Kane Pappas, Director of "Orwell Rolls in His Grave," PART
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
part of this interview can be found here.
As BuzzFlash has repeatedly taken note, we believe that "Orwell Rolls
in His Grave" is a brilliantly assembled documentary that cinematically
distills down to its essence the argument that the corporate media have become
a de facto extension of the Republican party. And it's all accomplished
in a low-key, low-budget style that only adds credibility to the weight of
For the time being, BuzzFlash.com is the exclusive seller of "Orwell
Rolls in His Grave."
Here is the second part of our interview with Robert Kane Pappas, the New York-based
director and producer of "Orwell Rolls in His Grave."
Lewis talks about the Internet as one of the hopeful opportunities
for the free exchange of information without major corporate control.
But he also sounds a note of caution in saying we don’t know
how long that’s going to last. While the documentary does leave
some hope because of the free-ranging democracy, Tom Paine style, that’s
still available on the Internet, there is an ominous note from someone
who’s been one of the experts in watching the FCC that the Internet
may, in the near future, come under the corporate control and censorship
that we’ve seen in the mainstream media.
What are your thoughts about both the hope in the Internet and the possibility
that it may also fall prey to becoming just another part of Disney or G.E.
Robert Kane Pappas: I think we’re at the transitional moment.
Think of what happened at the prison in Iraq. Pictures and video were transmitted
on the Internet, and all of a sudden stuff that was underneath the mainstream
news radar, everyone saw it. Immediately, the shit hit the fan. That’s
an amazing thing that happens. But at the same time, the economic and political
powers could think differently. The Internet was originally conceived as
running over a telephone network that would not discriminate over any content
or any user. But they didn’t anticipate cable. And the old telephone
network is going to be, according to Jeff Chester, in the film, looked upon
as the dirt road, as the telephone Internet.
The convergence that’s happening between what’s on television,
what is on the computer, music, radio -- it’s all converging in this
cable system of high-speed broadband service. According to Chester, who runs
the Center for Digital Democracy, the large cable companies -- ComCast, AOL
Time-Warner, Paul Allen’s Charter -- are fighting tooth-and-nail behind
the scenes in Congress to keep their status as a closed network that is not
subject to government regulation and does not have to take your business. He
thinks that they are fighting behind the scenes to extinguish the freedom of
the Internet, and largely in favor of profits, so that you could pay as you
go on the Internet and cable.
Once again, at the FCC, Powell has called it an informational network to try
to get around this idea that you need to be regulated. Now that’s been
disputed in court in a court decision. By declaring it an informational network,
they’re not subject to government regulations where everything else that
BuzzFlash: So he’s saying the government has no right to intervene
to keep it open.
Robert Kane Pappas: Exactly. So it’s really the reverse, because
what happens is, according to another source, they’re trying to come
up with a way to have micro-payments on the Internet. And it’s very
close. There will be a new generation of programs coming out that may allow
much more control, a way to make us pay as we go. There’s intense
lobbying. There are a number of Congressmen, I’m sure, that are worried
about it. But the real key is if they pervert the openness of the Internet
so that it can’t be used as a common carrier.
BuzzFlash: Right now, basically anyone who can afford or get access
to the Internet can put their opinion out there like Tom Paine. And anyone
in the world can have access to it. Is it possible that in the future,
say, someone like AOL would require that any Internet site that wants to
be carried on AOL has to pay a fee?
Robert Kane Pappas: I don’t know.
BuzzFlash: But is that technically possible? Could they, for instance,
block BuzzFlash.com unless I paid them an access fee?
Robert Kane Pappas: It’s quite possible. Controlling access
and finding a way for you to pay in very, very small amounts as an individual
customer, or I’m sure there would be different deals for organizations.
But anything that gets people to pay as they go, like long distance phone
calls -- everything changes.
BuzzFlash: I don’t know if it was Bill Gates -- I think it was --
who said one of the ways that we might reduce spam is to actually charge a
small fee, a penny per e-mail, perhaps. That way, the mass e-mailers would
eventually find it burdensome to send out millions and millions of e-mails
Robert Kane Pappas: There’s a good reason to do it. But a lot
of times, the real strategy of clamping down is hidden in an ostensibly good
reason. They’ll say, well, there’s a lot of spam, so if we clamp
down, you won’t have that. Or, it’ll be identity theft that we
can avoid if it’s secure computing. Or there will be no child porn
on the Internet. Or there will be no bad words if you don’t want them.
And inside these ostensibly good ideas for the public good or convenience,
can be hidden funny things that essentially change the nature of something.
That’s what’s really interesting, and I think the discussion
has to get out there so that people don’t change the laws before we
really know how it plays out.
BuzzFlash: Our worst fear is that you can end up with an Internet
that’s like cable television. You have a limited number of sites
and you have to pay a high premium to have your site available on the Internet.
Robert Kane Pappas: Jeff Chester brings that up. I did not put it
in the movie, but he compared the Internet situation to cable in the ‘70s.
The cable owners or operators went to the local government and said you
give us this franchise, we’ll give that to the community. Deregulate
us, and you can see what happened in cable. When I was in graduate film
school, I remember we thought there’s going to be hundreds of channels.
If you’re a consumer, you’ll have your consumer channel. But
you can see how it really evolved to just tons of channels, all owned by
the same couple of companies.
BuzzFlash: When cable first started and you had to pay for it, one of the
advantages of cable, you were told, was there was no advertising.
Robert Kane Pappas: Right.
BuzzFlash: The trade-off for that was you were paying an access fee. Now
you’re paying a higher access fee. It’s loaded with advertising.
And almost every channel is just another corporate American channel.
Robert Kane Pappas: With all those channels, we don’t have a
single channel that I have seen that is a consumer channel. Can you imagine
the type of information that could go over one of these channels? There’s
nothing. But you’ve got QVC.
BuzzFlash: And we pay for the right to watch what has become corporate
cable TV from the original vision of being a democratic alternative for
Robert Kane Pappas: Right. But I don’t think that the people
know that the same companies that own the broadcast networks own the cable
BuzzFlash: Well, that brings us to a second point we wanted to follow
up on about your film, Orwell Rolls. Both television and print are very
pro-Republican, for the most part, because they are large companies that
benefit from corporate tax breaks. As you’ve just mentioned, people
don’t realize most of the major cable stations are owned by major
corporate entertainment entities, or that major entertainment entities
own the major news entities. Disney owns ABC. Viacom owns CBS. Murdoch
owns Fox News and Fox Television. There doesn’t seem much distinction
between entertainment and news anymore. It’s kind of all profit driven.
It’s all about selling products and cross-promotion.
For instance, on some of the morning programs, their features revolve around
promoting a book that may be published by a subsidiary of the parent corporation.
The viewer doesn’t know this. They think a news value judgment is being
based on this book. Maybe in some cases, it is. But in some cases, it isn’t.
They’re cross-selling a book that benefits the bottom line of the parent
corporation on what is supposed to be a news program.
Robert Kane Pappas: I saw "60 Minutes" bashed by the right
wing because their parent company was selling -- I believe it was O’Neill’s
book. So Viacom’s parent company was selling the book of one of the "60
Minutes" guests who was, you know, bashing Bush. The tales of these
ex-officials would not be reported unless they were promoting a book. So
they say: Why are you out there now selling a book? Why didn’t you
talk about it six months ago? Well, the answer is they wouldn’t have
reported it if it wasn’t in a book. Then they accuse you of selling
out by promoting that book or telling the story in the book about something
they don’t want to hear.
BuzzFlash: Well, no one knows this better than the right wing. People
like Ann Coulter are pure vehicles of the entertainment news culture. She
writes a trash book called Treason and says these incredulous, off-the-wall
statements and yet she gets credibility on all these shows merely because
she’s published this book. But that’s what gives those people
entry into the television entertainment pundit circle, which is what passes
for news nowadays.
Robert Kane Pappas: That’s absolutely correct. I do want to
touch on what you said before about the conglomeration of entertainment
and news. The larger issue here is that the cultural effect of always having
ratings as the bottom line is perverse. The right wing makes a lot of hay
with voters on, saying look at what Hollywood has done to our culture.
And we’ve demeaned people, and all this type of stuff. The fact is,
the bottom line sensationalism of everything may be more responsible for
this culture of consumerism, of violence, of children going off the track.
I believe the argument could be turned directly against them, and that
sensationalism and sensationalism in the news have such a culturally negative
BuzzFlash: Let’s talk about a specific incident about creating news.
When Bush landed on the U.S.S. Enterprise in the flight suit with the helmet
and all, on television afterwards, the Fox pundits, the CNN pundits, everybody
judged it as a performance. Chris Matthews asked who else could pull off that
macho stuff, who else could look like that in a flight uniform. The incident
was judged on the success of the stunt or performance, not in terms of asking
whether the Iraq war had really ended and was the mission accomplished. The
fact of his being AWOL from the National Guard -- the fact he was grounded,
although many people think it was because he was using cocaine at the time
and wouldn’t go for his medical test. None of that came out. It was him
as an actor, acting the role of a pilot. And the White House created this whole
myth about him.
Robert Kane Pappas: Can you imagine if a reporter had reported that
story and brought up anything that was off message and said there were reports
that he was AWOL? Or had talked about his history in the military? They would
have lost their jobs.
BuzzFlash: Here he was, the macho man.
Robert Kane Pappas: Bernie Sanders said in the film that ideas don’t
matter anymore. At first I didn’t know what he was talking about
until he said: "You look like a nice fellow. You married? You have
any kids? Why don’t we vote for you?" He said that to me, the
interviewer. The context for what Bush does or means is not discussed.
What’s discussed is the performance. It came down to whether or not
he could walk out and do a good walk and look good, and the favorable writing.
I’m a film director. They made sure that they had that really good lighting
that the French use a lot. It’s like a quarter back light. And they’re
well aware of that. This is the real thing. Our news focuses on pieces of events
-- on a piece of a story. When the tremendously important part of the story
is taking place in front of you, they’ll be talking about some little
focus, some little tidbit that really is not the important part of the story.
Politics is always going to be covered as entertainment to some extent, but
something else is going on here. We know that people don’t want to be
depressed with numbers all the time, and that some of the most interesting
news is the very visceral -- the tragedies -- or the visual, such as the cyclones,
the hurricanes. However, when there are things going on, or big things underneath
the surface where a certain law is being changed, and it’s not reported
just because it’s not very entertaining, they’re doing a tremendous
public disservice. These are the public airwaves. The people that believe in
the free market of ideas -- the free market outside diversity -- by having
a few companies control everything, they’re crushing the free market
of exchange of information and ideas to the general public.
BuzzFlash: Even when they analyze the State of the Union address, they
don’t compare it to what happened the prior year. Instead the focus is
on the delivery. How presidential did he seem? Our political pundits are all
now like Tom Shales. I mean, we like Tom Shales. He is a very good media reporter.
But he often gets more into political analysis than the political pundits.
This year we saw all three networks make censorship decisions related to the
Bush administration. CBS did it with moving the Reagan mini-series from CBS
to Showtime, and they wouldn’t let the MoveOn ad air on the SuperBowl.
Robert Kane Pappas: The implications are huge economically when these
conglomerates can be vertically integrated. They’re not just in television,
they’re in movies, news, radio, advertising, the whole bit. There are
many corporations in a real dance with the administration for deregulation.
It doesn’t bode well for the public that the implications of these
decisions are just huge. And they’re not reported to the public because
the people wouldn’t stand for it if they saw it.
BuzzFlash: General Electric, which owns NBC, is a huge defense contractor
and has a tremendous number of government contracts. So you’re not going
to see many exposes on NBC about nuclear facilities or problems with the electrical
industry, nor much that’s critical of the government. Congressman Waxman
has all but proven that Jack Welch ordered the election desk at NBC to call
the election for Bush. When you have the head of the parent corporation interfering
in a political election call, it’s kind of a frightening moment.
In an age of People and Us magazines, with the cult of celebrity
and reality TV, Bush has survived for a long time and still polls highly on
having integrity, despite the fact that there’s daily evidence that he
and his administration are chronic, perhaps pathological, liars. Why does his
personality trump the reality of his administration, like the president is
just another character on TV or in a movie?
Robert Kane Pappas: Well, it’s tricky. You know, Robert McChesney
said that what they’ve done is they’ve changed the nature of
the left and the right so that they don’t discuss issues of corporate
power, but they discuss little knee-jerk issues so that they get people to
align with issues. They focus group them. And they say, boy, 20 percent of
the population is really liking "x" -- you take this position,
you’ve got them. Maybe it’s on abortion. Maybe it’s on
something else. And they’ll hammer out that issue. They know you can
get a certain percentage of the population on your side just by playing to
their fears with the use of code words -- saying those five things that will
get 30 or 40 percent of the population on their side.
Now it all being personality, it becomes an actor’s medium, right? God
knows what they did to Al Gore in I think it was the first debate with George
Bush when he was huffing and puffing. So you can destroy personality by selectively
showing it. I mean, suppose they had George Bush in his flight suit, and this
would be a disparaging commercial, and they just kept saying, “Mission
accomplished. Mission accomplished.”If the Democrats did that, they could
make the guy a laughing stock, much the way they did it with Clinton when he
waved his finger and said, “I did not have sex with that woman.”They
could put George Bush’s ratings in the ground. But I’m sure I don’t
think the Democrats are given to that level of vileness or bashing.
BuzzFlash: Well, they don’t have the heart for it.
Robert Kane Pappas: I really believe that he’s left himself
open, so that I think his personality is being levitated by pundits who want
to pretend that they’re fair. At some point in Orwell Rolls In His
Grave, we say, “Ignorance is strength.”This is a quote from Orwell.
He has it in 1984. Well, they can construe, “I will never change my
mind.”I am incurious, and I know what I know, and I knew what I knew,
and I know it. And it’s the same today, and it’ll be the same
tomorrow. It has a tremendous clarity.
BuzzFlash: We had a headline recently in BuzzFlash which is a paraphrase
of H.L. Mencken. “For every complex problem, there is a simple solution,
and it doesn’t work.”Bush keeps repeating the simple solution that
doesn’t work, and the press makes a virtue out of that.
Basically every day, Bush is like a big blow-up doll who manages to deflate
himself through some colossal blunder in his administration. And the next day,
the press blows him up again. You watch him deflate, and then you read the
headlines the next day and you say, “Wait, they’ve made a virtue
out of a failure.”
Robert Kane Pappas: It’s also through the control of the video
images you see. What you see of criminals is often the perp walk where they’ve
got the jacket over their head. March them out of a cop station and the head’s
getting pressed so that they fit into the car. When Bush does one of his
walks, it’s from the helicopter on the White House lawn into the White
House. You watch him for 10 seconds, and he’s got that walk down. Or
he’s in a golf cart. I actually had a part in the film and I took it
out where he’s with his father on the golf course, and he looked at
the press filming him and he goes, “See you at church.”And he
just blew away. See you in church. They keep using that little bit of him
in the golf cart with his father. They never let you hear that. It was funny
in the way it was given. It was a very strange moment. It didn’t make
the actual final cut.
BuzzFlash: In Michael Moore's film, "Fahrenheit 9/11" --
there's a clip after there had been a big suicide bombing where many Israelis
were killed. And Bush was on the golf course, and they had a photo opportunity.
And he said, “I want all nations to do everything they can to stop
these terrorist killings. Thank you." And then he paused just a second
and said, "Now, watch this drive.”Of course, the "Now,
watch this drive," didn't get mainstream coverage.
Robert Kane Pappas: Controlling the video image of someone is an
art. When you compare the Bush administration to any number of presidents
and administrations, they have so much more control over the video image.
There are very few candid moments when you really see George Bush interacting
with anything more than a canned audience. It’s very, very odd. Therefore
you can control what people consider personality to a degree they never
BuzzFlash: His presidency is a presidency of video images. If you look
at Sept. 11, everything happened around him. He sat in the classroom until
his administration decided they could write a statement for him. He didn’t
take control of the presidency or the situation.
Robert Kane Pappas: That image was not broadcast to the public. The image
of him sitting for another seven minutes reciting a child’s story made
the Internet. That did not make the primetime airwaves.
BuzzFlash: This was after the second plane hit. He just sat there while
people around him decided what he should do. And then he went on his exile
flight for awhile, based, the White House said, on threats that turned out
not to be true.
Robert Kane Pappas: This goes back to the methodology of large corporations
reporting the news. When you have such a giant corporation, it leads to these
types of things. It’s conducive to the packaging and to the misrepresentation
of public figures. There’s definitely a trend of controlling every
image, and the networks own that image.
BuzzFlash: Tim Russert had Bush on and he gave him some softball questions
and Bush couldn’t handle them. He did the usual goof-up he does when
he’s out on his own for more than 30 seconds. And they wouldn’t
let your fellow documentary maker use the images. We all know the reason why:
It’s embarrassing to him. And you don’t want to get in trouble,
even though this is the president of the United States whose comments belong
to all of America.
Robert Kane Pappas: The ironies should not be lost on the general public.
I fear that it is lost to a fairly large percentage of them.
thank you very much.
Rolls in His Grave" in Chicago
on July 11th.
Get Your Copy of "Orwell
Rolls in His Grave" from