Evaluating print and broadcast news in the San Francisco Bay Area from A to F.
Email to a friend | Printer-friendly version | Discuss Story

Guest commentary

'Fahrenheit 9/11'

New film shows what news media were afraid to

"Fahrenheit 9/11" draws a big crowd in Oakland.
(Photo from www.michaelmoore.com.)

Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" has been in theaters less than a week and it is already more than a mere movie. It has become a cultural event, like Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" earlier this year. Not coincidentally, the right-wing "noise machine," as author and former GOP operative David Brock calls Fox and other reactionary media, is furiously snarling and barking, intent on making sure that nobody believes anything Moore says in his film.

More power to them. They're entitled to their opinion. One could hope that they would ground their arguments in reason. But that is apparently not going to happen.

For example, one of their chief complaints is that Moore's film is not objective.

Say what? Whatever made them think it is supposed to be objective?

Perhaps I have a bias here. I wrote thousands of editorials and columns and occasionally heard the same complaint from people who were unclear on the concept. "Your column was slanted!" they would pout. My response: "Indeed it was. And your point is?"

Moore's film is a cinematic version of Bob Novak, Molly Ivins, Maureen Dowd, Alex Cockburn, George Will and other polemicists. It's his take on the situation. You can take it or leave it.

Still, I can understand their confusion on that point. But here's what I can't understand. Critics of "Fahrenheit 9/11" fume over Moore's decision to show dead and wounded Iraqi civilians and American soldiers, as well as their grieving families. That's bias, they say.

The hell it is. To me, this objection is outrageous. My first reaction upon seeing legless soldiers and maimed Iraqi civilians and dehumanized young Americans and grieving mothers was fury. But not at Moore - at the American news media.

Why, I thought, have we not seen this on television every night, or at least once in a while? Why did I have to wait a year and buy a ticket to the Multiplex?

Presenting this crucial information is biased only if you have no training as a professional journalist. Every student in Journalism 101 will tell you about the five W's and the H: who, what, when, where, why and how.

Death, dismemberment, misery, anguish, grief, pain, loss: These are all part of the "what." We went to war, and this is what happened.

Will showing Americans these fruits of war have political repercussions? Of course it will. As will not showing them. The media are not charged with measuring the larger political consequences of reporting the facts. They are supposed to lay the information out there, and trust the American public to draw its own conclusions.

America's press did not do that for more than a year. Michael Moore has. Even Al Jazeera, which, absurdly, gets criticized for showing its viewers the human aftermath of war, knows that it is part of the story.

Eighty-seven years ago, Sen. Hiram Johnson of California wrote, "The first casualty when war comes is truth." It's a sardonic, cynical and, alas, generally truthful observation. But it doesn't have to be that way.

It is time for American news organizations to start doing what they are supposed to do: present the facts and let the rest of us sort them out. We're up to the task.

Bob Cuddy is a former editorial pages director for the Alameda Newspaper Group and a former member of the Contra Costa Newspapers editorial board.

What do you think? Discuss it in The Coffeehouse.


A project of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at San Jose State University, Grade the News is affiliated with the Graduate Program in Journalism at Stanford University and KTEH, public television in Silicon Valley.

Monitoring the Bay Area's most popular news media:

Contra Costa Times

Knight Ridder

San Francisco Chronicle


San Jose Mercury News

Knight Ridder

KTVU, Oakland (FOX)

KTVU, Oakland (FOX)

KRON, San Francisco

KRON, San Francisco

KPIX, San Francisco (CBS)

KPIX, San Francisco (CBS)

KGO, San Francisco (ABC)

KGO, San Francisco (ABC)

KNTV, San Jose (NBC)

KNTV, San Jose (NBC)


Bay Area media advocates:

Media Alliance
Center for the Integration and Improvement of Journalism at SFSU
Maynard Institute
Youth Media Council
Project Censored
New California Media
Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California chapter
National Writers Union Bay Area chapter

Site highlights


The three-part series follows the rise of three Bay Area handouts:
• Part 1: At free dailies, advertisers sometimes call the shots
• Part 2: Free daily papers: more local but often superficial
• Part 3: Free papers' growth threatens traditional news
• See also: SF Examiner and Independent agree to end payola restaurant reviews
• And: The free tabloid that wasn't: East Bay's aborted Daily Flash


Lou Alexander started a firestorm with his original guest commentary predicting the company would be sold. Several other experts on newspapers have weighed in:
Newspapers can't cut their way back into Wall Street investors' hearts, by Stephen R. Lacy; Alexander responds
Humbler profits won't encourage buyouts, by John Morton; Alexander responds
Newspapers can't maintain monopoly profits because they've lost their monopolies, by Philip Meyer
Knight Ridder in grave jeopardy, by Lou Alexander...


Leakers and plumbers: There's no difference between a good leak and a bad leak? Journalists need a shield law. 11/22/05
Unintended consequences: How Craigslist and similar services are sucking revenue from faltering newspapers. 9/13/05
Is CPB irrelevant? As Congress moves to cut public broadcasting funds, has CPB become obsolete in the modern marketplace. 6/26/05
The paradox of news: There's more news available and its cheaper than ever before, but fewer young people are interested. 5/12/05


Most recent updatesHow the Bay Area's most popular media stack up.Talk about Bay Area journalism in our on-line discussion forum. A printable news scorecard you can use at home or in school. Raves and rants aimed at the local media. What would you do if you were the editor? Upcoming happenings and calls for public action. Let 'em know! Contact a local newsroom.Codes of ethics, local media advocates and journalism tools. Tip us off about the local media, or tell us how we're doing.Oops.A comprehensive list of past GTN exclusives.