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Rhetoric of the New Political Documentary

Rhetoric of the New Political Documentary

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Edited by Thomas W. Benson and Brian J. Snee


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
232 pages, 6 x 9


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About the Book

The Rhetoric of the New Political Documentary explores the most visible and volatile element in the 2004 presidential campaign—the partisan documentary film. This collection of original critical essays by leading scholars and critics—including Shawn J. and Trevor Parry-Giles, Jennifer L. Borda, and Martin J. Medhurst—analyzes a selection of political documentaries that appeared during the 2004 election season. The editors examine the new political documentary with the tools of rhetorical criticism, combining close textual analysis with a consideration of the historical context and the production and reception of the films.

The essays address the distinctive rhetoric of the new political documentary, with the films typically having been shot with relatively low budgets, in video, and using interviews and stock footage rather than observation of uncontrolled behavior. The quality was often good enough and interest was sufficiently intense that the films were shown in theaters and on television, which provided legitimacy and visibility before they were released soon afterwards on DVD and VHS and marketed on the Internet.

The volume reviews such films as Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11; two refutations of Moore’s film, Fahrenhype 9/11 and Celsius 41.11;Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election; and George W. Bush: Faith in the White House—films that experimented with a variety of angles and rhetorics, from a mix of comic disparagement and earnest confrontation to various emulations of traditional news and documentary voices.

The Rhetoric of the New Political Documentary represents the continued transformation of American political discourse in a partisan and contentious time and showcases the independent voices and the political power brokers that struggled to find new ways to debate the status quo and employ surrogate “independents” to create a counterrhetoric.


Thomas W. Benson is the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Rhetoric at Pennsylvania State University and the editor of the series in Rhetoric and Communication for the University of South Carolina Press. He is the author of Reality Fictions: The Films of Frederick Wiseman and Documentary Dilemmas: Frederick Wiseman's “Titicut Follies.”

Brian J. Snee is an assistant professor of communication at the State University of New York–Potsdam. His research has appeared in Communication Quarterly, The Journal of Media and Religion, and the Free Speech Yearbook.


The Rhetoric of the New Political Documentary is a valuable addition to the critical literature in the field of documentary studies.”

—Michael Renov, author of The Subject of Documentary