Moore and More is Needed
June 29, 2004
Fahrenheit 9-11 reminds me of Howard Dean. Both were wildly promoted by the media in a manner not carefully thought through by media bigwigs, and then both were savaged by the media just before opening day.
The size of the audiences seeing this movie was guaranteed by the media hype, and the notion that the audiences consist mainly of liberal activists is disproved by the size of them. More people have already seen this movie than subscribe to progressive magazines or participate in political primary MeetUps. The question is what will happen in the heads of people who had never heard any of this stuff before.
What if you had never been told that U.S. soldiers come from poor families, that U.S. presidents launch wars for corporate profits, or that governments use fear to manipulate people? Will two hours be enough to get you thinking like this movie? Or will you have to go back and read all the books that I had to read before I thought this way? Will your reaction be a troubled uncertainty that you are able to maintain or will you be immediately converted? Or will you steadfastly resist the notion that your television has been lying to you all of these years? “They wouldn’t lie to me,” sings Willie Nelson. “Not on my own damn TV.”
One Republican who was taken to see Fahrenheit by a friend told me she had never known any of these things before, especially that Bush had connections to the Bin Ladens. She clearly was unsure whether to believe it all. And in the face of it she was still able to think of Bush as a good president. But she was overflowing with questions.
A Republican Floridian quoted by the New York Times said: “Oh my goodness, I cried. I’m still trying to process everything. It really makes me question what I feel about the president. I’m still going to respect him as our president, but it makes me question his motives. Of course, I think that’s the whole point of the film, to question his motives. But after watching it, I do question my loyalty to the president. And that’s scary for me.”
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, one viewer “said he was an independent who had not decided how to vote in November. He said, however, that a section of the film showing U.S. troops in Iraq speaking out against the war had a strong effect on him.
‘That really hit me,’ he said. ‘That did tilt me toward the Democrats.'”
According to every corporate newspaper I’ve seen, the fact that people could be so shocked by the revelation of such recent and important events indicated absolutely nothing about the performance of the media worth commenting on.
Where I saw the movie on Saturday in D.C., the audience cheered and laughed at various points, but most people walked out looking glum and not talking to each other, at least not at first. My own reaction was complete agreement with the movie – something I had not found with Bowling for Columbine. But I wished, although I saw problems with it, that the movie had included a successful popular fight for change and a call to action. On second thought I revised my wish: I now wish the movie had closed with a recommended reading list.
Such a list might begin with Moore’s own recent books, in which most of the themes of the film can be found. It might then include books that look at a longer period of history from a perspective that recognizes class struggle, books like “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn, and “Labor’s Untold Story” by Richard Boyer and Herbert Morais.
Then a sampling of the extensive anti-Bush literature might be in order, including books by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose (who warned us about all of Bush’s traits before he wasn’t elected), and books by David Corn, Al Franken, Jim Hightower, Peter Singer, Kevin Phillips, Richard Clarke, Laura Flanders, and especially these two books: “The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq” by Christopher Scheer, Robert Scheer, and Lakshmi Chaudhry, and “Warrior King: the Case for Impeaching George W. Bush” by John Bonifaz with a forward by Congressman John Conyers.
Finally, some understanding of the media might be needed. A good place to start might be “Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy” by Robert McChesney. And a bit of activism is indispensable. Perhaps “The Activist’s Handbook” by Randy Shaw would be a good place to start.
At this point, even the most reflexively Republican moviegoer would be ready to read the media’s (excuse me, the LIBERAL media’s) commentary on Moore’s movie. While Moore failed to make the media’s failures a sufficiently large part of his focus, he has managed to generate stellar examples of irresponsible reporting.
The USA Today and Gannett have put out an article that reads: “In Moore’s voice-over narration about Bush’s three-year record, the president is depicted as clueless and deceitful. He is so in thrall to Bush family business ties with the clan of Osama Bin Laden and other wealthy Saudis that he misdirects American reprisals for the 2001 terror attacks from Saudi financiers of terrorism to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. Hoarding military resources for a long-intended war with Iraq, he botches the Afghanistan hunt for bin Laden. He has lost the confidence of U.S. troops. These are incendiary assertions. Some will believe them. Others will find them nakedly partisan.”
The USA Today, however, will not expend a single syllable investigating whether they are true or not. Instead, it will encourage readers to think of the film as “partisan” and “unobjective” by pretending to report on viewers’ reactions.
The Christian Science Monitor accuses Moore of lies and half-truths but fails to cite a single example of either. The Macon (Georgia) Telegraph accuses Moore of oversimplification, but produces not a single example — other than its own article which surely sets the standard.
Bill O’Reilly claims: “The 9/11 commission findings clashed with Moore’s thesis that the Bushies had done something dastardly immediately after the attack by letting a bunch of Saudis, including members of the Bin Laden family, fly out of the U.S.A. while everybody else was grounded.” He does not elaborate. Is he claiming that Bush did not do this or that it was not dastardly? Neither claim would be the least bit credible, but the confused mixing of the two almost sounds as if O’Reilly is saying something.
The New Republic, meanwhile (apparently still suffering from the Stephen Glass episode), accuses Moore of unsupported accusations. To back this up, the article cites Moore’s contention that an oil pipeline was part of Bush’s motivation to attack Afghanistan. Yet the New Republic offers not one word of argument against this point. Instead, it goes on to bizarrely accuse Moore of dishonesty because he makes both the point that the war on Iraq is unjust and the point that our soldiers are recruited from poor families. Of course Moore made more than just these two points, and if the New Republic had picked up on any of the others, who knows how dishonest they might have thought him! I encourage them and all Americans to watch the film more than once and to follow up at their library, assuming it hasn’t been shut down and you don’t mind having Ashcroft know what you’re reading. I then encourage you to register all of your neighbors to vote, and to ask John Kerry to oppose the war. The election is on November 2nd. Mark it on your calendar!
David Swanson’s website is www.davidswanson.org. The opinions expressed are his alone unless you share them.