Farenheit 9/11 (Michael Moore, 2004) "Everyone’s getting along just fine backstage, the Teamsters are helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo,” cracked Steve Martin after Moore won Best Documentary at the 2002 Oscars (for Bowling for Columbine) and used his speech (accompanied by all the Documentary nominees) as a passionate speech against the Iraq War. The "Shame on you, Mr. Bush" speech was then expanded into this film, which debuted before the 2004 election, but didn't seem to make a dent in Bush's re-election over the swift-boated John Kerry.
It might have been the tone. Rather than educate or inform, Moore's documentary was a bit of a rant, although delivered in a calm, soothing, particularly patronizing tone. For all the juxtaposition of images—of Donald Rumsfeld complimenting the precision of aerial strikes while an Iraqi child's head is being sewn up, President George Bush making a "kill the terrorists" comment to the Press, and then (without an edit, mind you) returning to his golf game ("Now watch this drive"), the excruciating classsroom reading of "My Pet Goat" after being informed that "America is under attack" (Moore's narration muses: "Was he thinking, "I've been hanging out with the wrong crowd. Which one of them screwed me? Was it the man my daddy's friends delivered a lot of weapons to? Was it that group of religious fundamentalists who visited my state when I was governor? Or was it the Saudis? Damn, it was them. Better blame it on [Saddam Hussein]")—Moore's narration hammers the point home, but comes off as snarky and maybe a little too calculating for a moment rife with unanswered questions and the burden of responsibility that must have weighed heavily on him. He might also have thought of his personal safety—"they can't find me in a schoolhouse"—of who in D.C. was in charge, and if the attacks were limited to New York. Or he might have just been contemplating the unbelievability of it (as we all did), even though there was a memo on Condoleeza Rice's desk at that moment—one of several, maybe—warning of an attack but not sure when.
Questions linger as History moves forward: the whisking away of Bin Laden's family members out of the States on the last flights out before the air-travel embargo (Why them? How did it happen so fast, and who had the foreknowledge that Bin Laden, specifically, was behind it that the families needed to be evacuated? Where are they now?); the rush to Afghanistan to upend the tentative stranglehold of the Taliban who were providing training camps to Al Qaida (Understandable, given the intel and lack of cooperation coming out of the place); the wholly unnecessary push to Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein on trumped-up WMD suspicions (there have been no repercussions for that or the cherry-picked evidence); the decision to support Pakistan (ignoring the democratically-voting India, who was already an ally) when that country seemed unable and unwilling to control its borders, and were ultimately revealed to be harboring Bin Laden. Whose decision was that? Is that where Bin Laden's family fled to—or back to Saudi Arabia—did we know this? Is this why—at one point—Bush stated that finding Bin Laden was no longer his highest priority? One can spout maxims like "keep your friends close but your enemies closer" but at what point do you admit your alliances are stabbing you in the back?
The images that stick, though, are the war profiteers who saw a great opportunity for making big bucks once the soldiers who'd fought and bled to clear the area and make it safe for the carpet-baggers to exploit. What's happened to those investors? What's happening now in Iraq? Are the lights on? Is there potable water? Is there any evidence of the U.S. doing any good besides the scars and rubble? In this election year, we're being asked: Are we better off? Shouldn't we also be asking—are they? Do we just make a mess and have no moral obligation to cleaning it up? And if anybody has profited from this, at the expense of the lives of our soldiers, why aren't they in jail?
But, back to Farenheit 9/11: the less important issue is should Moore's work be considered under the category of documentary. To be sure, there is no objectivity in documentaries—every shot, every edit is informed and influenced by some editorial perspective—but Moore's out put is more in the line of illustrated advocacy, starting with a point of view and the content cherry-picked (that term again) to enforce that point (rather than letting the content drive the conclusions). Moore's staged interviews and stunts are all strategically geared to his theses. At that point, his films are no longer documents, but propaganda. So what, you say? It's an important distinction if you're searching for truth—to be informed—rather than being told what to think.