urge you to contact your local theaters and make
sure they aren't being pressured or threatened
into not showing Michael Moore's movie even though
it is assured of wide distribution.
MOORE is not coy about his hopes for "Fahrenheit
9/11," his blistering documentary attack on President
Bush and the war in Iraq. He wants it to be remembered
as the first big-audience, election-year film
that helped unseat a president.
it's not just a hope," the Oscar-winning filmmaker
said in a phone interview last week, describing
focus groups in Michigan in April at which, after
seeing the movie, previously undecided voters
expressed eagerness to defeat Mr. Bush. "We found
that if you entered the theater on the fence,
you fell off it somewhere during those two hours,"
he said. "It ignites a fire in people who had
movie's indictment of the president is nothing
if not sprawling. Mr. Moore suggests that Mr.
Bush and his administration jeopardized national
security in an effort to placate Bush family cronies
in Saudi Arabia, that the White House helped members
of Mr. bin Laden's family to flee the United States
after Sept. 11 and that the administration manipulated
terrorism alert levels in order to scare Americans
into supporting the invasion of Iraq.
Moore's previous films generated a cottage industry
of conservative commentators eager to prove sloppiness
and exaggeration in his films; a handful of mainstream
critics have also found flaws. But if "Fahrenheit
9/11" attracts the audience Mr. Moore and his
distributors are predicting, Mr. Moore may face
an onslaught of fact-checking unlike anything
he - or any other documentary filmmaker - has
ever experienced. After all, White House officials
and the Bush family began impugning the film even
before any of them had seen it.
false," said Dan Bartlett, the White House communications
director, last month when told about the film's
assertion of a sinister connection between Mr.
Bush and the family of Osama bin Laden. The former
president George H. W. Bush was quoted in The
New York Daily News calling Mr. Moore a "slime
ball" and describing the documentary as "a vicious
personal attack on our son."
how will Mr. Moore's movie stand up under close
examination? Is the film's depiction of Mr. Bush
as a lazy and duplicitous leader, blinded by his
family's financial ties to Arab moneymen and the
Saudi Arabian royal family, true to fact?
Moore and his distributors have refused to circulate
copies of the film and its script before the film's
release this Friday; his production team said
that as of last Wednesday, there was no final
script because the film was still undergoing minor
editing - for clarity, they said, not accuracy.
a year spent covering the federal commission investigating
the Sept. 11 attacks, I was recently allowed to
attend a Hollywood screening. Based on that single
viewing, and after separating out what is clearly
presented as Mr. Moore's opinion from what is
stated as fact, it seems safe to say that central
assertions of fact in "Fahrenheit 9/11" are supported
by the public record (indeed, many of them will
be familiar to those who have closely followed
Mr. Bush's political career).
Moore is on firm ground in arguing that the Bushes,
like many prominent Texas families with oil interests,
have profited handsomely from their relationships
with prominent Saudis, including members of the
royal family and of the large and fabulously wealthy
bin Laden clan, which has insisted it long ago
disowned Osama. Mr. Moore spends several minutes
in the film documenting ties between the president
and James R. Bath, a financial advisor to a prominent
member of the bin Laden family who was an original
investor in Mr. Bush's Arbusto energy company
and who served with the future president in the
Air National Guard in the early 1970's. The Bath
friendship, which indirectly links Mr. Bush to
the family of the world's most notorious terrorist,
has received less attention from national news
organization than it has from reporters in Texas,
but it has been well documented.
Moore charges that President Bush and his aides
paid too little attention to warnings in the summer
of 2001 that Al Qaeda was about to attack, including
a detailed Aug. 6, 2001, C.I.A. briefing that
warned of terrorism within the country's borders.
In its final report next month, the Sept. 11 commission
can be expected to offer support to this assertion.
Mr. Moore says that instead of focusing on Al
Qaeda, the president spent 42 percent of his first
eight months in office on vacation; the figure
came not from a conspiracy-hungry Web site but
from a calculation by The Washington Post.
most valid criticisms of the film are likely to
involve the artful way that Mr. Moore connects
the facts, and whether he has left out others
that might undermine his scalding attack. A great
many statistics fly by in the movie - such as
assertions that 6 percent to 7 percent of the
United States is owned by Saudi Arabians, and
that Saudi companies have paid more than $1.4
billion to Bush family interests. But Mr. Moore
doesn't explain how he arrived at them, or what
these vague interests comprise. Mr. Moore and
his team say they have news reports and other
evidence to back up the numbers and that it will
be posted on his Web site (www.michaelmoore.com)
after the film's release.
Moore may also be criticized for the way he portrays
the evacuation of the extended bin Laden family
from the United States after Sept. 11. As the
Sept. 11 commission has found, the Saudi government
was able to pull strings at senior levels of the
Bush administration to help the bin Ladens leave
the United States. But while the film clearly
suggests that the flights occurred at a time when
all air traffic was grounded immediately after
the attacks ("Even Ricky Martin couldn't fly,"
Mr. Moore says over video of the singer wandering
in an airport lobby), the Sept. 11 commission
said in a report this April that there was "no
credible evidence that any chartered flights of
Saudi Arabian nationals departed the United States
before the reopening of national airspace" and
that the F.B.I. had concluded that no one aboard
the flights was involved in Sept. 11.
conversation, Mr. Moore defended the scene, saying
his goal was to show how the White House was eager
to bend and break the rules for Saudi friends
- in this case, the extended family of the terrorist
who had just brought down the twin towers and
attacked the Pentagon. And as reporters have found,
the White House still refuses to document fully
how the flights were arranged.
don't want to get lost in the forest because of
a single tree," Mr. Moore said. "The main point
I want people to go away with is that these people
got special treatment because they were bin Ladens
or Saudi royals, and you and I would never have
been given that treatment."
Moore may also have to defend his portrayal of
Mr. Bush's presidency as sinking prior to Sept.
11, citing an inability to win support for his
legislation. But he fails to mention that in May,
Congress agreed to Mr. Bush's $1.35 trillion tax
cut, the centerpiece of his legislative agenda.
Mr. Moore said that his review of news coverage
before Sept. 11 shows that, with or without the
tax cut, the Bush presidency was floundering before
the terrorist attacks. Mr. Moore said, "I've read
what other people wrote and said at the time,
and he was definitely on the ropes."
MOORE usually revels in his role as the target
of conservative attacks, and his delight in playing
the mischievous, little-guy bomb-thrower has brought
him fame, wealth and the devotion of fans more
interested in rhetorical force than precision.
But with "Fahrenheit" he has taken on his biggest
and best-defended target yet, and his production
staff says that on his orders they have taken
no chances in checking and double-checking the
film, knowing Bush supporters would pounce on
Moore is readying for a conservative counterattack,
saying he has created a political-style "war room"
to offer an instant response to any assault on
the film's credibility. He has retained Chris
Lehane, a Democratic Party strategist known as
a master of the black art of "oppo," or opposition
research, used to discredit detractors. He also
hired outside fact-checkers, led by a former general
counsel of The New Yorker and a veteran member
of that magazine's legendary fact-checking team,
to vet the film. And he is threatening to go one
step further, saying he has consulted with lawyers
who can bring defamation suits against anyone
who maligns the film or damages his reputation.
want the word out," says Mr. Moore, who says he
should have responded more quickly to allegations
of inaccuracy in his Oscar-winning 2002 anti-gun
documentary, "Bowling for Columbine." "Any attempts
to libel me will be met by force," he said, not
an ounce of humor in his familiar voice. "The
most important thing we have is truth on our side.
If they persist in telling lies, knowingly telling
a lie with malice, then I'll take them to court."
proof of its scrupulousness, the Moore team cites
adjustments it made to the film's portrayal of
Attorney General John Ashcroft. The film is brutal
to Mr. Ashcroft, depicting him as a glassy-eyed
architect of efforts to shred the Constitution,
who became Attorney General only after he proved
himself so unpopular in his home state of Missouri
that he lost a Senate race to a former Democratic
governor who died in a plane crash a month before
election day. "Voters preferred the dead guy,"
Mr. Moore deadpans in the film, a line that drew
belly laughs at recent preview screenings. (In
reality, voters knew they were in effect casting
ballots for the governor's widow).
earlier version of the film, however, included
a reference to a widely circulated charge, broadcast
by CBS News in July 2001, that Mr. Ashcroft had
received warning of threats and stopped flying
on commercial airlines. Tia Lessin, supervising
producer of "Fahrenheit 9/11," said the reference
to the CBS report was cut after Mr. Moore's fact-checking
team found evidence that Mr. Ashcroft had flown
commercially at least twice that summer.
have gone through every single word of this film
- literally every word - and verified its accuracy,"
said Joanne Doroshow, a public interest lawyer
and filmmaker who shared in a 1993 Oscar for documentaries
and who joined the fact-checking effort last month.
Ms. Doroshow is responsible for preparing what
she calls a "fact-checking bible," with material
ranging from newspaper and magazine articles to
copies of the Federal Register, that will allow
the film's lawyers and publicists to provide backup
for its allegations.
said, Mr. Moore's fact-checkers does not view
the film as straight reportage. "This is an Op-Ed
piece, it's not a news report," said Dev Chatillon,
the former general counsel for The New Yorker.
"This is not The New York Times, it's not a network
news report. The facts have to be right, yes,
but this is an individual's view of current events.
And I'm a very firm believer that it is within
everybody's right to examine the actions of their
it may turn out that the most talked-about moments
in the film are the least impeachable. Mr. Moore
makes extensive use of obscure footage from White
House and network-news video archives, including
long scenes that capture President Bush at his
least articulate. For the White House, the most
devastating segment of "Fahrenheit 9/11" may be
the video of a befuddled-looking President Bush
staying put for nearly seven minutes at a Florida
elementary school on the morning of Sept. 11,
continuing to read a copy of "My Pet Goat" to
schoolchildren even after an aide has told him
that a second plane has struck the twin towers.
Mr. Bush's slow, hesitant reaction to the disastrous
news has never been a secret. But seeing the actual
footage, with the minutes ticking by, may prove
more damaging to the White House than all the
statistics in the world.
Posted: June 21, 2004