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11 April 2011

Tim Robbins: That battered old courtesan of a press

The Oscar-nominated actor bemoans journalism’s current state in this week's New Statesman.

By Duncan Robinson

In a guest commentary in this week’s New Statesman, on newsstands now, the actor and activist Tim Robbins deplores the state of modern journalism – and appreciates that, as an actor, he really shouldn’t.

“Full disclosure: I am an actor and I have no right to express my opinion in any forum other than a make-up chair,” writes Robbins. “I have, in the past, it is true, foolishly raised questions about my country’s rush to war and I have since been humbled by the wisdom and vision of the neoconservatives, who have realised such vibrant democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Journalism is not beyond hope, Robbins argues. “We have seen recently how journalists’ commitment to their profession can make the difference in a society that teeters between dictatorship and democracy,” he writes. “Telling the truth in a volatile time can empower the powerless and facilitate a fundamental shift in consciousness.

“I want to believe that every journalist working these days holds these truths to be self-evident but I’m not sure. Rare was the brave descendant of Woodward and Bernstein who challenged the pro-war narrative spun by the powerful after the 11 September 2001 attacks.”

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There is, however, a lack of accountability among those who work today in journalism. “Considering that no one in the upper echelons of the press lost their job for getting the facts so monumentally wrong in the lead-up to wars that resulted in such a cost in lives and a depletion of the American treasury, we shouldn’t be surprised at the poor quality of reporting on the rise of the ‘Tea Party’, or the outbreak of revolutions in the Middle East, or the Julian Assange affair.”

Robbins says that the press, which has “been sharing her bed with the likes of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney et al, who got knocked up with and gave birth to their bastard war, now stands in judgement of legitimate democratic movements and demonises one of the last truth-tellers as a rapist, without waiting for the due process of a trial.

“Then, as is wont to happen in a society that worships distraction when thoughts of revolution abroad and press freedom at home start to disturb our sense of equilibrium, along comes an actor in meltdown and we are blissfully brought into the pornography again.

“Our airwaves have been liberated by Charlie Sheen – say hallelujah! We blissfully stare at the car wreck of the unstable celebrity and are absolved of our responsibility to think about the world or our involvement with it.”