As a parent of young children, I usually don’t see movies until well after they’ve left the theaters (and usually late at night). I just finished watching Good Night, and Good Luck, and I was struck by how much the film seemed like a valedictory to the mainstream media.
The movie, which resulted in 6 Oscar Nominations, and one famously smug George Clooney Oscar acceptance speech, dramatizes journalist Edward R. Murrow’s quest to end Senator Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting witch hunt. It is an entertaining and gripping story, and I can see why it was so popular with the Academy–it offers a vision of media being able to make a difference.
Yet after the end of the movie, the impression that stayed with me was how differently things would happen today.
Just today, the breaking news was that Reuters photographer Adnan Hajj may have digitally doctored the photographs he had been filing from Lebanon to make them more provocative. In response, Reuters pulled all of Hajj’s photographs.
How was this deception uncovered? A conservative blog pointed out the suspicious photo, and a discussion on a message board for professional photographers quickly confirmed that doctored appeared to have taken place.
Award-winning science fiction writer David Brin has written about what he calls the transparent society, where everything can and will be examined and cross-examined by the general public. It’s clear that we’re already on our way.
With citizen journalism (in all its biased, amateurish, crackpot glory) flourishing, it’s harder than ever to get away with raw deception. In a niche-filled world, there are people who hunger for the truth. Despite the horror he might feel at our Paris Hilton-obsessed society, I think Murrow would look at the work of his spiritual descendants and feel pleased.