What’s missing in ‘The Interview’ uproar? The threat to actual journalists
So, now people will go to the movie when it opens Christmas Day in the U.S. and then perhaps everyone can judge the merits of this massive incident, but let’s take a moment to speak for the only subgroup not represented in the viral debate. The film is about journalists, yes? OK, let’s see what this might do for/to journalists, then.
Sony Chairman Michael Lynton (a friend) said this about the film to CNN:
“First of all, we made the movie because it was — because we thought it was a funny comedy. Secondly, there is a long history of political satire in film. And this clearly falls into that realm.”
And Michael — who had run Penguin Books after the 1980’s Salman Rushdie affair, when Iranian Ayatollahs condemned Rushdie to death for writing “The Satanic Verses” — admitted that Sony’s originally pulling “The Interview” from theaters was a blow to freedom of expression, which is uniquely dear and protected under the U.S. Constitution.
And after declaring Pyongyang was in fact behind the massive attack, President Barack Obama weighed in about setting a dangerous precedent: “We cannot have a society in which some dictators someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” Obama said. “Imagine what they start doing once they see a documentary that they don’t like or news reports that they don’t like.”
Absolutely right. And that’s where we journalists come in. Because after all the Sturm und Drang about process, corporate profits, legal liabilities, constitutional rights, letting terrorists set the agenda — let’s talk a little about content. Let’s in fact spare a thought for our subset diligently working away out there in the United States and around the world.
What’s the message?
David Carr, media writer for The New York Times, said this about the film’s content:
“…while I am all for bold creative choices, was it really important that the head being blown up in a comedy about bungling assassins be that of an actual sitting ruler of a sovereign state? If you want to satirize a lawless leader, there are plenty of ways to skin that cat, as Charlie Chaplin demonstrated with “The Great Dictator,” which skewered Hitler in everything but name.”
Yes, and…? What about those bungling assassins. They’re journalists, right? Or meant to be?
And what message will that send to every whacked-out dictator from another planet, paranoid, control freak thug posing as president? Not to mention crazy extremist throat-slitting militant terrorists?
I don’t want to spoil the discussion-party about satire, comedy, freedom of expression, etc., but I can tell you from personal experience the above-mentioned already think we are velvet revolutionaries at best, or CIA agents, military spies … and yes, would-be assassins! One of the most appalling acts of “journo murder” was the killing of legendary Afghan freedom fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud, just days before 9/11. Imagine, two terrorists posing as journalist and cameraman get The Interview. They are in fact wired-up suicide bombers. No one thought to check them and the rest is history.
In Iran, 35 journalists are in jail on specious charges, including Iranian-American Jason Rezaian of the Washington Post. His mother told me the family has heard that a closed “trial” condemned him on “espionage-related” charges. It’s nonsense, of course, but this is what journalists have to endure.
The Iranian government seems to believe all these people are regime-change agents, through cultural subversion. They are terrified of a so-called Velvet Revolution and Color Revolutions ever since they put down the Green Movement after the disputed 2009 elections. Journalists were swept up in a dragnet, forced to “confess” on Iranian state TV before being “tried” and sentenced to the infamous Evin Prison. Check out Jon Stewart’s excellent debut movie, “Rosewater,” on the case of British-Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari. It’s a sobering saga of the ridiculous, Kafkaesque dark reality of what it takes to be a journalist in Iran and other countries.
In Russia, offending journalists — not to mention anyone who vaguely looks sideways at Putin — can feel the wrath of the system. Some are arrested, some worse. Anyone remember reporter Anna Politkovskaya, shot point blank in her Moscow apartment building in 2006? A staunch critic of the Kremlin and author of “Putin’s Russia,” she was working on a series of reports about human rights abuses in Chechnya at the time of her death.
And by the way, Facebook this week caved in to the Russian government’s demand that a site for opposition politician Alexei Navalny be taken down. He’s under house arrest.
Huh? I didn’t hear a peep of “Sony-rage” about this serious damage to freedom of expression.
Terrible year for journalists in the Middle East
Over the years, in these and many other countries, the number of journalists killed, injured, arrested and just plain shut up, has soared and continues its horrible upward trajectory.
Finally, this year, spare a thought for the victims of the madmen of today’s Middle East: journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, aid workers Alan Henning and Peter Kassig, were trussed up in Guantanamo colors, and forced to kneel before their throats were slit so wide their heads came off. Before their execution, they were forced to denigrate their families and their flags. They were forced to admit to false charges of spying and plotting. They were forced to give up their very dignity before they were forced to give up their lives.
As I say, “The Interview” might be very funny. I just wish it weren’t yet more fodder for the deluded who see all journalists as their mortal enemy.
We haven’t mentioned what North Korea does to offending journalists. Their own prisoners get labor camps, torture and starvation rations, if they’re not executed. Foreigners get traded for a whole load of publicity and who knows what else. But I bet journalist Lisa Ling is probably pleased her sister’s prison ordeal there began and ended (in 2009) before this film was released.
And furthermore I can assure you, our colleagues who have been so brutally killed and imprisoned, this year and every year, were certainly not the “easily distracted members of the American press who choose gossip” type that “West Wing” and “Newsroom” creator Aaron Sorkin railed against in his Sony-rage last week.
“The wishes of the terrorists were fulfilled in part by easily distracted members of the American press who chose gossip and schadenfreude-fueled reporting over a story with immeasurable consequences for the public — a story that was developing right in front of their eyes,” Sorkin said in a statement.
No, the ones we lost this year were brilliant, brave and full of heart, daring to keep doing the dangerous job of bringing you the truth. May they rest in peace.
(P.S. — RIP also The New Republic, after 100 years of important game-changing journalism. My favorite observation is by now-resigned literary editor Leon Wieseltier: “We need not be a nation of intellectuals but we must not be a nation of idiots.”)