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Talking Points Live

Terry Neal
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent
Friday, June 25, 2004; 1:00 PM

Will the opening of Michael Moore's Film "Fahrenheit 911" change the political debate? How important is John Kerry's vice presidential pick? What impact will Ralph Nader have in November?

washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal took his Talking Points column live to discuss the latest political news and any interesting political stories you've seen this week.

Terry Neal (post.com)

The transcript follows

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Terry Neal: Hello everyone. I'm looking forward to answering your questions today. So let's get right to it.



Montgomery Village, Md.: I've read somewhere that quite often a veep candidate is picked who has not been in the spotlight of the selection process. With Clark, Edwards, Richardson, and Gephardt all receving media attention and John McCain taking himself out of the equation, who would you say the top three "mystery contenders" would be and why?

Terry Neal: Thanks for this very good question. Certainly most of the media speculation centers on the names you mention here. I'm hearing a lot of talk among Democrats that Kerry's pick might be someone no one really expects. Of course, no one really knows what Kerry's going to do but Kerry. But hey, it's a fun parlor game, so let's play anyway. Here are four names of people who could be mystery contenders:
Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh
Del. Sen. Joseph Biden
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson
Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius


Falls Chuch, Va.: As an example of the Post's bias concerning Fahrenheit 911, Ann Hornaday's review in the Style section today cites the film as "required viewing" and "for anyone who wants to be culturally literate." Yet, in the same sentence, she admits to a "hype campaign" behind the movie. Again, as is increasingly the case over the past several months, the Post's credibility is taking a big hit. Now, being anti-Bush is equated with cultural literacy.

Terry Neal: You would have a point if you found this kind of rhetoric in a news story. But she's a critic and this is a review. If you were being unbiased yourself, you would weigh Hornaday's words with the Washington Post editorial board's support of the Iraq war. There are a diversity of opinions in the opinion-making parts of the newspaper. And I don't know whether Hornaday is a liberal or not, but she has a right to her opinion just like you do.


Portland, Ore.: Have you seen Moore's fim? Can you understand why the Bush team is so upset by it?

Terry Neal: Yes, I have seen it. I was at the screening in Washington on Wednesday. It was a blistering, polemic attack on the president that was part documentary, part journalism, part satire, part commentary and big part Michael Moore. So yes, I can understand why he and people who support the president would be upset by it.


washingtonpost.com: Buzz Around Moore's Movie May Be Able to Shake the Election (washingtonpost.com, June 25)


Celsius 488.3: Does anyone really think that this movie will affect actual votes ? Are there people out there who will see the movie and think the President takes too many vacations or say "Oh my God, the president knows Arabs !;"

I just can't see it. It'll be preaching to the choir, hopefully in an entertaining way.

Terry Neal: I've been asked this question many times, and here's my take. Most of the people who go to see the movie will almost certainly be people who already agree with Moore ideologically and aren't going to vote for Bush anyway. But not all. Some of the people who go see this movie will be people whose thinking may be more moderate and along the lines of this sort of thinking, "Well, I don't think the president has really handled the war well, and they could have planned the win-the-peace part better, but I think he did the right thing by going to war, and the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein."
Number one: More moderate thinking people like this my tilt more toward Kerry after seeing this movie.
Number two: A new nonpartisan Pew Center poll out yesterday suggests that 21 percent of registered voters are undecided about which candidate they'll support in November, so there are still a decent number of undecided people out there. These people are still listening to the arguments, and they're votes could cut both ways. Certainly some of these people could be effected by Moore's movie.
Number two: This could not only whip up the Democratic party's base, but it might energize voting among certain liberals who don't vote, particularly young people.


California: Don't the conservatives realize by their hand-wringing and cries of outrage, they are actually lending credence to Michael Moore's film? I don't think they are helping themselves!;

Terry Neal:
Well, there are two sides to this argument. On one hand, Republicans cannot afford to say nothing about Moore's movie. They have to respond, because it is otherwise too damaging. On the other hand, it's all about tone...If there is a feeling among people that Bush supporters are trying to shut the movie down, then that could lead to a backlash. The example I used in today's column was when the conservative Broward County sheriff Nick Navarro tried to put the no-talent rappers Two Live Crew out of business and ended up propelling them to national fame. Even the Dixie Chicks, who whose commercial appeal was initially hurt, bounced back to the top of the charts.
There are many more instances of this sort of thing.
As I pointed out in today's column, one conservative group is coordinating a protest letter-writing campaign, which is absolutely within their first amendment rights. But their efforts could also fire up Moore's supporters who'll take it as attempted censorship.


Arlington, Va.: You think this movie might "shake the election?" I remember hearing similar predictions from the liberal media echo chamber regarding Air America Radio. Whatever happened to that network by the way? I have heard very little about its heroic collapse in the pages of the Washington Post.

Terry Neal: Well, you didn't hear it from me. My theory has always been that even liberals don't want to hear liberals talk on radio and TV. That's not an insult but rather an obvious conclusion. There are enough liberals to keep Air America in business, but what liberals have been unable to find is a personality that balances polemics with entertainment in a compelling way. Whether you love or hate Michael Moore, you have to agree that he does just that. But there aren't too many Michael Moore's on the left. So as for whether it will effect the election, see my previous answer about why it could.
Ultimately, I don't think you would have seen the vehement reaction of the right if conservatives didn't think it had a at least the potential to impact the outcome.


Buffalo, N.Y.: Any consideration on your part whether the intent of Moore movie could backfire, as people see their President ridiculed on pretty shaky grounds and conclude the leftist elite remains unsuitable for steering the country to safety during the age of terrorism?

Terry Neal: I do think this is a possibility as well. I think Moore's movie will have the unintended consequence of firing up the right. But I'm not so sure the reaction of people who oppose the movie will be as significant as the reaction of the intended audience. Well, we'll soon, won't we?


Santa Fe, N.M.: So, is it game over for the Republican chances of winning the Senate seat in Illinois with the Jack Ryan divorce revelations? Also, what do you think of rising Democratic star Barack Obama?

washingtonpost.com: GOP Nominee Fights Calls to Exit Contest (Post, June 23)

Columnist E. J. Dionne Jr: In Illinois, a Star Prepares (Post, June 25)

Terry Neal: Democrat Obama was favored to win this race even before the sex scandal hit Republican Jack Ryan. Even Republicans--who are livid at Ryan for telling party leaders there was nothing damaging in his divorce files--agree his chances now are even further diminished. In fact, a story has just moved on the AP wires quoting sources saying that Ryan will drop out today. A stronger candidate could replace him on the ballot. But Obama is considered to be a very strong candidate. If elected, he'd become only the third black senator since Reconstruction.


Bethesda, Md.: Hi Mr. Neal,

Thanks for the great article. What suprised you most about the film when compared to your expectations/hype/critics?

Terry Neal: Thank you.
I had heard so much about the movie there was nothing in it that really surprised me. I thought it worked better cohesively than his other movies I've seen, though. I also thought it was more powerful--in the sense that propaganda can be very powerful--than I thought it would be. That is NOT an endorsement of Moore's politics but of his movie making abilities. It's like, you can love or hate Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly, but you have to admit they are really good at what they do.


Re: Post bias: Terry, good answer about the Post being biased or not. One would have only had to pick up the paper during the Reaganfest of the past weeks to see that if the Post is biased, it is certainly not a liberal/conservative bias.

That said, the amount of media coverage about the "controversy" about the movie is again doing what Michael Moore wants--getting attention for his movie and his views. I mean, every major newscast has shown his trailer (or ad as some say) during prime time for the world to see. What do you think?

Terry Neal: I think you are right to some extent. Even the bad publicity that Moore is getting helps him. That's a point I made in my column today. But it's a chicken and egg sort of thing: Does the public's fascination with the film beget the coverage or the other way around. Or maybe it's a little bit of both?


Mystery Contenders: You left out Roy Roemer -- ex Governor, mountain goat climbing can-do Westerner, now tackling the Los Angeles school system. Obviously a man who is not afraid of anything!

Terry Neal: OK, I'll let you get your two cents in!


United Kingdom: Mr Neal,

As a UK citizen I'm interested to know to what extent, if any, you think foreign comment impacts on election opinions of US voters?

For example the UK Attorney General is totday making direct criticism of the administration in relation to the prisoners at Guantanamo

Terry Neal: This is a good question, one probably more suited for a doctoral dissertation than a live online chat. The short answer is, it doesn't matter much in the micro sense. That is, I don't think too many people in America care what the UK attorney general thinks. But I do think the macro issue of international opinion of the U.S. is an issue or will be to many voters this year.


Texas: Just an observation. I really like the Limbaugh-Moore comparison. Even though they work in different media, they do pretty much the same thing. And they both have every right to do so.

But I'm not sure that having our political discourse shaped largely by those two guys is a particularly healthy thing for our democracy.

Terry Neal: Finally, a raging moderate!
Thanks for your note. I'm glad we agree on the first point. And I appreciate your thoughts on the second point.


Chicago, Ill.: How might the Kerry campaign tactfully comment upon the film? For example, when Moore took the mic on Clark's behalf the media once again identified some of his comments as outlandish and baseless dealing a blow to Clark's primary bid.

Terry Neal: I'm not in the business of giving candidates campaign advice. I will say that it's going to be difficult for Kerry to ignore this issue. I suspect he will eventually say something and, hold on to your seats, it will be very carefully crafted.


Denver, Colo.: Do you know if Michael Moore is donating any of the profits from this movie to charity? The reason I ask is he seems to line his pockets from tragic events, and I was curious if he publicly donates any of the proceeds to the victims of the events.

Terry Neal: I could be wrong here--and I'm sure I will be corrected if I am--but I do believe Moore ha said he is giving some of the profits to charity. Not sure how much or which specific charities. Sorry. But either way, he will pocket plenty of loot. Even hardcore lefties have capitalistic impulses.


Arlington, Va.: When will VP Cheney apologize to Senator Leahy?

Terry Neal: How about when hell freezes over.
Oops, can I say that on a family news website?


Baltimore, Md.: Is the proposed lawsuit claiming that the Moore film and/or its advertising may be in violation of the McCain-Feingold election laws either a realistic possible critique of the movie and its promoters' objectives, or is it indicative of too much possible restraint on free speech by McCain-Feingold. I believe the movie is a pack of selective half-truths and I fully support Moore's right to make it and business to distribute (or, in Disney's case, reject) it -- but if the plaintiffs actually have a case, maybe it's the law that's flawed, not the movie.

Terry Neal: That's a very interesting question. The conservative group that made the complaint, Citizens United, opposed the McCain-Feingold legislation, yet now uses it as the basis for suing Moore. To their credit, CU, acknowledges the apparent contradiction, but insist that the rules be applied fairly--even if CU opposes those very laws.
I'll keep my opinion of whether McCain-Feingold is flawed to myself. But I will say I'm very interested to see the outcome of CU's action.


Jacksonville, Fla.: Mr. Neal

Please tell you were not being serious when you wrote the following.
"The only difference between Moore's movie and the opinions that conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News's Bill O'Reilly spout every day on radio and TV is that it comes from the left and it's condensed to two hours rather than spread over hundreds of hours on the airwaves.

Do you really believe this? Comparing the movie to the opinions of Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly. Wow. Will you be appearing soon on Fox News as a regular contributor?

Thank you, sir.

Terry Neal: Thanks much for your comments. I'll tell you something interesting...The email response to my column today was overwhelming. And other than handful of people who hammered me for dissing the 2 Live Crew (I was lectured on Luke and the fellas culteral relevance), the common theme was disapproval of that paragraph. But what's really interesting is that I caught hell (oops, there's that word again) from both liberals and conservatives. I'll leave you with my two favorite emails--which are completely indicative of what I heard from readers today--one from a believer in the vast left-wing consipiracy, the second from a believer in the vast right-wing conspiracy (names deleted):


As you are now a publicist for Michael Moore, you skillfully ignore all the lies in the film, as you should, since you're at his elbow watching him nibble on tenderloin. Nothing you ever write or say in the future can ever be viewed as "objective" ever again. In fact, you're now a part f the big deceit -- the kinship of two ugly fat leftists, no doubt -- and in doing so, you have abdicated any legitimate role at the Washington Post in bringing independent readers
any "talking points." You put your own credence on the line
betting on a movie that is literally jam-packed with lies. You not only biased but you're stupid, to boot!Long after this flaky is gone, we will remember you vulgar and dishonest spin.



Terry, I don't know if you've read documented analysis of lies (factually incorrecet statements) made by the 2 cited above which are available in many places. THAT is the difference,
unless you have evidence of Moore's lying in this film. I'm dead serious here, your comparison gets at the heart of what many progressives characterize as laziness or a misguided attempt at "even-handedness" on the part of the mainstream media. This difference is a core issue and
I would ask that you let me know:

1. Have you done enough homework to know that O'Reilly and Limbaugh do tell falsehoods not infrequently?
2. Can you cite examples of proveable falsehoods in Moore's movie?

Please delete anything less than demonstrable factually incorrect statements (on either side) so as to acheive a bit of clarity here, as my point is that one side has been PROVEN to lie by watchdogs and the movie (which was the object of your comparison) has not been proven to do so.

Thank you very much, I really would value a well reasoned response. This movie is going to be slandered mercilessly and even milder negative statements as this one on your part have to be made with the utmost of care and responsibility. The movie may turn out when all is said and done to have ben a real cultural phenomenon and a substantial political influence.

God bless America!



Terry Neal: Well folks, I've got to run. It has, as always, been a pleasure.
Let's do it again next week!



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