A Little Learning
Vortices, Gherkins and Domes, Oh My


In Slate - where the motto of late seems to be: "If you can't say anything nice . . . publish it here!" - Christopher Hitchens provides what is likely to stand as the definitive vivisection of Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11. It is long on detail, outlining with specific examples and barely suppressed fury the array of untenable positions Moore is obliged to adopt to support his predetermined thesis. One example out of many:

We are introduced to Iraq, 'a sovereign nation.' (In fact, Iraq's 'sovereignty' was heavily qualified by international sanctions, however questionable, which reflected its noncompliance with important U.N. resolutions.) In this peaceable kingdom, according to Moore's flabbergasting choice of film shots, children are flying little kites, shoppers are smiling in the sunshine, and the gentle rhythms of life are undisturbed. Then—wham! From the night sky come the terror weapons of American imperialism. Watching the clips Moore uses, and recalling them well, I can recognize various Saddam palaces and military and police centers getting the treatment. But these sites are not identified as such. In fact, I don't think Al Jazeera would, on a bad day, have transmitted anything so utterly propagandistic. You would also be led to think that the term 'civilian casualty' had not even been in the Iraqi vocabulary until March 2003.

Moore stands accused - and by Hitchens convicted - of falling into the same moral trap that has ensnared those he opposes: convinced that his cause is just, he feels free to pursue that cause by any means, no matter how abhorrent. For that, Moore's punishment is to be revealed not as a noble, crusading satirist, but as a self-absorbed huckster aspiring only to call attention to himself and to persuade you to part with your cash at the box office.

Some people soothingly say that one should relax about all this. It's only a movie. No biggie. It's no worse than the tomfoolery of Oliver Stone. It's kick-ass entertainment. It might even help get out 'the youth vote.' Yeah, well, I have myself written and presented about a dozen low-budget made-for-TV documentaries, on subjects as various as Mother Teresa and Bill Clinton and the Cyprus crisis, and I also helped produce a slightly more polished one on Henry Kissinger that was shown in movie theaters. So I know, thanks, before you tell me, that a documentary must have a 'POV' or point of view and that it must also impose a narrative line. But if you leave out absolutely everything that might give your 'narrative' a problem and throw in any old rubbish that might support it, and you don't even care that one bit of that rubbish flatly contradicts the next bit, and you give no chance to those who might differ, then you have betrayed your craft. If you flatter and fawn upon your potential audience, I might add, you are patronizing them and insulting them. By the same token, if I write an article and I quote somebody and for space reasons put in an ellipsis like this (…), I swear on my children that I am not leaving out anything that, if quoted in full, would alter the original meaning or its significance. Those who violate this pact with readers or viewers are to be despised. At no point does Michael Moore make the smallest effort to be objective. At no moment does he pass up the chance of a cheap sneer or a jeer. He pitilessly focuses his camera, for minutes after he should have turned it off, on a distraught and bereaved mother whose grief we have already shared. (But then, this is the guy who thought it so clever and amusing to catch Charlton Heston, in Bowling for Columbine, at the onset of his senile dementia.) Such courage.

(Emphasis in original.)

Getting Hitchens' dander up is one thing, but Moore is beginning to get on the nerves of even those who would be his friends. In today's edition of the Los Angeles Times (registration required) Patrick Goldstein - who allows as how his own politics and Moore's are "in complete sync" - brings some Tough Love to bear and calls Moore out as a serial prevaricator, even on such relatively trivial topics as whether Moore was "banned" from Jay Leno's or Bill O'Reilly's television shows.

O'Reilly went to a screening of the film, though because of its late start, he had to leave early to honor a prior commitment. (His mini-review: 'It's what I expected — Bush and his crew are a satanic cult, and we live in a police state.') On his way out, he bumped into Moore and asked if he would be coming on the show. He says Moore responded, 'Yes, I am.' So far Moore's handlers are hedging, saying they haven't committed.

The Leno camp also offered an account at odds with Moore's. They said that far from being banned, Moore was invited to appear after Cannes and was asked to be on the show twice in recent years, most recently after 'Bowling for Columbine' won the Oscar for best documentary and Moore gave an inflammatory acceptance speech. After hearing of Moore's charge about showing his house being blown up, Leno went back and watched the tape, which he said shows not a house but a shack in the desert being hit by a missile. Through his publicist, Leno said, 'If the jokes bothered him, I wish Michael would have called. Or he could have come on the show. I was just telling jokes about what made headlines, and that included him.'

Leno's producer, Debbie Vickers, added: 'Michael may feel he has a feud with us, but I know of no feud we have with him.'

Goldstein reproduces a passage from his own interview with Moore, focusing on the film's assertions of an unhealthy closeness between the Bush family/administration and the Arabian royals. Direct questioning yields little in the way of direct answers, and the quoted segment ends with this whopper:

Q: You make the point that the Bush administration has a special relationship with the Saudis. How is that any different from the special relationship many Washington leaders have with the state of Israel?

Moore: One big difference is that Israel is a democracy and Saudi Arabia is a brutal dictatorship. They celebrated New Year's Day a few years ago by chopping people's heads off. Maybe I missed that when it happened in Israel. Anyway, the support Bush and the Republicans feign for Israel is because Israel is near our oil. If the oil wasn't there, I bet those same Republicans wouldn't [care] about Israel."

(Emphasis added.)

Glad he set us straight on that: I had been under the impression that American support for Israel had proven itself over most of my lifetime to be a sure fire obstacle to freely accessing what he so endearingly calls "our oil", not to mention seeming to rub the Bin Ladens of the world the wrong way. And what of the larger question: just what was Moore's choice of (colorful? odoriferous?) phrase that the Times has replaced with "[care]"? Egad, another cover up!

Updates: Rick Coencas @ Futurballa -- he and I being compelling proof that political disagreement is no obstacle to a decades-long friendship -- comments.

And if you are not inclined or able to slip through the Los Angeles Times' pesky registration, Patrick Goldstein's article has been reproduced here. Make of it what you will.


david giacalone

Hello, George. I've been down here in D.C. since Saturday night and lots of my lefty friends are anxiously awaiting the arrival of MM's movie this weekend. Some have opined that he is a bit biased, but want to see the movie anyway to show their anti-Bush flag. All agree that there is waaaayy too much of Michael Moore in each of his movies.

Despite my politcal agreement with Moore on many topics, I continue to dislike distorting truth in order to make or score points. So, I might stay home and wait for the dvd to hit the stores.

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