I just walked out of watching She Said, a dramatization of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and I am spellbound at the portrayal of good old fashioned investigative journalism as the hero, along with the journalists Jody Kantor and Megan Twohey who broke the story of systematic coverup and enabling of the sexual harassment of one of Hollywood’s biggest producers Harvey Weinstein of Miramax who is now in jail.
I had once been an aspiring journalist myself, first as co-Editor of my college newspaper with a girl from Bahrain (a Jew and a Muslim girl — we had no problems with that!), then actually working at an independent television production house which made shows for PBS and the CBC here in Canada and had guests such as diplomat Paul Bremmer, who had been working in Henry Kissinger’s office at the time and who is at least partially responsible for the breakdown of society in Iraq after the second Gulf War because he stupidly disbanded the Iraqi Army.
Working for the boss Larry Shapiro, was an eye opener. He was a gruff little man who nonetheless commandeered some of the higher echelons of media and politics especially in his show The Editors which drew second-tiered but still quite powerful people. As a very green newbie just out of university I played the part that so many of the young interns and actresses did on Harvey Weinstein’s productions: at the powerless lower-end of the totem pole. I am not suggesting Larry or anyone else at World Affairs in the office are guilty of any sort of sexual harassment (although all the women working there did just happen to be gorgeous) — I am simply pointing to the power dynamics of the media in general, as a domain that people fight to get into and are at the mercy of the higher ups perpetually or just about. I will not go into detail about how this is compounded by the fact that the media has been pushed-and-pulled viciously by high tech and high finance in recent decades, but you might surmise that this only makes this whole field more problematic. You can read the excellent books Chokepoint Capitalism: How Big Tech and Big Content Captured Creative Labor and How We’ll Win Them Back by Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow as well as The Death of the Artist: How Creators are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech for more on that.
Like at the New York Times, portrayed quite benevolently in She Said, working at World Affairs felt like a calling — this was way back in the late nineties — but I was quickly disillusioned as a young intern, again not like the women in She Said, nothing even comparably so, but rather simply by the impossibility of earning anything like a reasonable living doing this kind of, what I like to think of, altruistic work.
Indeed, it is funny to me that this so-called Effective Altruism, at least partially mucked up by the whole FTX fiasco, is an attempt again, by powerful people in Big Tech akin to the Hollywood Moguls of old, to pretend to admonish themselves for their very questionable business tactics, as Sam Bankman-Fried was certainly doing, all the while having eviscerated whole domains which were once altruistic at their core, being journalism, and especially investigative journalism.
Certainly the idealism of even new media is also being squeezed out by men now more powerful than any in human history save perhaps world conquerors like Alexander the Great or what Hitler had dreamed to be. Ambition is trumping idealism here at every stage of the game when it comes to creative or more pure altruistic work which She Said, like most other recent journalism movies, portray being throwbacks to more innocent times after the Second Word War or thereabouts, the scene of great dramas like that of Woodward and Bernstein, journalists who took down a President for corruption.
After all, Jeff Bezos does now own the Washington Post, Peter Thiel (who is busy bankrolling fanatic right wing Republicans and took out Gawker and its offspring Valleywag, which was the only authentic coverage of the real goings-on of Silicon Valley save perhaps Kara Swisher), and the granddaddy of them all now Elon Musk, who bought the entire platform which is serving as the proverbial town square and which every journalist and most politicians rely on to get their message across.
My basic point is that the gyrations of global tech and media, which are ever more intimately intertwined, rarely allow for the kind of idealism exhibited in She Said, and I am looking to find it myself and have perhaps located some in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism.
More on that in a future post.