In this week’s Frum–Goldberg Bloggingheads, David Frum asked Goldberg whether anyone at The Corner had ever called out Mark Levin on “tone” as they called out their colleague Jim Manzi. Goldberg replied that he did not know. Frum said it would be interesting to find out. So we at FrumForum looked up the record.
The answer is “no.” Here’s a sample of NR comments on Levin’s tone:
Levin is sometimes silly, sometimes spiritual, but always spirited, and he calls it as he sees it. … Listening to Mark, though, you can’t help but worry about his vocal cords, especially if the topic is Democrats undermining the war effort. How does the man not lose his voice?
-“Jim Webb’s Favorite Constituent” by Kathryn Jean Lopez (July 18, 2007).
A very sharp contrast to accusing Jim Manzi of giving Mark Levin, “the Pearl Harbor treatment.”
(As of Wednesday May 5th though, Corner contributor Kevin D. Williamson said he was revising his opinion of Levin “just a little” after Levin attacked him and Ross Douthat for an article he wrote on Supply Slide economics.)
You might counter: Do liberal intellectual magazines ever call out liberal entertainers for extremism? A good question. So we looked that up too, and the answer this time is “yes.”
Both The New Republic and the even more liberal American Prospect were willing in their time to uphold intellectual standards against Michael Moore at the peak of his celebrity.
From The New Republic:
[F]or Michael Moore there is not much room to fall. Films such as Roger and Me and books such as Downsize This! marked him as egocentric and frivolous from the start. Still, he has tried his best to stoop even lower with Stupid White Men. A more irresponsible book on a more important topic would be impossible to write.
-“Idiot Time” by Alan Wolfe (July 8, 2002)
But Moore is no Bob Dylan–or Dennis Hopper, or Francis Ford Coppola, or Allen Ginsberg, who all produced works that outlasted their political beliefs–and the July 1 screening at the Rex, while applauded, did not receive a 20-minute ovation. It was as though the audience felt cheated by the director–under the guise of making them laugh, he had treated them as idiots. It wasn’t simply that Moore uses blatant caricatures, dramatically oversimplifies, and makes a cheap play for tears. Rather, it is because, to draw voters away from Bush, he uses precisely the same weapons as those used by the Republican propaganda machine: disinformation, short cuts, omissions. To portray prewar Iraq as an idyllic country where people danced and had fun and got married, where children played and laughed, borders on the despicable. Even the left-leaning Le Monde Diplomatique would never have painted such an uncritical picture. This mimicking of conservative propaganda reduces Fahrenheit 9/11 to a simplistic militant manifesto. Truth becomes a matter of editing, to the detriment of any sense of complexity or objectivity. To watch a Moore film is to be told the world comprises only nasty plutocrats ready to divide the globe for maximum profit and the gentle victims of their greed.
-“Tour de Farce” by Pascal Buckner (July 19, 2004)
And from American Prospect:
Even though I probably share a good portion of Moore’s politics, I resent having to kowtow to such a sanctimonious bully. But it’s true, Fahrenheit 9/11 is certainly Moore’s best film — his most tightly focused, disciplined, and powerful one. And although he commandeers an ice-cream truck to harass lawmakers and ask them to send their kids to Iraq, there’s even less of Moore himself in the film pulling his usual tricks. This time, he largely focuses on the story at hand.
But then the film begins to, well, spread out a bit, like a fat man in a big chair. And here Moore gets into trouble. Contradictions run rampant: The war on Afghanistan was a deliberate distraction, but we didn’t send enough troops there; homeland-security policy tramples on our civil liberties but is then too lax; Bush is both a cowboy dummy and a master puppeteer of diversionary wars and a media-fueled culture of fear. Where there isn’t a contradiction, there’s a gaping hole: What, pray tell, are we to do about our very real problems? What should we do instead, in this infernal struggle against fundamentalism, in the mess of Iraq?
Moore would do well to remember the book from which he appropriated his title. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 depicted the deliberate destruction of imagination and knowledge in a world where firemen set fires — they burned books. Moore probably sees his film as an antidote to the corporate censorship of the war on terrorism and the media spin of the war’s terrorism alerts. But in a way, Moore has a bit of authoritarianism in his filmmaking. He wants to tell us what to think, how to interpret his footage, what an Iraqi woman’s pain means in his grand theory. He lobs firebombs: The Bush administration is a conflagration, as are the companies and the corrupt Saudis.
-“Fahrenhaughty 9/11” Noy Thrupkaew (June 25, 2004)
If you want about as clear a demonstration as you’re likely to find of the difference between truth and politics, go see Eminem’s 8 Mile, filmed on location in Detroit, and then go see Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, which, despite the title, is set largely in Flint, Mich., and the white American and Canadian counties that border Detroit. Though Moore claims to have made a documentary, his examination of American gun culture presents viewers with a more heavily edited fiction than producer Brian Grazer’s attempt to clean up Eminem. Whereas the rapper’s movie reaches for the sort of truth mere facts cannot convey, Moore’s film grabs viewers with the old demagogue’s trick of using just as much factual information as is necessary to lead people toward false conclusions.
-“Moore’s the Pity” by Garance Franke-Ruta (November 22, 2002)
Even The Nation’s enthusiastic review of Moore’s work contained numerous warnings about its defects:
The odd thing is, I found the movie immensely cheering and energizing, even though I don’t agree with its main thesis, drawn from Unger, that Bush’s oil-business interests, particularly his close financial and personal connections with the Saudis, drove his post-9/11 decisions to go easy on Saudi Arabia and invade Afghanistan and Iraq. I think President Gore might well have invaded Afghanistan too…
Like all Moore’s movies, Fahrenheit 9/11 is somewhat muddled and self-contradictory. Just as Bowling for Columbine excoriated the NRA while arguing that guns don’t kill people, Americans kill people, Fahrenheit 9/11 simultaneously argues that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are wrong and unnecessary and that we need to send more troops; that the Bush Administration does too much and too little to protect the country from another terrorist attack; that Bush is an idiot and a lightweight and that he is a master of calculation. Actually, come to think of it, that’s not such a contradiction–but I wish Moore had acknowledged Bush’s obvious political skills. It’s not easy to fool 40 percent of the people 100 percent of the time.
Well, OK, so Moore isn’t Mark Twain, he’s a propagandist who can be funny and angry at the same time. He takes a lot of cheap shots–Paul Wolfowitz slicking back his hair with saliva, John Ashcroft crooning a patriotic anthem of his own composition, Bush smirking and looking shifty while waiting to go on air and announce the invasion of Iraq–but the point of these vignettes is not just to make us laugh and feel superior, it’s to undo the aura of assurance and invincibility with which this Administration cloaks itself while it spreads fear across the land.
What does it say that almost all conservative intellectuals pay obeisance to our clowns, while many liberal intellectuals are willing to challenge theirs?
Follow Noah Kristula-Green on Twitter: @noahkgreen