By Bill Boyarsky
The limitations of the old-fashioned mainstream media prevent it from portraying the true horror of what a Giuliani administration would mean to the United States and the rest of the world.
Such a huge media failure prompted filmmaker and political activist Robert Greenwald to make and distribute powerful, short documentaries built around the theme of the real Rudy Giuliani.
It’s a timely effort. Giuliani has a substantial lead over his Republican competitors in national polls and was endorsed this week by televangelist Pat Robertson, a leader of the Christian right. That may help Giuliani among religious conservatives. They don’t understand that he is really a mean-spirited, dictatorial boss and not a true believer in their hard-line religiosity.
For Giuliani has the dangerous ability to say outrageous things—his defense of torture, for example—in a reasonable tone. Television’s short and superficial interviews permit him to get away with it.
Print does somewhat better. A recent New York Times story on Giuliani’s friend and onetime police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, was a powerful argument against electing the ex-mayor as president. So was “Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11,” a book by Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins, which was excerpted in the Village Voice. Kerik has been indicted by a federal grand jury for tax fraud, obstruction of justice and lying to the White House. He pleaded not guilty. But these are exceptions. The story of the real Rudy has a hard time making it to the states where the presidential election is being fought: Iowa, New Hampshire and the big states holding their primaries on Feb. 5.
Today’s news media do not have time or money for reporters to burrow through the labyrinth of New York politics and government to tell the country how Rudy ran New York. Instead, political reporters and pundits yap on “Hardball” and other television shows and confuse readers and viewers with analyses that change with bewildering speed: Hillary is winning. Hillary blew it.
That’s not how Greenwald feels the story should be told. Greenwald dug deeply into his subjects for his documentaries “Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers”; “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price”; and “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism.” He wanted to do the same with Giuliani.
Greenwald had read about Giuliani’s New York reign. His friend, music business executive Danny Goldberg, told Greenwald that it was important to explain how bad it was. So, Greenwald proceeded in a manner designed for the Internet with short documentaries on the theme of “The Real Rudy.”
His Giuliani is not the reasonable candidate from the television interviews. Instead, Greenwald shows a headstrong boss who played favorites, punished dissenters and made decisions damaging to the city.
One of these short documentaries tells the story of how Giuliani put the command post in the World Trade Center complex before Sept. 11, even though the area had been attacked in 1993. It was wiped out on the fatal day.
I found another documentary, “The REAL Rudy: Radios,” especially moving. Firefighters and their spouses who lost family members in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 told how the police and fire departments could not communicate with each other because the Giuliani administration had given them radios operating on different frequencies. As a result, many firefighters did not receive the order to evacuate. I have seen stories about this, but nothing I’ve read has the impact of the simple words of a mourning father, mother or sister seated in a kitchen or front room.
Many other people had the same reaction, signing petitions urging the New York City Council to investigate the radio situation. The documentary “raised important questions,” said Councilman Eric Gioa, chair of the council’s investigations committee. He said he’d do everything he could to get answers.
Greenwald told me, “We have been able to use all our skills to tell the story and put the spotlight on his [Giuliani’s] running for office where he should be running and hiding in the closet.”
The documentaries are posted on Greenwald’s Brave New Films site and move through the Internet like a virus, via YouTube, blogs and e-mail. A network of progressive organizations spreads the word. Greenwald’s associate, Jim Gilliam, has developed software that allows anyone to easily host a screening. Communications director Leighton Woodhouse spends most of his time pitching the documentaries to bloggers and Web sites.
“In July, September, October, we got more than a million views for our combined videos,” Greenwald said. He’s working on putting the documentaries on cell phones.
“This would not have been possible in the old media landscape. There would have been no way to do the Giuliani piece or to get the bloggers to write about it or to do the investigation.”
When I was a newspaper reporter, we investigated candidates. One, two or maybe more reporters would check out the candidate’s life in a process called a “scrub.” After a time the “scrub” would appear, so detailed and long that readers probably put it aside to read at a later time, which seldom arrived.
Greenwald operates like a tabloid—- bang, bang, bang—firing away with hot information in small doses. It’s a guerrilla operation, raising money for each short documentary, keeping production costs low and using the Internet for distribution and advertising.
Purists will protest that his advocacy isn’t journalism. But it is. He’s a throwback. Greenwald is a crusader demanding attention, just as the old-time muckraking editors did a century ago, except that his message is carried on the Internet rather than by newsboys on street corners. He’s found the best way to tell the story of the real Rudy.
AP photo / Adam Rountree
Friendly fire: The kind of kid-gloves treatment Giuliani got from Sean Hannity on Fox News’ “Hannity & Colmes” show last February is not what he’s getting from Robert Greenwald in his online series, “The Real Rudy.”