Remember when political rallies consisted mostly of speeches and sloganeering? Well, that was before Michael Moore raised the country's temperature to Fahrenheit 9/11. Now, you can't rub two leftists together without one of them screening his anti-Bush documentary for you. Call it cinematic samizdat - the distribution of information that tends to be ignored by official channels, and by official channels I mean ABC, CBS, NBC, even CNN. During the march to war in Iraq, most of the mainstream media fell in line, either because they thought it was their patriotic duty to do so or because they truly believed in the cause. Antiwar demonstrators were forced to hit the streets because they couldn't hit the airwaves, which were already spoken for. But Michael Moore has changed the political landscape. Conservatives still have talk radio, not to mention Fox News. But liberals have now added documentaries to their media holdings.
Robert Greenwald, a minor Hollywood player, has made a second career for himself by producing and/or directing a series of documentaries beginning with the prefix "un." First came Unprecedented, an examination of Florida's voting patterns as they gradually evolved during the 2000 presidential election. Then came Uncovered: The War on Iraq, an examination of the Bush administration's reasons (or lack thereof) for going to war with Iraq. Most recently, we've gotten Unconstitutional, an examination of the effects that the USA Patriot Act has had on the Bill of Rights. Greenwald also directed this year's Outfoxed, which argues that the Fox News Network is, for all practical purposes, a Republican shill. ("We Distort, You Deride.") Less entertaining than Fahrenheit 9/11, these documentaries feel like prosecutor's briefs, marshalling evidence and building irrefutable arguments. They're not likely to change anybody's vote, but they could have an effect on the "un" that Greenwald hasn't gotten around to yet: the undecided.
Uncovered began its life as a 58-minute DVD available on the Internet through such alternative distribution outlets as MoveOn.org and the Center for American Progress. Now, an 83-minute version is being theatrically released in selected cities, including Madison, and I think it's safe to say the documentary is as relevant as ever. Greenwald has assembled a panel of "experts" - mostly former employees of the CIA, the State Department and the Pentagon who witnessed firsthand the government's preparations for war. And to hear them tell it, Bush and company would stop at nothing in their determination to enter Baghdad. The phrase "weapons of mass destruction" was used like a battering ram, beating down the objections of those who wondered whether Iraq even had any. Congress, having handed over its war-making powers, went along for the ride. And so did the CIA, despite finding little evidence of WMDs and even less evidence of a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda.
So, we were railroaded. That's how I see it, anyway, and because Uncovered sees it the same way, I had few problems with it. Having demolished the phrase "Fair and Balanced" in Outfoxed, Greenwald doesn't even shoot for balance here, but he does play fair, in my opinion, alleging only what he thinks he can prove. My only reservation with his approach is that the experts, who are drawn largely from the intelligence community and seem to speak as one, leave us with the impression that support for the government's war effort is eroding from within. Maybe it is, but I wouldn't have minded hearing from those who haven't turned against the war, if only to familiarize myself with their arguments. I know, their arguments can be found anywhere; just turn on the television. Still, I rather miss the days when documentaries strove for the Holy Grail of objectivity, when the country's temperature was closer to normal.