6 September 2003

Michael Moore critic is straining at gnats while swallowing camels

Michael Moore has taken heat for what is alleged to be pliable liberties with the facts in his Bowling for Columbine documentary. Along side of Forbes Magazine, Spinsanity, the self proclaimed "watchdog of manipulative political rhetoric" has called out Moore for distortions and inaccuracies. But, as Sheldon Rampton writes in this PR Watch forum post, Moore's detractors appear to be just as sloppy with the facts, and seem to share a vendetta against the popular muckraker.
Moore is sometimes sloppy with his facts, but one of the guys at Spinsanity (Ben Fritz) seems to have a vendetta against him and has been sloppy with his own facts. For example, Fritz wrote an entire column attacking "Bowling in Columbine," based solely on an attack on the film published in Forbes magazine. It criticizes the opening scene in "Bowling for Columbine," which shows Moore opening a bank account at a bank that offers customers a free rifle as a reward for making a deposit. (I think the amount of the deposit has to be $1,000 or something in that range.) According to Forbes (and Fritz, cribbing Forbes), this scene was "staged" because other customers have to wait a week or two between making their deposit and receiving their guns. The fact is, though, that the people who gave Moore his gun were real bank employees, who knew they were being filmed and who handed him the rifle on the same day he opened the account. Moreover, no one disputes that the bank offers guns as an incentive reward to its depositors. It's pretty nitpicky to call Moore a "liar" and accuse him of "staging" things simply because of the timing of when they gave him the gun.

In a similar vein, Forbes/Fritz accuse Moore of falsifying things by claiming that the two killers at Columbine went bowling in the morning before they went on their killing spree. Here, they're the ones who are misrepresenting things. The killers were enrolled in a bowling class, and some people think they saw them bowling that morning. Moore mentions this in the course of debunking some of the scapegoating that went on immediately following the massacre, when right-wing pundits argued that rock musicians like Marilyn Manson were somehow responsible for inciting their killing spree. Moore's point is that these pundits arbitrarily singled out their music habits for blame and that lots of people listen to Marilyn Manson without going on killing sprees. Since the two killers seemed to like bowling as much as they liked Manson's music, Moore argues that it makes as much sense to blame the bowling as it does to blame Manson. But Moore doesn't claim that bowling is what caused the massacre, and he doesn't even claim that the killers went bowling that morning. He merely says that some people thought they saw the two boys bowling that morning - which is true.

Fritz's criticism regarding the Willie Horton ad is equally nitpicky. The Willie Horton ad was one of the most disgraceful moments in the first Bush's presidential campaign against Michael Dukakis. No one seriously disputes that it was used deliberately for the purpose of scaremongering and race-baiting. Lee Atwater, who ran Bush's presidential campaign, later died of a brain tumor and was so ashamed of the Willie Horton ad that he apologized for it on his death bed.

While not a fan of Moore's ineptly contrived literay forays, his films (and ill fated TV programs) have always captured my attention. His confrontational manner of challenging corporate and government executives provides for entertaining cinema, and thrusts a magnifying glass over subjects that influential powers would rather not address. Kind of like how people don't wish to see the ranks of the afflicted, preferring to comfortably evade the presence of misfortune and injustice, clinging instead to a manufactured reality where all the pegs are lined up perfectly.

The scenes in Roger & Me where Moore physically confronts GM chairman Roger Smith are priceless. They illuminate the underside of a corporate culture where profits are more important than people.

Incidentally, Sheldon Rampton is the author of a newly released book, Weapons of Mass Deception, which inspired an op-ed piece by eclectic musician Brian Eno. Rampton and co-author John Stauber have written several volumes on the science of public relations, including Toxic Sludge is Good for You and Trust Us, We're Experts. Both of those are definitely worthy of a good read. And PR Watch should be bookmarked, as well as the collaborative Disinfopedia online database that serves as a PR scorecard.

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Who does PR for Michael Moore?
Leigh Otley, USC student

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