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Michael Moore's Conservative Counterpart

A conservative director wants college students to document "liberal professors" who inject their personal views into classrooms. Is this intimidation of free speech or just a publicity stunt?
 
 
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While Michael Moore has become one of America's notable documentary filmmakers – both Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 won awards, set box office records and had the nation buzzing – conservatives have been hunting for a right-wing counterpart. Last fall, the American Film Renaissance film festival – whose slogan was "Doing Film the Right Way" – provided a platform for a slew of young conservative filmmakers. The first film festival devoted to screening films with conservative perspectives featured two anti-Moore films – Michael Wilson's Michael Moore Hates America , and radio and television talk show host and WorldNetDaily columnist Larry Elder's Michael and Me and new work from other conservatives.

While neither of the anti-Moore films has yet managed to land a major distribution deal, this year's hopes for a breakout conservative filmmaker and film appears to rest with Evan Coyne Maloney. Despite the fact that Maloney "hasn't completed a single film," he "may very well be America's most promising conservative documentary filmmaker," Jacob Gershman recently reported in the New York Sun .

Maloney is the 32-year-old director of the 46-minute film, Brainwashing 101 . He, along with his two partners – Stuart E. Browning, the executive producer and primary funder of the projected full-length version of the film, and Blaine Greenberg – are offering a modicum of fame and a few decent prizes to students who catch their liberal professors injecting their own political opinions into courses where those views are deemed superfluous: Students can take down a pompous professor, become an instant celebrity (of sorts), possibly appear in a full-length documentary and win one of three decent prizes – an Apple iBook G4 Computer (first prize), an Apple iPod (second prize), or an Apple iPod Mini (third prize) for their troubles. (The contest, which began on Sept. 13, 2004, will accept entries until May 1, 2005.)

To qualify for fame and swag, students have to provide documentary evidence that their liberal professors fouled their classrooms with left-wing demagoguery.

Here is what is required of participating students:

1. "When a professor voices his or her political views in class – but only when it does not pertain to the subject matter at hand – keep track of how much class time is spent on the political discussion, and to the best of your ability, record the comments made by the professor.

2. "Also, record the date of the discussion, the name of your professor, the name and course ID of the class, and the name and location (city and state) of your school.

3. "Lastly, you must be able to provide the name of at least one other student who was present at the time and who is willing to corroborate your report."

On the filmmaker's web site, AcademicBias.com – decorated with headshots of Marx, Lenin, Che Guevara, Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore – Mahoney, Browning and Greenberg describe the short version of Brainwashing 101 as "a provocative short film showing how universities use tools such as 'speech codes' to force political views upon students." In what they call a cutting expose, the filmmakers "shine a light on political correctness, academic bias, student censorship – even administrative cover-ups of death threats – at three schools: Bucknell University, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly)."

Maloney describes himself as a "libertarian conservative" who "considers Ronald Reagan his political hero." He told the Sun's Gershman that he was also greatly influenced by Dinesh D'Souza's book, Illiberal Education . While at Bucknell University, he edited the conservative newspaper, the Sentinel. In a pre-Iraq War essay entitled "Give Peace a Chance to Do What, Exactly?" Maloney parroted the Bush/Cheney line, arguing in support of the invasion claiming that "Iraq and al Qaeda complement each other quite well," and that the United Nations needed to "hold Iraq accountable ... [or it] will be committing itself to permanent irrelevance."

Maloney began his film career by "staking out" Michael Moore "for four days," hoping to confront him and "provok[e] a flustered reaction," which he would then post on his weblog Brain-terminal.com. Moore didn't flinch; instead he told Maloney that documentary filmmaking "should be open to all people of all political persuasions." "It should not just be people who are liberal, or left-of-center, or whatever," the Oscar-winner said. "Make your movies, and then the people will respond or not respond to them."

Maloney posted the Moore footage on his web site, and after the war started, he set about shooting anti-war demonstrators, posting that video as well. Maloney's work was seen by Stuart Browning, a very wealthy 44-year-old from Miami Beach with "deeply conservative political views," and was also given the stamp of approval by Glenn Reynolds, the author of Instapundit.com, a well-known right-wing weblog.

In the fall of 2003, Maloney and Browning founded On the Fence Films, and budgeted $250,000 for Brainwashing 101 . According to Gershman, the expanded version of the film has the working title Ministry of Truth .

In a recent posting on the filmmaker's web site, Mahoney reiterates his commitment to academic freedom, assuring participants that they are taking "precautions to ensure that the academic freedom of professors is not trampled upon." "But," Mahoney reminds us, "as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, 'With freedom comes responsibility.' To talk of academic freedom without recognizing the academic responsibility of professors is to focus on only half the equation. Professors have tremendous power within the classroom, and responsible professors exercise that power without injecting their political views in ways that are not germane to the course material. If political science professors dispassionately discuss their political views in class, we don't have a problem with that. Unfortunately, there are many cases where professors abuse their freedom to the detriment of their students, and that's what we'd like to address."

Glenn Reynolds called Maloney's web video journalism "the wave of the future," and it appears to be a seamless extension of the on-campus shenanigans of David Horowitz and his Los Angeles-based Center for the Study for Popular Culture, the Independent Women's Forum (IWF), and Lynne Cheney (the wife of vice president Dick Cheney).

In the autumn 2001 issue of City Journal – a quarterly publication of the conservative think tank, The Manhattan Institute – Roger Kimball waxed effusively about the intrepid efforts by David Horowitz and the Independent Women's Forum to "liberat[e] tolerance" on the nation's college campuses. According to Kimball, a longtime conservative critic, Horowitz and the IWF's weapon of choice were advertisements placed in college newspapers promoting their political agendas – the former opposing reparations for African Americans and the latter attacking a series of feminist "myths" including incidents of date rape.

In the aftermath of 9/11, with questions surfacing about the nature of the terrorist attacks, Horowitz launched a preemptive strike against dissent on college campuses. New advertisements warned students to "think again" before they joined an "'anti-war' effort against America's coming battle with international terrorism." As is his wont, Horowitz's pre-emptive strike was aimed at setting the guidelines for the debate over President Bush's coming permanent war against terrorism.

"There is a difference between honest dissent and malevolent hate, between criticism of national policy and sabotage of the nation's defenses," Horowitz pointed out. He also confessed to having been part of a movement of "thousands of other New Leftists," in the sixties that opposed the war in Vietnam and had "crossed the line between dissent and actual treason."

Cheney's contribution to academic freedom came in the form of a scandalous report issued by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), a Washington D.C.-based group she co-founded in 1995 – with Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman – as the National Alumni Forum. The publication slammed faculty on college campuses for being "the weak link in America's response to the attack" of Sept. 11.

Will Maloney succeed where other conservative filmmakers have failed? According to Gershman, the 46-minute version was well-received at the Liberty Festival in Los Angeles last October and Brainwashing 101 was seen as the "most anticipated" documentary in 2005 by the organizers of American Film Renaissance.

Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering right-wing groups and movements.