Is "Fahrenheit 9/11" Accurate? Who Cares? - June 23, 2004 -

Times Watch for June 23, 2004

Is "Fahrenheit 9/11" Accurate? Who Cares?

Critic A. O. Scott reviews left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore's "documentary," "Fahrenheit 9/11," and though he devotes myriad words to Moore's contradictory but somehow (to Scott, anyway) loveable persona, his take on the movie itself can be summarized in just two: Facts, shmacts!

Scott writes that while, yes, accuracy in a documentary is important, the real story here is Moore's impish spirit: "".while Michael Moore's 'Fahrenheit 9/11' will be properly debated on the basis of its factual claims and cinematic techniques, it should first of all be appreciated as a high-spirited and unruly exercise in democratic self-expression. Mixing sober outrage with mischievous humor and blithely trampling the boundary between documentary and demagoguery, Mr. Moore takes wholesale aim at the Bush administration, whose tenure has been distinguished, in his view, by unparalleled and unmitigated arrogance, mendacity and incompetence."

Scott concedes and defends Moore's anti-Bush vitriol: "But one thing it is not is a fair and nuanced picture of the president and his policies. What did you expect? Mr. Moore is often impolite, rarely subtle and occasionally unwise. He can be obnoxious, tendentious and maddeningly self-contradictory. He can drive even his most ardent admirers crazy. He is a credit to the republic."

Scott revels in Moore's ambush film technique, which he uses to embarrass political figures he dislikes: "Mr. Moore uses archival video images, rapid-fire editing and playful musical cues to create an exaggerated, satirical likeness of his targets. The president and his team have obliged him by looking sinister and ridiculous on camera. Paul D. Wolfowitz shares his icky hair-care secrets (a black plastic comb and a great deal of saliva); John Ashcroft raptly croons a patriotic ballad of his own composition; Mr. Bush, when he is not blundering through the thickets of his native tongue, projects an air of shallow self-confidence."

Then it's back, briefly, to whether Moore's documentary is in fact accurate. The Times had the right idea Sunday in getting intelligence reporter Philip Shenon to give the movie a fact-check, although the often-slanted Shenon left out some key points (Richard Clarke, anyone?) in giving Moore's movie a generally favorable notice.

But Scott simply throws up his hands and doesn't even try to deal with the left-wing conspiratorial points raised by the movie: "After you leave the theater, some questions are likely to linger about Mr. Moore's views on the war in Afghanistan, about whether he thinks the homeland security program has been too intrusive or not intrusive enough, and about how he thinks the government should have responded to the murderous jihadists who attacked the United States on Sept. 11."

Then Scott decides accuracy doesn't matter so much, and that Moore's confused rendering is in fact part of the big lug's charm: "At the same time, though, it may be that the confusions trailing Mr. Moore's narrative are what make 'Fahrenheit 9/11' an authentic and indispensable document of its time. The film can be seen as an effort to wrest clarity from shock, anger and dismay, and if parts of it seem rash, overstated or muddled, well, so has the national mood."

For the rest of Scott's review of "Fahrenheit 9/11," click here.

" "Fahrenheit 9-11" | Michael Moore | Movies | A.O. Scott

Gassing Up For Higher Taxes

Reporter Timothy Egan, who has in the past criticized the state of Oregon for its tax cuts ("Hit by a harsh recession after a series of tax-cutting measures pared the budget to the bone".), pumps for an increase in the federal gas tax in his front page story for the Times Sunday Week in Review.

Egan takes on the tone of an environmental moralist: "Gas prices finally headed down last week, and may have peaked for the year, the Energy Department reported. This is good news for drivers and businesses. But the pattern over the last 30 years suggests that this is bad news for anyone who believes that Americans, the world's biggest oil consumers, can ever curb their energy consumption. For all the scolding about America's energy gluttony, and for all the warnings about foreign entanglements linked to oil addiction, price seems to be the only factor that moves people to change habits".William C. Ford Jr., the president of Ford, has said that higher gas taxes are needed to change consumer choices substantially. But few politicians want to lead the way. Senator John Kerry is paying the price for even considering higher gas taxes years ago; a Bush campaign ad lashed him for what it called this 'wacky idea.'"

For the rest of Egan on gas taxes, click here.

" Energy | Timothy Egan | Gasoline | Taxes

Greg Packer Returns!

Reporter Stephanie Rosenbloom filed the Times' initial report on the Manhattanites lining up for Bill Clinton's signing of his autobiography, "My Life." In a detail not in Wednesday's print edition story by veteran reporter Katherine Seelye, Rosenbloom quotes, probably unwittingly, the media's infamous "man on the street," Greg Packer, who was first in line for Clinton's biography.

Packer, a sort of poor man's Zelig with apparently loads of free time, was also first in line for last year's Manhattan book signing for Hillary Clinton and was also quoted back then in the Times.

As columnist Ann Coulter pointed out at the time, that doesn't even scratch the surface of Packer's peripatetic pursuit of publicity: "In addition he is apparently the entire media's designated 'man on the street' for all articles ever written. He has appeared in news stories more than 100 times as a random member of the public. Packer was quoted on his reaction to military strikes against Iraq; he was quoted at the St. Patrick's Day Parade, the Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Veterans' Day Parade. He was quoted at not one-but two-New Year's Eve celebrations at Times Square."

Perhaps that's why Seelye chooses to glide over the diehards at the front of the Bill Clinton book line, summarizing that "People started lining up at noon on Monday at the Fifth Avenue store to see Mr. Clinton," without mentioning the media hound heading the line.

For more on Clinton's Manhattan book-signing (and the latest Packer sighting), click here.

" Books | Bill Clinton | Gaffes | Greg Packer