brucekluger.com

    USA Today, June 23, 2004

    Michael Moore is antidote to the Bush administration

    By Bruce Kluger


    Fifteen months ago, Michael Moore
    called George W. Bush a "fictitious
    president" in front of 33 million
    American viewersthis after
    accepting the best-documentary
    Oscar for his landmark anti-gun
    screed, Bowling for Columbine.

    As the orchestra conductor
    frantically pumped up the volume
    and Moore was escorted from the stage, I had two simultaneous thoughts:
    1) Good for you, and 2) There goes your career.

    OK, so I was one for two. This Friday, Moore's latest high-voltage polemic,
    Fahrenheit 9/11, will premiere across the country, riding a torrent of advance
    publicity.

    Pegged to the daily headlines and, more precisely, to the very war that had Moore
    in such a lather during the Oscar broadcast, the documentary takes on the nation's
    military-industrial complex, the integrity of our leaders and what Moore defines as
    the ongoing usurpation of U.S. freedoms by corporate interests. This is not, as they
    say, a feel-good picture.

    In a sense, it is almost as though Moore headed straight to his office after being
    whisked into the wings of the Kodak Theatre in 2003 and began storyboarding
    Fahrenheit's opening scenes. In the end, Moore exploited the fallout from his
    infamous Oscar-night display by putting his money (rather, Miramax's) where his
    notorious mouth isand the gamble has paid off.

    Not only did Fahrenheit capture the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, but more
    importantly, it continues to be meticulously analyzed by the news media (in other
    words, taken seriously) and not just in the sections of the paper that feature movie
    showtimes. Call it this summer's anti-blockbuster.

    So, how did Spider-Man, Shrek and Harry Potter find themselves upstaged by an
    obnoxious loudmouth in a grungy baseball captalking geopolitics, no less?

    The answer lies not in what Moore really has to say about our nation post-9/11
    (though what he does say is truly eye-opening), but instead in how hungry America
    has become during the past three years for an alternate point of view.

    Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration has succeeded in charting the sharp-
    right course Democrats worried about during the 2000 election, all the while
    suppressing dissent by wielding the paddle of patriotism. Then-White House
    spokesman Ari Fleischer wasn't kidding when he warned Americans to "watch what
    they say" two weeks after the attacks. Just ask Howard Dean, Phil Donahue or the
    Dixie Chicks.

    Enter Moore, who has repeatedly reminded us that he is not in the business of
    rabble-rousing to make friends. And before you can say, "Where are those
    weapons of mass destruction?" Moore stages a 110- minute "Mission
    Accomplished" photo-op of his ownone that plays on the fragile emotions and
    bone-deep concerns of citizens just as successfully (and manipulatively) as the
    president's aircraft- carrier folly. But there is one big difference: President Bush is
    not really a flight-jacketed fighter pilot. Michael Moore, on the other hand, has
    always been Michael Moorea man whose singular job is to lift the veil of political
    self-interest and stare squarely into the mugs of those who control our lives and
    destinies.

    In such a face-off, whom do you trust? Ironically, I believe both the right and the left
    have been waiting for such a film as Fahrenheit 9/11. Those of us who continue to
    wring our hands over this administration's historic stumbles are grateful to Moore
    for assembling a visual component to our argument. Whether it's a mischievous clip
    of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz slavering gobs of saliva onto his comb
    before going on camera, or the disturbing footage of the president continuing to be
    engrossed in the book My Pet Goat in a Florida classroom for seven interminable
    minutes after learning of the terrorist attacks.

    As for those who support the president, grouse as they may, I believe they secretly
    welcome the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with someone who plays as rough-and-
    tumble as they do. The truth is, Moore may be as much a propagandist as the
    spinmeisters at the White House and Pentagon. If he is, he'll surely be held
    accountable for his truth-twisting, just the way the president should be for his.


    (Photo of Michael Moore by Reuters.)