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June 27, 2004: Is there such a thing as a legitimate abuse of power?

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Is there such a thing as a legitimate abuse of power? 
Who else is saying what else about the Michael Moore film? 
A quick survey….



David Edelstein has a problem -


Along with many other polite liberals, I cringed last year when Moore launched into his charmless, pugilistic acceptance speech at the Academy Awards.  Oh, how vulgar, I thought—couldn't he at least have been funny?  A year later, I think I might have been too hard on the fat prick.  Six months before her death in 1965, the great novelist Dawn Powell wrestled in her diary with the unseemliness of political speech during an "artistic" event: "Lewis Mumford gave jolt to the occasion and I realized I had gotten as chicken as the rest of America because what he said—we had no more right in Vietnam than Russia had in Cuba—was true but I did not think he should use his position to declaim this.  Later I saw the only way to accomplish anything is by 'abusing' your power."

Exactly.  Fahrenheit 9/11 is not a documentary for the ages, it is an act of counterpropaganda that has a boorish, bullying force.  It is, all in all, a legitimate abuse of power.


That comes at the end of this review –

Proper Propaganda
Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 is unfair and outrageous.  You got a problem with that? 
David Edelstein – SLATE.COM - Posted Thursday, June 24, 2004, at 4:00 PM PT

David is conflicted -


In 20 years of writing about film, no movie has ever tied me up in knots the way Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 (Lions Gate) has.  It delighted me; it disgusted me.  I celebrate it; I lament it.  I'm sure of only one thing: that I don't trust anyone—pro or con—who doesn't feel a twinge of doubt about his or her responses.


Ah, but you see doubt is useful.  As Voltaire said – Doubt is not a very pleasant state, but certainty is a ridiculous one. 

Moore in this film has no doubts -


The liberals' The Passion of the Christ, it ascribes only the most venal motives to the other side.  There is no sign in the filmmaker of an openness to other interpretations (or worldviews).  This is not quite a documentary—which I define, very loosely, as a work in which the director begins by turning on the camera and allowing the reality to speak for itself, aware of its complexities, contradictions, and multitudes.  You are with Moore, or you are a war criminal.  The film is part prosecutorial brief and part (as A.O.  Scott has noted) [see below] rabid editorial cartoon: a blend of insight, outrage, and sniggering innuendo, the whole package threaded (and tied in a bow) with cheap shots, some of them voiced by Moore, some created in the editing room by intercutting stilted images from old movies.  Moore is largely off-screen (no pun intended), but as narrator he's always there, sneering and tsk-tsking. 


In short, it just isn’t fair. 

One of Edelstein’s examples of that? 


All right, you can make anyone into a goofball with a selection of unflattering shots and out-of-context quotations, but it is so very easy to make George W.  Bush—with his near-demonic blend of smugness and vacuity—look bad.  Or is this in eye of the beholder?  Perhaps when Bush speaks of hunting down terrorists, then gets down to the real, golfing business—"Stop these terrorist killers.  Thank you.  Now watch this drive"—you see an honest, plainspoken leader unfairly ridiculed.  But what can even Bush partisans make of those seven minutes in the elementary school classroom after he received the news that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center and the nation was under attack?  … It is downright spooky to watch the nominal commander in chief and "leader of the free world" behave, in a moment of crisis, like a superfluous man.


Well that’s one view of Bush.  Superfluous. 

Fair?  Does it matter?  Edelstein suggests context might be useful here -


Fahrenheit 9/11 must be viewed in the context of the Iraq occupation and the torrent of misleading claims that got us there.  It must be viewed in the context of Rush Limbaugh repeating the charge that Hillary Clinton had Vince Foster murdered in Fort Marcy Park, or laughing off the exposure of Valerie Plame when, had this been a Democratic administration, he'd be calling every day for the traitor's head.  It must be viewed in the context of Ann Coulter calling for the execution of people who disagree with her.  It must be viewed in the context of another new documentary, the superb The Hunting of the President, that documents—irrefutably—the lengths to which the right went to destroy Bill Clinton. 

Moore might be a demagogue, but never—not even during Watergate—has a U.S.  administration left itself so open to this kind of savaging. 


And Edelstein didn’t even mention the many articles in WorldNetDaily claiming the Fox News anchor Brit Hume has every reason to slant the news against the liberal left and anyone who supports anyone in the Democratic Party – as WorldNetDaily is claiming Hillary Clinton not only murdered White House counsel Vincent Foster, she also ordered the murder of Brit Hume’s son, or maybe shot him herself – neither was, really, a suicide.  Everyone knows that. 

Such is the climate.  Moore just jumps in from the other side, giving as good at he and his allies get.  Food fight!

And it is getting nasty.  Over at cusor.org you see that the Federal Elections Committee seems to be going to rule all advertising for the Michael Moore film will be illegal as of July 30 or so.  Ya gotta love it!


The Hill reports that a draft advisory opinion by the FEC's general counsel, generated under a McCain-Feingold prohibition on corporate-funded ads that identify a federal candidate before a primary or general election, could stop the advertising of "Fahrenheit 9/11" and other political documentaries and films, as of July 30th, 30 days before the Republican Convention. 

The article says the opinion was in response to a request for guidance from David Hardy, a documentary film producer with an organization called the Bill of Rights Educational Foundation, but it doesn't say if he's also an author. 

Other films that could be affected by the ruling are "Uncovered," "The Corporation," "The Hunting of the President" and John Sayles' forthcoming "Silver City," which features Colorado gubernatorial candidate, "Dickie" Pillager. 



As Bob Patterson, who writes in these pages under the moniker of “The World’s Laziest Journalist,” said in an email:


Why stop with stopping dissention via documentary films? 

If you will refer to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, (page 196 ff) Gleichschaltung (suppressing dissent) is right on schedule.  Moore is the anti-Riefenstahl.  Pro-Bush documentaries will meet much less resistance. 


Surely it’s not THAT bad yet. 

But it is curious. 

Via the Guardian (UK), here’s a roundup of review nuggets from all the other papars.  As for me, let the guys at the Guardian do the research on American opinion.  Many people said many things.  I didn’t want wade through it all.  And there is really no more to say, or so I suspect. 


"While Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 will be properly debated on the basis of its factual claims and cinematic techniques, it should first of all be appreciated as a high-spirited and unruly exercise in democratic self-expression."
- AO Scott, New York Times

"No moviegoer will be bored.  The documentary's scathing attack on the war in Iraq and George W Bush's presidency is informative, provocative, frightening, compelling, funny, manipulative and, most of all, entertaining."
- Claudia Puig, USA Today

"Fahrenheit 9/11 is at its best when it provides talking points for the emerging majority of those opposed to the Iraq incursion.  In sum, it's an appalling, enthralling primer of what Moore sees as the Bush administration's crimes and misdemeanors."
- Mary Corliss, Time

"Its title notwithstanding, Michael Moore has delivered a film rather less incendiary than might be expected - or wished for by his fans - in Fahrenheit 9/11.  The sporadically effective docu trades far more in emotional appeals than in systematically building an evidence-filled case against the president and his circle."
- Todd McCarthy, Variety

"Fahrenheit 9/11 comes to many of the same conclusions as the recent 9/11 panel.  The film will play to the choir and may influence voters, especially younger ones, who are straddling the fence ...  If you want to be part of the debate, Fahrenheit 9/11 is must-see cinema."
- James Verniere, Boston Herald

"What's remarkable here isn't Moore's political animosity or ticklish wit.  It's the well-argued, heartfelt power of his persuasion.  Even though there are many things here that we have already learned, Moore puts it all together.  It's a look back that feels like a new gaze forward."
- Desson Thomas, Washington Post

"Moore's supporters are quick to impugn the liberal credentials of anyone who criticizes his presentation of the information he digs up (or, in some cases, makes up).  For them, Michael Moore is the issues he talks about, so his detractors must be enemies of democratic principles.  It's an old trick, akin to the way Pauline Kael was accused of being insensitive about the Holocaust when she didn't like Shoah."
- Stephanie Zacharek, Salon.com

"Although overlong and hampered by a rambling argument, the movie does make a compelling narrative.  It also succeeds as entertainment ...  If Moore is formidable, it's not because he is a great film-maker (far from it) but because he infuses his sense of ridicule with the fury of moral indignation."
- J Hoberman, Village Voice

"One last thought: Fahrenheit 9/11 is many things, but for pity's sake let's not call it a documentary."
- Ty Burr, Boston Globe


And so on.  And so forth. 

This will die down.  Eventually. 

Or maybe not. 


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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