August 10, 2004 | Graham

Fahrenheit 9/11- Bile and Baloney

Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 is the latest evidence of the decadence of western political debate and an intriguing, if unintentional study of the genesis of evil. Our ability to make sound decisions has already been eroded by the incursion into serious journalism of the convergence of news and entertainment. Now Moore completely eliminates the dimensions of news, fact, context and rational inquiry from the documentary form. He produces a movie that could have come from the Third Reich, or Hollywood during World War II, except neither would have accepted his woeful production values or complete substitution of circumstantial inference for logic. And there is apparently more of this type of film coming from both the right and the left.
Fahrenheit 9/11 is not a documentary in the conventional sense of the word. It is an advertisement – an advertisement that represents nirvana for the sorely tried political campaign manager. It’s long. Longer than you could ever have dreamed an ad could be. But that doesn’t matter because it invokes an emotional response from the audience – much greater than any 15 second spot could generate. It might be based on vicious slurs and misrepresentations but as it’s a third party work you can deny them whilst accepting their benefits. Better still, the ad doesn’t cost you a cent. In fact it’s a revenue source for your supporters. Michael Moore skims off the most, some of which he’ll give you back directly. He’ll also allow you to run fundraisers at preview showings, so even more sticks to your fingers. And the best thing of all? Some of this money will actually come from your political enemies who have to watch it so they can rebut it to their friends. What sweet revenge.
So those are just a few reasons that the tactic is spreading. has now hit the cinemas with its own documentary – Outfoxed – which, you guessed it, blows the whistle on the Fox News Network. I’m told there are other documentaries coming out from the other side debunking 9/11, but I can’t find any reference to them on the ‘net in the blizzard that Moore has created on Google or I’d give you a link.
What disturbs me most about Moore’s work is that it is a good example of the way that all societies harbour fascist tendencies. (I object to the use of “fascism” as a term of mere abuse, so my use of the word is considered. It’s not an easy term to define as this review suggests.) And no, when I refer to fascism I’m not referring to Bush but to Moore. Let us take as true the explicit assumption underlying Moore’s movie that Bush is a fascist in the Orwellian or Bradburian sense of the word. That Bush uses techniques like media manipulation and keeping the country in a state of incessant war to circle the wagons and unite the folk against the foreigner, and under this ruse maintains himself in power. What is the proper way to oppose him? Is it to “fight fire with fire” – “He ‘burns books’ so we’ll burn books in retaliation?”
If you’re Michael Moore, that one’s a “no brainer”. Of course you go and burn books yourself. So Moore produces a “documentary” that misrepresents and distorts the facts, advances paranoid and xenophobic conspiracy theories, all in quest of an emotional response which will unite Americans, and the rest of the world, in favour of deposing Bush.
There are some that will argue that Moore doesn’t lie, even when confronted with the evidence. I won’t rehearse Dave Koppel’s 59 deceits . I want to add a couple to Kopel’s list. One is outside the framework of the movie. It is Moore’s claim that the mainstream media were biased or inept because they didn’t capture the footage inside Iraq that he did. It’s a little hard to tell from the credits, but most, if not all, the unique footage inside Iraq appears to be file footage from other cinematographers, like that from Australian George Gittoes’ Soundtrack to War. Footage of buildings being bombed was hardly unique, and the happy Iraqi family scene could have been lifted from the Saddam Hussein Film Library of the Iraqi Ministry of Information. Moore’s claim verges on plagiarism.
Then there was another instance inside the framework of the movie that I noticed. At one stage Moore is interviewing a financial expert and asks him to put a figure on the size of the Saudi investment in the US. He replies that it is 6 to 7 percent of the capitalisation of the stock market. That may be right. I don’t know. What I do know is that there is a difference between 6 to 7 percent of the stock market and 6 to 7 percent of the country. Yet Moore is confidently asserting in another interview that the Saudis own 6 to 7 percent of the entire US of A. So reckless is he that he doesn’t even care whether the movie is internally inconsistent.
Of course I wasn’t relying on these deceits to form my response while I was watching the movie. The whole premise was about as plausible as the Protocols of Zion. We were shown scenes of Middle Eastern gentlemen wearing the obligatory tea towels and Elvis Presley pitch-black wrap-around sunglasses doing business with various members of the Bush coterie. As a result of this we are asked to believe that Bush connived in the trashing of the World Trade Centre by terrorists as a favour to the bin Ladens because the Saudis pay him more than the US taxpayer. Yeah right. About this time the rest of the audience should have been tuning out like I was.
Moore claims that Disney wouldn’t handle his movie because Disney couldn’t handle the unpalatable truth. The fact is that no reputable distributor should ever handle junk like this. If Moore had distilled his arguments and sent them as an essay to On Line Opinion it would have ended up in the folder I reserve for paranoid lunatics. We take a pretty broad view of what’s publishable. Jason Leopold takes a much more conspiratorial view of US Foreign policy than I do, yet we frequently publish him. However, what Moore is running is a variation of the theory that ran around the Moslem world just after 9/11 – that the attack was the work of Mossad. Except that it is easy to see what Mossad might have had to gain, even while rejecting the theory, but impossible to understand what would have been in it for the Saudis. It is certainly a much less plausible hypothesis than the G W Bush assertion that the Iraqis were involved in the bombing of the WTC.
Maybe Moore will put a comment at the end of this article explaining it to me. Maybe. The international jury at Cannes deserves an award themselves for their decision to award the Golden Palm to Michael Moore – the same one history has given Caligula for making his horse Incitatus a Senator!
What has distressed me most has been the reaction to the movie of such a wide range of people. The woman next to me in the cinema was so caught up in it that she was moaning and groaning so much I thought she might have been from Harry met Sally. She wasn’t the only one. John Kerry appears to endorse at least parts of it. Domestically both the Greens and the Australian Democrats have used it as a fundraiser and Bob Brown has defended it as true.
Mind you, as time has rolled on the defences of the movie and Moore have shifted ground. In the early days people would defend the “facts”. Now they will tell you that Moore has invented a new type of documentary and you can’t judge it by conventional standards of truth. (For a sophisticated variant of this argument see Dierdre Macken’s AFR article).Or they will assert that it is satire, without seeming to understand that if it is satire, then its premises aren’t actually meant to be taken as true. In which case what is the point that Moore is making?
There are obviously dark and dirty deeds afoot in the White House, Number 10 Downing Street and in the Lodge in Canberra – that is the nature of politics. There are also dark and dirty deeds afoot at John Curtin House. That too is the nature of politics. However, the way to deal with them is not to corrupt the tenor of political debate into a paranoid emotional miasma. What is needed is clarification, not obfuscation.
Moore is the latest incarnation of our periodic retreats from civilised political discourse – a manifestation of the sort of hysteria that gave rise to the Witch Trials in Salem, Macarthyism or to our own Pauline Hanson. That his product is so poor and so popular points to the thing that is most dangerous and potent about the phenomenon. Such a large percentage of the population feels so disempowered that they are prepared to believe Moore, and these other messiahs, not because their arguments are persuasive – Moore’s coherence is on a level with Hanson’s – but because they want to believe them. This is a type of psychosis.
I’ve often wondered what makes ordinary people do very wicked things. How does Lindy England come to torture prisoners in Abu Ghraib? Why would two people snatch a baby in Melbourne? How could ordinary Germans in one of the cradles of European civilisation persecute and kill Jews and then go home to play with their kids at night? What fascinates me about evil, and fascism, is how it can infect the very ordinary and decent. After watching Moore’s movie, I now have a better understanding of that process. A much better understanding than I have gathered by watching either George Bush or John Howard.

Posted by Graham at 4:31 pm | Comments (7) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. You might not think much of Mr Moores flim but whats your take on the stuff dished out by FOX in the US and the slavish adherence to the Murdock line on display in his papers and on FOX you think Mr Moore tells porkies what about friend Murdock

    Comment by john — August 11, 2004 @ 5:04 pm

  2. I’d like to comment but I haven’t seen the film. My question is though, what form (in your opinion) should a thorough, objective and factual critique of the Bush administration take? is film OK, or would print be a better method?
    NB I’m not making any judgements on the film or your thoughts on it, i myslf just can’t see how film can deliver the best critique of an administration like that of the Bush administration.

    Comment by matt byrne — August 12, 2004 @ 12:29 am

  3. I have seen “debunking” sites and they generally do a very poor job of anything except proclaiming their own hatred of MM and anything that conflicts with their right wing views. As bias asmuch of the movie is MM does raise many good points that deserve attention and he should be getting some praise for highlighting these issues which are generally ignored in the american media in favour of naval-gazing and chest thumping.

    Comment by Ads — August 12, 2004 @ 9:46 am

  4. The only ‘psychosis’ I find amusing as an outcome to Moores movie is the right wing extreme views that either – ‘its all untrue’ – even though the footage and documents have credibility. And the rubbish about “the war we had to have” – Libya & Saudi Arabia has more WMS and terrorists than Iraq so why isnt Bush going after them!? The facts all speak for themselves ! (no OIL !). I am astounded at how some right winged ‘extremists’ choose to ignore this. How disgusting ! I dont think I could ever vote libs again ! Downer is a disgusting example of this with he’s disgustingly arrogant views and comments which reflect as such. No wonder there is a huge movement to the left. People so confuse ‘ideology’ with ‘whats best or what right for the country’ !

    Comment by shery — August 12, 2004 @ 12:37 pm

  5. Matt,
    I’m agnostic on the medium, but not on the method. Each medium has its own strengths and weaknesses. Four Corners screened a show earlier this year which was a pretty good expose on the Neo-Con line which has been to invade Iraq since I think even before the first Gulf War.

    Comment by Graham Young — August 12, 2004 @ 5:38 pm

  6. Shery,
    I don’t understand what you are saying. Saudi Arabia has somewhere around 25% of the world’s proved oil reserves, and 45% of its GDP is generated by oil. Libya is also an oil producer. Oil amounts to approximately 100% of its exports and 25% of its GDP.
    Libya, as a result of the Iraq War, has also foresworn its weapons programmes, owned up to a number of terrorist actions and is actually paying reparation for the Berlin Disco Bombing
    I don’t have a problem with the left per se. But I do have a problem with people who don’t do their research properly, or just ignore the facts, and as a result say really stupid things. Michael Moore is in that category. If you want to know what is going on in the world, his movies aren’t a good place to start.

    Comment by Graham Young — August 12, 2004 @ 5:50 pm

  7. Graham,
    “Libya, As a result of the Iraq War”?
    The process of libya reunifying with the international community had begun long before the Iraq war. It started with Qadhafi son studying democracy in various international colleges and the resulting change of opinion in his Father. To imply that Libya was “threatend” into Behaving, or bullied into submission, is neither desirable or true. Real change will come from within the country, not as a result of our violence.
    They are also refusing to pay American victims of Libya’s international terrorism activities until the American’s pay compenstation for victims of US bombing campaigns within Libya.

    Comment by matthew easlea — August 13, 2004 @ 9:38 am

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