July 4, 2004

The temperature where blogs jump the shark

Having spent way too much time discussing Fahrenheit 9/11 before seeing it, I should probably say a few more things now that I have.

First and most importantly, I have to agree with Richard Roeper that everyone should see this film. It's certainly possible that someone who goes into it supporting Bush will come out still supporting him. But if you're going to pull that lever, it's your duty to do so with eyes wide open, and for all its problems, F9/11 is an eye-opener.

I think I come down closest to Paul Krugman in my judgment of the film: flawed yet essential for all the reasons he notes (though I cut Moore less slack than Krugman does; where he says "Why hold a self-proclaimed polemicist to a higher standard than you hold the president of the United States?" I say why hold a self-proclaimed documentarian to a lower standard than the most deceptive con-man ever to hold the Oval Office?).

There is no question that Moore plays fast and loose, employing technical facts to mildly misleading ends. And though I earlier defended MM for not putting "the other side" on camera since, after all, the other side has the rest of the media to make its case, I found myself wishing that he had -- not out of some notion of fairness or balance, but because he raises important questions that I actually found myself wanting answers to.

Take those Saudi flights that we've discussed so much here. (A good example of the point I just made: MM clearly does imply that the flights left while air traffic was still grounded, though the thrust of his argument -- that the Saudis received special treatment -- doesn't depend on that). MM uses this to raise an ominous (and legit) question: who authorized these flights and why? So why not get, say, Richard Clarke on camera to answer it. I'm not saying there is a convincing answer -- I certainly don't buy the Isikoff line that the matter is settled just because FBI told the 9/11 commission that they didn't want to investigate these passengers in depth; that only raises the further question of why the fuck not? -- but it would have been a richer story and a better film if MM had allowed someone to take a stab at it instead of throwing it out there just to get the audience worked up. (BTW, Kev is right that Clarke is a red herring. Clarke appears in a couple of clips saying something Moore approves of, but in no way does MM suggest that he's a hero whose every judgment on national security should be respected).

F911 is really two films in one, and while you can enjoy the first half -- as well as poke and pull at its claims -- it's the second half, the Iraq half, that really shook me. I mean, I knew everything he said, but I'd never seen it. And this is part of what I mean when I say it's the duty of Bush supporters to see the film. I can see how someone would say that everything Moore shows is justifiable because of the nature of Saddam's regime or whatnot, but they should at least have to face up to what that argument really means (saying that Moore stacks the deck here is irrelevant; if you've watched any other coverage of the war, you've seen all the other cards already).

The other reason I say Bush supporters owe it to themselves to see the film is that if even the slightest part of your support for him is based on his image or a gut feeling about his abilities as a leader, this will show/remind you just how carefully that image been constructed and how easily it is to construct an opposite one.

I should probably note here that not everyone on the left agrees with me. I know or know of several liberals who found the movie some combination of shallow, unpersuasive, boring, and preaching to the choir.

And it's certainly true that F911 is particularly brilliant filmmaking, or even Moore's best film (I'd have to see Roger and Me again, but I recall that being more tightly constructed). It's entertaining and smarter than it is dumb, but setting aside my political hat and putting on my film buff one (it has an extra wide brim for sundance protection), I'm appalled at the Cannes jury for claiming that politics had nothing to do with their decision to award F911 the stella d'oro. It reminds me of the International Documentary Association preposterously naming Bowling for Columbine the best documentary of all time in 2002 (do you think they wish they waited two years?). I'm all for hating Bush but thinking that means you have to turn Moore into the ultimate champion of mankind is just embarrassing.

Speaking of which, personal to KG: I did go back and read my 1997 Salon article about Moore, and I can only say that anyone who flipped out after reading it is unhinged in the amusing way that only a lefty can be (much in the way that another guy I know of was actually angry at Krugman for attacking Moore in what any sane person would read as a ringing endorsement). True my piece is out of date, but given the thrust of the posts here, I was surprised to find that I said almost nothing about Moore's dishonesty. The five things I said about Moore were: he's an egomaniac, he's not very funny, he's paranoid, he treats his employees badly, and he's a hypocrite who pretends to be a friend of the working man while he's actually a snob.

I'm glad to say that almost none of that is on display in F911, but it was definitely accurate in 1997 and remains at least partly true of Moore regarding his speaking engagements, for instance. I hardly see how it was hateful to point any of this out, especially at a time when no one else was.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Well, that's THAT laid to rest! Phew! So... who's this Lohann chickie I keep hearing about?

Ok, well time for my last post. I’m glad you finally saw the film Daniel. For the most part I actually would agree with your review also. In all honesty, I agree that Michael Moore’s importance has been hugely exaggerated, but I don’t think it’s because we wacko leftists just decided to worship him so much as He has far too few peers, which makes his work important by default. It also makes him an easier target. That’s actually central to the reason why I attacked you (Don’t forget my reaction was partially fueled by Hitchens’ review I read right before your old article). From your characterization of my “flipping out” at the reading of your 5 reasons article, it’s clear you still don’t quite know where I’m coming from; I suppose it’s just beyond my power to articulate it. It’s easy for people to sit back and take cheap shots at Moore, but are YOU the one sticking your head out and writing books and making movies that are dangerous and damaging to the ideological right that is in power? If, in the last few years there had been nearly as many real alternatives to Moore’s voice as there should be, I certainly wouldn’t be so touchy about others on the “left” attacking him.

Times are definitely changing. There has been a flood of new excellent anti-right books, airamerica, and “non-Moore” political movies, so I think Moore will no longer be “the voice” that he has been, and in all honesty, I’m sure he’s happy about that. Moore generously contributed money to a documentary called “shades of gray” a friend of mine made about growing up gay in Kansas. When he spoke at his impromptu book singing at the Uptown theater in Kansas City, he was strongly encouraging people to take action themselves and not rely so heavily (c’mon, no fat jokes anymore), on him to get the message out.

From all the posts we’ve exchanged, and even more so the ones Michael Chaplin and I have exchanged, it’s clear we’re all living in pretty different realities. But the reality we choose is what this is all about. I’ve been accused of being too angry, taking myself too seriously, and lectured by Michael with strange and random anecdotes like “don’t let my passion blind me”. When you were watching the “Iraq” part of the film; that is the reality of this administration to me. Our soldiers and Iraqi civilians getting killed so corporations can make money is so loathsome and horrendous I think it’s impossible to overstate. So yes, I tend to be get “too serious” about murder for money. Watching the film I remember the run up to the war. I knew we were walking into a disaster. I knew the threat of Saddam was a complete fantasy. So when all of the media was cramming this tragic war down our throats, I felt like I was on another planet. Either I was completely insane or our country was about to embark on one of its darkest hours. It literally made me feel nauseated.

So when every single event related to Iraq since the invasion seems amazingly consistent with my reality and completely contradictory with the mainstream media and this administration, I tend to get a little more confident in my questioning of “the facts” as Michael Chapman would put it. By the way, what “facts” are you talking about Michael? “Facts” like “Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction”? “Facts” like “there are long standing ties between Iraq and Al Queida”? What other “facts” have I gotten so wrong that my entire perspective has absolutely no validity? Also, forgive my incredibly misguided naiveté in being skeptical about Iraqis being better off because we took over their country. And when you say you have no interest in what I have to say, but spend great energy “holding the glass” to my words to pick apart my multiple standards, forgive my “invalid” perspective that those statements prove self importance and establishing your superiority are far more important to you that any real exchange of ideas or viewpoints.

Daniel, you said that you see yourself as a media critic and satirist. Well, the media has been in desperate need of criticism and satire. Maybe you are completely confident in your work and are really not looking for input, but if I was in your shoes it would bother me that people on your side of the political spectrum saw my work as shallow and self serving. Speaking of political spectrums, did you infer that you were a “Liberal” Michael C.?? I guess I need a new word to describe myself then, because we certainly are not in the same group. With pretty much everything related to this administration and the Iraq war, the media has completely failed the American people with its “fair and balanced” approach. (By the way Michael, when I was talking about the right crippling the press, I was talking about their pushing for, and the ensuing propaganda blitz pushing for, the weakening of regulation of corporate ownership of multiple media sources…long live Clearchannel, who needs to fuss with multiple viewpoints, its almost as messy and bothersome as multiple “standards”). I guess from a left perspective, I just see a plethora of big fat juicy targets in the media that is not getting enough attention.

You described Moors statement "We need to let the working class know that we don't think we're better than them." – As patronizing. I simply don’t see why you see that as a patronizing statement. I can say from my “Kansas City” perspective, that it IS a problem with the establishment liberals that their work seems remote, inside, superior and not very relevant. Michael Moore knows that the right manipulating working class citizens with “liberals think they are better than you” is a tactic that needs to be called upon. Oh well…..I’m done babbling. I’ve tried my best. At the risk of sounding patronizing, I would suggest to you that with your future work, you take into account how rapidly things are changing in this country and how a future article might play in Kansas or Missouri, you might find inspiration in it. And Michael C., have fun tearing my post apart!

-"From all the posts we’ve exchanged, and even more so the ones Michael Chaplin and I have exchanged, it’s clear we’re all living in pretty different realities. But the reality we choose is what this is all about."

Oooh! Ooooh! I've got dibs on the reality where F *doesn't* equal MA!

-"strange and random anecdotes like “don’t let my passion blind me”.

They're not anecdotes, and they're not so strange and random, Kev. Please look at your posts here. You cannot deny you are passionate, and I certainly wouldn't blame anyone for being so in these circumstances. When you go off half-cocked because of it, though, is a different story. When you ascribe everything hateful to those who are different from you, that's also a different story.

It was advice well meant. I apologize if you took it differently. I only remember that I was much like you in that particular regard about 15 years ago. It was not a happy time, and if I could save someone unneccessary pain, I would try to do so.

-"By the way, what “facts” are you talking about Michael?"

Facts. Y'know. Things which are so. Please don't make me trot out a dictionary again. You said you never heard of hate speech from the left. I provided you with witnessed, documented examples. Facts. It *still* beats calling people names just because you don't like what they have to say.

For instance, there are people who refer to Moore as the Krispy Kreme Avenger, or Mikey the Hutt, or (my favorite) the Baron Harkonnen, not on account of his size, but because they just don't like him, his message, or what he does. When Moore plays fast and loose with the facts, he gives ammunition to those who are against him, and thus allow his message to be devalued or disregarded. With what facts did he play fast and loose in F911? Dave Kopel says he found 59 of them (56 when he first wrote the piece.)


Facts make a documentary, unless there's a definition of documentary of which I'm not aware. When facts are not in evidence, a work is properly labeled as fiction. Is it always so black and white? Of course not. But the extent to which Moore deviates from truth is the extent to which he can rightfully be dismissed. Do you want his message to be dismissed?

-"Also, forgive my incredibly misguided naiveté in being skeptical about Iraqis being better off because we took over their country."

Forgiven. Skepticism is healthy, though. You may wish to read through some of the numerous Iraqis' blogs and settle that for yourself. For the record, though, we have not taken over their country. The Iraqis do have their own government.

-"And when you say you have no interest in what I have to say, but spend great energy “holding the glass” to my words to pick apart my multiple standards, forgive my “invalid” perspective that those statements prove self importance and establishing your superiority are far more important to you that any real exchange of ideas or viewpoints."

It may be a failing, but I do tend to dismiss the views of the rude. If someone wishes to exchange ideas or convince me of a point, he can do so politely, or not at all. As for the phrase "multiple standards," well, I did want to avoid calling you a hypocrit. It's such an inflammatory word. If the shoe fits... As for "establishing myself to be superior," there's no need for that.

-"did you infer that you were a “Liberal” Michael C.?? I guess I need a new word to describe myself then, because we certainly are not in the same group."

No, I did not infer I was a liberal. I *implied* it. *You* inferred it. If you want a new word for yourself, there's an 8-letter one beginning with 'h' just above that might fit. As for my being a liberal, well it's true. I just didn't drink the purple kool-aid when I joined up. Or maybe it just depends on one's definition of liberal. Or maybe I'm playing Devil's Advocate. Or maybe, just maybe, I'm a double-secret mole. Kinda like Victor/Victoria- a liberal posing as conservative posing as a liberal? Or was that the other way around? And why am I receiving checks from Halliburton? This is NOT my beautiful car! This is NOT my beautiful wife!

You said I should listen to liberals. I wonder if you would follow your own advice and listen to conservatives. If you did, you might avoid making insane characterizations as "Bush=Hitler." There's plenty for which the Bush administration is culpable, but that ain't one of them. And every time inflammatory hyperbole like that is used, it pushes centrists away. Why? It shows a bankruptcy of ideas. If all you can do is call names, then do you really have what it takes to run the country? Again, the right is just as much to blame, but no one here ever claimed the right was devoid of hate, as you did of the left.

-"who needs to fuss with multiple viewpoints, its almost as messy and bothersome as multiple “standards”"

I have no problem with multiple viewpoints. I also have no problem with *judging* those viewpoints and finding their value to correspond to facts. I *do* have problems with people who *say* they value multiple viewpoints but call those who may not share their particular viewpoint "blithering morons." That's a double standard. One for you, and one for the rest of the world. That's hypocrisy, see?

-"I guess from a left perspective, I just see a plethora of big fat juicy targets in the media that is not getting enough attention."

So? So you're just gonna sit on your ass then? There are a whole host of free blog services out there. Take some responsibility, man! Start covering the issues you think need to be covered! You *don't* need big media. You don't need to BE big media. Maybe in time, you could be as big as Moore (a difficult feat, I concede), and then you too can have someone insult you on your own page, just 'cause they disagree with you. :^)

-"And Michael C., have fun tearing my post apart!"

But... but... I thought you *liked* hearing opinions different from your own! I do and I do and I do for you, and *this* is the thanks I get? *sob* Listen, just one more piece of advice. Lay off the Kripsy Kremes, okay? When you become big, I'd like to say it's 'cause of your fantastic blog, and *nothing* else.

Me-"Lay off the Kripsy Kremes, okay?"

I'm not sure what a *Kripsy* Kreme is. Maybe a pastry the Bloodz wouldn't touch?

The problem with people like Kopel determined to locate lies in the film is that they end up stretching even more than Moore does. For instance, Kopel counts as a lie the scene showing Gore's "Florida victory" party because it "creates the impression that Gore was celebrating his victory in Florida." It does? To whom? Not to Kopel, obviously. And not to me. I knew exactly what Moore was doing: taking a real election rally and using it to illustrate a fantasy scenario. That's a filmmaking technique, not a deception.

Or what about the claim that Bush didn't spend 42 percent of his pre 9/11 presidency on vacation because that figure includes weekends. Talk about splitting hairs!

Every word of this piece reveals its own bias: Look at "deceit 9" for the lamest example of calling every one of Moore's opinions a lie if anyone happens to disagree with it.

The Spinsanity piece I linked in my post (poke and pull) is much more fair, and finds far fewer deceptions. Yet even that overreaches, counting as misleading, for example, the claim that the Saudis "have given the Bush family, their friends and their related businesses " $1.4 billion because most of that went to a firm that was "only" owned by the company on which Bush Sr. served during a different period, and for which Bush Sr. "only" "made one paid speech and took an overseas trip on its behalf. " How does that not count as friends and related businesses?

Confidential to Mike "I Know the Difference Between Implied and Inferred" Chaplin: "hypocrite" has 9 letters. Or were you calling Kev a hedgerow?

Nope- I spelled it wrong, pure and simple. I will claim ignorance, rather than foisting it off on a typo, like "Kripsy" Kreme. So much for "establishing my superiority." Will Kev ever look at me the same way, again? Guess I'm just human, after all. :^)

Daniel -

Good to hear that you saw it. Can't argue with anything you said really. One small point...

> MM clearly does imply that the flights left while air traffic was still grounded

While MM does imply this, the watchdogs have claimed that NO flights left with Saudis while any air traffic was grounded. This is not a matter of implication, but a lie, we now know (and did before the movie came out).


This is what gets me about this whole debate. Moore's piece is a movie, with an admittedly propagandistic purpose, yet the degree to which the movie as a whole depends on any shading of the truth is minuscule. Meanwhile, the pundits and politicians who discuss it, arguing on the side of "truth," go ahead and flat-out lie about it, just as our government (which, like Krugman, I think should be held to a higher truth-telling standard than a filmmaker/satirist) did in order to get us into this mess.

Vance -- while your main point about criticism of the film holds, in defense of the watchdogs you mention, what they say is that no flights left US airspace while commercial flights were grounded, which is what Moore implies. As the Tampa piece says, the Saudis chartered a private flight from Tampa to Lexington, Ky. They didn't leave the country until the next day. Semantics, perhaps, but not an outright lie.

Dear Daniel,

It's interesting that I received my daily word from wordsmith.org, philodox, just after reading Christopher Hitchens's 7/13 diatribe on Joe Wilson. He probably should listen to an editor, any editor.

Also went through all of your Power Point on Bill Clinton's 'My Life' and would like to ask if that was your way to avoid reading a big book. Everything you created could have been done without even lifting the thing. Actually, the book is well written, a real page turner, and I didn't even check the index first. I read a few chapters every morning for about two weeks. But then, I'm 72, retired, a woman, smart, and a fast reader. I even read grammar books for fun. You ought to try 'Woe is I' and 'Lapsing into a Comma.' Also, I get it that Bill Clinton is attractive to women. If you don't understand that yet, you never will. I was impressed that he didn't even mention the peccadillos of Newt, Hyde, Burton & Co. when he wrote about the impeachment proceedings. But then, how could he, being such a bad boy and all.

I intend to read President Bush's memoirs soon after the election in November. It shouldn't take him long. Maybe he can get Maurice Sendak to illustrate it. He might do well to play on some well known titles like The Wizard of War, White Like Me, etc., or surely there are no copyright problems with an old story like 'The Emperor's New Clothes.' He wouldn't have to do anything but edit with a 'change all' on the word 'emperor' to 'president.'

I hope you keep working. You write well and if you get away from that cutsie Power Point humor (?) you might even be invited on one of those TV talk wars. That way you could acquire the elusive 'status conferral' or maybe even be lauded as the 'expert on everything.' I'd concentrate a bit more on extensive research and some in-depth stuff.

Post a comment

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2