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segunda-feira, março 07, 2005

Media e Superioridade Moral

On the CNN network, across the globe, a commercial presently runs. It is made by Christiane Amanpour, the world’s highest-paid reporter, and it is about Christiane Amanpour. She is promoting herself - as a foreign correspondent who is brave, investigative and caring. Foreign reporting is tough, Amanpour tells us, in a piece of self-flattery astounding even by the standards of the broadcast media. You need nerve and guts and mental fortitude just to keep going.
This kind of stuff confirms one of journalism’s most treacherous trends. That is, moral superiority: its steely determination to take the moral high ground and deny it to everyone else, especially the political class - except to the wretched of the earth, on whom it bestows the benediction of its sympathy and attention, and to whom it attributes a moral purity which Christian tradition made the prerequisite of the poor.

As The Atlantic Monthly correspondent Robert Kaplan points out in a recent article in Policy Review, Christian tradition has a lot to do with it. “The medieval age,” he writes, “was tyrannised by a demand for spiritual perfection, making it hard to accomplish anything practical... today, the global media make demands on generals and civilian politicians that require a category of perfectionism with which medieval authorities would have been familiar... and, as the editorial tastes of the tabloids morph into those of the mainstream media, the pace of character destruction quickens.”

Push the religious parallel a little further: most churches, certainly at the peak of their power, were apt to detect in a small sin the revelation of a large inner corruption. So the media - especially in countries where politicians and business people are more or less honest, and so the pickings on the dunghills of corruption are meagre - find in small transgressions implicit or explicit proof of turpitude or diseased practices, or just enjoy the glow of satisfaction which often comes from revealing sin.

The transgressions are often real. When the British media ended the career of David Blunkett, the home secretary, they did so after slavering for weeks over the details of an affair - but did in the end find grubby transgressions. When the French media ended the career of Herve Gaymard, the finance minister, last week, they did discover that he had rented a costly apartment at taxpayers’ expense - prompting him to issue a series of lies and self-pitying fables that sealed his fate.

Are not their resignations a sign of the success of the media in acting as our moral guardians? Up to a point. It’s reassuring to know that those who wield power can be cut down if abuses are revealed. But the media do that only because they constitute another very large power, able to dictate the rules of the game.

The danger of this is twofold. First, these corporations are entertainment businesses, and news is increasingly a branch of the entertainment industry: the vast resources put in to exposing small crimes is in the much-loved, time-honoured tradition of pulling down the mighty. News organisations dictate the terms of moral failure but are themselves above judgment, because they have no responsibility for the consequences of the courses they advise.

The consequences of their power, however, are becoming clearer. One such small consequence is that a good reporter like Amanpour can allow herself to undergo a transfiguration into a global saviour. Superman, in his day job, was the reporter Clark Kent, but he was a comic strip hero and he had the decency to change clothes before claiming super-hero status. Now, the news media believe they can make a reporter into Superwoman, not by a transformation, but a confirmation.

FT.com / Arts & Weekend - Saviour on camera two


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