Michael Moore Is Rubber, His Critics Are Glue

Random Lengths News | July 12, 2004
The Structure of Lies In a Land Without Silence

One of the basic structures underlying dishonest political discourse is known by psychologists as "projection.” The rest of us know it as “the pot calling the kettle black." We've seen an avalanche of it in response to Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," which is an indictment of the elite national media as much as the Bush Administration. That same media has, unsurprisingly, turned its guns against Moore.

The reason why is not hard to grasp, as pioneer blogger Bob Somerby pointed out in his Daily Howler: "the Washington press corps is now made up of men and women of the president's class--men and women who instinctively side with Bush, not with an underclass shambler."

So it's fair to ask just how well they--and the Bush Administration--would measure up to the Michael Moore Standard, the standard they want to apply to "F 9/11." Let's consider just a few examples.

A major media complaint is that "F 9/11" isn't really a documentary, because it isn't balanced, it doesn't show both sides. Bull! Documentaries are inherently biased, beginning with the choice of subject matter. The PBS documentary series is even called "POV"—point of view. Their purpose, more often than not, is not to present balanced information, but to present missing information--information we ought to have, but do not. That's exactly what "F 9/11" delivers.

News media aren't supposed to let such information gaps arise--an impossible task, to be sure. But a balanced presentation of sources is one way to minimize them. When it came to debate about invading Iraq, network TV failed miserably. Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (www.fair.org) conducted a study covering ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS evening news (no Fox, just the so-called "liberal" media) for one week before and after Colin Powell's UN speech on February 5, 2003. At the time, "61 percent of U.S. respondents were telling pollsters that more time was needed for diplomacy and inspections," yet of the 393 sources FAIR counted, "only 6 percent of U.S. sources on the four networks were skeptics regarding the need for war."

Balanced? Not so much.

Malevolent Synergy—Bush and Corporate Media

Early complaints about "lies" in "Fahrenheit 9/11" were quickly batted down by Moore's fact-checking squad. In the corporate media, these were quickly replaced with complaints of misleading and distortion. So how do Moore's supposed transgressions compare with those of the media that accuses him?

On the subject of misleading people, I am tempted to say just four words: "Judith Miller. Case closed." But, unlike Lacy Peterson, the media has buried Miller's case. So here's the Cliff Notes version: The New York Times' Miller was the prime channel for Iraqi conman Ahmed Chalabi, whose disinformation about WMDs, and Iraq-al Qaeda connections played a major role in the run-up to war. Miller's anonymous reliance on Chalabi and other sources he provided her appeared to present corroboration for his public claims, which the CIA quite openly dis-believed.

But Miller is just one bad apple. To see what's wrong with the applesauce, there's a study by Susan Moeller, a University of Maryland journalism professor, titled, "Media Coverage of Weapons of Mass Destruction."

When I interviewed her, Moeller summed up her extensive findings rather neatly by saying, "There's a malevolent synergy between this administration, and its understanding of the daily news cycle, and the media's proclivity to prioritize breaking news, major figures, etc… This administration understands, not just how to get people out on the news shows, but how to continue dominating the news cycle." As a result, she explained, "You never get second day stories any more. You only have first day stories."

In first day stories, you read what the President or his team had to say. In second day stories, you get critical analysis. But not any more. You only get second day stories about Michael Moore.

Another corporate media complaint centers on Moore's use of "cheap shots." Most prominently, this refers to his patented use of the running ambush technique to catch high mucky-mucks off-guard and outside the protective zone of media flacks, handlers and muscle men. This time it's Congressmen being asked to sign up their children to serve in Iraq.

High-paid media figures think that's cheap? Moore's audience thinks it's really rich—and richly deserved, to boot.

It also seems really rich that journalists who've given up asking tough questions should attack Moore just because he hasn't. It looks suspiciously like a cheap shot on their part.

Kicking The Dog—Moore Lies, Bush "Misleads"

Projection is the name of the game when the media identifies with Moore's targets. But when it steps back a bit—as it ought to do all along—another psychological dysfunction kicks in, one we could call "kicking the dog." This comes from an old army story. The general has a fight with his wife and comes to work all grumpy. He chews out the colonel, who chews out the major, and so on down the line to the private, who doesn't have anyone lower to chew out. So he goes outside and kicks the dog. Psychologists have a name for this, too: displacement.

So the media tries to punish Moore for the Bush Administration's sins.

There's a curious mirror-image reality happening here. Bush told outrageous lies early on, and only began getting called on them after a long time and considerable loss of American lives in Iraq. Michael Moore was accused of lies early on, but critics retreated to accusations of "misleading" and "distortion" after Moore's own fact-checkers came out with guns a-blazing.

Most instructive about the media's role in all this is a piece by the sometimes liberal New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, "Calling Bush A Liar," which attacked Moore and other liberals for calling Bush a liar. Kristof makes some very good points—most of the time politicians don't have to lie in order to mislead, and we should be accurate with our accusations. But he's flat out wrong to write, "Bush's central problem is not that he was precisely lying about Iraq, but rather that he was overzealous and self-deluded."

Sure, Bush was overzealous and self-deluded. But he lied as well. Bald-faced lies that any self-respecting reporter should have reported as such. For example, on September 7, 2002, Bush claimed that a 1998 report by the UN-affiliated IAEA said Saddam Hussein was six months away from having nuclear weapons. But there was no such report—period. It was a bald-faced lie, and it should have cast doubt on everything else the President would later say about Saddam Hussein. Instead, the media conveniently dis-remembered it. Down the memory hole-just like in Orwell's “1984.”

With the new bi-partisan Senate report, blaming the CIA for giving Bush bad intelligence, the entire establishment has dis-remembered what really happened, standing reality on its head. Among the stories they've had to expunge from their memories is one that ran on September 11, 2002 in that leftist rag, USA Today: "Iraq Course Set From Tight White House Circle." This story reported that the decision to attack Iraq was made within weeks of 9/11, with none of the normal decision-making processes involved. "There wasn't a flash moment. There's no decision meeting," said Condoleezza Rice.

"The White House hadn't asked the CIA and other intelligence agencies to produce a National Intelligence Estimate [NIE] on Iraq," USA Today went on to report, "because the White House doesn't want to detail the uncertainties that persist about Iraq's arsenal and Saddam's intentions." It was pressure from Democrats, such as Senators Graham and Durbin which finally forced the fast-food production of an NIE in record time—long after the invasion decision had been made. All this the Senate Democrats, as well as the corporate media, have now flushed down the memory hole.

As the Beltway elites close ranks with this Orwellian rewrite of history, the least we can do is to hold them to the Michael Moore Standard. Any demand they make of a designated outcast like Moore automatically applies to them.

Looking at the record--and this only scratches the surface—Michael Moore has every right to invoke that old saying that Joan Jett made into a song, "I'm rubber, you're glue/An' whatever you say/Bounces off of me yeah, yeah/An' sticks to you."


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