Michael Moore makes great propaganda films. They start with some good grievances, ask some tough questions, then throw in a lot of other stuff, including ambushes and cheap shots, to give the impression of adding weight to the argument. They are fun to watch. They have been so successful that they lead to an interesting insight: documentaries are the medium of the left in the way that talk radio is the medium of the right.
Ben Stein has offered a rightish propaganda doc in the Michael Moore mold. "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" starts with a just grievance. Several respectable scientists had their careers ruined for even suggesting that Intelligent Design was worth considering as a scientific issue. He interviews the aggrieved scientists, talks to a few of the people who ruined their careers, and makes a plea for actual free speech and scientific openmindedness in the academy. This is a worthwhile cause, and Stein does a competent, though not excellent, job in explaining the issues and exposing the guilty.
However, Stein then drifts off to muddled examination of the connections between Darwinism and eugenics, even Nazism. He has a running metaphor that political correctness in the scientific establishment concerning Darwinism is like the Berlin Wall erected by brutal totalitarians. This is all unnecessary and distracting from his main point.
I am glad that the issue of academic political correctness has been raised, and partly exposed in this case. This is a scandal that could do with a good airing -- starting with centrists becoming aware that there is a scandal here.
And I hope that this film means that there will be more conservative documentaries at least as competent as Michael Moore's liberal ones. That will level the playing field, and bring delight to doc nerds like me.
My further hope, though, is that the quality of political documentaries rises all around.