The reporter and the reported

Today in class, we talked about the big elephant in the room of journalism: ethics.

It was a pretty interesting conversation, and it really did surprise me thinking about how often journalists run into ethical dilemmas.

I won’t describe the exact dilemma we were discussing, but basically, a reporter had to decide whether or not to err on the side of their source or their editor. The source didn’t want a story published for a week for a certain reason, but the editor wanted it published that night. It was a long conversation that followed suit – should she have pushed back against the editor? Should a reporter automatically trust a source?, etc – and I really thought about it afterward.

The main point I took out from this whole conversation was the idea of trust and how elusive trust can be within the reporter-source relationship. Sometimes the source doesn’t want you to publish something (or a whole article, for that matter), and this could be done out of good intentions or bad intentions. Sometimes the source wants you to do the complete opposite: publish, publish, publish!

But, in a class I took last semester, I remember perking up about a sentence my professor said: “You can never tell anyone’s intentions ever about anything.”

If you think about it, it’s true. You can’t tell anyone’s intentions. This veil that conceals everyone’s actions is particularly apparent when a reporter is talking to a source, and understandably so. The reporter is coming into the situation with a goal (an article) and the source is coming into the situation with a different goal (their voice, opinion, makeshift personal PR campaign, etc.). This is complicated when both reporter and source play the status game: the reporter is asserting his or her role as the tough but empathetic questioner, and the source is playing a marionette game with the things he or she decides to tell the reporter.

It can be incredibly exhausting. Thinking about it certainly doesn’t help, either!

I’m writing this post because I was actually doing something totally different from journalism – trying to find the former Gen. Petraeus’ Army counterinsurgency release – that lead me to an interesting website. This website provided the link to the old counterinsurgency release, and it was obvious that this person who owned the site was a severely distrusting, left-leaning, anti-government citizen.

Of course, using this website as a reliable source would hardly be a good idea. But there was one great point this website owner said as a disclaimer below the release’s .pdf link. He told the viewer to make sure to remember that while this document was easily accessible, this accessibility is questionable itself. He was basically saying that because this document was public, it was a subtle shot at publicity for the Army. He also said that he’d prefer to have the military do its bidding and finish its jobs privately, instead of pulling in the public with a cheap shot at PR in its public releases.

(Now, I’m not saying big huge companies and big players like the Army should keep documents private. I’m not. I’m just saying he made an interesting point.)

I mean, think about it. This guy makes a good point. Any large entity that knowingly releases a document, series of documents or even a mere press release has some intentions that aren’t going to be stated in said document. Even if said entity releases documents after pressure, you must admit that some conversations had to happen to make sure it was okay and that ultimately wouldn’t ruin everything. Of course, I’ve never pressured anyone for sensitive documents – so maybe I’m out of my element there.

But anyway.

Any other source could very much do the same thing – using his or her knowledge and documents as a bargaining chip. Perhaps making a poker reference is too cynical. But, in a way, the conversation between reporter and source is a game – a game within which both sides must play.

In the discussion today, it seemed that some people perceived this source to be malicious in his request to have the article not be published yet. Others thought it was a rightful use of privacy. I’m not sure which one is right. Maybe elements of both are.

Maybe he did want to control the media. Maybe he did just want to keep his private affairs under wraps.

His intentions are unknown. So are everyone else’s.

Reading intentions is impossible – literally – but hopefully there’s a way to counter the “game” we play with sources. Personally, I’m a little too trusting. But some of my counterparts can be too skeptical.

I’m not quite sure when is the right time to push the skeptical card, and when is the right time to trust your gut and your source.

I’m sure that’s a problem that professional journalists have too. Does it get easier? That’d be something I’d like to know.

For once, I don’t have a beautiful sum-up sentence for a post. It’s an issue that leaves me conflicted. Hopefully over time I will learn to deal with it with more elegance than edginess.

A break from all that Super Bowl talk: my way-too-long and gushing review of Rust and Bone

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I saw Rust and Bone tonight.

And, yes, in case you were wondering, I did know it was Super Bowl Sunday. (Well, I actually forgot it was Super Bowl Sunday until I went on Facebook this morning and was quickly reminded.)

I had been wanting to see this movie for a while; one, because it has Marion Cotillard in it and two, because the plot seemed interesting. And I wanted to get away from the athletic chaos of today, and a dark theatre always seems fit to help me do that. I sporadically decided to see this today, knowing nothing of the plot other than the fact that Marion Cotillard losing her legs (still blown away by how they did that). It turns out that seeing Rust and Bone was a very, very good decision and it was much more than lost legs.

I’ve actually, for once, seen a lot of the films that are up for Oscar nominations this year, and I truly enjoyed a lot of them. But this one really, honestly was the best I’ve seen. And it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in years.

They say that you’re not supposed to review a movie until a day or something after you see it, but whatever.

I’m almost glad that I went into this movie not knowing the plot – it really helped me because I was able to process the plot and the scenes my own way, granting me an individual response that I think the director intended. So, if you’re reading this right now, go ahead, but I actually recommend that you stop if you really want to see the movie. I’ve gone blind into movies and come out very happy by doing so – seeing Shame and Irreversible first come to mine – and I really want to continue to do so. I advocate for blind movie-watching, so this is my semi-spoiler alert. Do what you will.

What I liked most about this film wasn’t the full-bodied characters that are in it (although they are nothing to disregard), but how tightly wound all of the details are. Many films fall into the black hole of detail, leaving the viewer confused and feeling almost robbed of a full-circle satisfaction. Everything that happens in this film connects to something else. A conversation between Ali and a fighter (or his business partner?) connect to a tattoo Stephanie gets. The importance of a hand to Ali connects to a moment where his son’s finger slowly move around Ali’s, which are bandaged (talk about metaphors, phewwww). Stephanie’s old profession and her love of the water connects to her rehabilitation and also to Ali’s son’s brush with fate which then leads to Ali’s subsequent psychological revelation and rehabilitation into a better person (the film, by the way, tries really, really hard to make you hate Ali).

And the tragedy, reality, fragility and inevitable degradation of our bodies connects every single character in a different way.

There are several other main connecting fibers that thread through the film, and they’re all incredibly important to the flow of the film. Literally, the fiber of water comments on the slow and steady pace of the film: the first scene is a shore, and the last scene comes about from a terrifying handshake with coldness and death. Water is what brings Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) to her fate as an amputee but it’s also what brings her back to positivity. The food in the film is even non-solid; there’s yogurt and pudding, but you see very little (if any) of solid food. The film has a fluidity in almost every detail.

In fact, watching this film was probably a good thing, considering today. Physicality is a huge motif in the film; the director toys with your perception of the body, how it acts, and how it interacts with other bodies. Tonight, many people were tuned into their boxes of plasma and bright light, watching bodies hurl around and run frenetically across a field. All of the ceremony of the Super Bowl – the food, the commercials, Beyonce, the beer, the parties, the socializing – all really evolves around these bodies going through the regimented dance we call American football. I think the Super Bowl is a bit much to take, but it is interesting to think about how, at the end of the day, people are still attracted to people and physical strength for some innate, animalistic nature. That’s nothing to scoff at.

Similar to the game of football and equally as subtly, the film is a constant comment on the physical body. Stephanie finds herself attracted to Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) and their physical relationship is really vague and questionable all throughout the film. She says in the beginning that she goes to clubs because she likes to attract men, she likes to see their arousal; when she thinks she loses her ability to do just that, in the same club where she originally met Ali, she not only becomes insecure, but she covers her legs with her jacket and gazes at the other women’s legs (it’s a very moving moment, at least as a woman). Beyond that, Ali becomes an one-the-side fighter for money. The scenes of the fighters are very tight shots and they’re fraught with emotion, and when he’s fighting, Stephanie is relegated to staying in the car. The physicality of the movie also shows how physical the feeling of isolation can be: Ali, by mistake, isolates himself and Stephanie is forced to be isolated. If anyone’s ever felt crippling isolation, this film illustrates it very eloquently.

This reminds me of another connecting fiber: debilitation. Each character is debilitated at some point in the film, for some reason. Stephanie is the most clearly debilitated. Ali is debilitated by his violent streak, and he strains personal relationships because of it; he is also debilitated, literally, by his fights, even when he wins. In the end, his hands are the final victim, and they make his character come full circle. Ali’s son Sam (Armand Verdure) is debilitated at the end of the movie in a harrowing and tragic scene. Ali’s business partner is caught in the end for a shady business he runs, and a slew of employees (including his sister) and management are destroyed alongside him: it’s a chain of debilitation.

You could say that the ending is a little disappointing, a little too positive. Perhaps that would be my one complaint. I would have been okay with the film ending with the scene at the end that is the same as the first scene of the boy breathing. But the ending leaves you satisfied, and it makes sense, because there’s a sense of relief that comes with watching the film. The film doesn’t shove any interpretation onto you, but it doesn’t stay vague and distant like it could have. Every detail makes sense. I had no questions at the end, but it was by no means shallow. It was just perfectly honed. I was so satisfied throughout the whole film, and once the details became more and more tied up, nicely and beautifully, I was okay with the ending. (Besides, it would have been way too depressing if it ended any other way.)

At the very end (if you still want to see it and are still for some reason reading this, it’s no big deal, the last scene doesn’t reveal anything), you see Ali, Stephanie and Sam through a rotating hotel front door. It’s a perfect window through which to see these characters as an audience member: like the door, they come full circle, completely developed and needing to offer no more to the audience. But as characters themselves, they come full circle from the beginning of the film to the end. It’s a positive message, even if it’s only a couple minutes.

It’s a very intentional film, but it’s not pretentious. It’s mindful of itself, but it’s not contrived. It’s a film about the body, the soul, the mind and the world, and it’s all wrapped up in a minimal, beautiful, poignant package. You can’t get much more full-circle than that.

Seriously. Go see it.

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…And, not to mention, Bon Iver happened to be the opening and closing song of the film. What more could you really ask for?

(Photos do not belong to me. RIghts remain with Sony Pictures.)