Vol. 5    No. 3
February 11, 2010 Archives

2010 Production Schedule


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   For the past few days, I have been laying low at home with the flu. I don’t think it was the H1N1 variety, just the
usual flu that I seem to get every year around this time. As I told a friend the other day, having the flu is almost
like an in-town vacation for me. There is always something going on or something that needs to get done,
especially on the weekends. My ‘Things to Do List’ is never empty. So I always feel the pressure, need or desire
to do something with every waking minute.
   Getting the flu makes me sit back — or should I say lay down — and do nothing.
   For almost a year now, I have been without the use of a television at my house since I don’t have cable TV and
don’t subscribe to cable. For some reason, the flu kills my desire to read much of anything. So I dusted off some
old VHS tapes and did a movie marathon while my body fought off the flu.
   There were two movies that I coincidentally watched back-to-back. The first was ‘All the President’s Men,’ the
film that starred Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in the roles of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and
Carl Bernstein as they investigated the break-in at the Democratic Party offices in the Watergate office building
back in 1972. Their investigative reporting led to the resignation of Richard Nixon a little more than two years
later. It was their persistence and excellent journalistic skills backed by a news organization that had the
resources and reputation that allowed them to uncover the criminal activity in the Nixon White House that if
unchecked could have destroyed our democracy as we know it.
   Watergate spurred the development of a generation of investigative journalists who have reported on many
machinations and shady behavior by people in power — both in the public and private sectors. Some of that
investigative journalism has taken us to greater heights, while some of it has taken us to the lowest lows.
Investigative journalism has both preserved our freedom and titillated our curiosity about the private lives of the
rich and famous.
   The second movie was ‘Absence of Malice,’ which starred Paul Newman and Sally Fields. Fields was a
reporter on a fictional Miami newspaper whose ambition and blindness to the result of her actions allowed her to
be used by federal officials trying to determine who made a Miami labor leader ‘disappear.’ The officials leaked
information to Fields that made it appear that Newman’s character — the owner of an import business and son of
a former mobster — was involved in the disappearance. While Newman was innocent, the allegations and
inferences destroyed his life and business and the newspaper could not be held accountable because there was
an ‘absence of malice.’ While in real life, most of us would have been left devastated while the major character
carried on, Newman’s character did get his revenge on the newspaper and the federal officials. This was
Hollywood after all.
   ‘Absence of Malice’ points out to us that the media does hold an awful amount of power over our lives. It
affects how we perceive each other and how we deal with each other. This kind of power must be used
judiciously and with an understanding of the repercussions of the use of that power. The media is a human
institution created and operated fallible and imperfect beings rife with emotions and desires, beings who can use
that power for their own personal agendas. Within the scheme of things, print journalism does not have the
honesty and truth market cornered.
   Yet within the scheme of things, print journalism, the Fourth Estate, is needed to help keep all of the other
fallible and imperfect institutions made by human beings honest. Print journalism is an intrinsic part of the
balance of power in our society that has helped our communities grow and prosper by keeping the other private
and public actors honest, knowing that their actions and decisions are under scrutiny and are being reported to an
informed electorate and body of consumers upon who their political and financial success are dependent upon.
   In the early 1980s, journalism was made into just another commodity — as opposed to a public service — that
became increasingly influenced by the machinations on Wall Street. News organizations needed to attract the
highest possible audience by featuring the lowest common denominator. Investigative journalism is now more
about John Edwards’ sex life than it is about who exactly paid for the tons and tons of ads that changed public
opinion about health care reform.
   And now the market has left particularly the media, print journalism, devastated as the money has left it —
stocks have plummeted — as people use the Internet more and more to get their news. This bothers me because
the Internet sources of news — many of them — do not have the experience or expertise or resources to do the
kind of investigative journalism that we need to remain a functioning democracy. Life is about more than what
commodity can sell the most at the lowest price. Our information needs cannot be met by a marketplace that
promotes efficiency until it has decimated the actors within it. Print journalism does more for our society than
give us information. I hope we realize that before it is too late.
Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
                     Absence of journalism?
Buffalo Soldiers
Richard Scott's play looks at African
Americans in the Old West