lives in a 
> professional world where the idea of courage is submitting nice words 
> about George Bush to the /Nation/, or maybe a "Rethinking Welfare 
> Reform" piece to the /Wall Street Journal/. What Hitchens calls 
> courage is really a willingness to offend one's intellectual 
> constituency, and what he really means by that is /honesty/—something 
> very different from courage. It's a nice quality, honesty, and the 
> pundit out there who has it and still manages to make a living is, I 
> guess, to be applauded. But again, let's not confuse that with courage.
> Courage is a willingness to face real risks—your neck, or at the very 
> least, your job. The journalist with courage would have threatened to 
> resign rather than repeat George Bush's justifications for invasion 
> before it began. I don't remember anyone resigning last winter. The 
> journalist with courage would threaten to quit rather than do a 
> magazine piece about an advertiser's product, his fad diet book or his 
> magic-bullet baldness cure. It happens every day, and nobody ever 
> quits over it.
> If journalists had courage, they would form unions and refuse to work 
> for any company that made decisions about editorial content based on 
> the bottom line, on profit. Are there individual instances of 
> reporters who quit over this issue? Sure, there are a few. Lowell 
> Bergman walked out on /60 Minutes/ over this one. And there were those 
> Fox TV reporters in Tampa, Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, who famously 
> (and expensively, as it turned out) fell on their swords rather than 
> broadcast a bunch of cuddly bullshit about the Monsanto corporation.
> Yes, there are a few isolated vertebrates out there in our business. 
> But it wasn't like the whole staff of WTVT in Tampa walked out in 
> support of Akre and Wilson. Janitors stick up for each other. 
> Steelworkers stick up for each other. Even camera operators and 
> soundmen stick up for each other. But journalists just sit still in 
> their cubicles with their eyebrows raised, waiting for it all to blow 
> over, in those very rare instances when a colleague walks the plank.
> I've been around journalists my entire life, since I was a little kid, 
> and I haven't met more than five in three-plus decades who wouldn't 
> literally shit from shame before daring to say that their job had 
> anything to do with truth or informing the public. Everyone in the 
> commercial media, and that includes Hitchens, knows what his real job 
> is: feeding the monkey. We are professional space-fillers, frivolously 
> tossing content-pebbles in an ever-widening canyon of demand, cranking 
> out one silly pack-mule after another for toothpaste and sneaker ads 
> to ride on straight into the brains of the stupefied public.
> One friend I know describes working in the media as /shoveling coal 
> for Satan/. That's about right. A worker in a tampon factory has 
> dignity: He just uses his sweat to make a product, a useful product at 
> that, and doesn't lie to himself about what he does. In this business 
> we make commodities for sale and, for the benefit of our consciences 
> and our egos, we call them /ideas/ and /truth/. And then we go on the 
> lecture circuit. But in 99 cases out of 100, the public has more to 
> learn about humanity from the guy who makes tampons.
> I'm off on this tangent because I'm enraged by the numerous attempts 
> at verbose, pseudoliterary, "nuanced" criticism of Moore this week by 
> the learned priests of our business. (And no, I'm not overlooking this 
> newspaper.) Michael Moore may be an ass, and impossible to like as a 
> public figure, and a little loose with the facts, and greedy, and a 
> shameless panderer. But he wouldn't be necessary if even one percent 
> of the rest of us had any balls at all.
> If even one reporter had stood up during a pre-Iraq Bush press 
> conference last year and shouted, "Bullshit!" it might have made a 
> difference.
> If even one network, instead of cheerily re-broadcasting 
> Pentagon-generated aerial bomb footage, had risked its access to the 
> government by saying to the Bush administration, "We're not covering 
> the war unless we can shoot anything we want, without restrictions," 
> that might have made a difference. It might have made this war look 
> like what it is—pointless death and carnage that would have scared 
> away every advertiser in the country—rather than a big fucking 
> football game that you can sell Coke and Pepsi and Scott's Fertilizer to.
> Where are the articles about the cowardice of those people? Hitchens 
> in his piece accuses Moore of errors by omission: How come he isn't 
> writing about the CNN producers who every day show us gung-ho Army 
> desert rats instead of legless malcontents in the early stages of a 
> lifelong morphine addiction?
> Yeah, well, we don't write about those people, because they're just 
> doing their jobs, whatever that means. For some reason, we in the 
> media can forgive that. We just can't forgive it when someone does our 
> jobs for us. Say what you want about Moore, but he picked himself up 
> and /did/ something, something approximating the role journalism is 
> supposed to play. The rest of us—let's face it—are just souped-up shoe 
> salesmen with lit degrees. Who should shut their mouths in the 
> presence of real people. o

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