Published on Tuesday, June 29, 2004 by the Daytona Beach News-Journal
Moore Spoons up Dish for Snake-oil Artisans
by Pierre Tristam
The Dallas Morning News says "factoids and speculation come fast and furious, often with little connective tissue.
"You massage the material to fit your agenda."
(Remember the way President Bush went about collating 9/11 with Saddam and Saddam with al-Qaida, and al-Qaida with the end of Western civilization as we know it, but on tissue thinner than one-ply TP?)
The Wall Street Journal describes him as "rambling, troubling and sometimes rousing" and points to his "penchant for drawing dark inferences from dubious evidence." (Think of President Bush's news conference just before the Iraq invasion, when he spoke of the threat of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, of Colin Powell's lavish display of dubious evidence and dark implications at the U.N. Security Council a month before the war, of Dick Cheney seeing Iraqi nukes every time he sneezed.)
The Philadelphia Inquirer says his delivery is infused with "arrogance, playing to the base." (Think of Bush's every-other-day speech to a military audience or his fund-raising pitches to the "haves" and the "have-mores," as he calls his wealthy backers before frosting them with a little verbal sugar: "Some call you the elite. I call you my base.")
National Review calls it "tabloid-style, raw exploitation of emotion -- in promotion of unjustified fear, in falsehoods and quarter-truths." (Think of the way the Bush administration has jacked up terror alerts with yo-yo regularity to refresh the nation's fears and justify the trampling of the very liberties we're supposedly fighting a war to protect.)
The New York Times says he's "rarely subtle and occasionally unwise. He can be obnoxious, tendentious and maddeningly self-contradictory" while occasionally approaching "demagoguery." (Think of Bush's "with-us-or-against-us" view of the world, his "dead-or-alive" sense of justice, his reduction of foreign policy to "evildoers" on a deck of cards.)
Finally, the online magazine Slate says his general approach's "discrepant shots do not cohere at any point," that he's all about "facile crowd pleasing," that his work can be summed up as "a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness," in "let's have it both ways opportunism." (Think of the Bush administration as a whole for the last 3 1/2 years, and as it will surely be summed up again in those very Slate terms at the National Republican Convention, a few blocks up from ground zero.)
The newspaper quotes are authentic, of course, but their target is not George W. Bush. It's Michael Moore, the filmmaker and director of "Fahrenheit9/11." A bit of editing, a bit of splicing, a bit of voice-over, and there you have it. Two targets made as indistinguishable as they are recognizable by the rancor and brutality of their criticism. That the two are as interchangeable as Eli Whitney's gun locks should be a greater concern to those who revel in scorning Moore than whether Moore's documentary technique is so uniquely slimy. Moore's critics may be offended by his wayward use of facts (although the waywardness is far less evident in "Fahrenheit 9/11" than it was in "Bowling for Columbine"). Perhaps they should be a bit more offended when the waywardness is the work of the president of the United States.
"Fahrenheit 9/11" is a 110-minute movie. The Bush White House has been a cavalcade of stretched truths, selective editing, splices, stitches, omissions, evasions, faux fears, faux wars and faux policies for 3 1/2 years, as easy to document as this morning's newspaper or tomorrow's campaign ad. Moore merely adopted the method to his purposes, doing what great artists usually do. He made his documentary's form -- its smart-alecky tone, its simplicity, its viscous relationship with truth -- fit its subject.
Right-wingers gurgle when practitioners of that oldest of political professions are the Limbaughs and Coulters and Foxy tricksters of the airwaves. They froth with rage when a liberal cut of the same cloth gives them a taste of their own snake oil.
There's one essential difference. Moore's version has that gourmet touch of truth the other short-order cranks never cooked up. It also scoops, scours and shames the establishment vassalage called the mainstream media. But that's no great news. The media's operating comfort zone for the last several years has been Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which, as Ray Bradbury once taught, paper burns.
Tristam is a News-Journal editorial writer. Reach him at email@example.com.
© 2004 News-Journal Corporation