"Fahrenheit 9/11" Presents a Good Message from a Bad Messenger

Salt Lake City Weekly | June 21, 2004
If you’re a typical American, you know what you’re expecting this paper to write about Fahrenheit 9/11. You know because you have already decided what you think about Moore, his message and its likely validity; you’ve decided which media perspectives on the film are likely to be trustworthy. If you support President George W. Bush, Fahrenheit 9/11 is inflammatory trash; if you think he’s an inexcusable fraud, it supports what you’ve believed all along.

I happen to be among those in the “inexcusable fraud” camp, and it would be absurd to pretend otherwise. The world outside the film has as much to do with Fahrenheit 9/11 as any film in recent memory. Full disclosure is the only way that a response to Fahrenheit 9/11 can make any contextual sense.

So in the further interest of full disclosure: I also think Michael Moore is an inexcusable fraud. His frumpy underdog act has grown more tiresome—and less convincing—with each passing film, and with every additional “Look at me, I’m the only one willing to speak the truth, but The Man is keeping me down” press clipping he seems determined to add to his scrapbook. So you tell me, readers: What do you do when you want to agree with the message, but have come to doubt every word that comes out of the messenger’s self-aggrandizing mouth?

Certainly Moore has plenty of vital information to convey, though not much of it will be breaking news to his likely constituency, or with those who read Moore’s 2003 book, Dude, Where’s My Country? He begins with the 2000 election, and the disenfranchisement of African-American voters in Florida. He moves on to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and the many questionable moves made by the administration in their wake. And eventually he takes us to Iraq, challenging the necessity of the American military action while touching on individual stories of the men and women in harm’s way.

Is it important for American voters to be aware of the longstanding personal and business relationships between the Bushes and both the royal family of Saudi Arabia and the bin Ladens? Is it useful to ask whether the USA Patriot Act is anything more than a ruse to keep us anxious, when breast milk is deemed more threatening to airline safety than a butane lighter? Is it disturbing to see military recruitment commercials that literally turn the soldiers into video game characters, when real human beings are being torn to shreds in a war based on barely credible evidence? This guy happens to think so.

But couldn’t it have been somebody else telling this story? Moore previously has balanced his polemics with a sense of humor, and there are a few inspired moments—the administration gang being recast as the Cartwrights from Bonanza; Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” photo op scored to the theme from The Greatest American Hero. Mostly, though, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a grimly determined slog through the mountains of evidence Moore believes demonstrates the administration’s indifference, carelessness or corruption. It’s op/ed without artistry; his most affecting sequence, using a black screen to accompany the soundtrack of the Sept. 11 attacks, also happens to be a wholesale ripoff of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s segment in the September 11 short film collection.

Worse still, Moore’s journalism of convenience creates yet another huge credibility gap. In the course of making a valid statement about the typical socio-economic status of military inductees, Moore states that of the 535 current members of Congress, only one has a son or daughter currently serving in the military. Damning evidence, to be sure ... except that Moore doesn't distinguish between 80-year-old Senators with 50-year-old children, 29-year-old Representatives with toddlers and those who actually have kids of reasonable induction age--say, between 18 and 26. Tennessee Rep. John Tanner, whom Moore waylays trying to get him to sign his children up for service, has a 35-year-old daughter and a 33-year-old son. It’s a tirade, and a sloppy one at that.

I’m not terribly concerned about Moore’s appeal to emotion in his focus on Lila Lipscomb, a Flint, Mich. woman whose soldier son died in Iraq. The human cost is part of the story, and we need to see it. But from Moore’s selective memory about Disney’s refusal to distribute the film to his recent revelation that he withheld his knowledge of Abu Ghraib atrocities, it’s become nearly impossible to trust him. Either you believe that buttressing your political argument with specious logic is wrong, or you don’t. It shouldn’t matter that the guy trying to make the end justify the means is on “our side.”

Salt Lake City Weekly

Having carved a large niche of young, affluent, and educated Utahns, Salt Lake City Weekly is regarded as a welcome, independent voice in an area that truly needs one. More than 1,600 outlets distribute Salt Lake City Weekly in the...
More »
Contact for Reprint Rights
  • Market Served: Metropolitan Area
  • Address: 248 South Main, Salt Lake City, UT 84101
  • Phone: (801) 575-7003