Sicko Menage a Trois

I managed somehow to miss the Blitzer-Gupta-Moore festivities last week. Fortunately we live in the era of youtube, so I was able to catch up this morning. Here Here and Here And of course, Here. and here

A couple of things struck me about these performances.

1) Although I am sympathetic to the charge against the “main stream media” that Moore makes, does it have any relevance for the question of whether the representation of “Sicko” on CNN is accurate or not. The implicit argument seems to be a) CNN’s reporting on “Farenheit 9/11” was flawed, therefore its reporting on “Sicko” is likely to be flawed. To make the argument work you probably need to make it plausible that CNN will report on Michael Moore’s movies or movies of their political stripe in a consistent way. Is it ad hominem in the fallacious sense? Well, it seems at least a “fallacy of relevance.”

2) The only criticism of Moore’s use of statistics and facts that seems to have any traction occurs when Gupta tries to suggest that Moore is “cherry-picking the data” by using one estimate of the per capita expenditure on health care for the U.S. and a different source for Cuba. Moore’s response is a little weak in the video (on the website he points out that he was using the most recent data he could find). Larry King tries to get to the question of what an 18% difference matters when we are talking about numbers separated by a factor of 25-30. Moore’s argument would be better served by admitting that these numbers need not be taken as exact in order for the general points that Moore wants to make to stand.

3) Related to this: In Gupta’s original report, the intention seems to be to discredit the film’s data. Gupta argues in the original piece that Moore “fudges the facts.” The report has the pretension of the neutral “fact checker” that is holding Moore’s feet to the fire. It creates the rhetorical impression that Moore is inaccurate on a number of important facts. Moore seems right in saying that Gupta’s evidence does not support such a conclusion. Moore should have stuck to putting the burden on Gupta to defend his somewhat outrageous accusation–or better retracting it altogether.

Update: Just saw this. Looks like CNN did the decent thing.

3 thoughts on “Sicko Menage a Trois”

  1. Fact-checking claims such as those made by Moore is the job of an appropriately critical press. Moore ought to expect his views to be subject to a high level of critical scrutiny. The fact that he’s surprised (or rather pretends surprise or outrage), however, says more about the press than it does about him. Such intense (and kind of guerilla-style) critical scrutiny seems to apply only to left-wing filmmakers. It doesn’t apply to people whose false assertions actually has an immediate bearing on reality.

  2. I’m not sure he’s surprised at the fact-checking, but at the “standards” of the fact-checking. Ultimately Gupta’s factual differences are quibbles, yet he wants to make his story be “Moore fudges facts” to fit in with the general media construction of “Moore as undisciplined and unprincipled ideologue.” But, when you have your fact-checker unable to check his own facts (transcription error!?) you’re in trouble.

  3. see my thoughts about the affair . CNN deserves some kudos for trying to get the record straight (even if it was trying to milk the controversy for all it was worth over several days). This is another case where compressed reporting ends up confusing the issues.

    To CNN’s credit, the third piece seemed like a genuine attempt to clarify the disagreements. But I have a feeling this situation came about only because Moore’s condition for going onscreen was to have the interview unedited. I fear that not all advocates will have this superior leverage.

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