Beating Around the Bush 

Michael Moore's incendiary Fahrenheit 9/11.

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the last two months, Fahrenheit 9/11 is the latest inflammatory film by documentarian Michael Moore, who first came to prominence with the 1989 documentary Roger and Me about the closing of General Motors' automotive plants in his native Flint, Michigan. In 2002, Bowling for Columbine examined not only the proliferation of guns in our country but how the culture itself nurtures violence and encourages guns as a means of defense and as a symbol of strength, self-importance, and pride. Moore is angry again. He's angry at George W. Bush and his administration. Big time.

Fahrenheit begins with the 2000 presidential election and suggests that the results may not have been the most accurate representation of the will of the people. This is nothing new, right? But Moore goes a step further to scold not just the Bush posse for rigging the election results but also the Democrats for not stepping up to do something about it. A scene from a session of the Senate reveals several black representatives of the House calling for a senatorial investigation. With the support of just one senator, an investigation could have taken place, but as each congressperson desperately and unsuccessfully pleads for support, each is dismissed by the president of the Senate, Al Gore. Weird.

We move quickly to al-Qaeda, Afghanistan, and Iraq, but this eerie prologue sets the stage for a presidency that Moore famously referred to as fictitious in his Oscar speech (accepting as Best Documentary Director for Columbine). To what extent does Bush represent the people and to what extent does he represent big money, special interests, and the wills and ideas of those who would manipulate him? What follows is a step-by-step survey of the circumstances leading to the attacks on America on September 11th; ties between the Bush family and the bin Laden family; curious cover-ups in the investigation of Bush's military records; and ultimately, the questionable decision to go to war with Iraq, when it was Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda that crashed the planes. To this day, Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction have not been found and neither has bin Laden.

Fahrenheit 9/11 is a remarkable experience. While not as entertaining, in a theatrical sense, as Columbine, Fahrenheit more subtly and calmly submits an argument: Bush is unfit for the presidency, and he has led us foolishly into a war that has compromised our credibility in the world community, brought irreparable harm to innocent people in Iraq, and put our soldiers needlessly into harm's way.

Does Fahrenheit 9/11 make a good case for these points? You bet it does. Is the argument objective? By no means. As journalism, this is not balanced reporting. This is editorial. As an essay, this is not objectively informative; it is persuasive. Moore is taking some conservative heat for not presenting a balanced depiction of the film's events. Screw "balanced." Moore is a storyteller, and like all good storytellers, Moore presents a strong point of view.

The most successful presentation of his thesis comes early in the film when we see the fallout of the World Trade Center attacks. There is an early scene where we see the papers and debris and dust swirling in slow motion as people scurry for cover. The music is haunting and somber; the scene is horrifyingly beautiful. We soon switch our focus to Bush as he sits in a Florida classroom reading to schoolchildren. After being told that the country is under attack, he waits seven minutes before he even gets up. Both towers of the World Trade Center have been crashed into by commercial jets, people are jumping to their deaths, the Pentagon has not yet been hit nor has the plane crashed in Pennsylvania, the streets of Manhattan are chaos WE ARE UNDER ATTACK and suddenly those seven minutes seem like a very long time for the leader of the free world to sit reading My Pet Goat when he knows what is happening, if not to the full extent.

This film is good news for America, whose people have been numbed by soundbites and rhetoric and by the unending stream of violent images that have flooded our airwaves since the attacks of September 11, 2001. There has been enough talk. This movie is action. It's a gauntlet thrown down to inspire, engage, and provoke discussion, and I hope that everyone will see it and strengthen themselves and their voices in this great national debate.


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