Two weeks ago, Dinesh D'Souza's documentary "2016: Obama's America" passed Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" for second place on the all-time box-office money list for political documentaries. It now has a box office gross of more than $32 million. But if you're an independent or a liberal who's unplugged from conservative websites and talk radio, you'd never know.
You didn't see D'Souza on CBS or NBC (although he showed up on ABC's "Nightline" in late night). There were no cover stories in Time or Newsweek. The film opened on just one screen in Houston when it premiered on July 13, and then spread to 10, and eventually to 1,000 theaters in August, and 2,000 theaters in September. A cultural sensation, yes — but somehow not newsworthy.
Al Gore, naturally, had every advantage of a beloved liberal almost-president. When it hit theaters in May of 2006, Time magazine wrote, "The movie got raves at the Sundance Film Festival ... In Los Angeles theaters, the trailers have been getting ovations." On NBC, Katie Couric sat down in the outdoors with Gore and told him that in the movie, "you're funny, vulnerable, disarming, self-effacing." On CBS, anchor Harry Smith gushed, "The box office receipts would indicate that it's an action movie — you did better per screening than almost anything that's come out this week."
Even after Gore's slideshow lecture/film eventually sputtered out at the Cineplex, several more rounds of fawning followed: an Academy Award and a Nobel Peace Prize, and in between the gushing lines came the idea that Gore might (or should) run again for president. The "Goracle" gush was so heavy that Time collected it all together. He was "Al Gore — the improbably charismatic, Academy Award-winning, Nobel Prize-nominated environmental prophet with an army of followers and huge reserves of political and cultural capital at his command."
And yet, D'Souza's film was the Little Engine That Could — the film that could surpass Gore at the box office. He didn't need MSNBC to put him on, although in August, he slammed them as cowardly: "You could watch that channel and not even know we have a film out — unless you saw a commercial that we're running for our film. You look at Lawrence O'Donnell, you look at Rachel Maddow, you look at Chris Matthews. I mean, look at those cowards! ... I would love to cross swords with those guys, but I think they're all hiding under the desk."
Whatever media elite notice D'Souza received began trickling in once it made the top ten of the weekend box-office hits in late August ... and it wasn't positive at all.
A Washington Post critic scoffed on August 24: "It is doomed to win precious few converts. It's a textbook example of preaching to the choir. It has the air of a 'Nightmare on Elm Street' sequel, pandering to the franchise's hardcore fans, while boring everyone else."
And "An Inconvenient Truth" was different?