The hype surrounding Michael Moore's scathing analysis of the Bush Administration has been impossible to ignore. The Golden Palm at Cannes, the quarrel over the film's distribution, and the contested "R" rating have assured that his first film since the Oscar-winning "Bowling for Columbine" has stayed in the news. Already, attempts are underway to block screenings and discredit the movie. Who to believe? Is "Fahrenheit 9/11" overblown anti-American propaganda, or a must-see documentary?
Whenever I see attacks on the film or its director, I ask myself: Is this convincing criticism of the film's facts and arguments, or attempts at censorship and character-assassination? Yes, it is true that Michael Moore is overweight and has an in-your-face style that many find problematic. But so far, none of the condemnation heaped on "Fahrenheit 9/11" counters Moore's overwhelming evidence that America is headed in the wrong direction. The kicking and screaming suggests a healthy measure of fear, which is as it should be: considered on the merit of its facts alone, "Fahrenheit 9/11" is hard to dismiss.
The film opens by revisiting the contested 2000 election that put George W. Bush in office. "Was it all a dream?" Moore asks of the celebrating Al Gore. Democrats are often told to "get over it," but any kind of recount would have been likely to result in a Gore win. Moore reminds us that in the summer of 2001, Bush's presidency seemed destined to fail. The President took a record number of vacations, and we now know that in August, he ignored a memo entitled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in U.S."
Fade to black. Instead of showing the September 11 attacks on screen, Moore leaves us in the dark with the sounds of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center, and then cuts to terrified faces in the streets of Manhattan, witnessing the horror but keeping it off-screen. From here, he takes us to the Florida elementary school, where George W. Bush was reading "My Pet Goat" to children and sat for long minutes after being told that the country was under attack, doing nothing.