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.