Friday, February 03, 2006
DISCUSSION NOTES/QUESTIONS: "Citizen Kane" -- for Feb. 9 class discussion
Please post your own comments on the type of journalism expressed in the 1941 film by Orson Welles, "Citizen Kane" -- the peculiar combination of populism, morality and anti-establishment jingoism. What in our current
media is most like Charles Foster Kane? Do you think the prevalence of institutional investor-owned media companies which de-emphasize the personalities or personal agendas of their managements -- alters the moral
force of journalism? Does that matter to democracy?
Some first notes on Citizen Kane. This is also on the blog -- you can post comments there.
Read the WikiPedia profile of William Randolph Hearst to see how closely Orson Welles followed the life of the real William Randolph Hearst is the plot line for "Citizen Kane."
Here are some (not perfectly transcribed) quotes from the dialog of Citizen Kane which illustrate journalistic issues:
FROM THE NEWSREEL:
The announcer talking about Charles Foster Kane:
"Persistently attacked the American notion of private property . . . nothing more than a communist . . . a facist."
Q: The notion of a populist publisher who attacks the status quo: Do we have that now in mainstream media? Why or why not?
"No public issue on which Kane newspapers took no public stand." Supporting then denouncing public officials.
Q: Do newspapers consistently take a public stand? Or was that a feature of the personal journalism of the press baron? Is it good or bad to have journalism that is not personal in its point of view?
"You take Mr. Kane -- it wasn't money that he wanted . . . all he ever wanted out of life was love -- that's Charlie's story . . . that's the story how he lost it, you see, he didn't have anything to give."
He never believed in anything except Charlie Kane. he never had a conviction except Charlie Kane's life.
Q: Would there be any value in returning to an era in which media owners "don't want money"? Why or why not?
Kane: "I've always been an American." But a nation had ceased to trust him. An interesting observation -- the notion that a newspaper' s influence stems primarily from the trust it engenders.
KANE TALKING TO HIS FINANCIER:
"The trouble is you don't realize you're talking to two people." He owns shares in the "traction trust." He says: "Charles Foster Kane is a scoundrel." But on the other hand, he says he is also the publisher of The Inquirer. and: "As such
is my duty, and it is also my pleasure to see that decent hard working people in this community are not robbed blind by a pack of thieving pirates." Here you have the classic notion, covered in the Hutchins Commission -- that a
publisher must be willing to advocate even against his own personal interest. We see this later in the film, too, when Kane allows his own papers to publish terrible reviews of his opera-star girlfriend. Today, do to believe NBC's
coverage of corporations, nuclear power and the defense industry is unaffected by the interests of its parent? Do the major newspaper chains cover TV-newspaper cross-ownership issues before the FCC. We will have Kristina
Borjesson with us later in the semester, and she'll talk about this issue. Does ownership really matter -- that' s the question.
Why is missing woman in Brooklyn not in inquirer. Editor says: "We're running a newspaper."
Says Kane: "If the headline is big enough it makes the news big enough."
Says editor: "It is not our custom to print the gossip of housewifes."
"Mr. Carter, it is going to be our custom to be interested in that sort of thing from now on," replies Kane.
Note that he suggest the reporter say he is from 'the central office" without saying he is a newspaper person. Is that a form of unethical misrepresentation, or just telling a partial truth?
Fascinating -- Kane belives in advocating against his own interest --- as in the traction trust -- but he is convinced that he must print gossip to get readership. He says: "I've got to make the New York Inquirer as important to the people of this city as the gas in that light."
And his credo:
"I'll provide the people of this city with a daily newspaper that will tell all the news honestly. People have got to know who's responsible. And the have to got get the trust simply and entertainingly . . . and nobody has got to be allowed to interfere with them getting that truth . . . "I'll also provide them with a fighter and tireless champion of their
rights as citizens."
An important document: "Like the constitution or the declaration of independence. '
Q: No one interferring with the truth -- is this a critical tenet of journalism? How is it corrupted when part-time or unpaid people function as journalists?
What does Kane (Orwell) imply in this statement --
"I have money and property. If I don't look after the interests of the underprivileged, maybe somebody else will."
"People will think what I tell them to think."
As he gets older, we see Kane believing that he can move public opinion like a herd. is there danger in this?
"She was a cross-section of the American public."
Says "Jedidiah" --
"You talk about the people as if you own them .... as if you could give them a present of liberty . . . you used to write an awful lot about the working man. He is turning into organized labor . . . you are going to find your working man
expects something as his right, not as your gift. And if your underprivleged get together, that will add up to something bigger than your privilege and I don't know what you'll do --- sail away to a desert island.
Q: How do you react to this benevolent, parternalistic attitude -- a sort of company town mentality -- vs. a people-are-sovereign approach?
And when Kane's old friend writes a terrible review:
It represents a new low -- finishing the review. "he's writing a bad review -- like you wanted it to be. That's gotta show you."
Says Kane to the reviewer: "Sure, we're speaking, you're fired." How do you explain such behavior -- slaying the messenger, yet giving his readers exactly the message the messenger was delivering? Again, an exhibition of
"objectivity" -- the conveyance of the truth regardless of his own opinion?
"He thought that by finishing that notice, he could prove he was an honest man."