June 21, 2004

Five films in, Moore decides to get his facts straight

Everyone knows I'm not a fan of Michael Moore, but when even Fox News is giving Fahrenheit 9/11 a rave review (OK, the Fox News gossip columnist, but still), I'm prepared to go into the new film with an open mind. Indeed, I would love it if the advance buzz is correct and Moore finally got it right, not just factually but as a filmmaker. My dislike of Michael Moore pales in comparison to my support for his agenda, and my criticism of him has always been that he's bad for the left. If he's now become good for the left, I'm ready to re-join the fan club (as long as I never have to work for him).

Yesterday, the Times reported that Moore is determined to get all his facts right with this one (and that, at first glance, he does). "He also hired outside fact-checkers, led by a former general counsel of The New Yorker and a veteran member of that magazine's legendary fact-checking team, to vet the film."

I'm going to take some credit for that wise decision. I know that the right wingers who attack Moore do so with the intent to destroy him (I was recently approached by some conservative hacks who wanted to include my essay in a forthcoming anti-Moore book; I turned them down), but some of us were really hoping, rather, to shame him into shaping up. Good for him, and us, if he has.

Of course, in other ways, he's still the same old prick he's always been. Says the Times: "he is threatening to go one step further, saying he has consulted with lawyers who can bring defamation suits against anyone who maligns the film or damages his reputation."

Having been threatened with just such a suit (never filed, of course, as he had no case) I know that Moore thinks (or has in the past) that anything that hurts his feelings must be a malicious lie.

But even if somebody does legitimately libel Moore or F9/11, he shouldn't take it to court. During the Landesman affair, Jack Shafer wrote: "where I come from, journalists don't sue other journalists. We're supposed to be like grizzly bears, with thick hides that not even bee stings or .22 rounds can penetrate. We don't sue people who say mean or disturbing things about our work. And when we're libeled or defamed, we use the disinfectant power of the press to correct the record instead of libel attorneys."

If Moore really has the truth on his side this time, he shouldn't need lawyers.

Update: Shafer returns to the subject. "Given the thousands of wildly hostile film, book, and restaurant reviews published each year, court dockets would be overflowing with libel suits if bringing one was as easy as Moore pretends to think it is."

Also in Slate, Chris Hitchens slams F9/11 and all but begs MM to sue him. For what it's worth, I find Hitchens pretty unpersuasive here, for reasons I may have time to get into later.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


As Peter Biskind established in his book, "Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film," Roger Friedman is pretty much in Harvey Weinstein's hip pocket...I found Hitchens' takedown fairly unpersuasive too and hypocritically somewhat beside the point...That being said, I think Moore's zenith was "TV Nation," and I expect that many will find his latest film as a major let-down...But I guess I'll have to see it first.

The "truth" vs. "lie" issue with regard to Moore is a total canard. It's not a question of whether this fact is confirmed or that scene really happened. It's the truth of the message that's at stake. If you show a dead baby and then show Bush playing golf and grinning, you may have two verifiable moments - but a totally distorted impression that the man with the golf club doesn't care about babies. That's what this debate should be about - a truthful impression, a valid argument. And where Moore's arguments will take us (over a cliff). C'mon. You know that.

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