Fahrenheit 9/11

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 24, 2004

The film, while entertaining ? very funny in parts and at times powerfully moving ? was ultimately disappointing for me. Whether Moore intended it to or not (not quite sure what Moore wants these days?he?s plays his cards close to his chest in that regard), this film is not meant to change your mind or sway opinion. It?s meant to rally the troops, and it does so well. Fahrenheit 9/11 is ultimately about Michael Moore?s view of the world, which is what makes it so entertaining, pleasing to Moore fans, but also what limits its potential.

During the last half of the movie, I thought more than once about The Fog of War, Errol Morris? excellent documentary on Robert McNamara, and how Morris would have done the film. Or how Andrew Jarecki (Capturing the Friedmans) would have. You certainly can?t remove opinion from a documentary, but with Fog and Friedmans, you get a sense of what the filmmakers? opinions are and how they affect the way the story is told. And as with anything in life, you find your own truth in the films based on what you think that bias might be. But Fahrenheit 9/11 is so much about Michael Moore?s opinion that it?s difficult to go through that process of finding the truth. The frustrating thing is that Moore has a point, but he?s unable to get himself out of the way enough to tell us the story so we can make up our own minds about it. One of the charges leveled against Bush ? and probably every other politician in the US ? is that he?s constantly putting spin on everything to obscure or manipulate the truth. I can?t help but think that Moore is doing exactly the same thing in the opposite direction.

Reader comments

Chris CurnowJun 24, 2004 at 2:36AM

I love that phrase “getting out of the way enough to tell us the story” I’m going to print it out and put it up on the wall in front of me.

I like to think of myself as a part time writer but over the last five years I haven’t been able to write anything even I enjoyed reading. It’s only over the last couple of months that I’ve broken that cycle and started enjoying writing again. (It’s been through blogging that I’ve be able to do that.)

And I realised that it was because I was getting in the way of what I wanted to say and not letting the story tell itself that my writing was crap.

Thanks again for the phrase.

ericJun 24, 2004 at 2:50AM

That’s an interesting observation, especially because Roger Ebert’s review claimed that in the second half Moore managed to get out of the picture entirely, and in the whole movie he was much less involved than he has been in the past.

I haven’t seen it yet, although I hope to in the next few days… sometime before it gets banned, or something.

Kip IngramJun 24, 2004 at 7:52AM

Frankly I’ve begun to despair about finding “spin free” information on much of anything these days. Everyone seems to have an axe of some type (economic, political, etc.) to grind, and the truth tends to get lost in the shuffle.

Sometimes I worry that we’ve gotten to such a point because most of us would rather be told what to think than learn how to think for ourselves. I have a feeling that participants in sites like this one tend to be the exceptions to that tendency, though.

Ralph Waldo EmersonJun 24, 2004 at 8:57AM

When Nature has work to be done, she creates a genius to do it.

barlowJun 24, 2004 at 9:54AM

Well, “the truth” gets lost by design in most modern discourse. We live in an epistemological context where every college graduate has learned that there is no such thing as an uninterpreted fact. Everything is theory- mediated to some degree or another. The proliferation of news debate shows and the very partisan discourse with which we’re stuck is probably just a reaction to our capitulation to this epistemology (we know that everyone has an axe to grind and we’d rather just all be honest about that).

I tend to not be wholly satisfied with the throwing out of objectivity that has happened in modern philosophy, but at the same time, it is compelling to me because when I find people who claim to be objective they generally just proceed by defining their political or religious views as those to which any reasonable person should subscribe and then argue from that theoretical basis. That comes out as much in what people say as in what they leave out. Our public schools are a great example; the pretended neutrality on religion and science and other issues is just a civic myth. Proceeding to educate children without reference to religion isn’t neutral on religion - it is communicating a very distinct viewpoint that religion isn’t relevant to our workaday lives.

Another danger is assuming that objectivity can be achieved by some kind of mechanical method for cranking out the truth. But this acts as though our intellectual tools, once clean, will do the job for us. But those tools are in the hands of people with convictions, different levels of skill in assessing the deliverances of those tools, etc. It leaves out the role of character and proficiency and artistry. The scientific method doesn’t really explain the genesis of almost any of the most significant discoveries of this century or any other; DNA came in a dream, Einstein imagined sitting on a photon, etc.

Hitchens’s critique of Moore is that, in effect, Moore does a logically poor and deceptive job of constructing a cogent argument for his point of view. I think the modern man or woman is really left to just look at all the pundits and see who has the most consistent and plausible argument. We’re not able to choose between truth and falsity most of the time, so we just have to choose that which is promulgated by people we “trust” and who are presenting a position which corresponds to some of our values - internal consistency, fruitfulness, harmony with other beliefs that we have, and some kind of correspondence to what we think the facts are (with the realization that our access to those ‘facts’ is mediated by previous decisions just like this one).

Mark H.Jun 24, 2004 at 11:16AM

The only problem with the film is that the uneducated will watch it, and accept it as fact. Most Americans are simply to lazy to search for truth. We derive truth in our minds by watching the evening news. Anyone can say anything, and it will be believed by someone who is to lazy, or lacks the ability to analyze the statement logicaly. If you don’t believe this research the Flat Earth Society. Mr. Moore is an extremist. Therfore, he has no credibility.

Mr. Moore is simply making money off those who cannot think for themselves. He is pretty smart in the use of capitalism. He knows that if he works people up he will reap a monetary reward. It is the same with extreme right wing activists. Neither of them have any real credibility. With the application of logic, critical thinking, and a degree of intrepidity you will be able to see through the lies of both sides.

“People demand freedom of speech to make up for the freedom of thought which they avoid.” Soren Aabye Kierkegaard

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” Arthur Schopenhauer

AdamJun 24, 2004 at 12:09PM

I agree with you on this, Jason. Michael Moore is not a documentarian.

As such, I think we need another category/genre for this type of film other than documentary. “Cinematic Essay” or something like that might work well. As “an analytic or interpretive literary composition”, this begins to capture the essence of what Moore is creating.

It’s the closest thing I’ve come up with to describe political, social, or “other” satires/statements derived from a single, personal perspective.

AdrianJun 24, 2004 at 12:31PM

Does anyone have a dictionary? I’ve just read Barlow’s comments.

AndyJun 24, 2004 at 12:40PM

Thats a pretty good way of describing what Moore does. He so often discovers what appears to me to be the reason behind ths issue but as with Bowling… he keeps looking for more and what you often end up with is closer to a poorly thought out publicity stunt than well though out investigation.

The fact that he is willing to go out and make these films is a good thing, and it does open up areas we may not otherwise have discovered but a tad more objectivity and restraint would go along way.

Buck TurgidsonJun 24, 2004 at 1:04PM

Adrian, here is the shorter Barlow: objectivity (whatever that is because he doesn’t say) is impossible nowadays so just look around and grab the most plausible argument you can find because that’s all you’re gonna get.

GregJun 24, 2004 at 1:23PM

I’d rather pay to see Moore and O’Reily on a special edition of Survior.

EriqJun 24, 2004 at 1:29PM

Good review. I came to pretty much the same conclusions.


ThalwilJun 24, 2004 at 1:37PM

Fighting manipulation with manipulation is a poor idea.
Propaganda is a bad tool against propaganda.
In the end the audience won’t believe anyone!

Ultimately Moore’s attack on Bush will be counterproductive as it will only ‘convert the already converted’. Bush supporters will rally even more and the undecided will be put off by Moore’s manipulative, extreme untrustworthy message.

Most people don’t want extremism by Moore or Bush…

Joe GrossbergJun 24, 2004 at 2:14PM

Does anyone have a dictionary? I’ve just read Barlow’s comments.

Try these:
* pedantic
* pretentious
* sesquipedalian


Seriously though, his comments are worth thinking about. Reminds me of Ian Bicking’s “Taking Sides” essay from earlier this month.

Jim PettitJun 24, 2004 at 2:33PM

Settle down, folks. Mr. Moore himself has not tried to hide the fact that his film is intended to A) get BushCo out of office in November and B) make money. In that order. “It’s my opinion about the last four years of the Bush administration,” he told ABC. “I’m not trying to pretend that this is some sort of fair and balanced work of journalism.” The camera doesn’t lie; in that sense, Mr. Moore *is* a documentarian. And if what his camera documents is entertaining — and parts of Fahrenheit are rolling-on-the-floor-pissing-your-pants hilarious, no matter which side of the aisle you’re seated — then he’s an entertainer, too. And he’ll admit his partisan leanings and his greed…unlike, say, that supposed paragon of fair and balanced reporting, Fox News.

Thane PlambeckJun 24, 2004 at 3:22PM

The idea that one needs to guard oneself against the influence of “bias” on the part of a creator of a news story, work of art, movie, or whatever seems to come up so often that it makes me wonder where it comes from. What’s the point of “balanced journalism”, or “fair reporting” or whatever? Honestly I don’t know what people mean by these terms. They sound nice, sort of like some philosophical ideas—-“the form of beauty,” for example, but gee, it’s hard to really know what is meant at a practical level.

News through major media outlets in the US comes in a very narrow spectrum. Calling some of it “left” or “right” is like having a taste-off between two Mars bars. Moore’s film is only a modest step away from the mainstream but suddenly everyone is upset or excited about it, and the possibility that it is “biased,” or “extremist.” What does that mean? That it’s wrong, or misleading? If so, wrong about what? Misleading how? Unlike the strangely prevalent abstract discussions about “bias,” or “extremism”, such questions have actual meaning.

EdJun 24, 2004 at 3:27PM

Re: eric
I just read Roger Ebert’s review during my lunch and I really like what he had to say about the film and about Moore. If you get a chance take a look at it over at the Suntimes.com web site and have look-see at his 3 1/2 star review. And while I haven’t seen the film yet (it opens in wider circulation this weekend in the Chicago area) I look forward to seeing it.

“But he [Michael Moore] remains one of the most valuable figures on the political landscape, a populist rabble-rouser, humorous and effective; the outrage and incredulity in his film are an exhilarating response to Bush’s determined repetition of the same stubborn sound bites.” - Ebert

Sounds like Roger’s a little unhappy with BushCo as well. 3 cheers my man.

leonJun 24, 2004 at 3:46PM

Here’s what Slate thinks of the movie.

EdJun 24, 2004 at 4:55PM

“Here’s what Slate thinks of the movie.”
Hmmm, as I read it it seems more like a rant from Christopher Hitchens about Michael Moore and the “American left”.

“One of the many problems with the American left, and indeed of [his emphasis, note mine] the American left, has been its image and self-image as something rather too solemn, mirthless, herbivorous, dull, monochrome, righteous, and boring.”

One of the problems with the Christopher Hitchens (or of) is that he likes to label people as something bad if they don’t agree with the Righteous Right.

“However, I think we can agree that the film is so flat-out phony that ‘fact-checking’ is beside the point. And as for the scary lawyers—get a life, or maybe see me in court. But I offer this, to Moore and to his rapid response rabble. Any time, Michael my boy. Let’s redo Telluride. Any show. Any place. Any platform. Let’s see what you’re made of.”

Why does he think we can agree? No, I don’t agree. And please someone tell me why is he so angry? I feel very sad for him.

“At no point does Michael Moore make the smallest effort to be objective. At no moment does he pass up the chance of a cheap sneer or a jeer. He pitilessly focuses his camera, for minutes after he should have turned it off, on a distraught and bereaved mother whose grief we have already shared.”

No Christopher, he’s simply showing the American people what they don’t get to see on the “fair and balanced reporting” from FOX News. It could be argued that the woman wasn’t given enough time. Perhaps Christopher would feel differently if a Marine recruiter showed up at his door. I feel so uneasy after reading that “review”.

Nick RobinsonJun 24, 2004 at 6:02PM

Moore is a documentarian - there’s no two ways about it. No documentary is objective and the best ones don’t even try to. Instead they embrace it and try to work beyond it, attempting to destroy their own preconceived notions.

Wrote a piece today on why Moore is the best thing for documentaries in the past 50 years.

jojoJun 24, 2004 at 9:17PM

obligatory dictionary definition of “Documentary”

1. Consisting of, concerning, or based on documents.
2. Presenting facts objectively without editorializing or inserting fictional matter, as in a book or film.

That really sounds like Michael Moore, right? Especially the editorializing part.

JakeJun 24, 2004 at 10:43PM


FYI, Hitchens is a dyed in the wool leftie. He just has a thing about intellectual integrity, and the New Left’s lazy drift into demagoguery and, (he believes) eventual irrelevancy.

Something to think about when you see actual US Senators and the head of the DNC coming out of this film and talking enthusuastically to the media about it.

Something’s gone horribly wrong for the Dems.

shabba dooJun 24, 2004 at 11:28PM

Jason has always been an excellent designer but also a political infant. He sways right because that’s all his brain picks up from the din of politics he cannot quite grasp due to lack of contextual data. If seven minutes of a President sitting in front of a class with a stupid look on his face is spin, then he really needs to read some books.

Tom BucknerJun 25, 2004 at 7:06AM

This fellow Chris Parry destroys Hitchens’ anti-Moore hatchet job completely over here:
Parry shows that Hitchens is full of crap. Moore can prove pretty much everything he says (Parry notes only one exception, fairly minor).

EdJun 25, 2004 at 1:41PM

Jake - I think I agree with Chris Parry:
“Like it or not, formerly liberal Chris Hitchens is very much now a member of the Republican right.”

Mr. Hitchens’ CLAIMS to be a leftie sound mute when his actions seem to speak louder (and words).

The hollywood bitch-slap was good, thanks.

Robb BealJun 26, 2004 at 2:19PM

The movie in my mind was made for (and to give a voice to) people like the 11 and 12 year old sons of,

David M. Kirchhoff of Cedar Rapids, IA

(Was there ever a point in your teens—say 1990—when you could have chosen a path that eventually took you not to web design in NYC, but to the Iowa National Guard?)

AndrewJun 26, 2004 at 2:34PM

Yes, Chris Parry, writer of the hallowed Bitch-Slapped *cue heavenly awe-inspiring music* has proven that Hitchens, one of the most intellectual liberals in America, was completely wrong. Give me a break.

Hitchens wrote a big article, several weeks ago?, on how Ronald Reagan was bad for the country. Yep, sounds like your typical right-winger. Just because the man isn’t a blind follower of an ideology doesn’t mean he’s “on the other team.” He is one of the last of a dying breed: intellectual, rational, fair liberals. The rest are just sliding off a cliff into a paranoid, conspiracy theory, and down-right socialistic frenzy.

Just because you don’t like or don’t much agree with Bush, doesn’t mean you can’t agree with him on some things. But in today’s world of partisanship (aka a new religion) it’s almost impossible. I applaud Hitchens for not falling into the deep end as so many liberals, in their blind hatred, have.

a Libertarian.

DoolittleJun 26, 2004 at 6:38PM

Well, well, well…..I just saw Fahrenheit 9/11 and had to post. This is no more a documentary than The Chronicles of Riddick is! Michael Moore has done exactly what he did with Bowling for Columbine, stretched and smeared a small tint of truth into an unrecognizeable blurr of left wing propoganda. Moore uses his trademark technique of cuting, pasting, and editing a glint of a fact into bold face lies and out and out fantasy and perfects it into an artform. If you doubt my facts, first review his lies in Bowling for Columbine—check out:


What a pack of lies! And Fahrenheit 9/11 is no different!

Anyone that has a nose in front of his face and
half of an IQ is not going to buy into the United States having a President and a Vice President who are only out to fill there pockets by pushing the country into a war for the interests of the oil industry and the military/industrial complex. By God, go rent a frickin’ Oliver Stone movie! Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney gave up millions and millions of dollars to serve their country—especially Mr. Cheney. How anyone can give up their profitable and relatively peaceful lives to serve and be ripped by asses like Michael Moore, well makes you wonder why we have any public servants?

If people like Michael Moore don’t like the administration, fine, don’t vote for him, go register voters, but don’t spread vicious vindictive lies about him. You lost the election. By God move on! I just hope someone does a documentary on Michael Moore, a frustrated, mean spirited, dope smoking little fat troll that can’t get laid (without paying)! Enough said!

NellyJun 26, 2004 at 10:16PM

I must comment on Mr. Doolittle’s statement of how Bush and Cheney gave up millions.

1) While we American’s will be paying for the War in Iraq for the next few decades. Bush will be paid millions for his memoirs of days in the White House.

2) Bush and Cheney are not lacking in the area of funding for their 2004 Campaign. As June 18th their fund was $218M.

3) How much money did Bush and Cheney walk with from Enron? We will never know.

I don’t think the millions of Americans who are without are ready to throw Bush and Cheney a pity party.

The Past 4 administrations leave quite a bit to be desired. Each has contributed to the America we see today. How can we possibly expect fair and balanced news or documentaries, when the presidents of this nation have set a standard for lies?

Regan and Bush Sr.: Gave Saddham the weapons and lied about it.

Clinton: Lied about everything!

Bush Jr.: Lies about everything too!

Remember Fact is stranger than Fiction, the truth lies between the lines, and everything is subject to interpretation.

What did September 11th teach you?

I learned that anything is possible and the world is much smaller than we think.

JeffJun 26, 2004 at 11:55PM

I just got back from the movie and felt like commenting.

Anyone who is expecting an objective view of the current situation is fooling themselves. But in a nation where people only seem to hear the extreme views, we somehow manage to have a pretty moderate population and somehow the world still turns.

I think many people are looking too much into Moore’s subjective view and not seperating the facts from his opinions. It is pretty evident that this administration has been shady from day one. It doesn’t take a much hyped movie to bring that to light. It reinforces these opinions and hopefully rallies together those that still feel cheated from 2000.

Moore is good for this country. If it takes a film like this to get anyone to question their worldview, then the movie is a success. It doesn’t matter if they vote for Kerry or not (well, that’s arguable…). It’s too bad this country has to be served information through pundits and biased media networks. In the end, things seems to move down the middle of the road anyway - and Moore’s spin is the perfect counter balance to the right wing spin. The nation is intelligent enough balance itself out from the extremes that pollute our media..

Bryon GillJun 27, 2004 at 12:33AM

I’ve replied to Jarvis’ review at length here:


DaveJun 27, 2004 at 3:57AM

It will take years to heal the wounds that the Bush administration inflicted on America and the entire world. My heart goes out to the families of those who lost their lives in this senseless war, be they American, Iraqi, or any nationality.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.