Michael Moore appears to have exhausted himself, burned out at least temporarily in his mission to make the world a better place via documentary films. So it’s fitting that he makes a feisty appearance in the opening moments of “South of the Border” and a stroke of cultural luck that, of all people, Oliver Stone has picked up where he left off.
In a clip, Moore rails at CNN as represented by Wolf Blitzer for initially swallowing hook, line and sinker the Bush Iraq invasion rational and failing to do the sort of fact checking and analysis a major news organization has a sacred obligation to do.
It’s fun to watch Blitzer squirm and essentially apologize but Moore’s condemnation extends beyond CNN to virtually every major institution of mainstream American media. Lies were press released by the White House and to a devastating degree those mistruths were parroted by even the most venerated of newspapers and television outlets. By virtue of its laziness, the press lied too.
Moore’s rant provides a perfect springboard for Stone’s condemnation of a similar, potentially just as insidious ruse. While the eyes of the world are directed on a daily basis by the press toward the middle East, an enlightened transformation is sweeping South America and no one in the media seems much inclined to talk about it.
Except, that is, when news organizations feel like recycling fabrications disseminated by the previous administration. For example: that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is a ruthless dictator who poses a threat to U.S. interests (He’s been democratically elected over and over again). Stone includes a jawdropping clip in which a gaggle of Fox News hosts mispronounce the word “coca” repeatedly as “coco” dissolving into giggles as they falsely report that Chavez is additionally a drug addict.
To prove just how unreliable this nation’s news coverage has become, the director makes a whirlwind tour of five countries and records informal conversations with left and center-left heads of state who’ve come to power in recent years. Most of the film is devoted to his eye-opening visit with the Venezuelan President, whom the director never represents as being without flaws but who turns out to be unexpectedly intelligent, forward thinking, jovial, beloved by his people and candid with regard to his contempt for George W. Bush.
Venezuela, Chavez informs his guest, is the world’s third largest supplier of petroleum. So we are only so surprised to learn that the U.S. assisted in staging a coup against him in 2002. It failed. He was briefly taken into custody but his people and his military rebelled and quickly returned him to power. The pattern has a familiar ring to it. “Here’s Bush’s plan,” he explains, “First, Hugo Chavez…oil.” Then, Saddam Hussein…oil.”
Conversations with other leaders reveal a common goal: getting out from under the thumb of the United States and being treated as equals on the world stage. My bet is they wouldn’t mind, in addition, a little less demonizing and a far more fair and balanced portrait in the American press of the strides they’ve made in reducing poverty, improving healthcare and education and generally raising the standard of living for their people. At one point, Rafael Correa of Ecuador is asked whether he finds the media’s misrepresentation of him hurtful. “I’d be more worried,” he smiles, “if they spoke well of me.”
“South of the Border” certainly isn’t the last word on its subject but it’s an excellent conversation starter and, of the two new Oliver Stone releases now in theaters, easily the more significant addition to the legendary director’s filmography.