Review: Media Malpractice: How Obama Got Elected and Palin Was Targeted
By John Nolte
Big Hollywood was given an exclusive first look at John Ziegler’s latest documentary covering the media coverage of the 2008 presidential election.
In journalistic terms it’s called a “tick-tock.” This is when the media crafts a news story that takes you behind the scenes of an event and breaks down, piece by linear piece, the individual acts which led up to that event. With “Media Malpractice: How Obama Got Elected and Palin Was Targeted,” director John Ziegler (”Blocking the Path to 9/11“) turns the art of the tick-tock around and aims it, with damning effect, squarely at the news media. The result is not a documentary, at least not for anyone who believes in truth, fairness or journalistic integrity - the result is a horror film.
If you expect Ziegler to build his case using easy targets like Keith Olbermann aping David Strathairn playing Edward R. Murrow, think again. Olbermann’s a bit player in this cinematic indictment, a clown. The real conspirators run the gamut of every network (cable and otherwise), and most of the major print and online publications. Maybe it’s not a horror story, after all. Maybe it’s something closer to an Agatha Christie mystery where everyone’s the murderer.
The victim, of course, is American journalism.
Even for those of us who obsessively followed every twist and turn of the 2008 presidential election, watching Ziegler’s autopsy of the grisly affair, starting with the primaries and ending with the days immediately following Barack Obama’s securing of the Presidency, is to experience in a comprehensive way the breadth and scope of American media corruption.
Watching election coverage in real time last year was often frustrating to the point of outrage, and for the first half-hour of “Media Malpractice” the old outrage returns. But what Ziegler does is summarize his case like a prosecutor delivering a closing argument, bringing the disparate pieces together into something much more important than a narrative. What we see is the media’s behavior in full blown context, and as the entire story comes together your outrage slowly evolves into something much more disturbing.
The real genius behind the film is in the wise choice not to use talking heads. Other than pieces of an interview with Governor Sarah Palin (the full interview is included as a DVD extra) that pop up in the opening and then later during the coverage of her bid for Vice President, Ziegler understands that no matter how smart or insightful, no analyst could make as damning a case against the participants as the words and actions of the participants themselves.
Other than the director’s narration to fill in the gaps and frame the context, the filmmmaker gets out of the way and allows us to witness first hand as Campbell Brown, Anderson Cooper, Brian Williams, Wolf Blitzer, Major Garrett, Katie Couric, Charlie Gibson and a troubling legion of familiar others summon audacious amounts of hypocrisy, ignorance and dishonesty to blunt any piece of news that could hurt Obama and destroy any individual who could stop him - and that includes Hillary Clinton, Palin, and an unlicensed plumber who dared to ask a question the media wouldn’t.
This compelling first person approach more than makes up for the film’s few flaws. The first and last ten minutes are sluggishly paced and the soundtrack is frequently intrusive and unnecessary, but once the film’s narrative takes hold these issues are of little consequence. And with a run-time of 115 minutes the overall pacing is deliberate. This is a necessity, though, in order to fairly and fully make the case for an expansive and darkly effective media conspiracy.
So trained are we for the few second clip that it took a while for me to understand that the reason some clips feel longish is because the film is more interested in being fair than fulfilling the needs of our national ADD. We’re not “told” what anyone said. No shady editing techniques are employed to make a subject look bad. Ziegler let’s them talk. Full quotes. Full context. He knows it’s not necessary to play the drive-by game on the drive-byers. They step into the noose and jump all on their own.
It’s worth pointing out that “Media Malpractice” is not anything close to an anti-Obama screed. Obviously within the mission of the film, William Ayers, Jeremiah Wright and other cuts from our current President’s Not So Greatest Hits get some play, but for you reasonable Democrats who were horrified by the media corruption even as it benefited your guy, there’s nothing to fear here.
Palin haters will be disappointed. Included in the DVD is Ziegler’s full 45-minute interview with the Governor, snippets of which were released earlier in the year to great media uproar for her daring to criticize the likes of Katie Couric. Ziegler has the Governor watch and comment on the harshest coverage she received, some of it for the first time, and her impressive poise, good humor, and graciousness, while witnessing the lies and attacks on her family, remains intact. Whatever effect this vicious and partisan coverage may have had on her future is yet to be seen, but that she hasn’t allowed it to get under her skin is obvious.
Narrative or documentary, all good films have a moment that stay with you long after the credits roll, and there’s one here that put a chill down my spine. Directly after Palin’s triumphant acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, which, in effect, made complete fools of all those involved in the coordinated three-day media attempt to destroy her beforehand, NBC anchorman Brian Williams took to the air and read, word for word, a manifesto written by Time magazine’s very partisan Joe Klein demanding the media not relent in their destruction of her. His piece was littered with lies, including the scurrilous one furthered by Charlie Gibson about Palin claiming God was on our side in Iraq, even though a videotape of the event proves otherwise.
Watching Brian Williams, who up to that point had always come off as a slightly befuddled Dad right out of a 50’s sitcom, trumpet a partisan character assassination and call to arms his media cohorts is a revealing look at the rancid heart that beats beneath the blow dry. It’s also a warning.
In the production-values department, “Media Malpractice” may feel a bit rushed in spots but as of right now it’s the most important post-election analysis released and couldn’t be more timely or necessary. We’re less than 20 months away from the next election and you only think you understand the magnitude of media corruption.