Weighing In
By A.D. Freudenheim  

5 July 2004

The accusations leveled against Michael Moore’s new documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” seem to fall into two categories: a focus on the facts in the movie, or on the way in which the movie is emotionally manipulative. Having just seen the film – and having read many of the various complaints about it – this seems like an apt moment to add my voice to the cacophony on all sides.

The second accusation is the easiest to answer. Of course the movie is emotionally manipulative! Does the remarkable emotional direction of Claude Lanzmann’s “Shoah” change the degree to which that film is an effective documentary about the holocaust? Do the films of Ken Burns suffer because, when they profile individuals, they use the travails of those people to keep your attention focused on the broader subject? Most movies, documentaries included, are successful in large part precisely because they are able to affect how we feel, and how we see the world – and the suggestion that this somehow undermines the integrity of Moore’s factual accusations is a canard. Such complaints are merely an attempt to divert preemptively those who might see it – and who might be strongly affected by it if they see it – from believing their own eyes and making up their own mind. Ironically, charges of emotional manipulation are very much the subject of the movie: these are the same tactics Moore accuses the GOP of using in pushing the American people to support the war in Iraq and to maintain a relatively constant sense of fear of terrorist threats.[1] What goes around comes around – and goes around again.

Arguing about the facts in Moore’s film is an altogether different issue, and one where Moore is not always his own best defender. “Fahrenheit 9/11” paints a picture for the viewer, using a broad series of details to imply strongly that the “obvious” conclusions are as real as one might think. For example, in one section of the film, Moore strings together a series of facts about Bush family connections to the Saudi government and the Bin Laden family in a way that might easily lead the audience to believe the following:

  • that the Bush family’s friendliness towards the Bin Ladens gave the Bush administration an incentive to allow them to leave the U.S. after the attacks;
  • that the Saudis continue(d) to receive preferential treatment from the Bush administration, because of their connections to the Bush family, despite the clear involvement of 15 Saudi citizens in the 11 September attacks, Saudi relationships to and potential support for Osama Bin Laden, and other less-than-friendly activities;
  • that there are stronger connections between the majority of the Bin Laden family and “black sheep” family member Osama than the U.S. government, the Saudis, or the Bin Ladens have acknowledged;
  • and that the gain from any increase in U.S. military preparedness (or even a war) lead by the Bush administration would directly benefit the Bush family, therefore the administration had an incentive to create a war.

The problem is that while some of these conclusions – assertions, really – seem like the logical product of the available facts, they are not necessarily the true sum of their parts. They might be, but might be is not the same as a definitive conclusion. For example, the movie makes it is easy to believe that the Bush family connections accounted for the special treatment the Bin Ladens received – except that Bush administration critic and former Counter-Terrorism director Richard Clark has said that the decision to allow them to leave was his and his alone; this from a man who has few reasons to support George W. Bush.

Likewise, the movie hints that the Bush-Carlyle Group-Cheney-Halliburton-Bin Laden-Saudi connections provided an incentive to go to war in Iraq, because of the extra spending on defense contracts and the oil reserves available in Iraq, and that it helped secure Saudi acquiescence (if not actual support). While the war benefits to the Bush and Cheney families (among many others) seems hard to deny, the political situation is more complicated than Moore allows. The U.S. government’s support for the Saudis predates both Bush administrations, and Moore skips the obvious and equally-cynical conclusion that our friendliness towards the Saudis may have more to do with their oil reserves than anything else. (I have no trouble believing that if we felt a change of government in Saudi Arabia was in the best interests of our oil supply, that we would move quickly to overthrow the House of Saud, Bush family relationships notwithstanding.)

Despite its complications, however, “Fahrenheit 9/11” is clearly a success, and not just in terms of attracting an audience; Moore’s portrayal of Bush as vapid, clueless, and spoiled is intensely appealing, emotionally and intellectually, to anyone disinclined to support George W. or his policies. “Fahrenheit 9/11” is successful because it is propaganda, pure and simple – and it is effective as such precisely because of the simplicity of its approach. And this is exactly why the movie’s critics are outraged: they are angered by the success of anti-Bush propaganda one term into one of the most manipulative and propagandistic administrations in modern memory.

The efficacy of “Fahrenheit 9/11” has the Bushies angry and afraid. After almost four years of oppressive, fear-mongering GOP propaganda, someone on the other side is, finally, fighting back – and giving as good as we have gotten. Thank you, Michael Moore.

[1] Moore is clearly onto an intense and important theme; the concept of fear played a central role in his last documentary, “Bowling for Columbine.” See my article on that here.   Copyright 2004, by A.D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! Contact A. D. Freudenheim for further information.
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