MEDIA BRANDS: Moore film might make for future PR lesson about importance of all pre-election comms

This presidential election's version of the Willie Horton TV ad or the famed tank footage, both of which helped to undo Michael Dukakis' bid for the presidency in 1988, might not be a slick TV spot at all, but a 122-minute documentary made by a schlumpy guy from Michigan.

This presidential election's version of the Willie Horton TV ad or the famed tank footage, both of which helped to undo Michael Dukakis' bid for the presidency in 1988, might not be a slick TV spot at all, but a 122-minute documentary made by a schlumpy guy from Michigan.

Of course, the ultimate political effects of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 remain to be seen, but what is clear just a couple weeks after its wide release is that the film's wild popularity coupled with its perfect timing is unprecedented in political history. All the polls show that the US has a close race on its hands, one that will be scratched out in a handful of battleground states, and in the hearts and minds of undecided voters, who this time around will be swayed by issues a lot more hot-button than lockboxes and fuzzy math. The difference could be made by a successful effort to tap into the confused mass of emotions that have festered in this country since 9/11 and the lead-up to the war in Iraq. That effort could just be Moore's film, which as well as putting people in the seats - it became the highest-grossing documentary ever in its first weekend - is affecting the national news cycles often dominated by newspapers and TV news. In many ways, the film is just the latest in a series of affronts to this news cycle. Moore, who as an editor and filmmaker has been on the scene for a couple of decades, follows any number of bloggers who have voiced dissatisfaction with the mainstream media by offering a work that is as much a scathing attack on the Bush administration as it is a critique of the media portrayal of it. Like many ideologically oriented blogs, Moore does not work within the parameters of traditional journalism, namely the obligation to call all affected parties and dutifully record their comments on an issue. In fact, Moore revels in his self-described lack of fairness. He's even positioned the film as an op-ed piece. There's a bit of self-deprecation, or at least understatement in that because, as anyone who's seen the film knows, it is not a dry bylined article running across the page from a few even more arid editorials. It is a combination of political polemic and Comedy Central released in a prime political and movie-going time - the summer before a major election. Though it's become hard not to see Fahrenheit as a potentially crucial variable in the discourse surrounding the election, it is not being treated as such - at least publicly - by the current administration. The White House has been more eager to grapple with the issue of Dick Cheney's language than with the film's suggestions of conspiracy and its allegations of deadly incompetence. In fact, the mainstream media, a bit defensive these days when it comes to their war coverage, have been more aggressive and vocal in criticizing the film's facts. Depending on how November shakes out, there might be a lesson here for PR pros who mistakenly think that the only communications necessary are with those who attend daily briefings and are obliged to call you for comment. It might go right alongside the maxim to not dress up your less-than-hale candidate like a tank-driver.

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