Call it masochism. Why else would we invite a roomful of journalists to critique our new show that critiques journalism, just hours before it premiered on IFC? (The IFC Media Project, IFC, 8:00PM, Tuesdays)
But that's exactly what we did last Tuesday at Michael's Restaurant -- New York's "media industry eatery" -- where Arianna Huffington moderated a lunchtime panel to discuss the state of media today.
It was a fascinating scene. There was Gideon Yago, our show's host, on stage with serious journalistic heavyweights: old-schooler Pete Hamill, New York Times conservative columnist Bill Kristol, conservative writer and satirist Christopher Buckley. And there was that roomful of reporters and reviewers, eating their lunches, watching everything with a critical eye.
As the event got underway, I had no idea what to expect from the panel. With so many differently-minded, politically savvy personalities in the mix, I had to ask myself - "What are we getting into here?"
What we got into, if I can put it politely, was a "lively exchange of ideas."
Gideon was talking about our second episode (airs Tuesday 11/25, 8:00PM) which examines how the media has covered the Iraq war and how the Bush administration has used propaganda tactics to control the story.
"You have to search YouTube like you're looking for hardcore pornography to find actual images from the Iraq War," said Gideon, kicking off the discussion.
The panel erupted into an electrifying debate. All of a sudden, Pete Hamill and Bill Kristol were arguing furiously about whether the American People have seen the real war at all.
This kind of questioning of conventional wisdom is exactly what this show is about.
It was a great moment, to see how simply questioning the media's role in selling this war can turn an ordinary discussion into a meaty argument about the role of the media itself. It was riveting.
But don't take my word for it - you can check out the full panel discussion here:
Amazingly, before the panel was even over, word of the exchange had spread. Media folks in the audience were twittering the whole thing and there were nearly instantaneous reports of the panel's entire discussion posted online by the time I got back to my office. Even the Huffington Post reported on some of the action, and also links to other online stories:
The best part about it all is that they were discussing the very real issues addressed in the show, not the show itself. Our lofty goal was achieved with rapid-fire success.
That kind of immediacy, this power of the Internet to make all things that happen instantly known, is of course part of what is killing the newspaper and a large part of what is revolutionizing the world we live in.
"If mainstream media is suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), then online media is suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)" - Arianna Huffington
It's a theme we'll explore in detail in our sixth episode, but it was certainly bizarre to experience first hand.
This week, we're digging into the coverage of the war in Iraq. One segment gives the first hand account of Benjamin Lowy , a photojournalist on the ground in Iraq.
And my favorite piece (the one that caused such a furor at the panel) delves into the genesis of the Pentagon's embedded media program and their use of "force multipliers" - the TV military analysts -- to push the administration's message on the American people. It's called "propaganda" -- even the Pentagon says so! Be sure to check it out.
The goal of The IFC Media Project is to delve into the media, to look at the forces and interests that shape our news, at how it is gathered and how it is packaged.
We can better understand where we are now by looking at the past, and we can better shape the future if we not only question the powers that shape our world, but demand better from them.
The point of the show is not the show itself, but the issues within it. If The IFC Media Project can raise important questions like, does the pro-Israel lobby influence news coverage? or does the Pentagon use the news media to achieve its own agenda? and get people really talking about the issues, then we have accomplished what we set out to do.