There's an oft-repeated aphorism, generally attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, which maintains that "you're entitled to your own opinion; you are not entitled to your own facts."
Michael Moore clearly disagrees.
By the time the opening titles roll on his award-winning, smash hit pseudo-documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, we've already learned that the 2000 election was a fraud in which blacks were disenfranchised. That a fair count would have made Gore president has been independently confirmed, says Moore. Just the opposite is true.
Bush spent much of the first few months of his presidency on vacation. (Blink, and you might not notice that Bush is meeting with Tony Blair when Moore indicts him for "relaxing at Camp David.") Bush was more interested in Iraq than Afghanistan after 9/11, and only invaded Afghanistan because he had to, because that was where the attack came from. Moore approvingly excerpts an interview to this effect with former terror czar and hero to Bush-haters Richard Clarke, and accuses Bush of committing too few troops in Afghanistan.
Then, confusingly, he argues that the Afghan war was in fact unjust; it was just fought so that the Texas petroleum firm Unocal could build a pipeline. Moore insinuates that Hamid Karzai was installed as Afghanistan's interim president because he was once a consultant to Unocal, and Moore strongly implies -- with footage of a pipeline being built -- that Unocal is now building its pipeline. Actually, Unocal pulled out of the pipeline deal in 1999; the Karzai government wants to revisit the project but it has so far gone nowhere.
Bush's family has a history of business ties with the Saudis, including with the bin Ladens, but the notion that Osama is estranged from the rest of his family is "exaggerated," says Craig Unger. (Unger's book, House of Bush, House of Saud, isn't available in the UK because publishers fear Britain's strict libel laws; Moore, meanwhile, has ironically threatened to sue his critics for libel.) Because of these business ties, according to Moore, Bush let the bin Laden family flee without being questioned just after 9/11, while most planes were grounded. In fact, none other than Richard Clarke has said this was his decision alone.
Moore has covered all these wild conspiracy theories before he even gets to his main event, Iraq, where children play happily in the streets of Baghdad under Saddam Hussein, and all is well. (There is some suggestion that Saddam might have been a bad guy early in the film, when it shows footage of Saddam shaking hands with Donald Rumsfeld in the '80s; this line of thought is quickly abandoned.) Iraq was a "sovereign nation," and it hadn't attacked us or even threatened to attack us, says Moore.
I could go on with the debunking, but others, notably Christopher Hitchens, have done and will do a fine job of that. Nor will I dwell too long on Moore's repellent exploitation of frustrated soldiers, amputees, and grieving parents, all of whom he films -- no doubt with prompting -- channeling their emotions into anger at the Bush administrations.
I'm more interested what this film-- with its record-breaking box office, its awards, and its overwhelmingly positive critical reception -- will do to the political discourse.
Perhaps this movie appeals only to the committed left. The narrow band of swing voters in the middle will be repulsed, and Democrats who embrace this hard left lunacy will regret it. Half the Washington Democratic establishment showed up for a premier last week, including DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, Senators Tom Daschle, Tom Harkin, Max Baucus, Ernest Hollings, Debbie Stabenow, and Bill Nelson, among many others. When John Kerry is asked if he agrees with Moore's conclusions, he'll be forced to alienate either his base or the center. Republicans will gain an edge.
That's the optimistic view. Here's the pessimistic one:
Many uncommitted voters will see this movie, just to find out what all the fuss is about. They'll take Moore's arguments, such as they are, basically at face value, and conclude that Bush is an unfit president. Most of the mainstream media won't take much time to seriously fact-check the movie, and Moore's assertions really will change minds. In short, Moynihan will be proven wrong: you really are entitled to your own facts.
Which view is correct? I wish I knew.
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