You probably don't read the Salt Lake Tribune. There is less reason than ever to read it now, in its increasingly slimmed-down, news-free form. So you probably don't read the Salt Lake Tribune's movie critic, Sean Means.
Regarding his film criticism, Mr. Means is perhaps one of the lamest critics in a major paper today. Longtime readers know that if he likes a film, it is probably treacly sentimentality. Conversely, he often finds thoughtful films to be just too much. This allows one to read his reviews with a kind of reverse truth-meter; avoid almost all films he gives a thumbs up.
In yesterday's paper, however, he tried to expand upon his role. In a purported review of the Criterion Collection's new DVD of Billy Wilder's classic Ace in the Hole, he tried to add the role of a social critic. In doing so, he denigrated efforts of journalists to evaluate the history of the owner of the Utah mine where the current disaster continues to unfold.
"Ace in the Hole" tells the story of a journalist who exploits a cave-in to boost his papers sales and his reputation. Mr. Means writes of the ensuing media circus, and how this has similarities to the current Utah mine disaster.
In this discussion, he equates ghoulish local news advertising tags, and Fred Phelps (!) with Ariana Huffington, who wrote posts like this one.
Here's part of what he said (I think this falls within three paragraphs of fair use, if the bullets don't count as separate paragraphs):
But in an age of 24-hour news cycles and instant Internet access, media circuses are no longer bound by geography. Today, a media circus is global and instantaneous.
In "Ace in the Hole," nearly everyone arriving in the New Mexico town wants to turn the tragedy to their advantage. Roadside vendors sell trinkets. A tourist gets on the radio and tries to hawk his insurance business. A country band writes a song about Leo, selling copies of the sheet music for 25 cents apiece.
As events have unfolded at the Crandall Canyon mine, people have tried to use those events to further their own agendas:
* Salt Lake City TV stations trotted out their "first inside the mine" promos to goose ratings.
* The Rev. Fred Phelps, who mounts his cruel "God Hates Fags" protests at military funerals and other events like a postmortem ambulance chaser, and his Westboro Baptist Church issued a "Thank God for the Utah Mine Disaster" press release last weekend.
* On her blog in The Huffington Post, progressive commentator Arianna Huffington decried the mainstream media for not investigating Murray's mine-safety record more closely. (Huffington did compliment The Salt Lake Tribune's coverage, though mostly using my paper as a club to beat The New York Times over the head.)
This is ridiculous. Fred Phelps clearly has an agenda. It is not "an agenda" to ask why our mine safety policy in the US has been AWOL. This is a scurrilous comparison.
You can reach Mr. Means at email@example.com.
Letters to the editor go to firstname.lastname@example.org.