"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president,
right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.
- Theodore Roosevelt (1918)
Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11:
A Rap Across the Knuckles
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone (RS 957), Michael Moore let a cat out of the bag by acknowledging that a nephew of George H. W. Bush played a key role in getting his filmmaking career off the ground. With Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore bites the hand that helped him, but there are times when his "expose" of the current Bush administration plays into those same manicured and bloody fingers.
Fahrenheit 9/11 is definitely worth seeing, but arm yourself with a healthy dose of skepticism beforehand. Though much in this film is credible (and seems to have been based, very loosely, on the 9/11 related writings of Gore Vidal), Moore often threatens to blow his case with at least one altered headline, quite a bit of manipulative editing, and, worst of all, a portrayal of Iraq that is every bit as "disingenuous" as Senator John McCain said it was in his address to the Republican National Convention.
By portraying pre-invasion Iraq as an idyllic paradise, Moore provides ammunition to supporters of the very regime he hopes to topple. Moore is right to condemn a war initiated on faulty information (or, if you prefer, an outright lie), but by failing to acknowledge Saddam's kinship with Adolf Hitler, he encourages the audience to question his entire thesis.
Surprisingly, Hussein isn't the only one whom Moore treats with kid gloves. George W's culpability in the events of 9/11 is glossed over, with Moore charging the president with little more than laziness, corruption (what politician isn't guilty of that?), and perhaps ineptitude. The facts are much more damning than that, and Gore Vidal's 2002 essay collection, Dreaming War (Thunder's Mouth Press) is recommended for those who prefer a more fearless look at Bush and our government's actions (inaction, to be precise) on the fateful morning of September 11, 2001.
What really diminishes the film's effectiveness, however, is Moore's activities since its release. If the war in Iraq is wrong, why has Moore embraced the democrat's equally pro war candidate, John Kerry, rather than support Ralph Nader's noble, if doomed, campaign?
Moore may have had tongue-in-cheek when he described Fahrenheit 9/11 as the first film made to justify an Oscar acceptance speech, but there may be more truth in that statement than there is in his film. Having been booed by Hollywood's liberal elite when he characterized George W. Bush as a "ficticious president" waging a "ficticious war," his film may be nothing more than a purely selfish attempt to win his way back into Hollywood's good graces. That's the way it looks from here.
As a result, Fahrenheit 9/11, despite its merits, is never as hard-hitting as it should be (stick to reading Gore Vidal if you like your truth unvarnished). It's a rap across the knuckles instead of the kick in the balls the Bush administration deserves.
Brian W. Fairbanks
© 2004 Brian W. Fairbanks. All rights reserved.