‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ Contains Many Legitimate Revelations, Among Moore’s Cheap Shots

By ANDREW SARRIS Featurewell
Tuesday June 29, 2004

Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 should be carefully studied by John Kerry’s political advisers—not for its good taste, profundity or even originality, but for its sheer bulldog tenacity in laying waste to the patriotic mythology spun out of lies and half-truths in Karl Rove’s White House.  

As it happens, I attended the local anti-Bush revival meeting masquerading as an all-media screening of Fahrenheit 9/11 on a recent warm late-spring night in New York. Mr. Moore was on hand—in his patented green baseball cap—to acknowledge the plaudits of the glitterati. I couldn’t help thinking that he had every right to gloat after the rough treatment he’d received at the Oscars from many of the same people now imploring him to overthrow King George II, after having deemed Mr. Moore in bad taste for prematurely condemning Mr. Bush for the war in Iraq.  

Of course, gloating was the last thing on Mr. Moore’s mind, judging from his gracious and constructive remarks after the film. One could feel that he was still basking in the 20-minute standing ovation he’d received at this year’s Cannes Film Festival after his film won the Palme d’Or. Still, much of the anti-Americanism that fed the mostly European applause at the festival may have ignored the fact that it is difficult to imagine a filmmaker from any other country in the world daring to produce and exhibit a film so explicitly denouncing his own country’s political leaders.  

By contrast, the response after the showing in New York was generally enthusiastic, but hardly overwhelming. I detected some nervousness and uncertainty in the audience about the tactics Mr. Moore employed to discredit President Bush: How many of them were cheap shots, how many of them were legitimate, and how many were breathtakingly revelatory? Like all of Mr. Moore’s enterprises, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a mixed bag, and you take the bad with the good. In fact, you have to take the bad for the sake of the good.  

Mr. Moore begins his unbridled assault on the Bushites by reprising the charges of grand larceny and the stealing of a presidential election—footage of the media confusion over the results in Florida is intercut with shots of Jeb Bush looking taller, handsomer and more presidential than his brother, George, who was clearly not the family’s choice for heir apparent. Mr. Moore never stresses this point, preferring to reduce Jeb, the infamous Katherine Harris, and even the majority of members of the Supreme Court to hirelings of the Bush gang. Crude but effective.  

What was new to me was the spectacle of one African-American member of the House of Representatives after another parading before the Senate to block the certification of George W. Bush as president because of voting irregularities in Florida affecting African-American voters, and not being recognized due to the failure of a single Democratic Senator to sign their petitions. Mr. Moore takes dead aim at Vice President Al Gore as the presiding officer of this parliamentary travesty, in which the Democratic Party surrendered to the Republicans’ power grab without offering any resistance. Is history about to repeat itself this year through the efforts of Diebold (whose owner is a major contributor to the Bush campaign), a company that has manufactured new electronic-voting machines which don’t produce a paper trail, to be used by millions of voters in the 2004 elections? We also have the same Supreme Court that decided in Bush’s favor in 2000; Jeb Bush is still prepared to do his brother’s bidding in Florida; and the Republicans have more money to spread around in 2004 then they had in 2000. No wonder the audience seemed nervous. I am, too. Even before 2000, the Republicans displayed a flair for stealing elections—for example, in the Hayes-Tilden fiasco of 1876.  

But most of this is old stuff, and Mr. Moore doesn’t get into high gear until he zeroes in on 9/11 and its immediate aftermath, with the still-mysterious authorizations for airline flights to spirit bin Laden family members out of the United States and back to Saudi Arabia. I don’t believe the New York Times and the other media have ever done their homework on this issue, failing to connect the dots to uncover the Bush family’s compromising connections with the bin Laden family’s networks and sundry other Saudi-American financial dealings. There’s been no attempt to follow the money, as was done in the Watergate case.  

As for the war in Iraq and the alleged weapons of mass destruction therein, American journalists were so deeply embedded in the Bush administration that they fell sound asleep when questions of verification were raised. Here Mr. Moore trivializes his arguments by taking cheap shots at the unpopular members of the Bush team with Candid Camera–style footage of them primping for their television appearances. Neocon ideo-logue Paul Wolfowitz gets the biggest laughs when he salivates on his comb to smooth his hair, but this is a game of “gotcha” that you can play with any target, from the extreme left to the extreme right.  

Mr. Moore is on stronger ground when he returns to his populist roots in heavily unemployed Flint, Mich., a fertile ground for U.S. Army and Marine recruiters with their promises of a college education, to illustrate the fact that it is the poorest young men and women who are doing all the fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Moore does show some restraint in his showboating antics with Congressmen in front of the Capitol, as he asks them to send their sons and daughters to Iraq. He points out also that the president has slashed benefits for the troops and the veterans, while at the same time professing his love and appreciation for their sacrifices.  

Still, even in Mr. Moore’s footage, there are depressing shots of crowds of Bush supporters cheering for the president. As we sat in the Ziegfeld in more or less political and cultural harmony, we had to wonder who all those people in the red states (and all the red-state people in the blue states) were, and whether any of them would see Fahrenheit 9/11—and if they did, would it change any hearts and minds?  

The distribution of the film has already been penalized with a restrictive R rating for its allegedly graphic images of the horror of war and the sight of American amputees and Iraqi civilian casualties, neither of which are likely to have been officially sanctioned by the Pentagon. And the movie business pages are full of Harvey Weinstein’s agonizing struggles with the Disney organization, reportedly because of Jeb Bush (again!) and his ability to cause trouble for Disney’s theme-park holdings in Orlando, Fla.  

So Fahrenheit 9/11 emerges as yet another salvo in a holy war between the Bushites and the anti-Bushites, with no quarter given in what promises to be a long, hot summer. I urge readers to see the film and judge it for yourselves. It is, at the very least, one of the most thought-provoking releases of the year.  


Andrew Sarris is the film critic for the New York Observer, where this article first appeared. He is also the author of The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968. ?