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Greed or Incompetence? PDF Print E-mail
Movies - Feature Stories
Written by Todd McGreevy   
Tuesday, 06 July 2004 18:00
During the screening of Fahrenheit 9/11 that I attended, someone opened the door of the theatre and screamed into the auditorium, “Liberals suck! Michael Moore’s a bitch!” and ran off. Moore has, once again, obviously touched a tender nerve with his latest production. The conventional wisdom is that liberals laud Moore and conservatives despise him. Meanwhile, as a conservative, I happen to be encouraged by the widespread distribution and exposure Moore’s recent work has achieved. Wherever your political loyalties lie, at a minimum Fahrenheit 9/11 has fostered more public discourse about foreign policy around the nation’s water coolers.

Still, there’s plenty to criticize Moore for in this film, such as his selective use of date stamps or his lack of supporting footnotes. In many instances Moore comes across as journalistically lazy.

Regardless, does Moore connect the dots? Does he make a compelling case against President Bush? The answer is “yes” and “no.”

Moore’s efforts to amass such broad, sweeping data from authors, interviews, research, news clippings, and video footage is unprecedented. One has to give Moore credit for putting himself on the line and bringing so much controversial material to bear that has heretofore gone completely ignored by the mainstream media.

The Carlyle Group, Unocal, Harken Energy, the House of Saud, the Taliban, and the Bush family’s and administration’s direct and indirect connections to all of these stakeholders in high finance on global scales – such a table of contents has never been collected and so widely distributed to as many Americans as Moore’s latest film.

I asked two different small groups exiting the movie whether they thought Moore effectively “connected the dots,” and the response was overwhelmingly “yes.” The middle-aged women in both groups stated that they were unaware of the “corporate connections” of the Bush family until seeing this movie. At a minimum, if Moore’s efforts help to make the Carlyle Group a household name in suburbia, then he’s effected some level of net gain in America’s general consciousness. Unfortunately, most of it lacks sufficient context to be overwhelmingly compelling.

Americans need to pay greater attention, and demand more from their news sources, and at a minimum Moore highlights this need. So on the sheer number of “dots” Moore puts on the tablet to even be available to be connected, his film has merit.

But on actually establishing a black-and-white picture of the Bush administration forsaking the interests of the American public for its own secretive, greedy agendas, Moore should have done a much more thorough job. He doesn’t connect the dots very well at all. Was Moore just lazy? Would the movie-going public sit still for however long it took to drill down the many innuendos Moore posits? Or is his thesis just liberal partisan bickering, a grasping at straws to make sure Bush does not get re-elected (or re-appointed, depending on whom you talk to).

A Sampling of the Dots Moore Puts on the Table

• Effectively captures the surreal nature of the 2000 election and the hypocrisy that abounded to anoint George W. Bush president. This includes the discussion of FOX News’ breaking of ranks in announcing the election being won by Bush rather than Gore – a call that was made at the news desk by none other than Bush cousin John Ellis.

• Under-reported accounts of the lack of even one senator’s signature after the 2000 election on numerous petitions to contest the election by the House of Reps. Ironically presided over by then Vice President Gore, these efforts by disaffected Democrats in the House were within the rules of Congress but were not able to move forward because not one senator would join the petition. I’m sure this was aired on C-SPAN, but I didn’t see it. Where was the coverage in the mainstream press of this little drama as it unfolded?

• The discussion of how the USA PATRIOT Act was not even read by the majority of the elected officials voting in favor of it. Plus, an on-camera confession by a legislator that most of the bills being passed are not read by those voting on them.

• Statements from an American soldier pointing out that the Halliburton employee driving an oil truck is making $8,000 a month, while the guys sent there to protect that employee – the soldiers – are making only $3,000 a month.

• An explanation of who the Carlyle Group is and how the Bush family and bin Laden families both have close personal and financial ties to this multinational private-equity firm. This includes putting into context George H.W. Bush’s involvement as both a board member and director of Middle Eastern affairs for Carlyle, while he simultaneously continues to receive daily briefs from the CIA (which according to Moore is an option for all ex-presidents, but one that only Bush Sr. takes advantage of). Moore posits the question, parroting one of the main themes in Briody’s book The Iron Triangle: Is former President Bush representing America or the Carlyle Group when he goes abroad to meet with foreign dignitaries and business interests in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East?

• A reminder that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft lost an election to a recently deceased opponent in Missouri, Mel Carnahan, just prior to being appointed by Bush to lead our Justice Department.

• Name dropping of the consultants for Unocal Oil in America who went on to be diplomatic appointees of the Bush administration in Afghanistan and Iraq.

• The unabashed greed displayed at a defense-contractors convention. Purportedly, Moore’s camera team was the only media requesting camera access.

Missing Elements That Make Fahrenheit 9/11 Easy to Dismiss

• Details on how and why the news networks are allowed to even predict the winners of presidential elections before all the votes are counted, based solely on their own insular exit polling.

• Moore interviews many Democrat lawmakers, especially regarding the PATRIOT Act. What is needed is a footnote stating if the person criticizing the PATRIOT Act voted for or against the law. Examples: McDermott (D-Washington) and Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) voted against the bill, thus lending more credibility to their statements.

• Empirical proof of Bush’s intent to cut combat pay by 33 percent and benefits to military families by 66 percent. In what form was this presented by Bush and under what circumstances? My cursory Internet search shows no such decrease. Surely Moore’s much-lauded team of fact-checkers has the proof to back this up. It should be in the movie.

• A full list of the “Coalition of the Willing” countries who joined America in its war on Iraq, rather than a spoofy take on the tiny countries on the list such as Costa Rica.

• Proof of the level of investment made by Saudis in American companies, including an actual dollar amount and how that was established.

• Moore spends a great deal of time focusing on a military mother from Flint, Michigan, Lila Lipscomb, who prior to losing her son was pro-war. Moore milks the melodrama out of Lipscomb ad nauseum to make his point about human suffering and the costs of war back home. He would have been much more effective had he spoken to a broader spectrum of affected families, beyond the single family from his own hometown.

• A more informative discussion of the implications of the USA PATRIOT Act and its potential to tread on Americans’ civil liberties, as well as why it is so ominous that nary a lawmaker even read the text of the law before voting on it.

Moore has his critics out there, notably Christopher Hitchens, a writer for Vanity Fair and Slate.com. Hitchens takes Moore to task for changing his tune with Fahrenheit 9/11. As an example, Moore now claims that we did not send enough troops into Afghanistan, or soon enough, to capture or kill Osama bin Laden after September 11, while Hitchens quotes Moore, back in 2001, as saying bin Laden should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

Hitchens makes a very good case against Moore in his op-ed piece “Unfairenheit 9/11” (http://slate.msn.com/id/2102723). However, if the same standard of flip-flopping is applied to the Bushies, then Hitchens’ critique loses air. Let’s not forget that all of Bush’s reasons (some would call them lies) to go to war with Iraq have yet to be proven true. But let’s give Bush the benefit of the doubt for a moment.

Let’s assume for a moment the Bush family and its business associates mean no ill will to America via their close ties to Saudi Arabia, the bin Ladens, and defense and big oil companies. (No one is refuting Moore’s or Briody’s or Unger’s assertions that these suspicious ties exist.) Let’s assume there is some geo-political benefit to these seemingly conflicting interests that only the “have-mores,” as Bush refers to his base in the film, can understand or truly appreciate. Most Americans are just not sophisticated enough to understand the long view that our elite corporate leaders and politicians have on the global circumstances that protect our freedoms. Let’s assume then that Moore proved nothing with the film Fahrenheit 9/11. His accusations only illuminated circumstances that are ages-old. GW said it himself in the film: “Access is power.”

So let’s assume that the symbiotic ties between elected and appointed public officials, private equity firms, defense contractors, corporate boards, big oil, and high global finance are merely a byproduct of good men with only the best interest of the American people at heart.

If greed and corruption, which are Moore’s major tenets in Fahrenheit 9/11, are out, then how does one explain the series of continual gaffes (Secretary of State Powell’s slide show at the UN), miscalculations (where were all the flowers in the streets of Baghdad when we took over?), and mis-projections (the amount of oil flowing out of Iraq is just now starting to reach pre-war levels, but we were told it would far exceed levels pumped out under Saddam and help finance the re-building of Iraq. Can you say $40 billion in rebuilding aid?)?

The lack of communication within our administration and inability of our senior intelligence officials to connect their own dots is more than disturbing. The buck stops at the White House. Bush asked for this job, and he got it.

Moore has the right target in his sights, but for the wrong reasons. Bush’s fitness is questionable not because he and his cronies are using his presidency as a footstool for financial gain. Bush’s efficacy is debatable because he and his handlers are not competent enough to keep America safe from foreign enemies. Furthermore, the rash remedies to September 11 this administration has spearheaded, the PATRIOT Act and Homeland Security Act, are detrimental to the very freedoms it claims to protect.

Nevertheless, Moore has opened a door on a new generation of political discourse. If the filmmakers/journalists of the future wish to contribute anything that can effect real change, hopefully they will take away from Fahrenheit 9/11 the courage to ask the hard questions of the highest office in the land, and the inspiration to make even stronger cases.
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