I sat down to interview the combative John Ziegler, director of the Sarah Palin doc Media Malpractice. It's no Frost/Nixon. But it is a dialogue of disconnect and discontent, sure to stir reactions.
I sought the opportunity to discuss the failures of our media in elections, a topic I explore in my documentary on election integrity, FREE FOR ALL! In my ongoing quest of documenting truth, I look to continually challenge assumptions, find new sources of information, and seek common ground on important social issues in hopes to transcend knee-jerk obstructionism.
Part of me wanted to just give him a mic to say his piece to the liberal blogosphere and maybe clear up some misconceptions. Beyond my perceptions of the media's shortcomings, I wanted to hear from a staunch conservative where he perceived the media failed. Perhaps I could point out other trends in the mainstream press that Ziegler would recognize in the media's handling of Sarah Palin -- sexism, tabloid journalism, opinion reported as news, or shirking journalistic standards.
And though I was relieved to have Obama elected, I am deeply suspect of all politicians, and I do not identify myself as a Democrat. I figured we could laugh over the common caricature of opportunistic politicians poorly posturing.
John Ziegler took me up on my invitation to talk about his film and these issues, knowing full well that this was for the Huffington Post, the #1 political website featured frequently in his film, known for progressive opinion leaders and celebrity nipples. We met at the Center For Inquiry in Hollywood, home to the Steve Allen Theater. He arrived casually contemptuous.
I had no delusion of persuasion. But in my deep desire to dissolve the two-party mentality, I hoped that through our conversation we could point out larger problems of media failure that people of any persuasion would appreciate.
On Being a "Conservative" Filmmaker
Ziegler began by discussing his unfair treatment in the media because he is openly conservative.
I have every possible advantage over conservatives in Los Angeles? Like what? Is there a lefty diamond lane I do not know about on the 101? Do I get parking privileges with my ACLU card? Must investigate...
How Hillary Clinton suffered the same media bias as Sarah Palin
Here, Ziegler talks about how the media coverage of Obama inspired him to make the film before Sarah Palin even entered the picture.
"In fact, the co-founder of the PUMAs has viewed and endorsed this film... which I think speaks to my objectivity."
How the Media Went Easy on Obama's ties to Rev. Wright
When I inquire about the media's focus on Rev. Wright compared with Sarah Palin's pastor's protection from witchcraft, or Pentecostals speaking in tongues at her church, it is greeted with an outraged admonishment for outlandish allegations. It is not refuted or discounted; the question is attacked. "Are you serious? You're really going to compare -- in your world...?!?"
You can view Ziegler's segment on Rev. Wright from his film here.
Why Sarah Palin was such a threat
I did not realize that women in the news media were so intimidated by Sarah Palin and felt badly about themselves because she has a career and a family and is pro-life and "looking dynamite." However, I do believe that her love of shooting at animals (especially from a helicopter, 'Nam-style) would be alienating to many professional women.
The Fairness Doctrine
Would restoring the Fairness Doctrine -- a deep fear on the Right recently discussed at CPAC (where Ziegler also spoke) -- be a solution to the media bias he perceives? Ziegler asserts he knows more about the Fairness Doctrine than anyone, so apparently I asked the right guy.
The Lack of GOP leadership
Lest one think that Ziegler's vitriol spews only along party lines, here he breaks down in detail his sad assessment of the future of the Republican Party.
Why Palin Should Be President
As a matter of course, before the interview concluded, I asked Ziegler to list the policies or proposals of Sarah Palin that made her a preferable presidential candidate. To my astonishment, Ziegler freely admitted it was based not on any specific policy, but because "she gets it." After all of this benefit of the doubt and open-mindedness -- you can't even sell me on her, except as a victim of meanie media types who apparently did not see this potential either??
While I maintained my role as interviewer, not debater, I later noticed on the tape that as Ziegler rattles off a laundry list of cliche pleasantries, it appears as though my head is about to explode from restraint. I would make a bad poker player: my lips purse, my jaw clenches, my eyes widen in disbelief, I fidget incredulously. My wordless reaction is the focus of this clip.
What is Truth?
I wrapped up my interview by asking Ziegler the same question I ended all of my interviews with for FREE FOR ALL!: "What is truth?"
The purpose in my film was to assess the criteria by which we accept our election results -- is what the media reports "truth"? Is an official report by a brazenly partisan government official like Ken Blackwell "truth"? Is someone's first-person account of events "truth"? What if they are mistaken? Strikingly, no two people had the same definition of truth, though many interview subjects wrestled with the weight and importance of truth in today's media saturated din.
So it came as something of a shock when I got Ziegler's answer to this question.
To hear that truth is meaningless is as close to heresy as I can fathom, as an apatheist.
In our talk, Ziegler said that the reason he has been on The View, the Today Show, CNN, and other mainstream outlets is not just because they still love to talk about Palin, but because deep down, the media knows he's right, they really did do everything to undermine Sarah Palin, and they are trying to make up for it.
Ziegeler does not care about truth -- he cares about being right. It's like firing a pistol with blanks. Loud ones.
You can also read my review of Media Malpractice.
UPDATE: The originally posted version of this article included a statement that Mr. Ziegler refused to shake my cameraman's hand upon arrival. Upon clarification, my cameraman has informed me that after Mr. Ziegler first waved off shaking his hand when offered, he then made a repeated thrust at Mr. Ziegler of his hand to ensure a proper greeting. We regret the error.
2nd UPDATE: Mr. Ziegler was not satisfied with the previous retraction on the handshake claim by my cameraman, so I am now printing his exact words so that how cordial he is cannot be called into question:
I saw your update. Do you even remotely care about being a lying sack of crap? I told you what happened with the "handshake" and you still lie about it. I have no idea what delusions your cameraman is under but I can assure you that I did not avoid shaking his hand. Once again, do you not recall that I was on the phone with you when this person unknown to me tried to introduce himself and I had no hands available?!
You people are absolutely amazing. You have no standards, no principles, no argument other than trying to do anything you can, no matter how petty or inaccurate, to make someone look bad.
Is that really all you have? Really? Wow.