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 viewers—this 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
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 is—and 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 cap—talking 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
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 own—one 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 Moore—a 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
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.)