CNN vs. Michael Moore: Righteous Smackdown or Artful Misdirection?
UPDATE: Huffington Post has some interesting material on the back and forth between Sanjay Gupta and Michael Moore on CNN last night, including the note that Moore's people did provide rebuttals to Gupta's story some time before his story fact checking Sicko ran. Which makes Gupta look even worse in this incident, now looking increasingly like the CNN correspondent fudged facts of his own to make a case against the filmmaker.
It's a question which always arises when Michael Moore starts doing publicity for a new film: Are the fights he wages during interviews about forcing accountability from the mainstream press or avoiding his own?
The blogosphere is buzzing about Moore's impassioned appearance Monday on CNN's Situation Room, in which he complained about a piece preceding his interview claiming that Moore shaded some minor facts in his film about patient wait times and treatment satisfaction.
After a set-up piece by Sanjay Gupta which raised questions about some issues presented in his film, Moore confronted anchor Wolf Blitzer about the allegations in Gupta's piece, CNN's reporting in the beginning of the Iraq War and CNN's reporting on his previous documentary, Fahrenheit 911. "We are in the 5th year of this war because you and CNN, Dr. Gupta, you didn't do your jobs back then. And now here we are again in this mess...I just wonder when the American people are going to turn off their TV sets and stop listening to this mess."
It's the same argument about mainstream media failure Moore engaged with Katie Couric while promoting has last movie, Fahrenheit 911. And he makes several great points, challenging CNN on its reporting in the Iraq war's early days -- which other critics, myself included, also criticized for jingoism (see a list of his problems with CNN's Sicko report here).
His impassioned response even forced Gupta to issue a correction which CNN is playing today, along with clips from yesterday's interview with Moore (Gupta said Moore's film maintained Cuba spends $25 per capita on healthcare, when Sicko cited a $251 figure. The argument is a little odd, because the basic point -- that the American health care system spends thousands on each patient while a nation with universal health care, Cuba, only spends hundreds, remains true).
After reading Moore's response to CNN, it seems clear that the cable channel did little but pick nits with Sicko, using figures about wait times for elective surgery and unsourced data to challenge minor facts presented in the movie. Moore also made a great point about being ambushed by a detailed piece criticizing selected details from his movie with little change to rebut them, both because he had no time to prepare a rebuttal and because Gupta didn't say where much of his information came from (a longer, better sourced version of Gupta's story ran on Anderson Cooper 360, available here).
Unfortunately, this dust-up also now makes the discussion about CNN's reporting rather than the validity of Moore's film. As much as I enjoy Moore's films, I've always wondered how much of the arguments presented I can believe. CNN purported to tell me that -- instead, they fumbled their efforts so badly, Moore can now make his appearances on their channel about how the cable channel is screwing him over, instead of talking about substantive criticisms of his movie.
Both CNN and Moore are also making the most of this controversy during a slow news week; the second part of Moore's interview is scheduled for CNN's Situation Room tonight at 7 p.m., while Gupta and Moore appear on Larry King Live at 9 p.m. It's a win-win: CNN gets viewership, Moore gets to be a liberal, anti-mainstream media hero while publicizing his movie.
I'm willing to bet there has never been a time when a guy who claims to be unfairly covered by a TV outlet gets so much of their airtime to prove it. Wonder if anybody will remember to practice any journalism while all this is going down?
Here's Moore's first interview from yesterday: