Michael Moore leaves no turn unstoned. There are multitudes of shattering, seminal moments in his brilliant Bush-whacking documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11 , that reveal more about the cynicism, greed and ineptitude in the U.S. government than you will ever learn from any sound bite on the right-wing late-night cable-channel blabfests, but one will stay with me forever. Forget about the “official” reports from the White House about the activities of George W. Bush on the fateful morning of Sept. 11, insisting he learned about the Al Qaeda attacks while meeting with Florida pre-schoolers and quickly dashed from the room to save the country. The truth, it is now revealed, is that he was informed of the first attack on the World Trade Center before he even entered the schoolroom, and he decided to continue with his photo-op anyway. There he is on camera when Andrew Card informs him of the second plane and utters the fatal words, “We’re under attack!”-but he continues to read My Pet Goat for another seven minutes, his eyes sliding sideways in his puzzled face, like a moron looking for a bathroom, until his staff insists that he leave. (He stayed for another half hour.) If nothing else, that defining moment says volumes about what we can expect from the President of the U.S. in the center of a supreme, history-altering crisis: He’s just clueless.
There are other moments that will impact some viewers and polarize others. So many, in fact, that you watch Fahrenheit 9/11 with disbelief, and leave shaking with rage. Sometimes sarcastic, always funny, Mr. Moore is armed with facts, and he presents them accurately and succinctly. The controversial filmmaker stated on the Today show that White House mouthpieces have denounced the film as “outrageously false” without seeing it, and right-wing Republicans have charged Mr. Moore with staging a “left-wing conspiracy” to influence the forthcoming election. Well, duh. For years, reactionary conservatives have been famous for staging right-wing conspiracies of their own to disgrace and discredit elected Democratic public officials. Maybe this is payback time. Whatever it is, everyone should see Fahrenheit 9/11 first-before debating the issues. The purpose of any documentary is to influence opinion. But instead of the customarily droning voice that comments on the action and tells you what to think, this one asks tough, logical questions, gets rational answers, and never loses its entertainment value.
Mr. Moore, who has tackled corporate greed ( Roger & Me ) and gun control ( Bowling for Columbine ), now feels driven and obligated to strip the façade from a swaggering, bow-legged, grammatically challenged bully and a cabinet that is beginning to look more like the Third Reich every day. He accuses them of lying about their motivations for declaring war against Iraq, a country that never threatened America in the first place, killing thousands of innocent civilians in retaliation for the acts of 9/11 aggression, although not one of the terrorists was from Iraq, and killing more than 800 of our own American kids (all from ethnic or working-class families). Nobody denies that Saddam Hussein was a monster, but not the Iraqi women and children who have been “saved” from one villain only to be burned and shot and maimed for life without arms and legs by villains in a different uniform. At the same time, Mr. Moore shows Mr. Bush justifying American atrocities against Saddam Hussein by actually saying to the camera, “He tried to kill my daddy.” Like his daddy, he knows he might also get kicked out of the White House after serving only one term. Still, he pursues a war that is losing the “hearts and minds” of even the boys who fight it (the interviews with our soldiers on the front lines will make you weep) while earning the U.S. unprecedented heights of global hatred and distrust, even from long-standing allies. And he does it on the golf course, ignoring the pressing domestic issues of health care, education, Social Security, unemployment and the economy while instructing frustrated reporters to watch his next drive. (In his first eight months in office, he was on vacation 42 percent of the time.) Meanwhile the current occupants of the White House, bolstered by an irresponsible press that has never bothered to ask the right questions, have courted public support by hammering home the kind of fear and born-again religious ideology that keep people subservient and paralyzed. Mr. Moore is saying that in the lineup of fear factors, terrorists and sinners may have replaced Communists and beatniks, but if you keep the people frightened enough, the bully always wins.
The movie begins with the awesome night in 2000 when the U. S. Supreme Court decided the election, not the American voters, then unveils footage that was never reported on TV of the Bush inauguration limousine being pelted with raw eggs. Instead of the traditional walk to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he was so afraid to leave the car that he became the first President in history who was forced to sneak into the White House through a back door.
It was downhill from there, and Mr. Moore has obtained amazing film to illustrate the graphic two-hour slam-dunk that follows. In the wimpy reportage that has dominated the media for four years, very few journalists have bothered to investigate the shroud of secrecy surrounding the Bush Presidency that keeps the people ignorant, to write about it, to explain it. Mr. Moore does it with wit and cleverness. There’s no doubt that he would do anything to prevent a Bush re-election, but there is no conjecture here. No embellishment. He doesn’t need any. Dubya & Co. are easy targets: Mr. Moore simply turns on his cameras and lets them hang themselves. He proves the $1.5 billion in profits the Bush clan has made from oil interests of the family of Osama bin Laden, the real perpetrator of the 9/11 disaster, then asks why, when all aircraft were grounded after 9/11, the White House allowed several planes to fly around the country picking up the bin Laden family and protectively escorting 142 Saudis out of the country without interrogation, overruling the protests of the F.B.I. You can say, “Yes, but his family has denounced Osama, so what’s the problem?” The problem is that the Bushes, père et fils , were in business with his family at the same time that Osama was under surveillance as a suspected Al Qaeda terrorist and neglected to make a full disclosure.
Mr. Moore also reveals Dubya’s military records, blotting out the name of a fellow pilot whose flight status was suspended for refusing to take a physical exam. The friend Bush was trying to protect turns out to be James R. Bath, who both managed the U.S. financial investments of the bin Laden regime and bankrolled the various oil interests of the Bush brigade. Cut to Dubya, arrogantly stating: “Access is power.” Then, when he was investigated by the S.E.C., the man who got Bush out of hot water, Robert W. Jordan, was later appointed ambassador to-you guessed it-Saudi Arabia. The ironies pile up like body bags.
Now that the merde has hit the oscillator, so to speak, Mr. Moore charges that the Bush administration is still trying to hide evidence of its own stupidity by censoring 28 pages of the independent report by the 9/11 commission. If you don’t gasp at the sight of Mr. Bush dining with the Saudi ambassador with part of the Pentagon in flames in the background, this movie is not for you. No need to talk about the President welcoming the Taliban to the State Department, knowing they were harboring the man who bombed the U.S.S. Cole . No need to go into the plans to build an underground pipeline through Afghanistan pumping money into a company owned by Vice President Dick Cheney. Alarmingly, it’s all gone unreported by an irresponsible press corps. With $860 billion currently invested by the Saudis in American business, no wonder our tax money pays for a six-man detail to protect the Saudi ambassador in Washington. But why does it take Michael Moore to tell us? This is all very dispiriting. But unless you’ve lost your sense of humor completely, you’ve just gotta laugh when Mr. Moore intercuts Mr. Bush’s tough talk from cowboy movies with actual footage of the corny cowboys in those movies saying exactly the same things.
I’ve hardly scratched the surface of this electrifying documentary. Mr. Moore even cruises through Washington reading from a loudspeaker the idiotic USA PATRIOT Act-hastily passed by Congress without ever reading it-and chronicling the lunacy it has inspired: groups and individuals harassed by cops for holding private club meetings, a woman who was refused admittance to an airplane because she was carrying breast milk. All diversionary tactics, says Mr. Moore, to distract the American people from viewing the corpses sent home from Iraq for funerals that have never once been attended by President George W. Bush, or debunking the myth of “weapons of mass destruction.” People of all ages are shown voicing doubts about the kids who have died in a questionable war with no end in sight, and for what? Bush says, “Defending freedom.” This movie says, “Making money.” And talk about imbalance. Fact: Out of 535 members of Congress, only one has a child serving in Iraq. One of the most telling scenes in Fahrenheit 9/11 is Michael Moore, standing outside the U.S. Senate with a microphone, trying to convince members of Congress to enlist their own children for the war. Not a single Senator or Representative is willing to send his own children into harm’s way. This is one of the few scenes in which the director appears at length. One of the things that makes this movie better and more convincing than his previous films is the way Mr. Moore stays mostly in the background, compiling facts and letting the evidence speak for itself.
The Cannes cognoscenti and the limousine liberals have already declared Fahrenheit 9/11 the blockbuster documentary of the year. Who knows how it will play in Punkin Crick? I think it should be required viewing for every American, but as usual, I fear the people who could learn the most from the issues it raises will avoid it like a fund-raiser for free abortions. Mr. Moore’s opponents will label it ideologically fueled partisan agitprop, which it is, but any visionary who tries to cultivate change is destined to harvest adversaries. With his usual fury channeled and under control, Mr. Moore sets out to prick, probe and sound a wake-up call in an emotionally charged election year where the truth has been buried six feet under, and succeeds with humor and bite. The result is undeniably galvanizing, immensely watchable and damned good filmmaking. If it convinces one nonvoter to think, it will serve a purpose. The saddest and most infuriating thing I learned from Fahrenheit 9/11 is not the political hackwork, but the reality of what a lightweight the President is in the context of American history. George W. Bush may be the first President of the U.S. who has brainwashed himself.