July 15, 2004

On F911

Irfan Khawaja has an essay which criticizes the "schizophrenic ambivalence" that characterizes the Critical Reception of Fahrenheit 9/11:

Thus Paul Krugman tells us in The New York Times that the film promotes "a few unproven conspiracy theories," and induces its viewers to believe "some things that probably aren't true." Having done so, he then praises the film's "appeal to working-class Americans" and its "public service" for having manipulated us in the right way.

William Raspberry describes Fahrenheit 9/11 in The Washington Post as an "overwrought piece of propaganda," a "110-minute hatchet job that doesn't even pretend to be fair"-and for good measure, as dishonest, lacking in objectivity, and partially fabricated. That doesn't stop him, of course, from praising it for doing a "masterful job," for having the right "attitude" and for (literally) demonizing George W. Bush.

David Edelstein describes Fahrenheit 9/11 in Slate as disgusting, lamenting its "boorish, bullying" qualities, and describing it as "an abuse of power"; in the same breath, he tells us that the film "delighted" him, and that he "celebrates" its sheer panache.

Todd Gitlin's review in Open Democracy calls Fahrenheit 9/11 a "shoddy work": the film's "sloppy insinuations, emotional blackmail and all-around demagoguery," he argues, are an affront to one's "conscience," and make it the moral equivalent of a beer commercial. The same conscientious concern induces Gitlin to describe Fahrenheit 9/11 somewhat paradoxically as a moral necessity. Meanwhile, he lionizes Moore himself as a "master demagogue."

Juan Cole describes the film on his weblog as making "no sense," as "inaccurate" and as "full of illogic"; having said so, he goes out of his way to tell us that he found it "inspired." Stanley Kaufmann in The New Republic calls the film "slipshod in its making, juvenile in its trappings," and in considerable part, "contextually inane"-indeed, as "debased," "smug," and "regrettable." Having filled a column full of invective of this sort, he ends his review by praising Moore's fans for the "ardor" with which they've received his film.

He continues to discuss this genre of "our-propaganda-good-their propaganda-bad" reviews.
Moore's film, we're told, is unfair, impolite, unsubtle, unwise, obnoxious, tendentious, and maddeningly self-contradictory—all [The New York Times'] Scott's terms, not mine. And yet, Scott insists, Moore is a "credit to the republic" for having made the film despite this. It seems not to have occurred to Scott that once you concede that crap like Fahrenheit 9/11 is a "credit to the republic," you've already conceded that the republic is itself a piece of crap—at which point it seems futile to insist that the film is but "a partisan rallying cry, an angry polemic, a muckraking inquisition into the use and abuse of power."

Posted by richard at July 15, 2004 05:12 PM

Well, given that the Red Sox are unbearbale at the moment, Iactually had nothing better to do than to read some of the reviews your cut-and-paste commentator referreed to. My conclusion: Irfan Khawaja's essay is the shoddy work. I guess his main point is that people had good and bad things to say about the movie.

Check out the Washington Post review. I don't think it's the most inspiring piece of journalism out there, but it's hardly "schizophrenic ambivalence". Try reading it:


And Paul Krugman's aritlce is legitimately good. Your essayists characterization of his review is bunk! His review talks about the flaws in Moor'es movie, but his main point is that the media haven't been doing their job (i.e., why did we have to wait for Moore to tell us this stuff?

Try reading it:


This Irfan Khawaja guy wrote an awful essay taking little snippetts from decent or good bits of journalism and making it look like they are all hypocritical and flawed. Read the actual reviews and see what you think.

Bad post! Bad, bad post!!!

Posted by: Mike F. at July 16, 2004 01:21 AM

That second link should obviously read "Times" but I got a little excited there at the end . . .

Posted by: Mike F. at July 16, 2004 01:21 AM

Richard, have you watched the movie yourself? I'd prefer to hear your thoughts than those from critics.

Mike F., here's what e-thePeople had to say about F9-11: "Fahrenheit 911: Persuasive or Manipulative?" It's actually better (I'm partial of course) than a lot of other stuff I've read out there.

Posted by: Michael W. at July 16, 2004 09:12 AM

The Post snippet you included uses the phrase "doesn't even pretend to be fair." Well, there you go — the open and obvious bias in the film should take it squarely out of the way of criticism that it "misleads." See our rare point of agreement in the Media Bias commentary below.

So it's unapologetically partisan. As I see it, that's a good thing. We also agreed that adversary presentation is a valuable way to get at truth. We've demonstrated that for months with our arguments, but we finally said it below. Hence another virtue of Fahrenheit 9/11 — some accessible pop-culture counteroutlet emerges to compete with the entire AM radio band.

The hip position among liberals is to regard Moore as a "guilty pleasure" — to qualify every review of it with obvious concessions about its bias and silliness. So do the conservatives have the same "ambivalence," as you say, about Limbaugh? Hopefully they do. But I don't hear the talking heads on Fox or CNN calling him a crackpot all that often.

Just to participate in the ambivalence, I thought certain side-plots in the movie — e.g., stealing the election, flying bin Ladens out of the country during the plane-grounding period, the Afghan pipeline, the idyll of Saddamized (pun intended) Iraq — were bogus.

But until I walked into the theater and watched that movie, I had not been confronted with a single image of what our beloved "shock and awe" did to Iraqi civilians and children — except for what I saw in my occasional (and no doubt government-surveilled) perusal of english.aljazeera.com.

Our media made the war look like a combination fireworks display and leisurely cross-country drive. The networks and papers should be ashamed of themselves for that, and Moore gets big points in my book, notwithstanding his excesses, for trying to show a mainstream American audience that people actually got hurt amidst all the flag-waving.

Posted by: Brad A. at July 16, 2004 11:03 AM

A couple of comments. First, to Mike F., I started to watch the movie, but stopped after about 15 minutes after too many glaring errors and unswallowable lies. There were too many distortions and glaring factual errors in the things that I do know about that I don't trust him to tell me about things I don't know about. While I've heard a great deal about the recruiting techniques and the civilian casualties, I have no reason to believe he doesn't distort them as much as the election coverage, Saudi connection, pipeline deal, etc.

I may try to skip ahead and see those parts, to understand what the fuss is about, but I don't really see the point.

Second, I thought the review I linked to was relevant because it said well something that I've noticed. Mike F., Brad A., Julia – everyone who wants me to see the movie admits that it's blatant propaganda and is misleading, but they still say I should see it because it's too important to ignore. Whether that was the full point of every review that was linked to is not the point. The point is that I've heard it enough (from reviewers and friends) to want to call it out. "My-propaganda-good-their-propaganda-bad".

Third, Brad, yes, it may not "pretend to be fair" if you know enough to make that judgment. But it does call itself a documentary. As far as the media, they also haven't shown the grislier parts of Saddam's regime including the mass graves and the torture videos (and neither did Moore from what I've heard of kite-flying idyllic portrayal of pre-war Iraq). Or the more recent beheading videos. So while they may not have shown the full horror of war, they also have not shown the full horror of what we overthrew and what we are now fighting against. Both are important to make a full judgment about the war.

Posted by: richard at July 17, 2004 02:50 PM