Turning the Lens Around

The IFC Media Project: exploring, criticizing, and prodding the press

There’s an old saying out there that journalism is a craft and not a science. And if that’s actually the case, then there’s fewer crafts in this country that have failed up quite as spectacularly, quite as often, as the modern sideshow that passes itself off as American news.

So begins The IFC Media Project, a six-part series alternately exploring, praising, and criticizing the news media. The intro—narrated, as is the rest of the series, by Gideon Yago, a former correspondent for CBS and MTV News—strikes a fitting tone: The “praise” involved here is incidental; most of the series focuses on criticism—and, often, condemnation—of the media.

And most of that comes with a healthy dose of controversy. The first half-hour episode, premiering tonight, focuses on the media’s “fascination with the elusive missing white girl”—Caylee Anthony, in particular—the government’s use of propaganda in “selling” policy decisions to the public; and on “the third rail of American journalism”: the relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Citing the fact that Israeli media are in constant debate about their citizens’ tenuous relationship with Palestinians, UC-Irvine professor Mark Levine asks, “Why don’t we have this debate here in America? What shapes the way we talk about Israel? Why does there seem to be so much that we can’t talk about?” The episode goes on to interview The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy author John Mearsheimer.

The project—featuring interviews with, among others, Tucker Carlson, Valerie Plame-Wilson, Dan Rather, Ken Silverstein, Christopher Dickey, Morley Safer, and David Barstow—was produced by Meghan O’Hara, who collaborated with Michael Moore on Sicko, Farhenheit 9/11, and Bowling for Columbine. And it certainly has a Moorian sensibility to it, for better or for worse. But considering that Americans spend, on average, 70 percent of their day exposed to media of some kind, kudos are in order to any project that explores, as Yago puts it, “what the media gets right, what it gets wrong, and who calls the shots that influence what you actually see.”

The series premieres on the IFC channel at 8 tonight. More info, and online viewing, is available on IFC’s Web site.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.