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Media And Political Culture: A Look at the scenario in the United States on the basis of Michael Moores documentary Farenheit 9/11

Written By: Sharmila Nair - Law Student - V th Year
Woman Law
Legal Service
  • The media is often known as the ‘watchdog’ of the country; one which will ensure that the democratic society is always alert and knows all the inside activities of the Government. This role of the media is banked upon by the people so that all the faith that they place in their Heads of State and State representatives is well accounted for. Keeping the faith of the people is one of the most primary functions but apart from that the people of the country are the ones who pay taxes, vote for their representatives through a democratic process and have demands which they expect their representatives to fulfill for them- and therefore, in regard to this the Heads of State and States representatives are duty-bound to the citizens of the country for all actions which could affect them. Inside activity within the four walls of the Government offices many a times is not brought out in the open. The role of the Media is to expose all that affects the people and can break the faith that the people place in their democratically elected Government.

    The Media must always give a true picture of the happenings so that the people can make their decision based upon the findings of the Media. The Media is only a medium through which the news reaches the people but the Media is not suppose to impose its views on the citizens of the Country. A ‘non-judgmental judgement’ is supposed to be laid out by the Media. Such a judgment is where the media does not try to influence the minds of the viewers or readers, rather it tries to only put forth the plain bare facts before the citizens, so as to simply inform them about the happenings which they are entitled to know.

    This role of the media requires it to be independent and away from all the pressures from parties who are likely to benefit from such reporting. A responsible media would not succumb to any pressures and would print the truth. If the people are given fake assurances and false reports, the country is being fooled into believing that which is not true, which could lead to chaos and disruption in the normal working of the society.

    Media malpractice is often seen when certain media in print and electronic publish and air reports favouring a certain party, only because of certain benefits which they get due to the publication of the report. This not only shakes the foundation on which the Media is built i.e the base of truth and integrity. Honesty and precision in reporting are pre-requisites that any mode of media must ensure while placing facts and figures before the people.

    While placing facts about the working of the Government the Media must ensure that information it places should not mislead the people. This is difficult because it is not possible to control and govern the actions of all the Media people but this is an important action. People of all age groups, from all walks of life and from different societies are informed about happenings around the world via the Media and this therefore increases the burden of the Media. The Burden comes with a responsibility of true factual information.

    People mould their opinions based on information that they gather from the Media and on the basis of this information are their steps further decided upon. The mindset of the people is dependent on the Media for details. If these details are twisted and the correct version is not forth before the people, the result of the same could be very chaotic. Not only this the people will not be able to decide. There is only a small section of the mass which are able to apply their experience, various reports and dig out the truth. This is the intelligent, sound and alert crowd of the country. But a large group of people base their decisions without questioning the reports laid out by the Media and in such circumstances if a certain section of the Media fools the people for their personal gains, then a lot of harm can be suffered by the people because the decisions that they make hereafter will be based solely on lies.
    This paper looks at the scenario in the United States after the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre. It looks at the role played by the Media in shaping the views and opinions of the people- at times, with false reports, which brought a great change in the political scene and which were clearly seen in the 2004 Presidential elections.

    The author of the paper reflects upon this very idea that the Press is the ‘orchestra of emotions’ and can mould the political scene in a country through its reporting. The irony of the situation is that in a democratic country, the Press is a free body with very few regulations and hence along with accurate, correct and true reports; the false and incorrect facts also flow into the public, which brings about strong misconceptions. In this very democratic country, these reports cannot be stopped and therefore the public grows more perplexed and confused, enough to make wrong decisions.

    The paper notices how after the WTC attacks, George W. Bush (Jr.) was criticized and Michael Moore’s documentary on 9/11 clearly shows the disinterest that the President of the United States had in matters of grave importance. In spite of that he won the 2004 re-elections for the post of President. The question arises as to how was this possible and what led to this? The author of the paper has tried to look at it through the media’s influence on the political culture of the US at that time, which finally led to this outcome. Was it correct or was the public fooled into re-electing George W. Bush as the President of the United States of America? An attempt has been made to answer all these questions through Michael Moore’s documentary - Farenheit 9/11

    Farenheit 9/11:

    Never before in history has journalism so blatantly abandoned its traditional role as the watchdog of government. Never before has a spirited film maker so brilliantly stepped in to fill the abhorrent vacuum created by the corporate media.[1]

    The movie clearly puts forth the flaw of the traditional sources of Media when faced with the 9/11 crisis. Michael Moore through his documentary has clearly shown that the Media, which is considered to be the voice of the Government, not only covered up most of the happenings but also did not look deeply into a matter which required utmost concern. The WTC attack was not just a terrorist attack but hit at the sovereignty of a country and at such times, it was the job of the media to uphold this sovereignty and take the guilty to task. This would also include any officials of the US government who were remotely involved in causing or due to their negligence allowing such an incident from happening in spite of several. However, the guilty not only went scot free but also were benefited at the end. The media which had criticized Bush (Jr.) for several reasons which will be put forth and also turned the tide against him, that very media pushed him ahead to win the presidential elections in 2004. How did this happen? The political scenario in the US which completely went against the Republican president, for the reason that he was incompetent to prevent the WTC attack in spite of warnings and who during the time of the 9/11 attacks allowed ONLY Bin Laden family members to leave the country at a time when all other flights were cancelled, came back to power in the 2004 elections. Why did this happen? Did the media forget 9/11 and buy promises again ? Why did it fail to go deep into the reasons Bush went into war with Iraq? Why did the media’s response change during the 2004 elections? Why did the media not go into the workings of the White House at that time?

    Pollsters, and the director of polling for ABC News[2] according to a recent report were against the re-election of Bush in 2004, mainly because he won making 9/11 a major issue and women voted him in more. [3]The fact that another 9/11 had not taken place since the invasion made people believe that the War on Terror was a Mission Accomplished. They failed to realize that despite his re-election the war in Iraq was on and American soldiers were under complete pressure. Most of these questions raised earlier by Michael Moore make all the efforts into bringing the truth to the public. In spite of this, Bush got re-elected. Again , the traditional media i.e. electronic and print media bought false promises. The people got fooled again.

    During the movie, at many times it was felt by many people that the War on Iraq was totally uncalled for because all signs pointed towards Osama Bin Laden being behind the attack, but George W. Bush, with the same beliefs as his father wanted more gains and what better than Oil and Petroleum. It was this need to gain more and more wealth that got them associated with the Saudis and Bin Laden’s family. This very association worked in favour of the Saudis and helped the terrorists responsible for the same to escape. And after a minimum stint in Afghanistan, home to the Al Qaeda, where the Americans managed to place their own man in power, Hamid Karzai, former senior Advisor to the Carlyle Group where George Bush (Jr.) for sometime and also his father had seats.

    They then shifted their focus on scaring people about threats of attack, of a degree greater than that of 9/11. In the movie, Congressman Jim Dermott [4] clearly stated that it was this fear that made people look towards their President, the Commander in Chief of the country, to have a strong hand in evoking emotions towards his beliefs of waging war on a country to possibly remove all threats of aggression that could take place in the near future. After all, he claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, what the media failed to question was that after the war, where were they able to find the weapons of mass destruction? Why did the media not look into the activities of American soldiers inside of Iraq? Why did they not question the connection that Bin Laden had with the Bush family? Why did they not oppose the war on Iraq when all fingers and a security briefing report laid before the President in August, 2001 titled Bin Laden likely to attack inside the United States read and taken seriously? The fact that while all flights were cancelled because of the 9/11 attack but only Bin Laden family members allowed to leave quietly not questioned by the Media? Why? Why did the media allow the political scenario to worsen without taking responsibility and go into the depths of the matter?

    The media was the main reason the people did not know the truth. Together with that ‘yellow journalism’ had made things worse in the country and in the process forced many families to suffer and lose loved ones for a gain and not a cause.

    It is a belief that the media must never indulge in yellow journalism because it can affect the political culture of a country. The 2001 Presidential elections which were tilting mainly because of the Florida poll was called an ‘Al Gore’ win and celebrations were in full swing but one news channel i.e. the Fox News made George Bush the winner by 51%. The Court did not allow a recount of votes which if it had been allowed would have clarified everything. Coincidentally the night this decision was let out, it was by the man in-charge and this happened to be Bush’s first cousin, John Ellis. The Governor of the State in question also happened to be related to him.

    The Court’s judgment according to the author here is flawed and a recount should have been allowed. When it comes to Fox News Channel, conservatives don't feel the need to "work the ref." [5] It must be kept in mind that for a nation to b strong, it is very essential that it has the full support and co-operation of its people, and even those who are not In power and the exploited. If the media gives a false report, that leads to a lot of problems.

    This main distortion by the Fox News changed the political scenario in the US and brought about total confusion. This is clearly seen in the movie where Michael Moore has shown that this win of Bush which is said to be planned out, did not get him any supporters because of his attitude towards the WTC attacks and his invasion of Iraq where young soldiers who were recruited due to fake promises did not see reason as to why Iraq? why Saddam? Why not Bin Laden who was the main accused?

    No president of the United States had faced so much humiliation on the day of oath taking. People then saw the flaw in this leader. But the damage was already done. Eight months after he took up office his job approval fell from 53% to 45% and when work could not be done Bush went for a vacation. At that time the Washington Post stated that 42% of his time in office, Bush was on vacation and during such times, if he had paid attention to the Security briefing reports then maybe, the WTC attacks could have been prevented.

    The media was flawed in its approach when it did not question why Bush went into war with Iraq? Why George H.W. Bush (Senior) was in a conference on the morning of the September 11th attacks while he was in a meeting with Schafi Bin Laden, Osama Bin Laden’s cousin and James Baker and John Mayor as part of the Carlyle Group business.

    The media did not also question as to why James R. Bath’s name was struck off George W. Bush’s military records. The reason was that James R. Bath was made the Texas money manager of the Bin Laden’s and if this connection was established then George W. Bush would have been eyed suspiciously.
    These flaws changed the political culture and scenario in the United States and brought the Republican back to power again. If these things were brought out and the grief and anger of the people who were deployed to Iraq was seen then Bush could not have been re-elected.

    Did the press at that point reveal that the Carlyle Group which had a huge investment in the United Defense Industries, earned $ 237 when it sold shares on one single day of a month around six weeks after 9/11? Did the Americans get to know that America got $ 1.4 billion from Saudis and people connected to a terrorist called Osama Bin Laden? What made the media so blind that they could not understand the ploy of the Republicans? Their negligence led to the ‘War President’ pushing troops into Iraq where there was more bloodshed and atrocities, for no proper reasons.

    The media are the eyes of the mass. They are supposed to follow the code of ethics and truth. For the truth to prevail, they must know that honesty is by far the best policy to adopt. Then how come they missed so many crucial details? The negligence of the media led to the political scenario changing completely but this could have been for the better if the Media had been alert.

    A responsible media would have taken all initiative to look into the benefactors of the Iraq war who were cashing in on the war and the casualities being faced there by the American soldiers and Iraqi people. This irresponsibility has left a ‘damning strain on American news reporting’.[6] It was very easy for Bush to say ‘bring ‘em on’ but he did not realize and the media on its part faile din making the media realize that Iraq was on the verge of becoming another Vietnam. In a letter by Michael Lipscomb, a soldier who died fighting in Iraq, to his mother he does address Bush as a ‘fool’ saying that the war is in vain and that the soldiers there wanted to come back as fast as possible because they did not know their true purpose there. They were trying to bring Democracy where the people were not ready to accept intrusion into their family itself. This therefore, led to further to increase in casualties. In the first 13 months into the War, nearly 5000 American soldiers were killed in combat. Throughout these times, the media was not allowed to show any footage of the coffins being brought back home.[7] Neither were they allowed to show any footage of atrocities done to the Iraqis. It is only later that such videos which were then made just for fun, was broadcasted to show the torture that people actually suffered.

    Why did the media not conduct a thorough investigation and its because of this lack of integrity that the American media was not able to prevent the re-election of the ‘War President’ who sent many fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and uncles to the war who never came back. The 9/11 attacks was about injustice. Injustice was done not only on the American people but also the people of Iraq and the late Saddam Hussein against whom the allegation of possessing Weapons of mass destruction is yet to be proved. The man was hunted down, tried and then killed. Was this for the people of America? Or was it for the gains of the Bush family? Why did the corporate media look into this?

    ‘It was the corporate media that turned its back and cowered in deference to the Bush regime. It was the corporate media that withheld, distorted, manipulated and lied outright. It was the corporate media that cheered the push to war as they completed for its coverage and higher ratings. And it was the corporate media, tragically, to which most of the nation turned for its nightly news.’[8]

    The answer to why Saddam and why not Bin Laden is very clear. Did the media know that at a time when the world had started recognizing Osama Bin Laden as a terrorist, one family was establishing links with the Bin Laden family? Did they know that the Bin Laden’s at the time of the 9/11 were allowed to leave the country without any interrogation, which is a protocol followed in most situations? This family was none other than the Bush family.

    George Bush, Senior and his son have always looked at striking lucrative deal with companies like the Halliburton Drilling Company and even Carlyle group where Bush family members and associates were always striking deals with them. The situation became such that when US was in war, the ones to benefit the most were the Saudis. In Carlyle group, George H.W. Bush (senior) was Senior advisor and even on the morning of September 11th attacks, they were in a meeting. However, by then George H. W. Bush had left the meeting. Why did the media not look into these aspects and question it? Why did they not try to find out whether the $1.4 billion which was pouring in from the Saudis into America, whether or not it was in anyway causing harm to the people of America?
    Craig Unger, author of the book House of Bush, House of Saudis, has clearly stated in his book that “Never before has an American president been so closely tied to a foreign power that harbors and supports our country's mortal enemies."

    Even in the 2004 elections, stringent steps could have been taken but the media failed in recognizing and taking quick action into rectifying the mistakes made during the last term of Bush.

    US Senator Jim Talent at that point did say that "This (George W. Bush) is a man who has restored peace to the American homeland, after we suffered the worst attack we have suffered here since Pearl Harbor". Is this true? Would this still have been the opinion of the people if they knew about the atrocities that American soldiers were doing in Iraq? Would this also have been the condition if they had been told clearly by influential TV channels like Fox News about the Saudi and US connection? But how could they have known? The ‘yellow journalism’ practiced by the corporate and print media is now, beyond repair.
    The author of this paper will clearly lay down an example of what the media did not notice. When nearly around 500 relatives and family members of 9/11 victims filed a suit against the Saudi royals and others, a man by the name James A. Baker took was the advocate from their side.

    This very individual was the Secretary of State during the tine of George H.W. Bush and became involved first with George W. Bush in 2000,during Bush’s elections and later got involved with him in the Iraq War. Why would James A. Baker assist the Saudis? Maybe a reason could be a well-known fact that the Saudis funded the Al Qaeda- a dangerous terrorist group. But who could blame the Bush Administration; after all, the Saudis were pouring nearly % 1.4 billion into the US compared to the $400,000 that the Americans were giving their President. So, James A. Baker’s need to support the Saudis more than his fellow Americans should be justifiable. Is any other reason required?! The media failed to notice this.

    Another example where the selfishness of the Republicans and Bush Administration seen was when Michael Moore went around asking senators if they would enlist their children to fight in Iraq. Senators walked away on hearing this. Of all the 535 members of the Congress only one had his children in the army. Why? They were all ready to see a just cause being fought for and sympathized with those who lost a son or a daughter but did not want to be that someone who loses a lost one.

    The Media:

    Throughout this entire paper, the author have posed questions. Questions for which, the author have very few answers. There are a few more question that the author needs to ask: Who is the Media accountable to? Does the media have the right to play with the emotions of people? What does it take to have the truth printed out and not have yellow journalism? And finally does the Media have answers for all the questions posed in this paper?

    The media is supposed to be the backbone of a democratic country. A country where people have the right to ask the questions and the media has the responsibility to bring them the answers. The only problem with the media of a democratic country is that everyone has a right to print what they want and along with the truth a few lies are told too. This is what happened with the American public as is done in many countries. Ideally, the media cannot afford to lie. It cannot afford to hamper the political process, as was done in this case. This is one of greatest setbacks of media in a democratic country even though the positive points outweigh the flaws, they must be rectified.

    The political process and culture of America got stalled only because of the shallow reporting done by the media. If a precise account of the activities of the Bush administration had been given to the people and if the media had taken a lot more care while dealing with people, the balance would have definitely tilted in favour of the Democrats in the 2004 elections.

    The flaw of the media cannot be rectified now but it has to be ensured that the same does not take place in the future because shallow and ‘yellow journalism’ hits at the foundation of the nation.-

    [1] Media Malpractice 9/11-The Abysmal Vacuum filled by the Mighty Michael Moore;
    [2] Langer was one of a host of leading media pollsters, top campaign planners and academic experts who gathered on campus Nov. 9 to offer their take on the presidential race & explain why and how voters handed Bush a second term in office.
    [3] Trei, Lisa; Pollsters dissect Bush election win;
    [4] Psychiatrist and Member of the Congress (Washington)
    [5] Ackerman, Seth; The most biased news in News, 2001;
    [6] Supra. Note 1
    [7] Statistic was given in the documentary by Moore
    [8] Supra. Note 1

    The author can be reached at: [email protected] / Print This Article

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