Absence of Malice is a 1981 film about unscrupulous prosecutors, reporters who are more interested in getting the story out than in getting the story right, and finally someone derailing a malicious persecution of an innocent person.
The movie starred
Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Sally Field, and Wilfred Brimley in a small but crucial to the story role as the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) who sets things right.
The synopsis from IMDB reads,
Note that I said it was released in 1981, not 2018.
The world was different in 1981, the print media, along with television had a choke hold on the dissemination of the news. There was no Internet, CNN was a year old and for the most part people only had cable TV when they couldn’t receive broadcast TV. The news media set the narrative. The New York Times was king of print media, CBS, ABC, and NBC had a monopoly on electronic media.
Most people believed what they read without question because most people believed that the media honestly reported the news without political slant.
Ahh, for the simple days of old.
We now know that the media has long, if not always, slanted to the news to favor the political leanings of publishers, editors, and reporters. The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers in an effort to undermine the Vietnam War effort and to harm President Nixon. They did that despite the fact that every action documented in the Pentagon report had occurred well before Nixon was elected to his first term.
Then there was good old Walter Cronkite, who was really the most trusted name in TV news for years. In February of 1968, he reported that the Tet Offensive was a disaster for the United States and a victory for the Vietcong. In reality, it was just the opposite. The Vietcong as an effective fighting force were decimated, the United States won a significant victory. As a result of the losses at least 45,000 Communist fighters to the loss of about 1,000 US and South Vietnamese soldiers. Yet, the reporting by Cronkite never mentioned that and the American public was fooled into believing that we were stuck in an unwinnable war.
The trends have only accelerated since then. Now, with cable news, a false story can circle the planet in minutes, especially a false story that makes the United States, conservatives, and particularly President Trump look bad. Corrections to false stories are almost unheard of, although Trump has indeed coerced the media to print corrections and even apologies on a few occasions.
We’re seeing a politically contrived investigation (actually more than one), with almost non stop leaks to the media. Those leaks are published with breathless anticipation of impending “big” indictments, only to find that the leaks were wrong, the indictments illusory, and stories utterly false. The stories are never updated, corrected, or heaven forfend retracted. The next day it’s on to the next big scandal, leak, and inaccurate news story.
Absence of Malice was meant to be a cautionary tale about the power of the press to harm innocent people in the quest for a “big stories”. Sadly, it seems that all too many in the media have viewed it as a “How to” guide for destroying people it views as enemies.
We are already seeing that the major harm has been to the news media, not the President. Not only that, but the public is becoming more and more skeptical of every news outlet. If you watched clown show that was the White House physician’s press conference last week, you know what I mean. “Journalists” which we used to call reporters, kept asking the same questions over and over, hoping to catch the doctor in a lie or misstatement. A couple verged on accusing him of lying and Sanjai Gupta violated both journalistic and medical ethos by opining that the President clearly had “cardiac disease”.
Some dipshit journalist came out and demanded that the President step on a scale on live TV to prove that his weight was as his doctor stated.
In the end, all that they succeeded in doing was making themselves look small, petty, and dull witted.
I’d suggest that journalists should watch “Absence of Malice” and take home the lessons contained therein. Sadly, I’m sure that they would take home the wrong lessons.
Oh, you’ll need an electron microscope to find the upcoming report of the FISA court abuses by the previous administration, and some high ranking officials at the FBI and DOJ. That should be the biggest scandal in politics since Watergate, but I’m not holding my breath.