"Fahrenheit 9/11" is a flawed film that MUST be seen

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As part of my birthday celebration this past weekend, I saw Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11." Was "F911" a great film? Not really. It was a horrifying, depressing, and - at moments - hilarious piece of work, but it's more of an "op-ed" (Moore's own description) than a documentary. Its scathing presentation infuriated me even as its brutal depiction of Iraq War II made me want to rush home and hug my son.

Overall, "F911" felt somewhat like a series of short films (on the 2000 Selection, Bush's oil career, Saudi financiers, 9/11, the USA-PATRIOT Act, and Iraq War II) that were edited together to provide "a counterbalance to what you see on cable news," as Moore has stated. Descending to the level of one's opponents is always a dangerous tactic, but Moore apparently feels that an even-handed treatment of the media's fawning coverage of Bush would simply be ignored. By being overtly confrontational, and by threatening to sue his critics for libel, Moore and his film have become impossible to ignore.

The Bush-Saudi Arabia-bin Laden-Carlyle Group connections weren't news to me, and neither were the Afghanistan oil pipeline plans; I'm sure, though, that most people in the audience had never heard anything about these stories. I was surprised that Moore didn't discuss Bush flying around the country like a scared child on 9/11 before finally returning to Washington DC at the end of the day. To my mind, that indecisiveness is at least as damning as the infamous seven minutes of his deer-in-headlights reading of "The Pet Goat" after hearing that the second WTC tower had been hit and we were under attack. (Moore's narration of this sequence is particularly devastating, even in comparison to his relentless attacks on Bush throughout the rest of the film.)

Moore does indeed err (for example, in overemphasizing the role of Bush's cousin in the Fox News election coverage) and he misrepresents some facts, such as James Bath's name being blacked out of Bush's National Guard records and the Secret Service guarding the Saudi embassy. Since "F911" has been scrutinized more carefully than perhaps any film in history, is not surprising to have a few mistakes among the mass of detail. As Moore describes the situation in the Time article "The World According to Michael," "There's lots of disagreement with my analysis of these facts or my opinion based on the facts. But there is not a single factual error in the movie." This may be technically accurate, but it is a dangerously fine line to tread when so much of the film is analysis and interpretation. I only hope that he will clarify some of his narrative for the film's DVD release this fall.

The faults of "F911," although sometimes severe, are neither of the same scale as those of the Bush administration nor of the Bush supporters who are now attacking Moore and his film. Among the innumerable half-baked screeds accusing Moore of creating "propaganda," Christopher Hitchens' article "Unfairenheit 9/11: The Lies of Michael Moore" stands out as perhaps the most cogent analysis of Moore's lack of objectivity. Although Hitchens writes brilliantly, he simultaneously falls prey to both nitpicking and his own gross misrepresentations; a well-reasoned review of "F911" seems beyond his capabilities.

Many of Moore's critics (including Hitchens) have made comparisons between Moore and Nazi propagandists Joseph Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl, but this is mere hyperbole. Moore has done what Oliver Stone did in "JFK:" provided a "counter-myth" to the big lies of the mainstream media. "F911" is neither fair to its targets nor balanced in its treatment, but Moore deserves kudos for showing us footage that (not surprisingly) never made it to the evening news. He veers too far into conjecture at times, but in the manner of a provocateur. When the audience sees civilian victims of the Iraq invasion, they shouldn't be distracted by complaints that Moore doesn't also show Saddam's victims. Instead, they should ask themselves: "Why, until now, haven't I seen what is being done in my name with my tax dollars?"

I've noticed a prominent complaint about "selective editing" among "F911" critics, but it's another red herring. It might carry some weight if any director had ever shot precisely the exact footage that wound up on the screen, not leaving a single frame on the cutting-room floor...but we all know that this never happens. Moore's film has an obvious point of view, but it isn't any more "selectively edited" than the supposedly objective news media. For example, the allegedly liberal New York Times repeated the administration's line about Iraq on the front pages during the 18-month buildup to war, before issuing a belated mea culpa buried on page A10. (See the "Quote of the Day" below for their too-little-too-late apology.) If the mass media had been doing a better job for the past several years, there would have been no need for this film.

Brent Bozell (of the conservative group "Media Research Center") thinks "F911" should be used as a litmus test for political commentators:

"For the Left, this film is a test to separate the wheat from the chaff, the honorable from the dishonorable, the serious from the unserious. In the Clinton years, conservatives needed to step away from the unsubstantiated videos that talked in conspiratorial tones about all of Clinton's heinous secret crimes. To be taken seriously, every liberal today should criticize Fahrenheit 9-11 as an affront to journalism and civil discourse."

I agree with Bozell about the need for "journalism and civil discourse," and Moore does indeed fail in those areas...I just wish that conservatives would also "need to step away from" their side's demagogues (Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, G. Gordon Liddy, etc.) as a precondition for being "taken seriously." For every Al Franken or Molly Ivins with an axe to grind, there is at least one Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly doing the same thing from the opposite perspective. This sudden desire from the Right for civility in politics is just another example of selective outrage, only coming to the fore when a liberal is momentarily in the spotlight. As the Washington Post comments:

"The only difference between Moore's movie and the opinions that conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News's Bill O'Reilly spout every day on radio and TV is that it comes from the left and it's condensed to two hours rather than spread over hundreds of hours on the airwaves."

At least Bozell is honest enough to see the film before criticizing it; even that degree of integrity is absent in the White House. Bush's Communications Director Dan Bartlett told CNN, "I can speak for myself and I can speak for the President, and I can assure you that neither of us have [sic] seen ["F911"]." [...] "This is a film that doesn't require us to actually view it to know it's filled with factual inaccuracies." I only wish the administration's PR flacks were as concerned with George Bush's factual inaccuracies as they are with Michael Moore's.

After efforts to prevent the film's distribution have failed spectacularly, a group called "Citizens United" is trying to get "F911" ads classified as campaign contributions. As they complained to the FEC, "Paid broadcast advertisements for the film, which include visual images and sound clips of President Bush and other candidates for federal office, are subject to the restrictions and regulatory requirements of federal campaign law." If media criticism of Bush must be reported to the FEC as a political donation, what about the 24x7x365 Fox News pro-Bush coverage? How about the endless hours of conservative radio commentary every day? Is "F911" a campaign contribution to Republican John Thune because it criticizes Tom Daschle (D-SD), who Thune is trying to unseat? Again, the outrage is one-sided.

"F911" deserves to be watched with the same skepticism and scrutiny as any other media production. Audiences might not like what they see, but they need to see it anyway; one side of the story does not make a well-educated citizenry.

Thanks for reading.

Quote of the Day:

"...we have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged -- or failed to emerge." [...] "Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper. Accounts of Iraqi defectors were not always weighed against their strong desire to have Saddam Hussein ousted. Articles based on dire claims about Iraq tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all."

(The New York Times editors, reflecting on their gullibility)

UPDATE: This post was edited to correct the title of the book that so transfixed Dubya on that eventful morning.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on July 8, 2004 9:12 PM.

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