Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wikileaks & Michael Moore: A Lesson In Propaganda And Mass Idiocy.

Today's artfully manufactured (if depressingly predictable) media rumpus, at the epicentre of which the pseudo-left blowhard and celebrity docudramatist Michael Moore is pleased to have successfully situated himself, casts an especially cold and helpful light on both the frivolous nature and the bourgeois-reactionary function of the cultural phenomenon known as Wikileaks.

To be fair, in its favour it is an amusing spectacle and goes well with popcorn. But by way of background, it is useful to recall a couple of things.

First: Moore's entreprenurial genius arises from the grand American tradition of circus empresario P.T. Barnum, who may or may not have been the source of the maxim "No one ever went broke understimating the intelligence of the American people," and to whom the phrase "A sucker is born every minute" may or may not be accurately attributed, but you get the point. Central to Moore's success was his invention of his own cirriculum vitae and his persistent talent for telling the masses of comfortable Europeans and North Americans who fancy themselves to be "progressive" exactly what they want to hear.

Second: Only last week, Moore moved to combine his talents with those of the geek-vandal Julian Assange, whose similarly fabulous talent for self-marketing and whose sticking-it-to-the-man brand Wikileaks had rapidly assured him a place in the avante garde of the same counterculture celebrity circuit in which Moore makes his money, along with such personalities as Bianca Jagger, John Pilger, Cindy Sheehan, Medea Benjamin, and that crowd. On December 14, Moore invested $20,000 in a joint venture with Pilger and Jagger and others to secure Assange a place in these profitable radical-chic circles. The investment prospectus already had a lot to recommend it - Assange's publicity agents had successfully spun his sordid legal difficulties in Sweden into a tale of the capitalist police state persecuting a whistleblower in order to silence dissent (cue soundtrack, the Ballad of Reading Gaol), or something along those lines anyway.

Two days later, the Guardian newspaper in Britain published this story: WikiLeaks: Cuba banned Sicko for depicting 'mythical' healthcare system - Authorities feared footage of gleaming hospital in Michael Moore's Oscar-nominated film would provoke a popular backlash.

Much ha-ha ensued, most insightfully this essay by the good and decent Nick Cohen, who points out the bone-headed anti-Americanism that animates Assange, whose "strutting vanity" and drippy politics "is best represented by Michael Moore, one of the most disreputable propagandists of our age."

Then, this morning, the Guardian published this story: WikiLeaks cables: Michael Moore film Sicko was 'not banned' in Cuba -Film-maker says diplomats made up the story to discredit film that showed healthcare was worse in US than Cuba.

Much counter-ha-ha ensued, most grotesquely Moore's own sideshow act, in which he enlists the unknown author of a Bay-of-Pigs-era cable in the role of dog-faced boy and Andy Levy of Fox News in the role of the bearded lady.

There are two things worth noticing here. The first is that the Guardian is playing a binary role in all this as a kind of open-source outsourcing vehicle for Wikileaks, while at the same time playing its accustomed role as reliable vector for the same pseudo-left glitterati who are in the middle of the enterprise. The second and more important thing you should notice is that neither of the Guardian stories is really true, at least not in the sense that any conventionally assiduous and responsible journalist would recognize.

The leaked cable in question does not show that Cuban officials banned Moore's cinematic propaganda exercise titled "Sicko." Neither does it show that American diplomats hoped to discredit Moore by inventing a story that Cuban authorities banned the film.

But the most important (and so artfully occluded) story the cable contains is the horrific story of precisely the kind that neither Moore or the Guardian can be counted on to tell you, and indeed would have you left in the dark about. It is not a story that devoted Guardian readers (whose intelligence no one ever went broke underestimating) now congregating in a fawning mass around Assange and Moore will want to hear. It is not a story that will be "news" to anyone who pays attention to the sufferings of the Cuban working class, but it is still the only story worth reporting here.

To begin with, the authors of the cable describe its contents as "anecdotal accounts from Cubans about their healthcare," derived from interviews, "unauthorized visits to Cuban hospitals" and other such interactions with both American and Cuban personnel, in Cuba. One of these anecdotal remarks from a name-redacted informant refers to some Cuban authorities that in some way "banned" Moore's film on the grounds that a "popular backlash" would result because the film depicts health facilities that are "clearly not available to the vast majority" of the Cuban people. That's the thing that we're all supposed to pay attention to (so long as we read it the distorted way Moore and the Guardian would want).

The thing is, we already knew that the Cuban government had given its blessing to Moore's film, at least to the extent of allowing it to be shown on Cuban national television, so it's not clear what the informant meant by reference to some ban. But what that same paragraph also reports is a first-hand report from a "foreign health service provider" who showed the film to a group of Cubans who "became so disturbed at the blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in Cuba that they left the room."

There are only two other references to Moore and his ridiculous film "Sicko" in the cable.

One concerns the stark contrast between Moore's version of Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital in Havana and the reality of the decrepit hospital and its corrupt practices. Moore's film shows the bright and shiny top floors of the hospital, which are in fact reserved for Venezuelan officials and diplomats who pay in hard cash. The hospital is otherwise off-limits to ordinary Cubans unless they can come up with bribes to the hospital administrator.

The other reference to Moore comes by way of a sarcastic suggestion that if he had been legitimately concerned about depicting the reality of the Cuban health care system he would have visited Havana's Calixto Garcia Hospital, a crumbling 19th-century edifice that caters to ordinary, actually-existing Cubans. A foreign health service provider who visited the institution was "struck by the shabbiness of the facility," its lack of staff, basic supplies, and how it was "reminiscent of a scene from some of the poorest countries in the world."

The rest of the cable presents what might be charitably described as a horror show of Dickensian sick wards, exploitation of health care workers, disregard for the sick and injured and a variety of banana-republic practices about which the Cuban government should be abjectly ashamed. Do read it all, but also bear in mind that none of this should come as "news" to you.

If it's a truly courageous "whistleblower" you want to advise you in the matter of the Cuban police state that Michael Moore and his friends would prefer you not know about, it's Yoani Sánchez.

Here's Comrade Yoani on the absolute irrelevance of the Wikileaks phenomenon to the wretched of the earth: "There are so many who don’t keep records, who have an unwritten culture of repression and who have paper incinerators that smolder all day; bosses who only need to raise an eyebrow, crook an index finger, whisper into an ear a death sentence, or a battle on an African plain, or a call to insult and assault a group of women dressed in white. If some of them would emerge in a local Wikileaks, they would get the maximum penalties, be made examples of with the strongest punishments, without worrying about whether to fabricate a charge of 'rape' or 'bovine slaughter.' They know that 'seeing is believing' and therefore take care that there is no material containing surprising revelations, that the real framework of absolute power will never be visible."

Here's Yoani on Cuba's glorious proletarian health care system: "One day it was announced with great fanfare that they were going to raise the salaries of all heath care workers. But barely 48 Cuban pesos, the equivalent of 2.00 convertible pesos — or about $1.60 U.S. — were added to his meager monthly salary. So he and a friend wrote a letter to the minister of his profession, communicating the discontent among physicians at such a ridiculous increase. They managed to collect 300 signatures and delivered it to the Minister of Health, as well as to the Council of State, the seat of power on this Island. The answer came a few weeks later in the form of his expulsion from his specialty. Five months later both letter writers were fired and their university degrees stripped away. Five years have passed since those events, but neither of the two has been able to get work in a clinic as a doctor."

Now contrast Yaoni's whistle-blowing bravery and struggle against the self-aggrandizing frolics of Julian Assange, Michael Moore and the rest of that class.

A lesson from this latest media rumpus is that it might have served as a useful revelation to people who should know better about just how horrible Cuba's health care system really is - and in the bargain, a "media event" that might also have helped to expose Moore as a millionaire propagandist whose objective in this is to keep important stories hidden from all those Europeans and North Americans who fancy themselves to be properly leftish. Instead, it has become a story that serves to actually enhance Moore's transgressive, bourgeois celebrity cult, and Moore provides a ready made slogan to help the masquerade along its way: ¡Viva WikiLeaks!

Suckers. There's one born every minute.

UPDATE: American celebrity pornographer Larry Flynt joins Moore in Assange enterprise with a $50,000 investment. Guardian publishes bodice-ripping details as Assange's journo-buddy debunks Assange's crazy conspiracy theories. Plus: Gawker exposes Assange in Aussie Teen-Stalking Shock!

It gets more squalid with every passing moment. But the schaudenfreude, I must confess, is worth it.


Blogger Unknown said...


1:34 PM  
Blogger Gene said...

There's also this account by Yoani of a visit to one of Cuba's non-Potemkin hospitals.

1:58 PM  
Blogger Erik Stein said...

Please provide an updated link to the Cuba cable as the link provided in your blog now reads as a 404 error

11:04 PM  
Blogger Anton Deque said...

At a talk about contemporary reporting of war given by the the then Guadian picture editor to co-incide with an exhibtion of Robert Capa and Gerda Taro at London's Barbican Gallery two winters ago, we were shown a photograph of a dead Iraqi child (c. eight to ten months) published on the Guardian's front page. The paper had thought long and hard before publishing he told us. I asked why the Guardian had altered its policy and would the paper show images of dead terror victims. "I don't see the relevance of the issue" came the reply. I left soon after.

9:33 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...


I''d like to provide an updated link to the cable, but the Guardian appears to have removed it from its website entirely, along with the original story that made Moore look like the fool that he is.

8:13 PM  
Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:13 AM  

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