Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Blogger and Media censorship (death threats, &c -- the usual)

I'm coming to believe that the global Internet and media censorship story are, in fact, a potentially much bigger long-term stories than the recent beheading violence. They certainly hit much closer to home.

For example, Chris Short of the Our Life blog claims he has received death threats from readers unhappy with his blog's coverage of the beheading story. Like DFW, his blog is being censored by the South Korean government because of either his coverage of that story or the related social unrest in that country.

Reports of death threats against popular bloggers is a story that really hits home.

Netpolitik has a copy of a moving letter from a South Korean blogger on Internet censorship of blogs in his country, and the political motivations behind it.

Earlier I went through my bulk mail email folder, where several weeks of spam emails had been quietly accumulating.

Much to my horror, I had several spam emails from an "independent" citizens group urging me to complain call, email, complain to and otherwise harass and intimidate movie theater owners that dared to shown a then-forthcoming Fahrenheit 9/11.

Many of my American readers must have received similar spam emails from this or another "independent" citizens group opposed to Moore's film. I have to say all of these attempts at censorship and intimidation are starting to seem somewhat surreal.

The email bragged about how their intimidation campaign was supposedly working: originally over a 1000 theaters were supposed to open the film, but thanks to the efforts of their group (they bragged) that number had been reduced to only 400, and they dreamed (unsuccessfully) of reducing it still further before opening day. (Since then, the movie has unquestionably become one of the biggest block-busters of all time. Despite the lack of theaters due to intimidation campaign, it was the highest-grossing film over the weekend.) If I (or millions of other Americans) needed any further reasons to convince me to go see this film, these emails were it. (As Moore himself has pointed out, these campaigns have helped the film. And, no, this group is a bona-fide conservative citizen's group that existed long before anyone had ever heard of Fahrenheit 9/11.)

This "independent" citizens group claimed Moore's film insulted American soldiers ("attacked America's military") and was therefore un-American.

Prior to seeing the film myself, I spoke with both conservatives and liberals who had seen the film. Even conservatives, who were suspicious of aspects of the film, agreed that he was suspicious of the mission and its results, his tone towards the troops was genuinely respectful.

(His second major reason for pressuring theater owners to boycott the film was that it dared criticize our beloved President George W. Bush. "Michael Moore ... desires to defeat President Bush [sic]." My goodness! That's criminal!)

Unfortunately, the emails and related website were highly manipulative and laden with factual errors. (Exactly the accusation they've repeatedly tried unsuccessfully to make against Moore's latest film.)

For example, the email implies Moore makes the following quote in his film: "Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not 'insurgents,' or 'terrorists' or 'The Enemy.' They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow and they will win."

Unfortunately for the group that put out this email (and the associated anti-Moore website), Moore doesn't actually say these lines anywhere in the film. I know. I watched for it. So did others I've talked to. It simply isn't there.

Moore does end his film by quoting two lines from George Orwell's anti-authoritarian classic 1984, however. I can imagine Moore's next speech speech at an awards ceremony (the way this film is selling, it'll probably be the Academy Awards):

"I would like to that all those who helped make those two lines of petty grandstanding by a filmmaker suddenly seem incredibly real.

"I'd like to thank all the fruitcakes that that made death threats [against both Moore and various bloggers, apparently] for helping to enhance my film's cinematic experience.

"I'd like to thank the South Korean government for attempting to black out all unfavorable blog of coverage of its society for further helping American's enjoy my film.

"I'd like to thank the Republicans that are tried to get the Federal Election Commission to ban advertisements of the film, and the executives at my film studio's parent company for creating a media sensation by refusing to carry a highly-profitable film for purely political reasons.

"Finally, I'd like to thank the fanatical right-wing contributors who helped fund the multi-million dollar campaign of intimidation against theater owners or anyone else associated with this film for spamming millions of email inboxes, thus simultaneously both advertising the film and adding additional special effects.

Actually, he's already said as much.

Too bad that while he makes a fortunate off his film the rest of us are stuck with the impact of the attempts at censoring what is the lifeblood of democracy - freedom of debate and freedom of the press.

Earlier Stories:
This blog banned in South Korea
Fahrenheit 911, Moore, the Pentagon Spy, the Saudis, and a dead NYC artist
Michael Moore is receiving death threats

2004/07/02 Update:

Since writting this piece it seems big money (and a few friends in big journalism) have really come out and attacked this film (and some big name journalists have also come out in support). Alternet is reporting that the 'grass roots organization' that has spammed me on this and other issues, and even set up an anti-Moore website, is a front for a certain Republican Public Relations (PR) firm.

A great deal of attention has been given to whether the Saudi flights left on the 13th or 14th of September. (Moore actually says they left "after September 13th" -- the documents show they received permission on the 13th). I happen to remember September 14th clearly, as some colleagues of mine were unable to attend a meeting because most commercial flights remained be canceled. Commercial air traffic was opened up late on September 13th on a "case-by-case basis" with most airports still closed and quite a few horror stories Americans still stranded in hot plane fuselages somewhere in Novia Scotia, Canada. As Moore points out in the movie, even celebrities headed for their Latin Grammy awards had trouble getting into a plane on the 13th (or 14th). Yet they got special permission (according to the documents) already on the 13th. Airspace was still close on September 14th to private, non-commercial flights (which these were) were still closed on the 14th. They clearly got special permission from high heaven. (The pilot of the flight has even written about it.) And the Saudi Ambassador, Bandar "Bush", admitted as much on Larry King Live in the segment show in the film.

This isn't Moore's most compelling point. He may not be right about everything or even about most things. There are a lot of people in the world, however, that believe many of the same things he does. (For example, in my earlier report, I even describe how the science of social network analysis conclusively shows a strong link between Bush and the Saudi elites (and, by further degrees to terrorists), even if these are too be expected and normal in the oil business. The link evidence was so compelling they even caught the attention of the FBI right after 9/11, as reported in the 2002 Wall Street Journal article and PBS Newshour stories cited in my earlier post. Given that there is at some credible evidence for much of what he says, one could argue that Moore could reasonably believe the interpretation he presents in his film, which is not a minority view in some parts of the world (namely, Europe). I do not think you can convincingly brand him a "liar" or even someone badly misinformed; the best one can do is claim he is self-deluded or a propagandist spinning facts.

As my above post makes clear, whether Moore is right or wrong, the attacks against him are extremely well-financed and contain just as many if not more factual errors, lying and manipulation as

Where there is smoke, there is fire as the saying goes. The strongest case that Moore might be on to something (however imperfectly) is that amount of money and effort that has gone into discrediting him. Given how far he is supposedly off in his fact, it's amazing just how hard of a task setting the record straight seems to be. (His critics seem to have gotten bogged down in the Saudi flight time tables.)

As Alterman points out, if Moore's well-financed critics would devote as much effort to finding factual inaccuracies in the daily stream of spin coming out of the White House, America would be in much better shape today.

Other blogs covering Moore:
Hot Abercrombie Chick
In Search of Utopia: If Moore is such a nut case....