Clooney's Oscar Speech: ABC Supports With Film Clips Instead of Fact-Checking

This was a dramatically liberal year for Oscar, but the more political winners at last night's Oscars didn't get pointed questions from the right. The news media's general feeling is to cheer movies for the "social good," and never imagine that the movies could be riddled with errors (Good Night and Good Luck), riddled with profanity (Crash), or just be assessed by critics as a lovably confusing in its conspiracy theorizing (Syriana).

ABC's Diane Sawyer interviewed George Clooney this morning about his Oscar victory speech on "Good Morning America" and asked benignly: "Was it a political speech, were you interjecting politics?" Clooney spoke diplomatically about a "portion" of America being on his side, and a portion were not. Clooney's claim that Hollywood was "out of touch" in all the good ways was underlined by ABC as they ran a clip of black actress Hattie McDaniel winning an Oscar for the 1939 film "Gone With The Wind."

Then Sawyer asked: "Is it a little boy's dream fulfilled? Looking at it, holding it?" Clooney replied: "Getting an Oscar? You know the funny thing is I wasn't, I didn't want to be an actor when I was a little boy. I wanted to be in broadcasting. I wanted to be what my father did, either being on a talk show or being a newsman. And then I sort of realized as I tried reporting a couple of times that I only lacked talent and smarts. So I figured, I'll get into acting. That'll be better."

ABC didn't challenge Clooney's "smarts" by taking apart the factual (or were they merely rhetorical) particulars of his speech. Even when it could be read as insulting to the liberal news media. For example, Clooney claimed: "We were the first to shout about AIDS when it was just a whisper."

This was not a claim that would stand up to a newsman's scrutiny. The news media didn't whisper about AIDS. Newsweek (April 18) and Time (July 4) published AIDS cover stories in 1983. AIDS was a common news story in the 1980s, and it was presumed that Reagan was failing to do anything about it by reporters. How about Diane Sawyer's network? Consult Nexis. Here was ABC's "World News Tonight" on March 2, 1983, and reporter George Strait: "Unknown eighteen months ago, officials say AIDS has now become a national epidemic, claiming more than a thousand people and killing 418."

By June 20, 1983, ABC was already worrying there was too much panic and oppression against the AIDS sufferer, as anchorman Max Robinson (who would die of AIDS) reported: "Medical news now. An ABC News-Washington Post poll about the deadly disease AIDS shows eighty percent of those surveyed have heard of the Immune Deficiency Syndrome, according to polsters an extremely high level of awareness. Even more surprising although medical experts say only a few segments of the population are at risk, fully a third of those questioned say they worry AIDS could pose a threat to them or their families. Well to date, only some sixteen hundred Americans have contracted the disease, but as Ken Kashiwahara reports, it now seems fighting the fear of AIDS is as important as fighting the disease itself."

Mm-hmm. Some "whisper."

So when did Hollywood begin producing a glut of AIDS movies for theatres? I'm guessing the first wide-release AIDS movie was "Longtime Companion" -- in 1990. That's a little slow, especially when Oprah had predicted millions of heterosexuals would be dead from AIDS by then.

UPDATE: Mickey Kaus's readers have noted to him that TV jumped on AIDS as a subject by 1985 with the drama "An Early Frost." For my money, this in no way excuses Clooney's factual sloppiness. In his speech, he was touting the Academy (of movies), not just Hollywood in general. And even so, Clooney's speech makes it sound like no one in America was talking out loud about AIDS in the 1980s except the sensitive artists, which is why the media comparisons are so embarrassing to him.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis