Stupid white men vs. biased white filmmakers

By Cam Cotton-O’Brien

Is militant movie-maker Michael Moore a journalist? This question could be dismissed as irrelevant by some if it wasn’t his best chance of avoiding jail.

The not-quite-recondite issue of the United States’ absurd health care system is the subject of his newest film, Sicko, some portions of which were filmed in Cuba, landing him in trouble with the US Treasury Department. They are investigating whether or not he is in violation of the 1962 trade embargo against the communist country. Moore maintains he was there for the express purpose of filming a documentary under the classification of a journalist, which would grant him the privilege of going to Cuba.

While it’s hard to argue Moore is actually a journalist (any semblance of objective reporting being a key omission on his behalf), he should be granted the privileges allotted to journalists. Nobody claimed Michael Moore is an objective reporter. When discussing him with friends and colleagues often his movies are referred to as propaganda. Regardless, it’s undeniable he provides a valuable service. He brings important issues to light that are otherwise brushed aside. Simply because he is not operating in a strictly journalistic medium does not make him irrelevant.

Let’s face it, the US health care system is unfathomably embarrassing, yet most of the “news” has to do with Paris Hilton (ostensibly) going to jail. This being the case, it seems completely acceptable that Mr. Moore should be allowed to visit Cuba to film for his documentary. It’s arguable that, by playing to the audience (as many of his critics allege he does), he is able to disseminate this information through a much wider segment of the population. Perhaps some people are stupid enough to believe everything they see or read, but I think that most individuals are merely spurned into questioning the issues presented in his movies, motivating them to seek out information on their own accord, which they can then use to form an opinion for themselves.

Sometimes it is this type of more creative, less factual style that is required to address certain issues. This is not a recent phenomenon. Consider the bombing of Dresden in World War Two–ranking with the two atomic bombs on the list of most catastrophic orgies of indiscriminate murder during that war–was not widely acknowledged until 1969 when recently-deceased writer Kurt Vonnegut published SlaughterHouse-Five. This novel is clearly not a journalistic work, yet it served that purpose and was able to expose a massive atrocity regular forms of journalism had neither been able or willing to address for 24 years. Sometimes these untraditional forms of information dissemination are required.

It is for similar reasons that Michael Moore should be protected as a journalist in Cuba even though it’s an uncomfortable prospect admitting he actually deserves the title. Yes, his work may be uneven (or even brazenly one-sided), but if it acts to increase the visibility of important issues, it is serving a journalistic purpose. As such, Michael Moore should be allowed to go to Cuba to film without having to hide copies of his work in foreign countries for fear of the US government confiscating them–something which he has been forced to do.

The Bush administration should realize Michael Moore will be around much longer than they ever will and should stop trying to undermine a member of the national media, regardless of his political colours.

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