Michael Moore claims the media has failed Americans but his critics say he is too subjective to be taken seriously.
Some Americans like to believe that Michael Moore is just like them: a working- class guy who loves his country and just wants a fair go for everybody. The reality is quite different.
Moore, in fact, loathes many of his fellow Americans. Of course, he never says so in America. But, in an interview with The Mirror in London recently, he described his fellow citizens as “possibly the dumbest people on the planet”.
According to The New York Times, Moore – who is travelling the world, promoting his new film, Fahrenheit 9/11 – recently told an audience in Germany that Americans always had a “big ass grin on our face all the time, because our brains aren’t loaded down”.
In Cambridge, Moore told fans that America was “known for bringing sadness and misery to places around the globe” (a message he could not, presumably, have delivered in Germany or, for that matter, Japan, France, South Korea or Kuwait, to name a few).
But then, maybe Moore just loathes Americans who don’t like him. Fans of Moore, he seems to like very much. Two weeks ago, he took some time to bask in their applause.
Shortly before 4pm on the Thursday before last a sleek, black limousine pulled up outside a cinema complex in Manhattan. A driver got out, opened the back door, and there was Moore.
With some difficulty he got to his feet. Moore was wearing his signature costume: a black T-shirt, black jeans, sneakers and a baseball cap. For several minutes, he stood around, signing autographs and coming over all humble when people started clapping, which was often.
A woman rushed up to Moore and said: “I’m so grateful to you for making this film” and Moore replied: “I’m just glad that people can get to see it.”
Actually, Moore hopes for more than that. He hopes that his film will prompt voters to storm the polls in November, and evict George Bush from the White House.
The movie is certainly proving popular. Fahrenheit 9/11 broke box office records for a documentary when it opened in New York nearly two weeks ago and, over its first weekend, one in every two tickets sold in the US was for Moore’s movie.
Reviews have largely been very good, or excellent. The New York Times described the film – which won the top prize, the Palme d’Or, at this year’s Cannes Film Festival – as “the best Moore has made so far, a powerful and passionate expression of outraged patriotism”. USA Today’s Claudia Puig said it was “informative, provocative, frightening, compelling, funny, manipulative and, most of all, entertaining”.
Audiences seem to love it. At a cinema on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on Thursday of opening week, there was not a single empty seat. At times it was hard to hear, because people were cheering and jeering. At the end, the audience broke into thunderous applause. People also wept, particularly when gruesome images of children injured in the Iraq war were shown, and when mothers of dead US soldiers took over the screen.
However, from the loudness of the applause, and the T-shirts people were wearing – “Impeach Bush!”, for example – I got the feeling that many in the audience were Democrats, and they were naturally outraged by the film.
If Bush supporters go to see it they might be outraged, too. The film is a savage attack on Bush’s handling of events after the September 11 terrorist attacks, especially his decision to go to war with Iraq.
There are a lot of cheap shots. Moore has found footage of Bush that makes him look positively simple-minded, and much of this would be funny if it weren’t done with such malice.
Moore also makes fun of Bush for being “elite”. One clip shows the President in white tie, addressing a group he describes as “the have, and the have mores”, which gets some laughs.
Not many people know this, but if the Democrat John Kerry wins the US election in November he will be the second-richest president in the last 100 years (behind another Democrat, John F.Kennedy). Together with his wife, Teresa, who is one of the heirs to the Heinz fortune, Kerry has assets worth $US500 million ($700 million), and homes worth $US29 million. Kerry’s supporters include the Rockefellers and the billionaire George Soros. None of this is mentioned in Moore’s movie.
Of course, some of Bush’s money is oil money, and Moore thinks oil money is evil. He makes a lot of jokes about Bush being a Texas oil man, but you could just as easily poke fun at Kerry, who has also taken money from the oil industry. Indeed, one joke doing the rounds in Washington right now is that Kerry will need to invade a small oil country just to meet his own family’s fuel needs. They have eight cars, a powerboat, a Harley-Davidson and, of course, a private jet. Kerry’s for sustainable energy policies, by the way. But again, that’s not in the film.
Moore spends a lot of time in his movie attacking the Bush family for its links to the Carlyle Group, which has links to Osama bin Laden’s family.
Moore tries to make the Carlyle Group sound shady, by saying that it invests in oil projects. I wondered how many of the people who leapt to their feet to applaud knew that the seats from which they leapt were also owned by the Carlyle Group. See, it also invests in the shady business of cinemas, including 300 that are now showing Fahrenheit 9/11.
By far the most heated debate, however, is over Moore’s depiction of Iraq, before the war. He shows Iraqi children flying kites. It’s as if Saddam never had anybody’s hands or ears chopped off. Christopher Hitchens – who was once of the left, but who supported the war – wrote last week that Moore’s choice of film shots was “flabbergasting”.
“Moore has just said, in so many words, the one thing that no reflective or informed person can possibly believe: that Saddam Hussein was no problem.”
He also makes no attempt to account for the fact that poll after poll in Iraq has shown that the Iraqis are pleased to be rid of Saddam Hussein.
Certainly, they are angry about the way the US has handled the peace. They want more jobs, and they wouldn’t mind if the US could manage to get the lights on. But they don’t want a future controlled by masked men who carve people’s heads off, for your viewing pleasure. And yet, in a letter to fans on his web site, Moore has described those participating in anti-American activity as “not insurgents or terrorists or ‘the Enemy’. They are the REVOLUTION.”
The only things standing between that “revolution” and the Iraqi people right now are US troops. Does anyone imagine the consequences, if they withdraw? Moore does not.
Hitchens also argued that “at no point does Michael Moore make the smallest effort [in his movie] to be objective”.
Moore agrees with that. He loathes Bush, wants him out of the White House. He says documentaries need not be fair and balanced, only accurate. And he stands by the factual accuracy of Fahrenheit 9/11, saying “any attempts to libel me will be met by force. We’ll take them to court.”
A journalist on the ABC in the US recently asked Moore whether Fahrenheit 9/11 was simply propaganda, in an election year.
He said: “It’s my opinion about the last four years of the Bush Administration.”
“And your goal is to defeat President Bush?” the journalist asked.
Moore: “I would like to see Bush removed from the White House.”
Statements like these could come back to trouble Moore, since conservative groups in the US are seeking to have ads for the movie banned. They say that the film is propaganda, and ads for it therefore shouldn’t be shown in the run-up to the election.
Moore said he made the film, in part, because the media in the US did not ask “the hard questions of the Bush Administration about these weapons of mass destruction, demand proof. They just became cheerleaders for this war. And that was a disservice to the American people.”
Indeed, Moore makes his strongest points when he gets to the reasons for the war in Iraq. The US invaded because it wanted to rid Saddam of weapons of mass destruction. As it turned out, there weren’t any.
Toward the end of his film, Moore notes that the poorest people in America – like the unemployed youths he interviewed in his home town of Flint, Michigan – are the most likely volunteers to serve America.
“They enlist so we don’t have to,” he says, then adds that all they ask in return is that America does not put them in harm’s way, unless it is absolutely necessary.
The election in the US won’t be fought on the issue of Iraq alone, but Moore cannot attack the US economy, which is booming, or rates of unemployment, which are falling, or interest rates, which aren’t yet rising. Iraq is his strongest card.