Farenheit 911 (Review/Discussion)

Roger and Me is a film that I have in my top ten all-time favorite movie list, but after Bowling for Columbine and, now, Farenheit 911, I’m thinking that I should see the film again and reconsider. My regard for Michael Moore has been decreasing after each film he has made.

(Some Spoilers)

First, I think that his films are not very rigorous analyses of the issues he explores. For example, in Farenheit 911 he explores many issues like U.S. foreign policy, the invasion of Iraq, Post-911 America and the Bush administration. I don’t think he really spends enough time exploring the complexity of some of these issues, nor makes a clear, coherrent and compelling argument for his point of view. For example, he highlights the ties between the Bush family and the Saudis–and if what he reveals is true, it’s an uncomfortably close relationship. But what are the implications from this relationship with regard to 911 and our foreign policy? Moore seems to suggest that this close relationship is the key reason the US has trouble catching Osama Bin Laden (because Bin Laden’s relatives are close to the Saudis in power). But I’m not totally sure that’s his primary argument. (He may also intend to suggest that this relationship lead to the invasion of Iraq.) He can’t really do justice to all of these issues in a two hour film, but Moore seems to believe that stringing together facts and incidents that make the Bush administration look bad–without careful anaylses, drawing clear conclusions from these points or making these points connect in a logical way–are enough to make a compelling case against Bush. That may be true for someone in who is willing to find any reason to condemn Bush, but I’m turned off by this. I prefer a well-made, fair argument–even if they go against my politics–over a poorly made argument that I want to support.

Second, the film is poorly organized, and I want to say sloppy. I have a hard time remembering the sequences in the film or recalling the actual point(s) that he is trying to make with each segment. He jumps from one segment of the film to another before clearly communicating the conclusion or implications of the segment. Furthermore, I’m not sure about the way each segment relate to each other.

Third, while I admit that I have (and sometimes do) enjoyed listening to clever attacks on Conservatives, as I get older, this kind of thing appeals to me less and less. Moore, of course, revels in that kind of stuff (in the same way that Rush Limbaugh seems to). I believe this M.O. ultimately hurts his credibility because everyone knows that he wants to thrill and entertain Liberals. For example, he shows many of the people in the Bush administration before interviews making expressions or doing things that make them look bad. For example, he shows Paul Wolfolwitz sucking on his comb to wet it, and then comb his hair with it. Well, yeah, that’s gross, but it’t not hard to find respectable, competant people doing gross things. What’s that got to do with Bush’s policy or performance? Nothing. It’s just put in there to make Wolfowitz look bad, and entertain Bush haters. That’s fine, if that’s what you’re looking for, and if these issues weren’t so serious. Democrats have many good points to make against Bush, but Moore’s approach makes dismissing these points much easier because of his approach.

Moore is basically a liberal Limbaugh. I guess, I don’t care for their approach.

(Now, there are issues that are serious that Moore brings up, and I hope we can discuss those later.)

(Edit: I just read reviews of the film by Kenneth Turan, Roger Ebert and Christopher Hitchens. I agree with Htichens’ overall sentiment toward the film and the specific criticisms, in general. See the review at slate.com)

26 Responses to “Farenheit 911 (Review/Discussion)”


  1. Mitchell

    It’s now about forty-eight hours since I saw this, and I’ve had some time to absorb some of it and to let it bounce around in me.

    First, a response to Reid’s thoughts.

    He can’t really do justice to all of these issues in a two hour film, but Moore seems to believe that stringing together facts and incidents that make the Bush administration look bad–without careful anaylses, drawing clear conclusions from these points or making these points connect in a logical way–are enough to make a compelling case against Bush.

    Roger Ebert says that what Moore has made here is political propaganda, and I believe it should be taken and evaluated as such. It’s clear to me that what Moore mostly wants to do is say, “Take a look at what Bush has done,” and force his viewers to consider the appearances of conflict of interest (at best) or impropriety (at worst). As far as what these appearances mean, it seems that Moore is leaving that up to the viewer. I’m actually okay with this, and would love–I mean absolutely love–to hear an official White House response to the points brought up in the film. I know that’s not going to happen, though, because why should the President dignify this propaganda with any response at all until he is asked, point-blank, by someone who’ll give him a chance to say what he wants?

    That may be true for someone in who is willing to find any reason to condemn Bush, but I’m turned off by this. I prefer a well-made, fair argument–even if they go against my politics–over a poorly made argument that I want to support.

    I may be wrong about this, but the vibe I get from the film is that we Americans have been fed UNfair reports from news media that’s for whatever reason (probably patriotism) not asking the questions they should. I get the feeling that Moore is not interested in presenting a fair argument, since that’s not what we’ve been getting for these past four years.

    I agree with you that, as far as documentaries go, maybe this isn’t the right approach, but Roger Ebert also points out that ALL documentaries have agendae, and they all have points of view they’re trying to communicate. I believe that in Spellbound, for example, the documentarians’ purpose (among others) was to show how people of varying backgrounds, incomes, and levels of support come to some measure of success.

    I believe this M.O. ultimately hurts his credibility because everyone knows that he wants to thrill and entertain Liberals. For example, he shows many of the people in the Bush administration before interviews making expressions or doing things that make them look bad.

    It’s not just the M.O. that I think hurts his credibility (‘though it certainly does). I think it’s the way he comes across, too. Michael Moore suffers from the same thing I do: I care so much and so passionately about stuff, that even when people are inclined to agree with me, the frantic, emphatic way I communicate automatically steers people–even sympathizers–away. I have tried to tone myself down, but I have a difficult time, because I care so deeply about so many things, and I know that I’ve hurt my own cause many, many times, just by being too excited. Moore had something meaningful to say at the Academy Awards last year, but he did it the wrong way, and it made even people (like me) who agreed with him uncomfortable.

    Still, this was an interesting, entertaining movie, and if you can ignore some of the overt clowning-around, there are some questions here that the White House really needs to answer. I disagree with Ebert and Moore that the President’s response to the news about the World Trade Center attack is revealing and discomforting–I mean, come on, it’s not like there’s any real precedent here for this kind of thing–but I do want to know about all these ties to Saudi money and what they say about our war interests and our search for bin Laden.

    I was unexpectedly moved to tears when the woman whose son died in Iraq visits the White House and is confronted by those two women. It reminded me, as if I needed it, that war sucks and, as Moore puts it, all these young men and women ask is that when we send them to the line to guard our freedom, we do it when there’s just no other choice.

    Obviously, the audience I saw the movie with was pretty anti-Bush, and it really annoyed me. My fellow movie-goers actually cheered and jeered at moments that called for some solemnity. Tasteless and classless, these Democrats!

    Moore’s movie-making style should not turn you off to a movie you have in your top ten. Is it a good movie or isn’t it? If you respond differently to it the next time you see it and then move it off the list, that’s understandable, but if we all judged a director’s entire body of work on one or two films we didn’t like, we wouldn’t like anyone, right?

  2. Reid

    Roger Ebert says that what Moore has made here is political propaganda, and I believe it should be taken and evaluated as such. It’s clear to me that what Moore mostly wants to do is say, “Take a look at what Bush has done,” and force his viewers to consider the appearances of conflict of interest (at best) or impropriety (at worst). As far as what these appearances mean, it seems that Moore is leaving that up to the viewer.

    Propaganda does not leave the decision up to the viewer, good journalism does that, and this is not good journalism or good analysis of the Bush administration, 9-11, etc.

    I may be wrong about this, but the vibe I get from the film is that we Americans have been fed UNfair reports from news media that’s for whatever reason (probably patriotism) not asking the questions they should. I get the feeling that Moore is not interested in presenting a fair argument, since that’s not what we’ve been getting for these past four years.

    Huh? I totally agree with the first sentence, but if that sentence is true, the second sentence doesn’t seem to make much sense. If the public hasn’t been getting a fair argument or answers to the right questions, than shouldn’t Moore give us a fair argument and ask the right questions??!! What you’re saying sounds like: “Well, they haven’t given a fair argument, so I will give my own unfair argument.” (Scratching my head.)

    Still, this was an interesting, entertaining movie, and if you can ignore some of the overt clowning-around, there are some questions here that the White House really needs to answer.

    There are many questions the White House should answer, unfortunately Moore asks them in such a way to make it understandable that the White House would not not feel compelled to answer them. Would you feel compelled to answer questions from a propagandist clown?

    Did you read the Christopher Hitchens’ review? I really think you should. Granted, Hitchens seems to have something personal against Moore, but he discredits many of the points and arguments in the film by painstakingly going over those specific points. (http://slate.msn.com/id/2102723/)

    Finally, I’m not saying I’m not going to like Roger and Me, but the last two films by Moore make me want to go back and watch the film again. I think that I will still like it because the scope and objective of the film was a lot smaller than Moores two most recent films.

  3. pen

    While I agree with some of the criticisms outlined above, I am a lot less critical about this movie. Of course, I beleive I am a lot less critical than Reid in many respects 🙂 this being just one of them. And it’s not simply my own liberal bias (which is part of it, but not the whole).

    Michael Moore uses sarcasm and hyperbole to emphasize his points. That is his style. He is preaching to the converted and he knows they are his main audience. In that limited way, I guess he is like Rush (ugh). I thought Moore showed restraint (for him) in not using as many “shock tactics” as he did in Bowling for Columbine.

    I agree that the film seemed cobbled together somewhat unevenly. It seemed like he had so many points to make, so many questions brewing in him, that it all came spewing out without a strongly cohesive story line.

    But I think one of Moore’s main points in the movie is that we (as the American people) need to begin demanding answers from the current administration. The press has been woefully unchallenging and negligent in their coverage (liberal bias my left toe). But anyway…

    I saw this movie as more of a catalyst than an end unto itself. It wants the public to begin questioning what it hears and sees in the media. It wants us to think more critically about what the Bush administration is doing. To examine these connections involving money, power and long-standing friendships and alliances and determining what that means for ourselves and our country.

    BTW, it’s going a little far to say that Moore is a liberal Limbaugh. Ugh! Have you heard the vitriolic untruth Limbaugh sputters? Double ugh!

  4. Reid

    It wants the public to begin questioning what it hears and sees in the media. It wants us to think more critically about what the Bush administration is doing. To examine these connections involving money, power and long-standing friendships and alliances and determining what that means for ourselves and our country.

    That’s a good thing, but wouldn’t it be nice if the catalyst displayed some of the critical analysis it hopes to catalyze? Doesn’t the film lose some credibility if it doesn’t?

    Here’s a quote from the Christopher Hitchens’ Slate article:

    Some people soothingly say that one should relax about all this. It’s only a movie. No biggie. It’s no worse than the tomfoolery of Oliver Stone. It’s kick-ass entertainment. It might even help get out “the youth vote.” Yeah, well, I have myself written and presented about a dozen low-budget made-for-TV documentaries, on subjects as various as Mother Teresa and Bill Clinton and the Cyprus crisis, and I also helped produce a slightly more polished one on Henry Kissinger that was shown in movie theaters. So I know, thanks, before you tell me, that a documentary must have a “POV” or point of view and that it must also impose a narrative line. But if you leave out absolutely everything that might give your “narrative” a problem and throw in any old rubbish that might support it, and you don’t even care that one bit of that rubbish flatly contradicts the next bit, and you give no chance to those who might differ, then you have betrayed your craft. If you flatter and fawn upon your potential audience, I might add, you are patronizing them and insulting them. By the same token, if I write an article and I quote somebody and for space reasons put in an ellipsis like this (Ö), I swear on my children that I am not leaving out anything that, if quoted in full, would alter the original meaning or its significance. Those who violate this pact with readers or viewers are to be despised. At no point does Michael Moore make the smallest effort to be objective. At no moment does he pass up the chance of a cheap sneer or a jeer.

    Btw, as I mentioned earlier, Hitchens does take the time to point out these contradictions and cheap shots. (I don’t agree with all of his anaylsis, but I agree with his general sentiments about the film.)

  5. kevin

    Before I comment, I should disclaim that I’ve not seen it yet & am planning to do so tomorrow or the 4th, appropriately enough (or ironically so.) I don’t expect to discover more nuance in the movie, however.

    But my general take on this reading the reviews is not so much from the POV from the craft of documentary, cinema,& journalism, but rather from the overall political landscape of media and mainstream. I don’t see the playing field of left vs. right demagoguery currently as a level one; I see a whole series of factors (fear, self-interest, cultural ignorance, financial power, religious intolerance, decline of critical thinking of American public) that predispose interpretation and dissemination of information towards the conservative in a very organic way since 9/11.

    In many ways, Moore is waging a cultural guerilla war (I think more of Palestinian countersurgency than Iraqi or Al Queda) that is a natural response to a perception of oppression. Guerrilla warfare rarely fights fairly against established power, and Moore’s style is probably as graceless as a suicide bomb. But in competing with Blackhawk Down/Pearl Harbor/We Were Soldiers-type movies (which historically have enjoyed support of Pentagon resources – now what’s propaganda?), is the option really valid to adhere at all costs to the conventional documentary form (5% or less of the movie public) over a more controversial approach emphasizing awareness, not art?

    The outreach of the fringe to the mainstream is, I think, a pragmatic necessity in our media environment of “reality-TV” and no-brain action movies. This stance, in some ways, is a bit like the pragmatism that Clinton was accused of by his own party during his tenure in order to reach the swing center. Do the means justify the ends? Not always, as the current administration demonstrates. Might this continue degenerating intelligent political dialogue? Perhaps. But like Barbara Ehrenreich points out, this movie’s one of the few opportunities where the left is able to shed its “elite” label to reach out to an alternate, less “elite” part of the public (working poor, minority military families) that has primarily been owned by the Republican party by default, and perhaps increase political questioning, which is a distinct difference from Limbaugh’s tactics to bury them.

    In the end, I think the point of his movie is less about “objectivity”, “good journalism”, or preaching to the choir; it’s about shocking and engaging the uninitiated into their own journey into awareness. There’s a long history of resistance art engaging in “shock value” (the New Objectivity in Weimar Germany, Constructivism in 20’s Russia) in order to match the easy political volume of state propaganda.

    I may take back all the above after I see it tomorrow, so take the above w/ a grain of salt for now….

  6. kevin

    saw it, still sticking to my guns.

  7. Reid

    There are several things that bother about the responses above:

    1. The rationalization for superficial analysis, cheap shots and arguments that can’t be taken seriously;

    2. It seems that the approach is acceptable to many of you simply because you share Moore’s politics. I’m wondering if Limbaugh was making a film on Clinton, and used a similar approach, would we be so accepting?

    3. People do not seem troubled by what amounts to a “throwing in the towel” to meaningful public discourse in this country by condoning or even advocating this type of approach; I am troubled that more of you are not disturbed by this “fighting fire with fire” approach: if the Conservatives can resort to cheap tactics and sensationalism to promote their views, Liberals should also do so as well. I understand the desire and practical importance on one level, but, at the very least, shouldn’t this be troubling on some level?

    Kevin, I think there is intelligent forms of “shock art,” but Moore’s film is not it. Btw, have you been to the Democracynow site or seen their news program on TV? They also believe that the a conversative viewpoint is dominating the media, and they have provided a show that provides a liberal perspective on the war. I feel that they are too one-sided at times, but they do present intelligent and sound arguments for their point of view, something that Moore’s film does not have.

    Ultimately, we need journalists that strive for fairness and objectivity. We are really in trouble we the media gives up on this idea and either chooses a Left or Right bias.

  8. Chris Magnusson

    Reid —

    But what if (and this has come up before) we don’t put F911 on the same field as news media? and is Moore a journalist? Does he *HAVE* to be in that category? And aren’t many of the points he made already made in other, more ‘careful’ sources — alternative radio, 300-page books, etc.? What would the point of a measured, un-fanciful 98 minute documentary really be? Who would see it? Where would it be shown? I think it is a good summary of the Left’s rage against GWB packaged for a wide audience. I appreciate Reid’s caution about using the ‘enemy’s’ weapons, but I hardly think this movie goes that far (a liberal Limbaugh? This has much more substance than most of Limbaugh).

    And, for the record, it wasn’t rhetorically shallow as I expected (though there were moments), and the ad-hominum attacks were funny I suppose, because GWB is comical in many ways.

    Did the post I made about us changing more that M Moore get posted? I had guessed that if you went back, you might be discontented w/ *Roger and Me* not because Moore’s methods have changed all that much, but because You may have changed. Also, his palette has gotten bigger and bigger, which inherently exposes his weaknesses.

    I saw the movie a couple of days ago. I hope it does well.

  9. Reid

    Chris,

    I don’t think Michael Moore has to adhere to journalistic standards, but then don’t expect the movie to be taken seriously (not be me anyway). I think Moore (and the people that support him) want it both ways and that’s my problem. Either it’s silly burlesque (that Liberals find amusing) or it’s a serious case against the Bush administration. Moore and other advocates want to pass this off as something serious, something that will remove Bush from office.

    You asked me who would see a well-reasoned, fair documentary that argued against the Bush administration. Well, if Michael Moore made that film, people would have seen it, especially if Disney refused to show it. (And I don’t think Disney would have been more inclined to distribute the film if Moore made a fair and thougthful film.) People went to the film because of this controversy and Michael Moore’s name and reputation. One could make the case that this is even more reason he should make an intelligent and thoughtful film.

    Did you read the Hitchens’ article?

  10. Chris Magnusson

    Reid —

    I haven’t read the Hitchins article yet. (I’m still pretty busy with some visitors). I will.

    I think one potential problem with making a more careful film might have been having to limit it to just one narrow argument. It seems like Moore wanted to paint a broader picture of what the current administration is about. And some of the points that could/should have been substantiated might have only been through circumstantial evidence (kind of along the lines of what he did with the idea of Saudi interests playing a role — besides, if a major collapse of Saudi support would wreck the US’s economy, then maybe playing to their interests is a worthy goal of foreign policy, and the Bushes are doing the right thing . . . ).

    And Moore’s reputation is built on just the kind of movie that F911 actually IS: like *Roger and Me* and *Bowling For Columbine*. *Bowling* is similar in that it has a theme of gun violence, and then he expands to broader issues like racism, coorporate irresponsibility, conservative politics, etc. And I generally liked it. Especially after I allowed myself to be converted by Kevin (who made a similiar point to me as the one he made earlier).

    And if this movie makes the rich vs poor debate more politically viable in the election year (and I think it will — maybe the repubs can’t whine ‘class war’ every time John Edwards brings it up), I’m all for it.

  11. kevin

    Reid, I think this’s a really interesting and complex argument. At the core of it, for me, are the two questions as you suggest, of 1) do I believe that this approach is acceptable for both liberal and conservative to deploy, and 2) is it an “either-or” question of “silly burlesque” vs. “serious case”.What I come up with is that as distasteful and disagreeable as I find Limbaugh and O’Reilly to be, I wouldn’t choose to censor their right to air their views, and nor should Moore be censored (as the Bush administration sought to do last year, anticipating his movie, by a failed attempt via an FCC injunction to declare such movies electoral advertising, and hence banned from release this year ñ a subtext not in the movie.)

    Youíre right; OíReilly and Moore, for better or worse, are the current and troubling realities of our democracy. But again, I don’t necessarily believe thereís a clean symmetry of left vs. right hyperbole: there’s a difference between righteous indignation (by advocacy for those who have no voice), vs. self-righteous indignation (self-advocacy for power consolidation.) Thereís no corner on the market of either on either side, and Moore and this movie are not always selfless; but I still believe thereís something to be said for the type of advocacy for others that the end of the movie suggests that vaguely ìhintsî of righteous indignation of a “sort-of” prophet.

    On the second part, I don’t think it needs to be an “either-or” question of “silly burlesque” vs. “serious case”; it can operate at the level of ìboth-andî, and canít be watched without recognizing both its sophomoric parody as the vehicle to deliver both fact and agenda. I totally think it’s OK to not take the movie as seriously, as many don’t. But I also think it’s OK to accept all forms of political questioning, regardless of the relative lack of sophisticated phrasing of the argument. Otherwise, we run the risk of confining participation of political dialogue to the elite of both left and right who have the ability, means, and acuity to do so. Hitchins, I think, has credibility to lose by doing anything but decrying the movie as undisciplined rhetorical baloney. (Isnít any serious journalist/critic obligated to do the same to validate their position as guardian of the journalistic Standard?) This may be precisely the segregation between “high” and “low”, or “elite” and “popular” that serves to hobble both political parties, not just the Democrats. Again, referring back to Barbara Ehrenreich (sub’ing in NYT Op/Ed for Thomas Friedman), it’s precisely b/c her reputation is not as a cultural critic, but cultural observer, that she is free to see some value in such a “lowbrow” (for lack of a better term) articulation of critical resistance. I think embrace of the ìotherî each subculture fears can only be good for the political process (and our own awareness.)

    In the end, the two things from the movie that are most compelling for me are 1)as Chris pointed out, resurrecting the rich vs. poor debate ; and 2) dismantling of the veil of image control to partially reveal the nature of the machinery within, which nearly every political commentator has noted the Bush admin. has been most sophisticated in controlling and maintaining. While there are moments in the movie I cringed, aware of the visual and emotional manipulation involved, accepting the movie into the political dialogue is not necessarily throwing out the bathwater of more reasoned political debate. I don’t believe the danger is in the “slippery-slope” acceptance of the form; I believe the danger lies in the pre-qualification of the form of rhetoric.

  12. Reid

    Chris,

    And if this movie makes the rich vs poor debate more politically viable in the election year (and I think it will — maybe the repubs can’t whine ‘class war’ every time John Edwards brings it up), I’m all for it.

    But you’re not the least bit uncomfortable if people actually base their political decisions on propaganda? If people actually vote against Bush because of this film (e.g. they actually took this film seriously), that wouldn’t bother you?

    Kevin,

    Some responses to your post:

    1. I do not advocate censoring people like Moore or Limbaugh. I only say that it is really bad for our democracy when a significant number of people actually take what they say seriously.

    2. Re: Righteous indignation vs. self-righteous indignation. One could argue that Kenneth Starr was attacking President Clinton out of “righteous indignation” and that President Clinton, defending himself out of “self-righteous indignation.” I was totally opposed to the witch-hunt directed at Clinton, but I could see Conservatives using your rationale to justify what they did to him.

    3. But even if Moore possesses self-righteous indignation, does that mean that the means and techniques he employs are irrelevant? As long as he is one of the good guys, who cares if he employs crass, unfair, and deceptive tactics? Is this where you guys are coming from?

    4. I don’t know if I buy the “high/low” separation that you’re making. Rejecting Moore’s approach means that I’m limiting the discussion to only the elites? Hardly. How about Moore following some common sense principles of fairness, at least attempt to some degree of objectivity, and display a level of intelligence above the sixth grade. I’m talking about the type of writing and approach that one can sometimes find in mainstream newspapers. I’m not talking about the Economist or Foreign Policy here. One can passionately express his/her opinion while accomplishing those objectives–and doing so does not necessarily constitute a “high-brow” approach, does it? If you’re saying it does, then either there are more stupid people than I thought, or you’re unfairly putting down a lot of people.

    But I also think it’s OK to accept all forms of political questioning, regardless of the relative lack of sophisticated phrasing of the argument.

    You know I’m not criticizing Moore because of his “relative lack of sophisticated phrasing,” right? We’re talking propaganda, here. Distortion, deception and ad hominen attacks are fair game–anything to sway people into his point of view. That’s not the level of discourse I want to see in this country. However, people are free to use that approach, but I strongly oppose the approach because it is antithetical to a healthy democracy.

  13. burgess

    SaraAnne and I finally saw Fahrenheit 911 yesterday afternoon. We saw a 1:00 matinee, so I was impressed by the size of the crowd. The movie is playing at only one theater in the Richmond area. I was surprised by the diversity of the audience as well. While I cannot vouch for the political or economic make up of the people, there was a good mix of race (though I suspect I was the only Hawaiian there), age and gender.

    I thought the movie was absolutely brilliant. From the beginning, when Moore asks, regarding the 2000 election, ìwas it all a dream,î reminiscent of his now infamous Oscar speech regarding a fictitious president and a fictitious war, Moore starts us off on the journey that is Fahrenheit 911.

    The Bush presidency is real to the extent that TV shows like Friends or The West Wing are real. There are real actors–everybody knows their lines, and they stick to the script. Moore introduces his cast of characters that is the Bush administrationóhe shows them getting ready to go on to play their part. If this sounds unfair, all one has to do is look at the 911 commission hearings. Even now, Cheney is sticking to the line that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and there was a direct link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.

    The seven minute inaction of the president after hearing of the attack on the WTC is compelling not because it shows Bushís incompetence or inability to lead, but because with the attacks of September 11 there is no script for the president to follow, and he doesnít know what to do.

    I was not at all offended or taken aback by what some have referred to as Mooreís ìclowningî antics; neither do I think they hurt Mooreís credibility. While these actions might serve to ridicule the Bush administration, the media, and members of congress, these are not Mooreís strongest statements. The points that connect are the ones in between the clowning. Moore places these episodes in the movie to break the tension he hopes is building in his audience. Moore doesnít want his audience at a heightened emotional state throughout the whole movie. Moore builds the tension he gets us angry or heartbroken, and then he letís us down to build up the tension again. Is this manipulativeóof course it is, but itís also masterful, and for me, it helps in the receiving of the message.

    Itís easy to label Fahrenheit 911 as political propagandaóit certainly could fall under that category. Moore does not give us a ìfair and balancedî look at the Bush administration. But I will suggest that Mooreís antics fall well within the realm of the investigative ìjournalismî we see on TV news magazines. How often do we see on Dateline or 60 Minutes, some unsuspecting corporate executive looking bad after being hit by a barrage of questions inquiring of his or her involvement in whatever scandal is being investigated?

    What is disturbing about Fahrenheit 911 is not Mooreís disregard for journalistic standards, but that the movie is representative of todayís media, and not just the OíReileys, Limbaughs, and Coulters, but mainstream media. How is Mooreís stringing together of facts in order to come to a particular conclusion different from the mediaís stringing together of ìfactsî (provided by the Bush administration) to justify the invasion of Iraq. The big difference is that no one has died because of Fahrenheit 911, whereas hundreds of Americans and thousands of Iraqis are dead because the media, wittingly or not, perpetuated the myth being spewed by the Bush administration. It is ridiculous to hold Moore to a higher journalistic standard than that of the White House Press Corp.

  14. Reid

    By not directly resonding to your post, I don’t mean to ignore it, John. I would just be repeating a lot of my points anyway.

    I’m going to try and discuss some of the specific points Moore makes, and then comment on them. Actually, part of the problem with the movie is that I wasn’t really clear on what points he was trying to make.

    For example, Moore talked about the pipeline in Afganistan. I only realized later from someone else that Moore might have been implying that we went to Afganistan because of that pipeline. To me, he didn’t make it clear that that was his point, nor did he spend sufficient time to support his claim. I can believe that the pipeline was a factor for sending troops to Afganistan, but I don’t believe it was the sole reason for doing so.

    Chris also mentions the point about the Saudi’s having a huge investment in the U.S. economy (I believe the film said something like 6%). If that’s true, you don’t need a conspiracy with the House of Saud to prove that the U.S. government will want to cooperate and not rock the boat with Saudi Arabia.

    The story about a police officer infiltrated a local peace group was also pretty weak–at least as evidence that the Patriot Act was a terrible thing. If the film focussed on that town then that kind of thing would be funny and appropriate. That’s what Moore did in Roger and Me to good effect. But in film that tries to make a case against Bush and his policies, it’s unbelieveably weak.

    The same thing goes for the lone Oregon state trooper. Is Moore saying that the Bush administration is solely to blame for that? And if those are best evidence against the Patriot Act and Bush’s job defending the country domestically that’s pretty pathetic.

    Something like invading Iraq, specifically, and foreign policy in general is so complex and nuanced. It’s rarely a black-and-white issue. I know the Bush administration talks about in those terms and so does Moore. I just don’t like this approach. Do we want citizens to form opinions and make decisions based on over-simplified presentations of information? I don’t think that’s the way to go.

    I also think there more conclusive points against the Bush administration to make. First, I think the Bush administration has taken a unilateral and arrogant approach to dealing with the rest of the world, and that has not been good for our efforts in Iraq, nor has it been good for our security.

    Second, the Bush administration has seemed to lock into one point of view (we needed to invade Iraq) and their control (and even distortion) of information has had serious consequences for the country. Examples can also be found outside of the Iraq situation.

    Of course, Moore may not feel these are the most important points, and that’s his perogative. I mention these points because a stronger case can be made for them than the points/examples Moore selects.

    People have written about these things, but it would be great to expose this information to more people in a way only a film like Michael Moore’s could. I also think these points can be made while keeping Moore’s humor and antics.

  15. Reid

    I had heard that Michael Moore made some comparison with the Iraqi insurrgents and the Minutemen. I thought maybe people quoting Moore out of context, but it’s not so far off. Here’s an excerpt where the quote comes from:

    First, can we stop the Orwellian language and start using the proper names for things? Those are not ?contractors? in Iraq. They are not there to fix a roof or to pour concrete in a driveway. They are MERCENARIES and SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE. They are there for the money, and the money is very good if you live long enough to spend it.

    Halliburton is not a “company” doing business in Iraq. It is a WAR PROFITEER, bilking millions from the pockets of average Americans. In past wars they would have been arrested — or worse.

    The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not “insurgents” or “terrorists” or “The Enemy.” They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow — and they will win. Get it, Mr. Bush? You closed down a friggin’ weekly newspaper, you great giver of freedom and democracy! Then all hell broke loose. The paper only had 10,000 readers! Why are you smirking?

    I can understand and sympathize with calling Halliburton a war profiteer or some of the defense contractors mercensaries, but comparing the insurgents and terrorists to minutemen is absurd. I guess, he just sees the invasion as simply an expansion of the U.S. empire, and he’s entitled to that view. I just don’t have a high regard for that view. Maybe he was just having a bad day or let his anger and frustration of the Bush administration get to him.

    Later on he says this,

    There is a lot of talk amongst Bush’s opponents that we should turn this war over to the United Nations. Why should the other countries of this world, countries who tried to talk us out of this folly, now have to clean up our mess? I oppose the U.N. or anyone else risking the lives of their citizens to extract us from our debacle. I’m sorry, but the majority of Americans supported this war once it began and, sadly, that majority must now sacrifice their children until enough blood has been let that maybe — just maybe — God and the Iraqi people will forgive us in the end.

    This makes him sound a bit crazy to me.

    Read the whole article written by Moore here:

    http://www.michaelmoore.com/words/message/index.php?messageDate=2004-04-14

  16. burgess

    I think one of the points that Moore was trying to make on Afghanistan is not that the reason we went to Afghanistan was because of some pipeline, rather, he was looking at the relative slowness of the U.S. to enter into Afghanistan after September 11, thus making it more difficult to capture bin Laden. Moore points to what seems like a reluctance of the administration to invade Afghanistan. He cites the Bush family’s relationship with the Taliban and their relationship with the bin Ladens.

    The infiltration of the local peace group and the Oregon law enforcement situation concerning the need for more state troopers underscores the mixed message, that we are supposedly living in a heightened state of terror or fear, yet it doesn’t seem to play out in our every day lives. It’s an interesting point–are things really that bad, or is it advantageous for the Bush administration to have people living at a heightened state of fear.

    I think Moore makes the points that you have made. Perhaps Moore took on too many issues in Fahrenheit.

    Is it really so bad, for people to make decisions based on Moore’s movie? Is it any worse than the President pushing for a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage–clearly the intent is to sway voters over this single issue? What about when Kerry picked Edwards to be his running mate. The Bush campaign points to the “fact” that Edwards was Kerry’s second choice (although a McCain staffer denies that Kerry had asked him to be vice-president). There are worse things to base our decisions on than Moore’s movie.

  17. Mitchell

    It’s an interesting point–are things really that bad, or is it advantageous for the Bush administration to have people living at a heightened state of fear.

    This point struck me quite strongly, too, when I saw the film. It was the strongest theme in Bowling for Columbine, too, and there was a comic strip somewhere a couple of weeks ago that underscored this idea that the President’s administration exploits the nation’s fears in order to keep the heat off itself. Definitely something I want to ponder a bit more.

    Is it really so bad for people to make decisions based on Moore’s movie?

    I know what Reid’s gonna say here, and I’m going to agree with him before he says it. It’s probably just as bad for a decision to be made strictly on one person’s movie as it is for any other of the prevailing reasons. Even if it’s a little better, it’s certainly not ideal, anyway. Ideally, the responsible voter will take this movie, ask some meaningful questions, seek answers, and then make an informed decision.

    That’s ideally. We all know that’s not how most people vote, and that’s where Reid has a problem, and that’s why I think we all can’t seem to agree on this movie. On the one hand, it sounds like Kevin, Chris, and I accept the film for what we think it is: one man’s propaganda. On another hand, it seems John and Penny, the most left-leaning of the participants, find it inspiring and hope others see the movie and are persuaded to vote the President out of office.

    And in the blue corner, wearing the white trunks, our man Reid, who believes that what I’ve outlined above as the “ideal” reaction to a movie like this is quite impossible, because the average movie-goer is not going to seek the alternate views, and will therefore make an uninformed decision; whether that decision agrees with his or not is not the issue–what matters is that a man in Michael Moore’s position has here the ability to do what perhaps no other film-maker can do: make you sit through ninety minutes of information about the President and his administration. I think Reid’s saying that with this kind of power comes a certain responsibility that Moore didn’t live up to.

    The more I think about it, the more I agree with Reid, but I can’t fault Moore. I’d like to think that given the same stage, I’d do something objective and “responsible,” but then my feelings against the President, strong though they may be, are not nearly as strong as Moore’s. I believe it is the media’s job to be as objective as possible, but I don’t believe it’s a film-maker’s.

    Neither do I believe it’s the artist’s responsibility to portray minorities in favorable light, or even in ways that buck stereotypes, no matter how far-reaching a particular piece of art may be, which sounds like a different issue altogether, but I think it’s really the same issue.

    The producers of Spellbound could have shown only upper-middle-class, white children from beginning to end, and at the finals, edited the film in such a way as to show them falling, one by one, to these children of immigrant parents. The children of these immigrants would have been only names and faces without stories, and you would have a completely different movie with a completely different message. Some would fault the film-makers for not making that movie. It remains that given a limited amount of time and space, the film-maker has to make choices.

    It’s plain that Moore doesn’t care WHAT reason you have for voting against the President, so long as you actually do. He’s not the only one. I’m not saying this is the way I’d like for people to vote, but in a democracy, an entire nation of people voting for the wrong reasons is better than millions of Americans not voting at all.

  18. Reid

    It’s an interesting point–are things really that bad, or is it advantageous for the Bush administration to have people living at a heightened state of fear.

    I think it is a little of both. I don’t think that anyone would disagree that the threat of terrorist attack should be taken very seriously. In that sense, things are bad. But I think the President can take advantage of this situation, too–not just to divert people’s attention from the failures of the administration, but also to pass legislation that might otherwise not be passed without this distraction.

    The thing is Moore does not consider this kind of nuance at all. Furthermore, his examples are very weak–at least in terms of showing that the Patriot Act is a terrible thing or that the Bush administration is utterly failing in providing domestic security. If the examples were to show that the terrorist threat is not that bad, I think the examples are not very compelling and the conclusion is totally off-base.

    Mitchell said,

    “I believe it is the media’s job to be as objective as possible, but I don’t believe it’s a film-maker’s.”

    But doesn’t this depend on the intention of the filmmaker? Moore made a film to convince the public to vote against Bush–not by making an artistic statement, but by building a serious factual case against the Bush administration. For all intents and purposes, this is a documentary–or, more accurately, propaganda–that is meant to be taken at face value. It is certainly not an aesthetic creation.

    If this is true, then the argument that he has artistic license to do whatever he wants does not apply.

    Now, given Moore’s intent, we would hope that he would express his opinion in a fair, intelligent and civil way–not because of journalistic standards, but because this is what we need for meaningful public discourse in our democracy. He has not done this, which is his right.

    But–and here’s the key point–we, as people who value a liberal democracy, should reject this type of approach; we certainly should not affirm or condone it–even if we share the same point of view.

    Thing about it this way. Would you want to participate in a discussion about serious public issues with someone who employed Moore’s approach? The person’s opinions would be moot if they resorted to ad hominen attacks or blatantly unfair portrayals of the opposing point of view. You can’t really have an intelligent and meaningful discouse when this is the M.O.

    Finally, let me just say that what I love about the U.S. is when we make decisions through a process that includes meaningful discourse, where people can freely express their opinions, and where they do so in a way that is civil, intelligent and fair. To the extent that we make decisions via this process is the extent to which we are a great country.

  19. burgess

    Reid,

    But I think the President can take advantage of this situation, too–not just to divert people’s attention from the failures of the administration, but also to pass legislation that might otherwise not be passed without this distraction…The thing is Moore does not consider this kind of nuance at all.

    Moore actually does consider the ease in which the Bush administration has been able to push through some legislation. In the movie, he actually has people saying that republicans have been sitting on legislation for some time, and September 11 gave them the opportunity they needed. I don’t know if this is true or not–I hope it’s not, but I wouldn’t be surprised; I wouldn’t even be dissapointed. My contempt for the Bush administration came about long before Michael Moore and Fahrenheit 911. Sorry, I’m getting off point here.

    I don’t think it’s necessary for Moore to make a case against the Patriot Act. Many civil rights groups, even the United States Supreme Court have come out against parts of the Patriot Act. In fact, the House is divided when it comes to the Patriot Act.

    I disagree with your assessment that Fahrenheit is “not an aesthetic creation.” I mentioned in a previous post that I thought it was brilliant. But does propoganda, if that is what Moore’s creation actually is, exclude artistic expression? I will suggest that Fahrenheit is no more propoganda than The Passion of the Christ.

  20. Reid

    John,

    I meant that Moore doesn’t acknowledge that the heightened fear is warranted to some extent and the Bush administration can take advantage of this situation. I don’t think it’s fair to blame the Bush administration for increasing fears in this country because there is a legitimate threat from terrorists.

    Re: The Patriot Act

    Moore may not need to make a case against it, but he tries to (or at least appears to) in the film.

    But does propoganda, if that is what Moore’s creation actually is, exclude artistic expression? I will suggest that Fahrenheit is no more propoganda than The Passion of the Christ.

    That’s an interesting question. The answer would depend on the differences between journalism/propaganda or art. My initial response is that journalism strives for objectivity, to present facts and tell things as they are, so to speak. It is straight foward and meant to be taken literally. Propaganda tries to appear that way, but blatantly attempts to manipulate the facts to sway the viewer/reader into a particular point of view.

    An artist can have a point of view, but we know that he/she is not trying to present this in an objective fashion; their work is not meant to be taken literally. I don’t know if that’s a very good distinction or definition of each phenomenon, but…

    The Passion of Christ is an interesting example. If an artist presents a POV does that automatically make a work propaganda? I don’t think reinterpreting a story (literature) would constitute propaganda.

  21. Mitchell

    The reinterpretation doesn’t make it propaganda. Propaganda, according to the dictionary definition I used to make my communications students learn, is a systematic effort to sway a group of people toward a particular belief, judgment, or action.

    Key words: systematic and sway.

    I think John’s got a good point; Mel Gibson wasn’t merely reinterpreting the Passion story. He definitely wanted to influence his audience to adopt a certain belief or take a certain action in response to his film.

    Propaganda does not necessarily attempt to appear to be journalism; it may employ this tactic (as it seems to be effective), but it doesn’t have to in order to be propaganda. A college’s viewbook, for example, is not trying to be objective and doesn’t hide the fact that it’s trying to get you to apply to its school. It is, however, definitely propaganda.

    Moore’s main point with the patriot act, I think, was to emphasize that in post-9/11 legislation, Congress passed an act hurriedly and without examining it. This blind following lets the President’s administration do things that ring startlingly similar to the kinds of things we abhorred about life behind the Iron Curtain.

    That’s what I got out of it, anyway. That whole bit about the infiltration of the California peace group? Sounded an awful lot like pre-perestroika USSR.

  22. Reid

    Mitchell,

    But let’s not forget the connotation of the word, propaganda. Propaganda (versus something like an argument or apology) connotes something that uses deception or distortion to sway people. We would use the word when we want to convey something that should be read or looked at suspiciously. Certainly, there is a negative connotation to the word, that is lacking in say, the word, apology.

    Good point about propaganda not having to appear as journalism. That’s true, however, Moore’s film certainly does appear to as journalism, and propaganda is a good word to describe his film because it is very distorted and misleading.

    Re: not reading the Patriot Act.

    There was an Congressman that he interviewed that made a remark about the difficulty of reading every bill that is proposed. This is true even if you’re not “blindly following” the president. I’m not saying it’s OK, but I think saying that Congress did not read the Patriot Act because it was blindly following the President–without any other evidence–is ridiculous or at least hardly compelling.

    The infiltration of the peace group may sound totalitarian, but does that one example make a strong case that the Bush administration should be responsible for that? I mean, if Moore showed that that was one of hundreds of examples, and demonstrated a link between these efforts and Bush’s policies, then OK. He doesn’t come close to doing that.

    Wasn’t the officer from the local police force? Given the terrorist threat, that’s bound to happen even if the President was a huge liberal.

  23. kevin

    That’s true, but wasn’t the broader point not whether Bush was responsible for that, but that the disparity and lack of consistency between notions of security and corrective policy that is particularly damaging? I thought that was Jim McDermott’s point in the movie(D, Wash.) who I think has been remarkably consistent in word and deed over the past 3 years.

    Also note new subterfuge “docu-ganda” coming out, Outfoxed, uncovering the slant Fox puts on its news, which ties to the interesting point Mitchell and Reid raise on “propaganda”, from the criteria of creating civic dialogue based on fact, not emotion: isn’t Moore’s film at least less insidious in its easy ability to be recognized as “propaganda”, vs. what’s turning out to be Fox’s sleight of hand going unrecognized, passing as “fair and balanced”? I think that and White House spin disturbs me even more, which is how we got into the Iraq mess in the first place. (Just playing devil’s advocate.)

  24. Reid

    Kevin,

    “…but that the disparity and lack of consistency between notions of security and corrective policy that is particularly damaging?

    I’m not sure what you mean by this.

    …isn’t Moore’s film at least less insidious in its easy ability to be recognized as “propaganda”, vs. what’s turning out to be Fox’s sleight of hand going unrecognized, passing as “fair and balanced”?

    If Moore’s film is less insidious, I find the difference negligible. I think a lot of intelligent people can and will take points in Moore’s film–if not the entire film–at face value. This is especially true if you don’t think much about foreign policy or you just get your information about the Iraq situation primarily from mainstream media. Not thinking about foreign policy doesn’t make you unintelligent, either. It is just the reality of our information-saturated world we live in. I don’t think we acknowledge the ease at which we are misled.

  25. kevin

    To clarify on the former, what I see as damaging is a single-minded focus on a specific idea of what national security looks like (which is very culturally centric – namely, control and suppression of the feared “other”) and how contrarian it seems to actually making the world and country safer by displacing resources and antagonizing/demonizing the “other.” I think history has demonstrated this during the McCarthyist paranoia of the 50’s.

    On your 2nd paragraph, I’d agree w/ you there. Except if faced between a propaganda of disarmament and dialogue (not nec. referring to Moore), vs. a propaganda of pre-emptive domination, doesn’t the former seem less harmful, and the cost to human life, hence, not negligible? And so, while propaganda has historically had a perjorative sense, the moral value assigned to it is derived from its social value for civility, not in and of itself being propaganda? (Sounds crazy, I know…)

  26. Reid

    Kevin,

    I agree with your first paragraph, but if Moore intended to communicate that point, he did a terrible job.

    Except if faced between a propaganda of disarmament and dialogue (not nec. referring to Moore), vs. a propaganda of pre-emptive domination, doesn’t the former seem less harmful, and the cost to human life, hence, not negligible? And so, while propaganda has historically had a perjorative sense, the moral value assigned to it is derived from its social value for civility, not in and of itself being propaganda? (Sounds crazy, I know…

    A couple of things. If it’s not already apparent, I am really passionate about meaningful, intelligent, and civil public discourse. I believe in that; I value that; and I am proud when our country has depended on this form of communication to make political decisions. That’s a great thing. Propaganda–with its negative connotations–is antithetical to good public discourse.

    I do not feel that ends justify the means. Is OK to deceive or manipulate someone into a position that will benefit that person or the larger good? There may be some rare instance when you could make a case, but I find the whole notion utterly contempible (if I ever felt I had to resort to this approach I would be hating it all the way).

    There’s another problem. Who’s to say what approach warrants the use of propaganda? Is it not possible that disarmament and dialogue (not what sure what you mean by the latter) could jeopardize the security or have other harmful effects, and that pre-emptive attack could ensure security and other positive effects? I think the position is not indefensible. The larger point is that you wouldn’t be able prohibit certain people from adopting a propagandist approach. It would be allowed for everyone.

    Ironically, if you did try to determine what position would warrant the use of propaganda, isn’t meaningful discourse and dialogue a good way to determine this? Let’s take the case of pre-emptive war or an anti-war position. Ideally, we would want a forum to discuss both sides in a civil, honest, and intelligent way. We wouldn’t want people to employ ad-hominen attacks or resorting to emotion over reason. We want to hear a case for both sides as well as responses from these points. From this process, we have a good chance of making the best decision. Propaganda makes meaningful civil discourse very difficult if not impossible.

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