No sense reinventing the wheel -- David Kopel has a devastating critique of Fahrenheit 9/11. It began as the 56 deceptions of Fahrenheit 9/11, then he found three more. Moorewatch has an excellent page on other deceits used in the film. But I'm happy to give a quick review of two major aspects of the film -- i.e., its fabrications and its style.
As to fabrications:
1. Much of Fahrenheit tracks Moore's book "Dude, Where's My County." In the rebuttal to that (see menu at left) I point out where he errs on the Florida election, the supposed Afghani pipeline, the Carlyle Group and other matters.
2. You can't count on Moore even to show you an honest headline. In regard to the 2000 elections, he flashed a supposed image of a newspaper headline:
There is no such headline. He actually re-typeset a letter to the editor, which was complaining about a real news story showing that George Bush would have won the recount. Here it is:
Here's the story, from Moorewatch.com (with links to full-sized images)
3. To stir up interest in Fahrenheit 9/11 before its release, Moore claimed that it had footage of Iraqi detainee abuse, and that he was troubled in conscience because he hadn't released the footage earlier. The New York Times reported that
"Mr. Moore said he was considering making at least one sequence from the film available to the news media today after he presents it at the Cannes film festival: that of American soldiers laughing and taking pictures as they place hoods over Iraqi detainees, with one of them touching a prisoner's genitals through a blanket."
Pressed by a British paper for details of this "detainee," Moore admitted he wasn't a detainee at all: "In fact, the soldiers had picked up an old man who had passed out drunk and they poked at his visible erection, covered by a blanket." Last we heard, passed-out drunks were not protected by the Geneva Protocols, and being ridiculed by teenagers was one of the occupational hazards of being a passed-out drunk with a hard-on. [Incidentally, this revelation has received no coverage at all in the American press; even the NY Times had no reaction to having been misled. In the US media, Moore always gets a pass].
4. Bush family - Bin Laden family ties. Whoopee. The bin Ladens happen to be one enormous clan. When the founder died in 1988, he left no fewer than 54 children (some say 53 -- heck, he himself may not have kept count.). Add in grandkids, in-laws, and cousins, and it must make for a heck of a big family reunion. The founder emigrated to Saudi Arabia early in the 20th century, founded the construction firm, was hired to rebuild Mecca, and got a lock on all religious construction in a very religious country. Most of the family is western-leaning, and send their children to the U.S. for an education -- that's why they were here. Osama went in for fanaticism, was disowned by the family, and fled the country in 1992 after the Saudis ordered him arrested. [Source: Frontline - About the Bin Laden Family]
5. The Carlyle Group, as the link between bin Ladens and the Bush family. Yep, it's one big business, reportedly worth over three billion, lots of projects in the Mideast. Both Bushes were tied in with Carlyle pretty thoroughly, and Bush, Sr. in retirement would serve as an advisor. The bin Laden family invested two million in a $1.3 billion fund run by it. [Source: Guardian Unlimited - The ex-president's Club]. But if that's a "tie" to bin Laden, Moore would have to face a big problem. The guy who put Carlyle on the map, sinking $100 million into it, was a fellow named George Soros. The same fellow , yes, who invested about $30 million into trying to defeat George Bush. Does Soros have bin Laden links? Certainly, if we accept Moore's equation.
6. The flight of the bin Ladens. Moore makes this a major theme; supposedly the bin Ladens and Saudis pulled strings with the President, and were flown out of the country during the no-fly period right after 9/11.
The 9/11 Commission Report takes Moore to pieces on this. (pp. 329-330):
"First, we found no evidence that any flights of Saudi nationals, domestic or international, took place before the reopenning of national airspace on the morning of September 13, 2001. To the contrary, every flight we have identified occurred after national airspace reopened.
Second, we found no evidence of any political intervention. (Discussion of how decision was made by Richard Clarke in coordination with the FBI).
Third, we believe that the FBI conducted a satisfactory screening of Saudi nationals who left the United States on charter flights. (discussion of the screening). The FBI interviewed all persons of interest on these flights prior to their departures. They concluded that none of the passengers was connected to the 9/11 attacks and have since found no evidence to change that conclusion."
Clarke (portrayed by Moore as a hero) confirms this. He told The Hill: "I take responsibility for it. I don't think it was a mistake, and I'd do it again." "It didn't get any higher than me," he said. "On 9-11, 9-12 and 9-13, many things didn't get any higher than me. I decided it in consultation with the FBI."
As to style:
There is no question as to one thing. Moore is simply the most brilliant propagandist who has ever lived. Bar none. This may be due to the inept competition (the field is dominated by government-types, often totalitarian, and those are callings that do not encourage brilliance and art), but it is still a distinction.
I try here to use "propaganda," not as a pejorative, but as a neutral description of a field of human endeavor. Unless we understand its techniques, we cannot understand how Moore stands out. Let's take a look at some principles of state-of-the-art propaganda.
1. The spokesman must never quite say that which is provably false, but must create false impressions indirectly.
I cannot think of any communicator who approaches Moore's skills at this aspect of the propagandist's art. Moore knows how to juxtapose footage and statements in a way that leaves the viewer with the belief that X is true, without Moore ever quite saying X. If someone then demonstrates that X is false, Moore has the "out" that he never really said that.
Classic example: in F 9/11, Moore has a sequence on the flights of the Saudis out of the US. He states that everyone was grounded right after 9/11, but then who would want to fly -- except the bin Ladens. Cut to an aircraft zooming away, and Moore discussing how chartered planes were used to round up Saudis, including some bin Laden family members. Cut to former FBI agent discussing how the FBI should have been allowed to interview them first.
Viewers naturally conclude that the Saudis were sent out of the US while everyone else was grounded, and the FBI was prevented from interviewing them. But Moore didn't really say that. And thus when confronted with the 9/11 Commission Report, which concluded that the Saudis were NOT flown out during the ban on flying, and that the FBI had opportunity to interview all of them it wanted to, Moore had his out. The Washington Post reported, "Joanne Doroshow, an associate producer of "Fahrenheit 9/11," said Moore did not intend to suggest that the bin Ladens flew away while civilian flights were grounded." Yeah, sure.
2. Decontextualization and recontextualization. Another tool of the propagandist is not merely to take an item out of context, but to weave a new context around it. In Bowling for Columbine, Moore showed his skill with this tool, and in F9/11 he shows his mastery of it. Condaleeza Rice is shown stating that of course there is a connection between Hussein and 9/11 ... the viewer is not shown the rest of her sentence, that the connection is not a matter of planning or aid, but that both are aspects of radical Islamic hatred of the U.S.
Yet another: Moore suggests that the Administration is deceiving people and, having set that context, shows footage of Donald Rumsfeld saying to reporters, "You get told things every day that don't happen. It doesn't seem to bother people." In that context, Rumsfeld seems to be saying that he and others lie every day and no reporter should worry about it. In the real context of the press conference, Rumsfeld was replying to a reporter who said he had been tipped off as to a matter. Rumsfeld denied the tip was true, and was cautioning and criticizing reporters for relying on rumors:
Q: But again, we were told that that was agreed upon.
Rumsfeld: You weren't told by me.
Q: Well --
Rumsfeld: I mean, you're going to be told lots of things. You get told things every day that don't happen. It doesn't seem to bother people. They don't -- it's printed in the press. The world thinks all these thing happen. They never happened. It's -- everyone's so eager to get the story before, in fact, the story's there that the world is constantly being fed things that haven't happened.
(Actually, Rumsfeld is being exceptionally honest here. The tip was that desirable agreements had been made with another government, and Rumsfeld is saying not yet, we're still working on them).
3. Shifting of Time and Place. This is a temporal version of decontextualization. The propagandist takes a statement which made sense when spoken, and shifts it into a time or place where it seems improper, ridiculous, or dishonest. Moore again proves himself a master at this. In Bowling for Columbine he had experimented with it, taking Heston's pre-election defiance of Gore with "From my cold, dead, hands!" and making it seem as if it were uttered a year earlier in response to the Columbine massacre. In F 9/11, though, Moore pulls out the stops. A few examples:
Moore argues that one object of the war on terror is to confuse everyone. The footage then jumps back and forth from Bush saying everyone should travel to others saying terror is a danger back to Bush saying people should see this great country of ours to others again saying terror is imminent, and continues through several iterations. The result certainly sounds confusing. But all the footage of Bush saying that people should travel comes from a single 2001 speech Bush gave to airline employees, on a theme of how we are going to win the war on terror and resume our lifestyle. The segments from other spokesmen were chosen from points spread over 2003 and 2004, at times when terrorism was said to be a high risk.
Another example: Moore informs the viewer (correctly) that President Bush opposed creation of the 9/11 Commission. Having set the context (Bush has no reason to cooperate with the Commission) he then shows footage of the President saying "We have given extraordinary cooperation with Chairmen Kean and Hamilton," followed by Commission Chairman Kean saying "We haven't gotten the materials we needed, and we certainly haven't gotten them in a timely fashion."
In that sequence, Bush is made out to be a liar. But here's the real context: Kean's complaint was made in July 2003, as the Commission began its work, and he actually went on to say that "the White House is cooperating" but that "some agencies, led at the moment by the Department of Defense" were not. Bush's statement that the Administration had given extraordinary cooperation was made in February 2004, some seven months later, and was true when made (Kean would ultimately say "we had wonderful access in the end. I mean we were able to see every single document we requested...."). By changing the time sequence, however, Moore makes an honest statement seem a lie.
4. "He's one of THEM!" Another venerable tool of the propagandist is to associate his target with some group, then to argue that that group is, well, them rather than us. They look different, dress different, may be sneaky, probably up to something. The real bottom line is ... they're them. The Nazis of course had Jews, and racists had blacks (not to mention commies whom they argued civil rights activists were too cozy with. Fact: during WWII, when he had a few other worries like a zillion Russian tanks heading in his direction, Hitler expended considerable work trying to prove that President Roosevelt was actually Jewish).
For Moore, the foil is not Jews or blacks but Arabs. He portrays them as strange, suspicious, sneaky folks, and then ties George Bush in with them (which is not hard to do: surprise, most top dogs in the oil business know Saudis).
A stronger example here is Moore's attempts to tie Bush with the Taliban and bin Laden, surely the two most extreme cases of "them." Here, merely being in the same State as one of these is a sufficient tie. Moore notes that Taliban representatives visited Texas while Bush was governor, trying to push for an oil pipeline thru Afghanistan. As I note in reviewing that claim in his earlier book, Bush had nothing to do with their visit, and the pipeline was being sponsored by the Clinton Administration, to benefit Unocal, a major Texas contributor to the Democratic Party. Moore then states that Taliban representatives (after Bush's election and before 9/11) visited Washington and met with the Bush Administration. He doesn't mention that the Administration told them that it did not recognize the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan, and did not believe its claims that it was acting against bin Laden.
5. Complete ruthlessness in obtaining the goal. One of the distinctions between a critic and a propgandist is that of core ethics. A responsible critic will be just that. The propagandist doesn't care about the nature of his argument, but only that it damages its target. As a result, the propagandist feels free to contradict himself at will; no matter what his target does, it can be ridiculed. Thus--
Moore, Sept. 2001: we should not strike back against the Taliban:
The man who occupies the White House cried today. Good. Keep crying, Mr. Bush. The more you cry, the less you will go to that dark side in all humans where anger rages to a point where we want to blindly kill. ...
But do not declare war and massacre more innocents. After bin Laden's previous act of terror, our last elected president went and bombed what he said was "bin Laden's camp" in Afghanistan -- but instead just killed civilians.
OK, Bush didn't fire off some cruise missiles at empty camps. He invaded the place, toppled the Taliban, and took minimal casualties in the process (in good part because anti-Taliban Afghanis, aided by Special Forces, were used in some key fights).
Moore, Fahrenheit 9/11: Bush screwed up by not hitting Afghanistan with more troops and more force, and "outsourcing" the search for bin Laden to non-Americans, and thus let Osama bin Laden get away.
Another example: while Moore urges Bush to do anything but start a war, in F9/11, as noted above, he implies that Bush was too Taliban-friendly merely because his Administration met with Taliban representatives (to tell them they weren't doing enough about bin Laden). That is, he criticizes Bush both for war and for nonviolent diplomacy. No matter what the propagandist's target does, it must be attacked, and inconsistency in the attacks merely broadens their appeal.
[For whimsy, turn to my attempt at replicating Moore's paranoid ideation -- an inquiry into ties between Moore and bin Laden].