Sunday, March 1, 2015

Jean-Philippe Tremblay's "Shadows of Liberty" exposes the corruption and failure of mainstream media

Filmmaker Jean-Philippe Tremblay knows the powerful forces aligned against democracy and a free press today, but he also knows that a revolution is underway to fight those forces.

“I think there is an uprising now,” says the maker of the amazing film documentary Shadows of Liberty, which details the dismal failure of mainstream media to live up to the legacy of Thomas Paine and other journalists who risked their lives to give people truth and freedom. “We have to react. This is a real time of change.”

A special screening of Shadows of Liberty was presented at Off-Square Books in Oxford, Miss., Saturday (Feb. 28) evening with yours truly, Joe Atkins, serving as moderator of a discussion with the audience after the screening.

The documentary features a series of stories showing how major mainstream media worked hand-in-glove with corporate America and the U.S. government to either kill or distort stories that threatened Wall Street or the military-industrial complex Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about so many years ago.

Noted activists, journalists and authors like Julian Assange, Amy Goodman, Norman Solomon, Robert McChesney, Danny Glover, Daniel Ellsberg and Chris Hedges “give insider accounts of a broken media system,” according to a press release announcing the screening. The screening was sponsored by Square Books, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Oxford, and DocFactory.

“Controversial news reports are suppressed, people are censored for speaking out, and lives are shattered as the arena for public expression is turned into a private profit zone,” the release said.

Inspired by the writings of veteran journalist Ben Bagdikian on media consolidation, Tremblay assembles a compelling narrative that includes a much-needed retelling of the story of Gary Webb, the San Jose Mercury News reporter who scooped the national media with his “Dark Alliance” stories in the 1990s showing how the CIA was complicit with the Nicaraguan Contras in creating the crack epidemic in the United States.

Even though a subsequent government report validated Webb’s reportage, he was viciously attacked by the mainstream media, which essentially colluded with the government to try to deny the story and ridicule Webb. Webb ultimately committed suicide.

The documentary shows how Democrat Bill Clinton worked with Republican Newt Gingrich in securing passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act that handed much of the nation’s media on a silver platter to mega-corporations to consolidate and ultimately devour.

 The film issues a strong warning that the Internet with all its democratic promise faces a possible similar fate in the “Net Neutrality” debate.

A validation of Tremblay’s statement that “there is an uprising now” came just this past week as the Federal Communications Commission ruled in favor of net neutrality and put the lie to Republican opponents’ effort to brand the issue as “Obamacare for the Internet.”

The FCC ruling, which prevents major corporate providers from taking complete control of content and the cost of content on their networks, came after a strong endorsement of net neutrality by President Obama, itself a result of intense public pressure across the country against the corporate takeover. That pressure was the work of grassroots civic organizations that proved corporate lobbying doesn’t always win.

Tremblay’s documentary is in the grand tradition of the revolutionary journalism that Thomas Paine, Ida B. Wells, Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, Dorothy Day, George Seldes and I.F Stone practiced. Labor South puts itself in that tradition. In fact, Shadows of Liberty makes a nice companion to the landmark 1997 documentary Tell the Truth and Run by filmmaker Rick Goldsmith about Seldes’ amazing career as a journalist and press critic.

Students in my Media Ethics course at the University of Mississippi are going to see Shadows of Liberty. It’s news worth spreading.

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