science bastards

4 December, 2011

The Insider

Filed under: Journalistic Decline, Unqualified Film Reviews, Whatever — sciencebastards @ 7:08 pm

First off, I just have to declare that watching a movie in sixteen parts on two websites is kind of a drag.  My Netflix money should be going toward steaming more stuff.  I am spoiled.  I also have seen the film before, years ago though.  I also remember when it was a big deal in the news so I have some familiarity with the story.  I am also completely unsurprised by the implications of what goes on in the film.  To put it simply, media outlets like CBS are corporations, and corporations are about their bottom line first and foremost.  The most startling thing about the whole movie’s story is that it took place before the media deregulation of the late 90s.  If anything, larger and more powerful entities are in control of the different levers of media now.  In all likelihood, CBS would be loath to even entertain the notion of investigating a story like that of Jeffrey Wigand today.

It speaks really poorly of the concept of media conglomeration though.  Irrespective of the issues surrounding a nexus of corporations and news organizations is just the corporatization of news in general.  The news has become a monetized commodity, this has cheapened the business almost as much as any other factor.  In fact, I would argue that monetization has all but destroyed the music industry, television, radio, books, etc, etc.  When the lowest common denominator is what is aimed at, you end up getting reality tv, cheap human interest news, Justin Bieber and almost any other ill of modern media you could devise.

When you figure this into the cozy relationship enjoyed by media outlets the terrible situation we’re now in seems to have been an inevitability rather than an accident of time and circumstance.  I don’t know the connections that CBS has but I do know that NBC is owned by GE which is pretty deep into defense contracting.  It seems a little doubtful that NBC would have too many stories that criticize war or militarism.  This is just an example.  The connections run deeper and deeper as media slides toward conglomeration and corporate ownership.

In a way, The Insider is a lot like All the President’s Men.  Both films start with a seemingly innocuous event that eventually unravels into a pretty big deal.  That is just a similarity of plot structure though.  The deeper connection, as I see it, are that these are both instances where journalists scored a coup of sorts.  However, instead of real change happening, it seems as if the powerful vested interests that were affected probably just got better at hiding things rather than cleaning up their acts.  I am not an optimist here.

The other things I noticed in the film were stylistic touches, they were sort of glaring actually.  Russell Crowe pulls a lighter out to demonstrate in class, they pass a cemetery with tons of graves on the way to the deposition, the fog that looks like smoke after he gives his deposition and the mural in his hotel room of someone running away when he was at his lowest were all interesting touches.  It was a pretty decent watch, even the second time, this is high praise from a person who generally hates almost everything.

19 September, 2011

All the President’s Men – Special Features

Filed under: Burglaries, Journalistic Decline, Richard Nixon, Sigh — sciencebastards @ 6:16 pm

“Woodward and Bernstein: Lighting the Fire” is a study in opposing impulses.  In a way it’s like the person who is all too aware that their glory days are not returning. There is the recognition that Watergate was a monumental achievement, but at the same time every one of these people know something like that is never going to happen again.  As such, there is a mix of triumphalism and melancholy that becomes almost uncomfortable at times.

To diminish what Watergate actually accomplished is 100% not my point here.  For two reporters to effectively destroy Richard Nixon’s administration is nothing short of astonishing.  It’s no exaggeration to say that Nixon was seen as an unstoppable boogeyman.  That a newspaper invested the time and effort to connect the dots from a third-rate burglary all the way to Nixon himself is also something that doesn’t seem to be possible any longer.  Our news cycles have become so truncated that the story would have died long before it had a chance to get any traction.  This is only part of the equation though.

The more cynical among us would point out that it’s just as likely that the powerful just redoubled their efforts at protecting themselves.  The convenient explanations for media conglomeration are belied by the fact that investigations like the one into Watergate are just about impossible today.  Whether this is by design or just a convenient byproduct doesn’t really seem to matter to the people being interviewed.  None of them come out and say it but they all seem to tacitly admit that they know Watergate was a one-time deal.  What was one of journalism’s great pinnacles ended up also being one of its last triumphs, proving power sometimes learns its lessons well.

Blog at