HOLMES REPORT: Moore's movie is a reminder of how many stories the mainstream media is missing

As Eliot Spitzer is to the nation's regulators, Michael Moore is to the US media.

As Eliot Spitzer is to the nation's regulators, Michael Moore is to the US media.

With regulators increasingly seeing their jobs in terms of protecting large corporations, Spitzer has stepped in to force companies in the financial-services and now the pharmaceutical industries to accept higher standards of openness and integrity.

And as the mainstream media continues to give President Bush a free ride, Moore has swooped in to raise issues about the administration's handling of the war in Iraq and its relationship to the Saudi royal family.

Both Spitzer and Moore illustrate a truism of this new age: When traditional mechanisms for holding institutions responsible for their actions fall down on the job, others will step in to fill the vacuum. In a digital democracy, the self-appointed are as powerful as - and in some cases have more credibility than - the formally appointed.

Spitzer, in his recent attack on GlaxoSmithKline, decided the FDA was complicit in shielding the public from clinical studies demonstrating inefficacy - and in some cases serious risk - from prescription medications. His suit against Glaxo shined light on those studies and will at least force the FDA and the companies it regulates to reconsider their efforts to obscure important information.

In the meantime, Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 broke box-office records for a documentary on its opening weekend - thanks in large part to the efforts of Michael Eisner's Disney and the Republican leadership. Given the pre-publicity, the movie is surprisingly restrained, its tone more bemused than angry.

But the surprising thing is how much one learns from it. One of its earliest scenes depicts ethnic minority members of the House of Representatives objecting to the ratification of Bush's election, seeking in vain a member of the Senate to support them. I don't recall any coverage of that story in the mainstream media. Nor did any of the dozen or so people I asked about it after the movie. Similarly, some of the film's other early moments - Bush's pre-9/11 business dealings with the Taliban, the numerous millions his family and friends have made off their cozy relationships with the bin Ladens and other Saudis - are familiar only from the blogosphere.

The film's big challenge to the Bush administration is not that it will be seen by those who are sitting on the fence - though it did open surprisingly well in the so-called "red" states. It is that the mainstream media will now take up and amplify those issues it feared to touch before, the same way Moore's description of Bush as a "deserter" led to a renewed interest in his service record, with the AP now suing to have that record finally made public.

  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 17 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of www.holmesreport.com.

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