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Fahrenheit 9/11 And Michael Moore
W ith Fahrenheit 9/11 , Michael Moore has made more than a terrific film. By breaking out of the usual art house documentaries, Moore has managed to bring his trade-marked skewering of U.S. political scoundrels before millions.
Naturally enough, howls of fulminating right-wing anger greeted the presumption and audacity of that task. Not at first, though. At first these guardians of our morals, beliefs, and patriotism tried to laugh it off, dismissing Moore’s new project as once again “preaching” to the choir.
But the Disney folks knew better and tried to stop Farenheit 9/11 in its tracks. When Moore walked off with the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, however, there was no stopping it. Smelling the money, and remembering the success of Moore’s Academy Award-winning Bowling for Columbine , film distributors by the carload offered to take the new film on. Eventually, however, Disney sold the rights to Harvey and Bob Weinstein, the original producers of the film.
Nevertheless, the Bush gang still wasn’t worried. Only pinkoes and liberals, they said, would slap down $9 to see a documentary film. But when the movie opened late in June and skyrocketed past all previous records for documentaries, the Bush think-tankers began sweating. They could live with sold-out showings in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. But reports of packed movie houses in cities like Fayetteville, North Carolina, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and scores of smaller towns across middle America are not what Bush and Co. wanted to hear. Especially irksome were reports of Republicans as well as GIs and Iraq war vets flooding local movie houses and cheering Moore’s devastating critique of Bush and the war in Iraq in towns adjacent to military bases.
That’s when the far right got to work. Rush Limbaugh—who else? —immediately declared the film “a pack of lies.” A hitherto little known filmmaker announced the production of a film called Michael Moore Hates America . A book titled Michael Moore is a Big Fat Stupid White Man rolled off the presses in record time. Christopher Hitchens, the one-time Nation writer now turned war hawk, came up with a nine-page diatribe on the Internet. Among his milder comments: “A sinister exercise in moral frivolity…. A spectacle of abject political cowardice,” and “a piece of crap.”
Nor were the Hollywood moguls who determine the ratings of films happy about it all. In an act of petty vindictiveness, they tagged Fahrenheit 9/11 with an “R” rating—despite the absence of any sexual content and a handful of wartime violence scenes from the press. Then there was the Las Vegas casino manager who kicked Linda Ronstadt out of the hotel where she was staying and performing for telling her audience: “There’s this guy who is a great patriot and I think he loves his country deeply and he’s trying to get the truth out. His name is Michael Moore and I’ve just seen his fine movie, Fahrenheit 9/11 .”
The principal right-wing critique of Fahrenheit 9/11 is that it’s all lies and cheap shots. Well, there are a couple of cheap shots, but the heart of the film and its most telling moments are made up of verified statements from well-known newspapers from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal , videotapes of statements of real people, photos of real events, etc. In case anyone wants to check, Moore hired the main fact-checker for the New Yorker to review every statement and videotape in the picture.
Moore’s exposure of the blatant lies and obfuscations promoted by the Bush gang are the real source of right wing anguish. A few examples:
(1) Following the Supreme Court’s highly dubious coronation of Bush’s “election” in 2000, there was the usual inauguration parade. Anybody see it? Were readers aware of the huge protest that accompanied the parade, the egg-tossing on Bush’s limousine that kept him locked up in his car throughout and his eventual mad scramble to cut the parade short? How many were aware of vicious police attacks on demonstrators. Few, if any, since most media ignored it. But Fahrenheit 9/11 shows what actually happened.
When a joint session of Congress assembled to formally certify Bush’s
election, Black legislators mounted a protest, asserting that there
was overwhelming proof of tampering with the outcome, especially
in Florida. But according to the arcane rules of Congress, the protest
could not be considered unless at least one senator formally supported
it. Not one Republican stood up. No surprise there. But neither
did a single Democrat. Among those sitting on their hands are such
“liberals” as Barbara Boxer, Christopher Dodd, Joe Lieberman,
Joseph Biden, Tom Harkin, Barbara Mikulski, Ted Kennedy, John F.
Kerry, Charles Schumer, John Edwards, Patty Murray, and Democratic
Minority Leader Tom Daschle. The farce is presided over by Al Gore
in his capacity as vice-president and president of the Senate.
captures the entire travesty on film.
(3) A clip from a TV news program in March 2001 shows Condaleeza Rice and Colin Powell declaring that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction or the capabilities of getting them. It then switches to a tape taken eight months later in which Rice and Powell assert the exact opposite.
(4) In one scene, Moore’s ubiquitous camera follows two Marine recruiters looking for prospective enlistees. They don’t bother talking to obviously well-heeled white young men. Instead they focus on a shopping mall in downtown Flint, Michigan—one of the most depressed communities in the country. There they encounter a group of young, unemployed black men and offer them a variety of enticements to sign on, even offering one young man with musical ambitions a recording contract on the spot.
(5) There’s another telling scene where Bush is addressing an assembly of his fat cat supporters, calling them the “haves and have-mores,” much to their boisterous delight.
(6) One of the most telling depictions is a scene of George Bush in an elementary school in Florida on September 11, 2001. He starts reading the children a story called, “My Pet Goat,” when an aide interrupts and whispers to him that a plane has struck the World Trade Center. For the next seven minutes, Bush sits on a stool in the classroom doing nothing and saying nothing. He clearly doesn’t have the faintest clue of what to do or who to call.
(7) One of the most powerful sequences in the film is the story of Lila Lipscomb of Flint who calls herself a conservative Democrat, puts out the flag every morning, and encourages her children to sign up for the military. But a letter from her son in Iraq bitterly declares, “Bush got us out here for nothing whatsoever. I’m so furious right now, Mama.” A few weeks later, her son is killed and she is consumed with rage and is forced to look at her life and values in a new way. Lipscomb’s grief and grim determination to get an explanation are almost unbearable to watch.
These scenes and many more like them are the heart of the movie and the reason so many viewers sit grimly silent through it, telling one another in somewhat hushed tones, “I never knew that. Did you?”
The Wall Street Journal carried a report on showings of Fahrenheit 9/11 in Fayetteville, North Caro- lina. More than half the audience were GIs from Fort Bragg; some marines came from Camp Lejeune two hours away; at the last minute, three soldiers from South Carolina showed up. An army machine-gunner from Fort Bragg, who voted for George Bush in 2000, commented after seeing Fahrenheit 9/11 : “That was pretty thought-provoking…. I guess I’m a little disillusioned. I’ve got a lot more questions than answers now” ( Wall Street Journal , July 12, 2004).
Irwin Silber was editor of Sing Out! , the Guardian , and Crossroads . He is the author of numerous books.
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CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
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BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
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