`Fahrenheit' plays fast and loose with truth

July 06, 2004|By Chris Collins

THERE'S SOMETHING frustrating about Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. It's so juicy, it's so full of grainy, dubious shots of President Bush at his worst, it so tempts you to just say: See this movie oust the commander in chief.

It's almost like a guilty pleasure.

But what's frustrating is that Mr. Moore's movie is wrought with internal contradictions and intergalactic leaps of logic. Bush opponents are still trying to embrace it - some from a distance.

"I wish Moore had been more scrupulously honest, more interested in examining other points of view, less inclined to make the facts line up to serve his purposes," syndicated columnist William Raspberry wrote last week. "But I can't say he reached the wrong conclusion."

College-age students like myself are living in a new political age spawned by polarized ideologies that skim over facts to get to the main point. Fahrenheit 9/11 epitomizes this "ends justify the means" political reality.

Even if I agreed with Mr. Moore's politics, I wouldn't know what to tell my friends after watching this movie, other than, "Bush lies!"

For example, I had trouble understanding if I was supposed to support the troops since they are victims of a ruthless economy that gave them little choice other than to join the military, or if I was supposed to despise them because they listened to heavy metal music while fighting Iraqi soldiers and showed little respect for the Iraqi dead.

It doesn't matter; just vote out Mr. Bush.

Then there's the quote from Condoleezza Rice creating the misconception that the Bush administration believed Iraq was directly involved in 9/11.

"Oh, indeed there is a tie between Iraq and what happened on 9/11," Ms. Rice is quoted as saying in Fahrenheit 9/11.

But the quote in its entirety comes from a November 2003 interview on CBS News, and went like this: "Oh, indeed there is a tie between Iraq and what happened on 9/11. It's not that Saddam Hussein was somehow himself and his regime involved in 9/11, but if you think about what caused 9/11, it is the rise of ideologies of hatred that lead people to drive airplanes into buildings in New York."

What a difference context makes.

If it proves difficult to figure out whether Mr. Moore believes Fahrenheit 9/11 is art or politics, try drawing conclusions from the movie.

The filmmaker loves juxtaposing clear contradictions, which is an effective way of making a point.

For example, Fahrenheit 9/11 says Iraq under Saddam Hussein never "threatened" America and never "murdered" an American.

Unfortunately, the regime did threaten former President George H. W. Bush in 1993, when Iraqi secret police tried to assassinate him during his visit to Kuwait. I would count an attempt to assassinate the former U.S. president as a threat against America.

Mr. Moore's documentaries do a phenomenal job of allowing the mind to draw certain conclusions without actually stating them. Quick glimpses, suspicious sound bites and implied connections all go into Mr. Moore's artwork.

While Fahrenheit 9/11 was ratting on Mr. Bush for taking too much vacation time early in his presidency, there is a one-second shot of him "vacationing" with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at Camp David. Did you catch that?

When Mr. Moore not-too-subtly implies that tobacco companies were pressuring the Transportation Security Administration to allow lighters and matches on planes, he didn't have a single piece of evidence to back this claim. Instead, shots of cigarettes being produced were flashed across the screen.

The accusation was meant to float in the viewer's mind and eventually settle in as truth even though it amounted to only a conspiracy theory.

Plenty has been written on Fahrenheit 9/11, dissecting its inaccuracies and misleading conclusions. Blogs such as MooreWatch.com are having a field day picking apart the movie.

Though the truth is getting out, it's unfortunate my generation has to deal with a crude version of politics: Form your own point of view and squeeze the facts into that mold.

Chris Collins, 20, has just finished his sophomore year at Whitworth College in Spokane, Wash. His home is in Seattle.

Columnist Steve Chapman will return Friday.

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