The news cycle churns, and we’ve currently got a untypical sensitivity to Native American issues due to the ongoing success of Killers of the August Moon, which has shown welcome legs at the box-office. That Osage Nation film manages to find the right historical context for Martin Scorsese’s trademark style, but also shone a light on some uncomfortable facts; I have to admit that my historical understanding of the 1920’s didn’t include the appalling treatment of the Native American population depicted in the film. So Joe Peeler and Rebecca Landsberry-Baker’s Bad Press, a film about the fight for a free press in the Muscogee Nation, arrives with good timing; it depicts the operation of modern Native Americans in some detail, while also providing a microcosm for issues today with press freedom and civil liberties.
I was also unaware that many federally recognised tribes in today’s USA didn’t have the kind of free press provisions that you might expect in their constitutions; Muscogee Media reporter Angel Ellis is a journalist who knows what it feels like on the blunt end of sharp practice, and Bad Press examines her personal fight to preserve the freedom of the press. Muscogee Media have been going for decades, and their 70’s paper edition is a fairly toothless set of community puff-pieces. When their reporters started covering legislative issues, sexual harassment claims and other newsworthy events, it turned out that the people they were writing about also had to the power to interfere and potentially suppress their news-reporting due to their offence at being investigated. Ellis won’t take the loss of press freedom, for herself or for the 89,000 members of her community, lying down, and gets her own ‘democracy boner’ on to launch a campaign to get the freedom of the press enshrined in the constitution.
Whether you know about or understand the importance of press freedom, Bad Press provides a useful crash course on why they’re needed; we’re warned about how the ‘system was corrupt,’ and one interviewee makes a comparison to the Weyland-Yutani company in the Alien films; ‘a corporation that doesn’t put a premium on keeping people alive.’ There’s also diversions via some Segway action, a signed photograph of Ric Flair, and an interview with politico Dave Hill, who chooses to be interviewed while clutching a huge blown-up photograph of his own head. Bad Press has got some great footage to play with, capturing the rollercoaster ride provided by the tight various votes which Ellis and her team endure, and matters escalate to a surprisingly rousing conclusion.
What is striking about Bad Press is that the viewer can get so involved in a news story that you probably didn’t even know existed. But economics have forced most newspapers and media generally to abandon most investigative reporting, and the suppression depicted in Bad Press is only part of a wider picture in which politicians and business interests have been working hard to stop their activities being reported on in the public interest. Bad Press scratches a need you didn’t know you had; it’s an intense look at the heartbeat behind democracy, and does its job to to enshrine the inspiring work of those who take their jobs as journalists seriously, not just acting as PR people.