Just a clarificatory word, since some people don’t seem to get this. When a liberal media personality such as myself responds to attacks on Michael Moore by saying: “Look at what the president is doing!” we are not constructing a “two wrongs make a right” or a “fight fire with fire” argument.
Rather, this is what’s going on. I believe that it is very important to have a national conversation about the massive dishonesty of the president of the United States and the administration he leads. Nevertheless, one cannot write columns with headlines like: “Don’t you see, the president is a liar!” week after week or else people will think you are a crank. Paul Krugman in particular experiences this problem. Others among us only have limited opportunities to appear on the broadcast media, and do not get to choose the appointed topics for discussion. In either case, it is convenient to take criticism of Moore’s film either as a jumping-off point for your column or as a pretext to go on the radio or what have you. One’s access to the media stream is limited, and topic-selection is not entirely under one’s control. When one does gain such access, however, one would be foolish not to attempt to steer the conversation to what one regards as the crucial issues of the day. The fact that an uninformed viewer may leave Fahrenheit 9–11 thinking that Bush invaded Afghanistan to build a pipleine is regrettable. I hope that few people who did not already believes this have been caused to believe it by the film. The fact that an uninformed citizen may leave a Bush speech believing that Iraq was a major backer of al-Qaeda, that contemporary Afghanistan is a democracy, that lawsuits are the leading cause of health care inflation, that the current budget tragectory is sustainable, that the current job market is strong, and that the institution of marriage is threatened by gays and lesbians is an outrage. Given the opportunity to shift the conversation from Topic A to Topic B, I would be remiss not to do so.
UPDATE: Couple of unclear sentences up there on Paul Krugman. I don’t think he’s a crank. A lot of people accusing him of being a crank, however, because he doesn’t adopt the sort of “balanced” tone that you see from a Kristof or a Friedman. Under the circumstances, he does well to vary up his tune when he gets the chance. His column on Moore was, I thought, a good way of doing that. So I’ve got no problem with Paul Krugman, either in general, or on that column in particular. Some of my more vociferous commenters, however, are probably going to be very unhappy with what Krugman has to say once the Kerry administration is in power…it’s worth remembering, he really isn’t very liberal.