A self-described “user’s guide to how the news gets made,” “The IFC Media Project” is a laudably ambitious dissection of broadcast journalism foibles with an undeniable leftward tilt — an expected angle, given that Michael Moore collaborator Meghan O’Hara is its co-creator. Politics aside, this six-part series represents a rare instance of media self-examination on TV, an effort largely ignored except for Bill Moyers’ occasional dabbling on PBS and, perhaps most pointedly, “The Daily Show.” Not everything here succeeds, but enough does to merit a look at this fast-paced half-hour.
Youthful-looking host Gideon Yago has worked for both MTV News and CBS, but he’s a relatively small part of each half-hour. Beyond his introductions, the show not only enlists outside correspondents but rather awkwardly incorporates regular features like a “Media encyclopedia” (highlighting the weaselly use of words like “allegedly”) and an animated short that’s the equivalent of an editorial cartoon. The latter in particular feels like a waste of time — as if a few frivolous, almost-silly elements were packed into each crowded half-hour hoping to attract the kids.
At its best, this exercise (let’s call it “IMP” for short) brings a justifiably jaundiced eye to the news biz, while tackling some of journalism’s nagging embarrassments and sacred cows. The opening installment explores cable’s unsavory fascination with missing white girls and narrowly focused coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The second half-hour features a war photographer’s diary and a thoroughly reported examination of how the Bush administration manipulated Iraq war coverage through its embedding and military-analyst programs.
A weekly interview segment, by contrast, proves less enlightening — whether it’s conservative pundit Tucker Carlson discussing what it’s like to “run your mouth for pay” or exposed CIA agent Valerie Plame criticizing the press’s failure to “realize they’re being played” during the run-up to the war.
At these moments, “Media Project” feels more like those videos that teenagers are compelled to watch after lunch than a savvy media observer — especially when “The Daily Show” already provides that service on a four-nights-a-week basis.
In the press notes, O’Hara says the goal is to provide “a sobering wake-up call to anyone who takes the media at face value.” Sounding that alarm is surely welcome, and IFC deserves an “A” for the effort. Based what’s already available, though, “IMP” is just a bit too impish. Approaching its subject matter with greater sobriety would have been more sobering.