NY Times Blasts Romney Attack Doc for Using Hollywood Conventions

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Even as Golden Globe winner George Clooney suggested that Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney was “on the wrong side of history” of gay rights issues, New York Times columnist David Carr suggested that the Republican Presidential race shares more in common with Hollywood than the conservative candidates might care to admit.

Writing an analysis of “When Mitt Romney Came to Town,” a 28-minute documentary funded by a Super PAC in support of Newt Gingrich, Carr examined the sensationalistic, cinematic approach of the piece, which he observed “has an explicitly partisan and very specific goal: stopping Mr. Romney’s ascent to the nomination.”

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For the column, entitled “Hollywood Techniques at Play in Politics,” Carr spoke to a variety of Hollywood filmmakers, including Michael Moore, who noticed similarities between his filmmaking style and the documentary’s depiction of Romney as a one-percenter whose former company, Bain Capital, was an embodiment of “vampire capitalism.” “It was fun to hear what I have been saying for 20 years, not just by any Republican candidate, but Newt Gingrich,” Moore said.

Since the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United ruling in 2010, there’s been a proliferation of organizations using virtually unlimited funds to create advertisements and even films to both support candidates that they endorse, and attack candidates they don’t. A Gingrich-allied Super PAC named “Winning the Future” produced “When Mitt Romney Came to Town,” and the Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog suggested that its producers adopted the Hollywood adage “never let the truth get in the way of a good story,” awarding it “Four Pinocchios” for its lack of accuracy.

With the rise of reality television and the advent of filmmakers like Moore who openly advance a specific point of view in their films, American culture has increasingly embraced the need for “a narrative,” an emotion- rather than logic-driven story which provides a clear-cut and easily-digestible conclusion. While Romney’s record on job creation has fluctuated (and decreased) significantly since making an initial claim that he created more than one million jobs through Bain Capital, the documentary uses footage of middle-class citizens who argue that Romney’s business practices are directly responsible for their current economic problems.

As the race for Republican candidacy intensifies, it remains to be seen whether the adverse public reaction to “When Mitt Romney Came to Town” will serve as a harbinger of things to come or result in fewer Super PAC documentaries. But the techniques employed in these advocacy pieces continue to draw upon familiar conventions of Hollywood storytelling, further blurring the line between an honest examination of a candidate’s record and a polemic designed to impugn a political rival, regardless of its accuracy.

In the meantime, it seems unlikely that Republican candidates will acknowledge the influence of the entertainment industry in these campaigns, given their tendency to vilify it as a bastion of liberal sentiment. But on the positive side, even if they fail to secure a nomination, their campaigns may end up supplying them with a production reel if they go looking for employment in Hollywood.

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