Starring Michael Moore as…the `Journalist`?
Michael Moore’s latest addition to his repertoire of satirical films about the US has caused as many tongues wagging and heads rolling as did his previous cinematic endeavours. Released less than 2 months prior to the 2008 US Presidential elections, Slacker Uprising was strategically placed on the election timeline to swing voters and carried a palpable message - vote the Republicans out of the White House. While the film has somewhat fulfilled its noble cause of propagating awareness among Americans about their responsibility as voters, some of the issues Moore raised in this film merit further scrutiny.
Throughout his tour to battlefield states, Moore consistently utilised a word to it’s full potential - ‘truth’. He fervently states that his film is not a propaganda. In the film, he chastised the press for letting themselves be used as a tool of propaganda by the government and that the American people would have opposed the US government’s decision to invade Iraq had they been properly and truthfully informed. ‘My movie exists to counter the managed, manufactured news which is essentially a propaganda arm of the Bush administration. My movies are the anti-propaganda,’ says Moore. This statement in and by itself is problematic. Slacker Uprising’s main objective was to influence public opinion, specifically from being for the Republicans to being against them. Propaganda, by definition, is exactly what Moore is spreading through Slacker Uprising. In other words, Moore is running a campaign of his own, just like the politicos he is criticizing. The only distinction here being his approach - non rhetorical and aimed at middle America at the grass roots level.
During an interview about Slacker Uprising on Larry King Live, Moore summarized the 2008 presidential race as ‘Obama versus ignorance.’ He theorizes that, while people who vote for Senator McCain may do so out their firm belief in him as a leader, a large number of people will vote for the Senator out of ignorance. What Moore is directly implying here is consistent with his stand conspicuous in the film - that the US public have been kept in the dark about matters of war, economy, healthcare and others. However, the undertone of that statement and, most obviously, the movie, connotes that followers of the Republican camp are largely ignorant. The film was saturated with clips depicting Republican supporters as painfully inarticulate and, despite their admiration for Senator McCain, were unable to even form one coherent sentence of praise. On the other hand, supporters of Moore and his campaign against the Republicans were consistently portrayed as passionate, discerning and enlightened about issues that concern the American public. This lop-sided portrayal of sources brings to question Moore’s integrity as a ‘journalist’ - as one who claims to be trying to clear up the ‘misstatements and untruths’ apparently spread by the American national media. His portrayal of Republican supporters can easily be seen as a conveniently ‘managed’ piece of information ‘manufactured’ to support his propaganda.
However, one has to question; is the journalist and the human being that he or she is to be kept separate? If the answer is yes then, how does one go about doing that? Linda Greenhouse, a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter for the New York Times, exposed herself to a barrage of criticism when she voiced her disappointment in the US government during a public speech. This, despite her clean record of unbiased reporting throughout her career at the Times. Ergo the question - when does the journalist get to voice his or her personal stand? The answer to that hinges upon the context within which the journalist is operating. Michael Moore the concerned, patriotic, somewhat left-wing radical citizen has every right to stand up for his convictions. But, Michael Moore the neo-journalist, illuminator of misstatements and untruths, holds the obligation to disseminate to the public information that is non-partisan and independent of his bias.