Fahrenheit 9/11

Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11

Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore’s new documentary, has been raising much concern since its mid-summer release from a number of groups. These groups represent a large demographic, and no one appears to be lukewarm to the film; people either love it or hate it. Rated “R” for scenes from the Iraq war, and a split second clip showing the execution of a prisoner by the government of Saudi Arabia, Fahrenheit is an exercise in cut-and-paste film making that poses as a traditional documentary, but is really a thinly veiled and vehement anti-Bush propaganda piece.

The film won the Palme de’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the first documentary film to ever capture the prize.  A quick survey of some of the films in the past that have received the award, (among them Orson Welles’ Othello, Antonioni’s BlowUp, Scorsese’s Taxi Driver to name just a few) raises the question of what makes this particular work worthy of one of the most coveted honors in cinema.  I have been professionally involved in film criticism for almost ten years, and this is one of the worst documentaries I have ever seen.  Moore’s film is undeserving of a place among these heavyweights, but we appear to be in a time when anything that bashes America, its perceived imperialism, or the Bush administration, is not only good, but is something to be revered.

The film begins with the 2000 presidential election and the efforts to decide if Bush or Gore won. Moore claims in his film that several investigations uncovered the fact that Gore actually won. However, he fails to give us the sources of those “investigations.”  He does not acknowledge that newspapers as credible as the Washington Post and The New York Times declared that Bush won the electoral vote, even if he did not win the popular vote (it should be kept in mind that the final count on the popular vote may never actually be known). The film plays to all of those who believe that Bush “stole” the election, and ignores the fact that the Supreme Court awarded Bush the election after law suits from both parties were settled.

Moore then directs the viewer’s attention to the House of Saud. In this segment, Moore concentrates his energies on the connection between the Bush administration and the Royal Saudi family. He equates being involved with the Royal Family as being involved with terrorists.  Moore groups all of the people from a certain ethnic group into one neat category, and maintains that association with that group is wrong. This is just an introduction to Moore’s casual handling of facts that will follow in the rest of the film.

President Bush on September 11

The continuing enthusiasm for Moore’s “documentary” needs to be examined in the light of the misinformation, poor research, and disregard for the facts that constitute the main body of the film.  Dave Kopel has written an excellent review of the film titled “Fifty-nine Deceits in Fahrenheit 9/11” that can be found at www.davekopel.com.  It is a forty-page exposition with detailed information concerning the specific factual errors found throughout Moore’s film, and is the basis of much of the information summarized in the four or five points we will consider.

In one of the early scenes in the film, President Bush is shown reading from the book My Pet Goat to an assembly of elementary school children after he had already received the news that the September 11 attacks were occurring (actually it was a chapter from Reading Mastery 2 that Bush was reading to the children). Moore’s voice-over, a technique that is uniformly suspicious with film makers as an indication of a poor film that needs rescuing or explaining to its audience, suggests that Bush sits quietly in a state of bewilderment wondering what he should do. The insinuation is that Bush is an incompetent and unprepared leader who has been dumfounded by the surprise attack. Moore goes on to say that Bush clearly did the wrong thing, and that he should have been prompted into action immediately.

Moore does not suggest what the president should have done; he merely derides his hesitation after hearing the news.  Moore also leaves out the fact that the principle of the school, Gwendolyn Tose-Rigell, gave Bush high praise for his calm handling of the situation saying, “I do not think anyone could have handled the situation better.”  This praise came from someone who understands that children are easily alarmed and in this instance needed a calming voice from someone in charge.

Moore belittles the president for being dumbstruck by the attack.  The insinuation is that a better leader would have taken control of the situation and rushed into action to address the emergency.  One could easily view the same clip and come to the conclusion that here was a man who was extremely disturbed by what he knew, and realized that all of the forces of American intelligence from the FBI, the CIA, and certainly the Pentagon were being called into immediate action, and that there was little that could be accomplished by rushing out of the room. What this segment of the film does is merely make fun of the president’s facial expressions, and, in effect, for not stirring the young children, their parents, and the nation into a state of panic.

The Saudi Connection

Let’s turn next to the relationship between President Bush and Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia. Moore attempts to make a case that the Bush family is in a cozy and financially beneficial relationship with prince Bandar, and that this relationship could not help but interfere with United States’ interest, especially during a crisis on the scale of the 9/11 attacks.

This claim or insinuation fails to point out that Prince Bandar has participated in a bipartisan relationship with both parties in Washington for decades. Elsa Walsh, in an article in The New Yorker magazine from March 24, 2003, gives a detailed account of former president Bill Clinton frequently turning to Prince Bandar for advice on Middle East agendas. She goes on to show how Bandar has become an “indispensable operator” for both parties.

Moore is either unaware or willfully omitting the relationship concerning Clinton’s former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Wyche Fowler, whose present job is chairman of The Middle East Institute. This institute is heavily supported by the Saudis, who have secretly donated over $1 million to the Clinton Library. The point in citing the Clinton administration’s involvement with the Bandar family is not to absolve the Bush family of any wrongdoing, if in fact there is anything wrong. The issue is that if one administration is wrong in cooperating with the Prince, then both administrations are wrong. What is far more likely is that Prince Bandar is a necessary ally and advisor to the United States regardless of which party is in power. Moore is hypocritical to ignore such connections, and this is a prime example of what one finds throughout the film.

By mentioning Prince Bandar repeatedly in association with oil money, Moore takes the viewers so far down a path of conjecture that many will draw the conclusion that the Bush administration’s foreign policy does not have the United States’ interest as a top priority. However, there may be some good that can come out of this if the viewer comes away with a concern about our nation’s dependence on foreign oil. At present it is very difficult for candidates at almost any level to get elected if they run on a platform that appears to threaten American’s supply of cheap oil and petroleum products. Therefore, Moore is correct in making the connection that American foreign policy may be overly dependent on Saudi interests.  However, it is misleading at best to suggest that Saudi influence only occurs when Republicans are in office, and ignores the fact that both parties are influenced by Bandar and Saudi Arabia.

A Cavalier President?

Moore charges President Bush for being on vacation forty-two percent of the time during his first eight months as president.  The calculation used to arrive at the number forty-two would be interesting in and of itself, but the fact that Moore ignores the concept of the “working vacation,” or the fact that most presidencies could not fare well if they were subjected to such a calculation, is again very misleading.

In his article “Just the facts of Fahrenheit 9/11′,{1} Tom McNamee exposes what may have been the source for Moore’s forty-two percent figure. McNamee points out that of the fifty-four days Moore cites when Bush was at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, weekends were also included; a fact that Moore fails to point out.  Another interesting source is Mike Allen’s article in the Washington Post.{2} Allen notes that Camp David stays have traditionally been used for meetings with foreign dignitaries, ambassadors, and other heads of state, and are routinely reported on cable and network newscasts as work. This alone should be enough to raise a cautionary flag for viewers of the film. Moore is playing fast and lose with the facts, never giving Bush the benefit of the doubt or pointing out that many of Bush’s so-called sins are standard behavior for any administration regardless of the party in power.

Moore continues the slanted montage of images with shots showing Bush relaxing at Camp David, working on his Crawford ranch, and driving golf balls while lightheartedly responding to questions from reporters. The implication Moore wants the viewer to draw is that the leader of the free world is more concerned about his golf game than fighting terrorism and doing his job. The following Tuesday this clip was clarified by Brit Hume and Brian Wilson on the Fox News Channel. They reported that Bush was answering a question concerning an attack carried out by Israel in response to a Palestinian suicide bomber.

Moore evidently does not see the hypocrisy of failing to mention president Clinton hitting golf balls on the White House lawn moments after learning that Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been shot, and not knowing whether he would live or die.

Again, this is another example of how Moore is throwing together film clips, adding a voice over, and leading the audience astray. If this film were part of a graduate or doctoral research project of any form the candidate would be failed outright for false and misleading research and for failure to check his sources. Additionally, any reputable news organization making such a case would probably be sued for libel and slander.

Fahrenheit 9/11 and the Current Crisis

In this writer’s opinion, it would be overly generous to just dismiss the film as composed of half-truths and misinformation. The film is not only a poor documentary undeserving of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival’s highest honor, the Palm d’Or, but a potentially dangerous movie that may not be advantageous to our troops in Iraq.

Fahrenheit 9/11 is at best a propaganda piece that potentially played into the hands of al Qaeda, Saddam loyalists, and the coalition enemy operatives and terrorists who continue to back Saddam Hussein and are presently killing American soldiers and targeting United States interests around the world. In his own words found at MichaelMoore.com, April 14, 2004, he said: “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.”{3}

It is irresponsible to call Iraqis “freedom fighters” who have opposed themselves to a free democratic nation that is sacrificing its sons and daughters so that others might live without  the threat of a totalitarian dictator who kills his own people. Moore maintains that he is deeply concerned about American troops, but also lauds the efforts of the enemy insurgents who are killing those troops. One cannot have it both ways and remain rationally consistent.

Several efforts are presently underway to begin distribution of Fahrenheit 9/11 through Middle East distributors. Hezbollah, a known terrorist organization, is assisting Front Row distributors in the promotion of Moore’s film. Additionally, Nancy Tartaglion in Screen Daily.com (June 9th, 2004) and Salon.com both reported that Fahrenheit will be the first commercially released documentary in the Middle East, opening in both Lebanon and Syria soon (Syria is presently on the United States list of terrorist states). It could easily be argued that Moore is indirectly getting rich from the approval and support of known terrorist groups and enemies of the United States.

Our country is a stronger and better place because of the freedom of speech we enjoy, and Moore in some ways represents a long tradition of vocal and organized opposition to the wars and polices of our government. He does have a right to be heard, and one should not avoid the film just because he or she has a preconceived notion of its message. Fahrenheit 9/11 may prove to be a very important piece of propaganda, both in this election year and in the future. It could also be very important that there are people out there who have seen the film and can offer reasoned critiques to those who might otherwise be lead astray by this controversial and misleading documentary.


1. Tom McNamee, “Just the facts on ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ Chicago Sun-Times, June 28, 2004.

2. Mike Allen, “White House On the Range. Bush Retreats to Ranch for ‘Working Vacation’,” Washington Post, August 7, 2001.



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