CHARACTER ASSASSINS

This is going to start an avalanche. The liberal speaks and I can just hear you guys cocking your guns…

Butch’s posting about Moore was not purposeless gossip. It was designed to tarnish Moore’s image and name. At the onset of Sicko’s release conservatives have worked themselves into a tizzy, outraged that, once again, this man is criticizing the system, any action of which conservatives have branded to be wholly un-American, even anti-American. Say what you will about Moore and his comments on Steve Jobs (which I too found ridiculous, but that’s hardly the point), it’s his film that deserves attention. However, his critics and dissenters (not excluded from this blog) follow the typical route of attacking his character in order to discredit the content of his film and distract people from it altogether.

The idea of “character assassins” is something I’ve wanted to elaborate on for a while. This aggressive and malicious form of coercion has become rampant in the news media forum, particularly among, though not limited to, the right-wing press. This vicious behavior is typical of Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Anne Coulter, who’ve been defaming critics of the Republican Party for years now. There might be a tendency among their sympathizers to say ‘well, look at how many fans these guys have’ not only to somehow credit some veracity to their shows but to also justify their libel. Smack-talk is smack-talk and whether political or not it is sensational, attention-grabbing and attracts viewers and listeners like flies to shit. People didn’t consistently watch Jerry Springer, for example, because they actually believed everything they were seeing—most people knew it was largely fictional—but because of its audacity and entertainment value. O’Reilly and Limbaugh retain their audiences for similar reasons and to great appeal: there are countless Americans who respond enthusiastically to bullying. Really, can you imagine O’Reilly having the same popularity if he were genteel and polite?

The only leftist in my mind who is arguably comparable to these guys in terms of celebrity is Michael Moore, though he releases a film once every few years (big deal) versus Limbaugh, O’Reilly, et al, who do their mud-slinging on a daily basis. And while the character assassins on the Right have little purpose other than to defame in the form of “commentary,” Moore composes two-hour arguments that address problems–business moving overseas in “Roger & Me,” gun violence in “Bowling for Columbine,” ineffective HMOs in “Sicko”—and offer insight (our widespread violence is linked to widespread fear, “BFC”) or proposed solutions whether you like them or not.

How does the conservative right respond to Michael Moore? The way they respond to anybody who criticizes Republican policy: namecalling. The anti-Moore website “Moorewatch.com” calls the man a “fat bastard.” Fred Thompson in this YouTube video suggests Moore is mentally disturbed: “a mental institution, Michael, it might be something you ought to think about.” Google “Sicko” and “Michael Moore” together and you’ll find a slew of conservative websites that howl and call Moore a liar and yet offer no evidence of lying. The “Business & Media” website started their review of the film with “Michael Moore is a documented liar” and proceeded to not only state zero examples of Moore lying but rather accused him of failing to acknowledge the bad points along with the good of the Cuban healthcare system (yet B&M themselves failed to acknowledge the good points of the film along with the bad, choosing instead to focus on calling Moore a liar). This weblog “Truthdig.com” reviews “Sicko” and accuses Moore of not telling the truth. The reviewer spends three paragraphs criticizing the film’s music (!), though never points out any lies. What’s up with that, guys? Why would conservatives do that? Just being old-fashioned? Tradition? Anything anti-conservative must be a lie!

The slandering is so unchecked on the Right that I agree with my friend Steele: the Left needs more character assassins of their own. Fratboy neo-cons have been waging war on Democrats for the past two decades. What do you think? Do you think the pinkos ought to start calling their opponents faggots, liars, wackos, fundamentalists, and pedophiles ?

Back to where it started. Michael Moore and “Sicko.” Indeed, Butch, you didn’t even mention his movie or its implication before you chipped in to the right wing smear campaign against Michael Moore. This is the problem. You guys are throwing sucker punches at Moore himself so I’m going to call you on it. You’re passing judgment on this guy and affecting your opinion of his film before you’ve even seen it, if you ever allow yourself to see it. I don’t expect you or anybody on the right to knock off all the belligerence that has run amok in our public forums. The problem is so advanced that it’s not going to change. In the meantime I hope you can at least recognize this as a major setback in social discourse and effective communication in general whose fundamental component is fact not opinion.

As for the film itself,
here’s the best review I’ve seen of SICKO
. For anybody too skiddish to watch the film, this article sums up quite well its strengths and weaknesses, commenting not just on Moore as both filmmaker and subject, but also on the issues that the film addresses.

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12 Responses to “CHARACTER ASSASSINS”

  1. JohnnyB Says:

    Welcome to the main page. Behold as you shape the opinion of millions and millions of Logifans.

    I think if you scroll down a bit you’ll find authors making fun of and criticizing George W Bush, Trent Lott, Hillary Clinton and Fred Thompson. You might be surprised to find praise for the NY Times and skepticism about the goals of Rupert Murdoch. A wise man once said, “Don’t judge a car by it’s trailer.” The equivalent here would be, “Don’t judge a blog by a single post”.

    As for the movie, I calculate that two tickets cost 1/24th the price of an iPhone, and frankly, I’d rather save up for that. When it comes out at the library, maybe I’ll check it out. In the meantime, if you see any policy papers on the single payer system, post them!

  2. wdporter Says:

    “Say what you will about Moore and his comments on Steve Jobs (which I too found ridiculous, but that’s hardly the point), it’s his film that deserves attention.”

    Thank you…great point. Have you seen it, yet?

    Calling him a self-centered dummy is not attacking his character.

    And on the topic of his movies. (Not including the current one, because I haven’t seen it). I’ve seen all his other movies, and they are filled with deceit, lies, blatant innuendo and rarely actually tackle the actual substance of any issue.

    He’s a brilliant documentarian, but it’s the editing that he deserves academy awards for, not anything resembling “intellectual honesty,” attention to detail, or reliance on facts, which in a documentary is arguably very important.

    If this film breaks from that mold, then so be it, I will applaud him, but comparing Michael Moore to Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Bill O’Reilly is useless and is a complete departure from both the original point, AND the substance of his films.

    *GUN COCKING*

  3. wdporter Says:

    I got called on the fact that I only responded to part of Rothell’s post, so I’m going to try to respond to it more generally:

    Rothell has made some great points about partisanship, name-calling, slander, etc. Disappointing that he only acknowledges ONE person exists at all on the left that is ever guilty of this, but given the obsession with talk radio “running the country” (quoted by another left winger named Lott), I can see if my politics was more to the left, I would find these people offensive.

    The point is, I don’t care about Coulter, Hannity, O’Reilly, OR Moore, or Stewart, or Matthews, or Olbermann . I don’t read The Nation, NewsMax, watch FoxNews (EVER-in years), MSNBC, etc…

    I’m certainly not obsessed enough with any of these Characters to Assassinate them or get on a MooreWatch site, or a CoulterWatch site.

    Discussing these players, I’ve found, has never added to policy discussions, because people dodge the actual issues to talk about personalities and squabbles (see Finklestein and Dershowitz, both supposed Academicians in my opinion complete losers with very little real substance, one living off the lack of scholarship of the other).

    This is why I rarely talk about them, except when they do something so off the wall that it warrants discussion (“Steve Jobs doesn’t care about Health Care because he wants to launch his phone on the same day as my movie”–dude that’s funny stuff, I’m sorry).

    I am not fair and balanced, so I’m much more likely to find fault with people I disagree with. Guilty as charged. But they are rarely at the center of policy discussions.

    As far as the New Republic’s view of the movie, I think it’s pretty rational. As someone who spends a little time in field of Health Insurance, I have many opinions on the flaws of the current Health Care system. Those I will save for a later post.

    Welcome, Rothell.

  4. Rip Says:

    Welcome to Logipundit.

    You’ll be glad to know that I haven’t watched or listened to any of the talking-head conservative commentators you mentioned in your post in years, with one exception. I did watch O’Reilly for a few months (in 2004), but only to explain to my politically uneducated co-worker the many fallacies in his arguments. However, please don’t insinuate that there isn’t name-calling and sound-bite arguments on both sides of the aisle.

    I will watch Moore’s film as soon as it is on DVD. We can discuss it at that time. I feel that I have a basic understanding of the “pros” and “cons” of a universal health care system and would love to see them conveyed to the American people in a mass-audience format. However, based on the one review of the film that I have read (that being the review you linked in your post – from The New Republic courtesy of CBS News), I’m not convinced that the “cons” of universal health care are given their sufficient due. Hopefully, I’m wrong.

    Also, I hope you’re not serious in making the following comment –

    “The slandering is so unchecked on the Right that I agree with my friend Steele: the Left needs more character assassins of their own.”

    To want more assassins is to condone their behavior, which is quite odd when the remainder of your post speaks to the contrary.

  5. Rothell Says:

    Thanks for the comments. I’m glad that you respond to the main points. Please forgive me too if I’m pressing this issue too much. Hopefully this will be the last of it:

    It wasn’t my intention to infer that Moore is the only Leftist counterpart to Limbaugh and O’Reilly but that he is the only one to my mind with the same celebrity (please re-read the post). If there are other liberals out there of this stature, I’m curious to know who they are.

    While you guys may not be paying much or any attention to O’Reilly and Limbaugh yourselves, millions of Americans are. These turkeys have spent countless hours of airtime mixing facts with fiction. Countless. Which is why I think their is a major difference in output of this sort from the Right than from the Left. Is that unreasonable? Again, I’m talking about the namecalling, the smearing, the slandering.

    As for Rip’s response to my comment that there should (or should not) be more character assassins on the Left, I have come to believe that this sort of filthy behavior in the media will not be toned down at all. People eat this shit up. And what perplexes me is that, while conservatives constantly harp on the influence movies and tv have on people, they ignore the extent to which major media pundits (among whom conservatives the likes of Limbaugh and O’Reilly outnumber liberals) are exerting influence over millions of Americans every day. So how do you deal with this excessible and unstoppable belligerence from the Right?

    The point of the post was less to say let’s all get along and more to say you’re plaing dirty, so put up your dukes.

    This is exhausting me! Time for some bar-b-que and beer. You guys have a happy holiday.

  6. Nick Says:

    Al Franken? Bill Maher? Keith Olberman? Ed Schultz? Rosie O’Donnel??

  7. Mosher Says:

    This does a good job of calling out the point that this problem of character assassination, as you rightly put it, is something that is predominantly a phenomenon of the right. Period. Full stop. This is not something that “both sides are guilty of.” Utterly wrong. The right, through its capture of major broadcast media (television and radio) has used this position of power to conduct what are essentially information operations on the American public — through very crude, simple, essentially name-calling techniques.

    For too long the left, center-left, Democratic party, et al have been on the sides of rational, reasoned debate, thinking that we would bring our opponents around by appealing to their reason. This strategy is just not reflective of the world we live in today — 24 hour news, soundbites, internet hook-ups everywhere, constant information flow, faster, quicker, now — today it’s all about who gets their position out first, always, and in the most direct fashion possible (to include name-calling, character assassination). The right/Republicans have understood this for some time, and we have to bow to reality as well, as much as I dislike it….it’s depressing.

  8. Rothell Says:

    RE: Nick’s insightful “Al Franken? Bill Maher? Keith Olberman? Ed Schultz? Rosie O’Donnel??”

    Sure, Al Franken called Rush a big fat idiot. What else? I haven’t read his other books.

    Bill Maher. What’s he said that puts him in the league of Rush and O’Reilly to qualify him as a character assassin? Have you thrown him in merely because he’s a liberal? In the eyes of any conservative qualifies one as utterly anti-American! But I’m not a conservative. You better back your arguments up with some facts.

    Olberman? Maybe, but I’ve never seen to this guy. I’ve read that he’s very biased. But can you verify that he is lying like I can verify Limbaugh’s and O’Reilly’s lies?

    Ed Schultz? 100 radio stations carry this guy. Who’s he slandered? Any defamation coming from this man’s program? What’s your dirt on him? What lies against conservatives has he been telling?

    Rosie O’Donnell. That’s pretty lame. How many people take this woman seriously?

  9. Rothell Says:

    sorry about the typos. I’ll start reading over these things before publishing them…

  10. JohnnyB Says:

    I can say that Maher has done plenty of name-calling since being on HBO. He once wished that Cheney would drop dead of a heart attack in office, which he explicitly said was not a joke.

    Certainly the level of discourse has dropped a few notches, and unfortunately, the rise of the internet new media has hasn’t this process. Consider that Ana Marie Cox, who made a living using the word “B***F***” while blogging about politics, is now the online editor for Time magazine. She doesn’t have the name recognition that Limbaugh has, but she’s definitely no Edward R Murrow.

    Needless to say, I think your call for character assassins on the left , which conflate name-calling and argument, is a few years too late. Just because people don’t take them seriously or they are only on a hundred stations doesn’t help your argument. In fact, it supports the fact that left wing demagoguery is not as popular as right wing demagoguery, despite repeated attempts by the left (i.e. Air America).

    No one makes people listen to Limbaugh or watch O’Reilly. If Olbermann can’t match O’Reilly’s ratings, is O’Reilly supposed to quit so liberals can monopolize the debate in this country?

  11. JohnnyB Says:

    “new internet media”
    “hastened this process”

    Fixing typos is a mess…What I meant to say is drop dead you liberal idiot!

  12. wdporter Says:

    Mosher and Rothell. I can appreciate your frustration with Right-Wing demagogues but I’m a little confused. Just because you don’t listen to the left-wing demagogues doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

    That would be like me saying, “I don’t watch O’Reilly, so he really doesn’t count as a right-wing character assassin.”

    Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Agreed that Character Assassination is uncool. Disagree that is strictly a Conservative issue (period, full stop).

    As Johnny pointed out, the level of the conversation has occasionally gotten so low, that we must waste time talking about the pundits, and not the issues.

    Regarding Moore and Sicko, as Rip said, and I have said, I will watch it when it comes out on DVD just like I have all of his other movies, and when the time comes you guys will hear (ad nauseum) my opinions on the U.S. Health Care system.

    Until then, when Michael Moore (or anyone else–especially people, like him, that I particularly don’t like) says something REALLY STUPID I will be sure and point it out.

    In addition to that, I will do my best to point out the stupid things that people that I DO like say, but no promises.


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