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September 14, 2009

Comments

Props to Brendan for noting an instance of the New York Times' liberal bias. Unfortunately, this example is typical.

The Times tends to avoid criticizing liberals, particularly liberals who are under attack from the right. E.g., they printed nothing about the fuss over Van Jones until after he finally resigned. And then they soft-pedaled the reasons for his resignation.

Not to mention he didn't have Ray Bradbury's permission to co-opt the title from his book.

It's a bit unclear to me how using his documentary as the lead in to discussing the report urging "let the viewer beware" is an insufficient link. The article isn't about specifically about ANY documentary's disingenuity; it's not a fact-check article.

Even if you object to the article being some sort of pseudo-ad for Moore's film, you have to at least appreciate how it's entirely tempered by the reference to the ethics issue.

The article is titled "At Toronto Film Festival, Cautions on Documentaries" with a picture of Moore right under it. One could argue the reporter could trivially have looked up any of the numerous links censuring Moore sited here, but the same could be done for countless other directors and documentaries. That just didn't seem to be the point of this short article though, so it seems a little odd to me to be so worked up by it.

I have to disagree with Brendan and David here and second Tom Anderson. There is no way they would have led into this article with a reference to a Ken Burns film.

Far from being proof of liberal bias, Moore is being cast as the epitome of deceptive documentary film making without any followup pro or con, not to mention no discussion of whether his latest film is accurate.

This despite the fact that the report Brendan links to makes no mention of Michael Moore, other than an unanswered question about Fahrenheit 911. Other directors like John Grierson, Sam Pollard, Peter Miller (and yes Ken Burns) are mentioned by name in the report, but they don't have a reputation for creative journalism for the Times to play off.

A political "documentary", or any "documentary" that involves social issues is not going to be the same as a scientific documentary. Nor, for that matter, is a historical documentary going to be the same as a scientific documentary.

We apply the term documentary to a film that deals with with true facts, events and issues - but how they are presented will always be subject to the views, choices and opinions of the film maker. As "objective" as any film marker is, they are almost always going express an opinion - either one they formed prior to making their film or one they formed through the process of making the film.

I don't think its an absence of an ethical code (as the author says) - merely the realization on the part of the film-makers that their films have a "message" - that message being an expression of how they see reality.

I also think that the majority of Brendan's links fail to show that Moore has deceptive in any substantial manner.

Just to take three examples -

Does the fact that two killers at Columbine did or didn't go bowling that specific morning really even matter at all?

The Heston speech edits cast him as perhaps acting more insensitively than Heston had at that time, but they didn't distort Heston's actual views in any way.

On the other hand, Moore's implication that a bank could distribute guns without a background check certainly falls in the "distortion" category. But still, the impact of that sequence does not become meaningless once we know there is a more conventional process that is followed prior to actually awarding the gun. The whole segment is just as funny as a dentist giving candy to his patients.

This isn't a blanket defense of Moore, but general "quibbles" should be separated from serious "distortions".

The fact that Moore uses humor or stages some outrageous "stunts" for dramatic value DOES move him away from being a documentarian. But doing so - and injecting emotion (or humor, or farce) into his films - is not automatically the same as being "misleading".

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