Dems and GOP Agree: Independent Journalism Is Bad News

Filmmaker Charles Ferguson–director of the financial crisis documentary Inside Job–announced that he was no longer going to make a nonfiction film for CNN about Hillary Clinton: “After painful reflection, I decided that I couldn’t make a film of which I would be proud,” he wrote in the Huffington Post (9/30/13). “And so I’m canceling.”

The reasons why he’s pulling out of the project are interesting–and disturbing. “Neither political party wanted the film made,” he noted:

Phillipe Reines, Hillary Clinton’s media fixer…contacted various people at CNN, interrogated them, and expressed concern about alleged conflicts of interest generated because my film was a for-profit endeavor….

The chairman of the Republican National Committee announced that the Republicans would boycott CNN with regard to the Republican presidential primary debates in 2016. Shortly afterwards, the entire RNC voted to endorse this position…. Quietly and privately, prominent Democrats made it known both to CNN and to me that they weren’t delighted with the film, either….

David Brock…published an open letter on his highly partisan Democratic website Media Matters, in which he endorsed the Republican National Committee’s position, repeating Reines’ conflict of interest allegations and suggesting that my documentary would revive old, discredited Clinton scandal stories….

This bipartisan disapproval of the idea of an independent filmmaker conducting an in-depth journalistic investigation into the life of Hillary Clinton is striking. It seems that the problem is not that either side has reason to suspect that the project will be biased either for or against Clinton; rather, the objection appears to be to a high-profile examination that would not be controlled by either side. In other words, the objection seems to be to journalism itself–and a sign that politicians believe that from here on out they will be able to run campaigns without bothering to deal at all with media that haven’t been paid for.

The opposition from Democrats and Republicans alike made it impossible, Ferguson said, to make the kind of film he wanted to make:

When I approached people for interviews, I discovered that nobody, and I mean nobody, was interested in helping me make this film. Not Democrats, not Republicans–and certainly nobody who works with the Clintons, wants access to the Clintons, or dreams of a position in a Hillary Clinton administration. Not even journalists who want access, which can easily be taken away. I even sensed potential difficulty in licensing archival footage from CBN (Pat Robertson) and from Fox. After approaching well over a hundred people, only two persons who had ever dealt with Mrs. Clinton would agree to an on-camera interview, and I suspected that even they would back out.

Now, it’s certainly possible to make a documentary on someone without the participation of their friends–or enemies. For the good of journalism, in fact, it would have been better if Ferguson had gone ahead and made his documentary, and demonstrated that refusing to be interviewed for a film doesn’t keep it from happening–it just makes it less likely to include your point of view.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.