Michael Moore's movie, Fahrenheit 9/11.
for two reasons. First, it is
brilliantly crafted, evoking emotions and building arguments with
an inexorable flow of powerful images.
You will laugh at genuinely funny stuff. You will grieve for those suffering the terror of war and the pain of
second, see it because it represents how much our political discourse has
degenerated from illustrative debate into senseless blather.
people can disagree on the relevance and meaning of facts.
The problem with Moore's movie is that he builds his arguments on a foundation of clearly confirmable
falsehoods. Facts have left the building.
to the Wall Street Journal:
Moore ignores or misrepresents the truth, prefers innuendo to fact, edits
with poetic license rather than accuracy, and strips existing news footage
of its context to make events and real people say what he wants, even if
The best lies are mostly true; with one fundamental untruth thrown in to
the equation, the logical progression will seem to make sense even though
the conclusion is actually false.
a math equation. You can do
all the arithmetic perfectly and come to what seems a correct answer.
But if the underlying numbers are incorrect, then even though
the arithmetic adds up, the conclusion is flawed.
Anyone who has ever done their own tax return has this principle
seared into their brain.
knows this. He starts with false premises, then brilliantly leads
the audience through perfect arithmetic to what seem to be logical
conclusions -- a Pied Piper of revisionist history.
example, he goes to considerable effort to lead the audience to conclude
that in the days after 9/11, during the ban on all commercial flights, bin Laden family
members were flown out of the United States on orders of their
beholden handmaiden, George W. Bush.
He then interviews a former FBI agent who says that it
would be improper for the bin
Laden family to be allowed to leave the country before the FBI had a
chance to screen them.
And then the coup de
says that in the end, "the White House" gave final approval for
the hasty exodus.
problem: Each of those
fundamental premises is false or misleading.
The innuendo is greatest, of course, in Moore's
dealings with the matter of the departing Saudis flown out of the
United States in the days after the September 11 terror attacks. Much
has already been written about these flights, especially the film's
implication that figures with possible knowledge of the terrorist
attacks were allowed to leave the country without adequate FBI
screening, a notion that has been essentially rejected by the 9/11
commission. The 9/11 commission found that the FBI screened the Saudi
passengers, ran their names through federal databases, interviewed 30
of them and asked many of them "detailed questions."
interest to the FBI with regard to the 9/11 investigation was allowed
to leave the country," the commission stated.
New information about a flight from Tampa,
Florida late on Sept. 13 seems mostly a red herring: The flight didn't
take any Saudis out of the United States. It was a domestic flight to
Lexington, Kentucky that took place after the Tampa airport had already
reopened. The flights in question didn't leave on 9/13;
they departed after the flight ban was lifted for everyone.
Moreover, it was
not Bush who made the decision to allow the Saudis to leave the
Clarke, Bill Clinton's counter-terrorism czar who was carried over to
the Bush Administration, has said on multiple occasions that it was
his own decision, that Bush didn't even know about it. The
decision did come from "the White House," because Clarke worked
at the White House.
is a virulent anti-Bush activist; he wrote an anti-Bush book, and
testified negatively towards Bush in his public 9/11 commission
testimony. He is no Bush apologist.)
said that he personally ensured that no Saudi in question was allowed to
leave the country until after the FBI cleared them. In
June, 2004, he told ABC News:
"The Saudis had
reasonable fear that they might be the subject of vigilante attacks in
the United States after 9/11. And there is no evidence even to this date
that any of the people who left on those flights were people of interest
to the FBI."
arithmetic progression is flawless:
allowed to leave the country during the flight ban
screening of the Saudis allowed to leave
their departure coming from "the White House"
compromised by Saudi interests.
problem: The underlying facts
are wrong. These are not
facts on which reasonable people might disagree; they are easily
Why do you suppose
Moore would misrepresent the facts like that?
just one of many examples. Two
more, more briefly:
goes to great lengths to suggest that the Bush family was bought by the
Saudis. He says that they
gave the Bush family, Bush associates, and related corporations $1.4
billion. Then he asks of the
audience the burning question that if someone gives you $1.4 billion,
"Who's your daddy?"
problem: Almost 90% of that
money -- $1.18 billion --
came in the form of contracts awarded to a single defense contractor, BDM, which
was a subsidiary of the Carlyle Group.
It was done in the mid-90s, when no Bush was associated with
Carlyle. And by the way, Carlyle sold BDM to another defense
contractor in 1997, five months before George H. W. Bush joined Carlyle's
Asian-affiliate advisory board.
The movie clearly implies that the Saudis gave
$1.4 billion to the Bushes and their friends. But most of it went to a
Carlyle Group company before Bush even joined the firm. Bush had nothing
to do with BDM.
knows this. But he's
confident that his audience doesn't, so he's all too happy to add that
falsehood to his equation so that his arithmetic seems to add up to his own
final example from the many possibilities...
Moore suggests that Bush went to war in Afghanistan not to root out
terror, but to make it safe for his oil buddies at Unocal to build a
natural gas pipeline there.
problem: The Unocal pipeline
concept was conceived, attempted, and upon failure abandoned, entirely
during the Clinton Administration. Bush
had nothing to do with it.
Moore raises the
issue by stringing together two unrelated events. The first is that a
delegation of Taliban leaders flew to Houston, Texas, in 1997...The
second is that another Taliban emissary visited Washington in March,
2001 and got an audience at the State Department, leaving Moore to
speculate that the Bush administration had gone soft on the protectors
of Osama bin Laden because it was interested in promoting a pipeline
as conspiracy theories go, is more than a stretch.
pipeline agreement signed by the post-Taliban Afghan government as
depicted in the
movie was with with neighboring countries; the movie doesn't overtly allege that
Unocal was involved in that deal; it just insinuates that it was.
didn't catch that during the movie, it's okay; no one else did either. You weren't supposed to.
wanted the audience to draw the conclusion that Bush went to war for oil
buddies, so he inserted false numbers into his equation to make the arithmetic
seem to make sense.
good, that Michael Moore.
Again the Wall Street
documentary film doesn't have to be fair and balanced, to coin a phrase.
But it ought to make an attempt to be accurate. It can certainly be
pointed and opinionated. But it should not knowingly misrepresent the
truth. Much of Michael Moore's films and books, however entertaining to
his fans and enraging to his critics, seems to regard facts as mere
nuisances to the story he wants to tell...
the New York Times, Paul Krugman wrote that, "Viewers may come away
from Moore's movie believing some things that probably aren't true,"
and that he "uses association and innuendo to create false
Commission Chairman Kean ha[d] to take a minute at a press conference...to
knock down a proven falsehood like the secret flights of the bin Laden
There is much to
debate in times of war. Reasonable people can disagree on the meaning and relevance of
facts. But note that this discussion has not been about the meaning
and relevance of facts; we couldn't even go there, because we had to spend
our time properly identifying the facts
in the first place.
best lies are mostly true...