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Friday, September 24, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Tom Keogh
On a recent stop in Seattle, Donna Brazile, manager of Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign, told an interviewer that after Gore lost his Supreme Court fight for a vote recount in Florida thus placing George W. Bush in the White House she received a consoling call from an unexpected source: Karl Rove, Bush's chief political adviser.
Brazile said that Rove was genuine in his concern for her morale. Listening to Brazile, one couldn't help but think how rare it is to hear a positive story or, really, any story about Bush's elusive political guru, portrayed as a ruthless operative in the polemical documentary "Bush's Brain."
Adapted from the book "Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential" by James C. Moore and Wayne Slater, this film the latest in a recent wave of partisan, nonfiction features compiles charges that Rove wins elections by trashing reputations, feeding lies to an uncritical press and pulling stunts to reverse positive public perceptions of Democratic opponents. Moore and Slater are among the talking heads making the case against Rove; others include longtime Bush critic and writer Molly Ivins, as well as several (mostly Texas-based) observers and past allies and enemies.
Directors Joseph Mealey and Michael Paradies Shoob make a persuasive though not incontestable case that Rove directly sabotaged the 1986 Texas governor's race by claiming his campaign office had been bugged. Press attention instantly shifted from issues to suggestions of Democratic snooping.
Rove, the film charges, also circulated rumors during the 1994 Texas governor's race that incumbent Ann Richards was gay and tarnished former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland as unpatriotic despite his loss of three limbs in Vietnam.
"Bush's Brain" attributes to Rove the charges, made during the 2000 presidential campaign, that John McCain was not committed to veterans. The film claims, too, that Rove was behind a whisper campaign aimed at McCain's adopted black daughter during the 2000 South Carolina primary.
"Bush's Brain" portrays Rove's relationship with Bush as symbiotic, a geek grooming a clueless frat boy for power. Rove declined to be interviewed for this film, though a 15-page rebuttal he sent Moore and Slater is extensively quoted with an actor's haughty reading.
The film stumbles with a heartbreaking segment about the death of an American soldier in Iraq, suggesting Rove's culpability. The tragedy might be morally pertinent, but it is a form of propaganda similar to the filmmaker's claims about Rove.
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