The Zookeeper's Wife
Has many lovely and moving moments but fails to capture the many layers of this unique story, relying instead on plainly-stated metaphors.
Directed by Alan Peterson. Written by Lee Troxler, Dick Morris, Eileen McGann. Narrated by Ron Silver.
(NOTE: The movie's official web site says Morris is the narrator; the DVD box -- and this critic's ears -- say Silver is the narrator. Draw your own conclusions.) Fifty-Nine Deceits in 'Fahrenheit 9/11' by Dave Kopel
Factual backup for 'Fahrenheit 9/11' at michaelmoore.com
"'Fahrenheit' calls put Goss in hot seat" (USA Today, 6/29/04)
"End Saddam's Reign of Terror" by Frank Gaffney (National Review Online)
Iraq on the Record database of Bush administration's public statements on Iraq
President Bush's West Point Speech outlining pre-emptive "Bush Doctrine" June 1, 2002
President Bush's U.N. remarks on Iraq September 12, 2002
National Security Strategy September 17, 2002, making pre-emptive "Bush Doctrine" official policy
Excerpts from 1992 "Defense Planning Guidance" draft by Paul Wolfowitz (Frontline web site)
U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 February 25, 2003 (U.S. State Department web site)
"If you accept Moore's values, you cannot ethically criticize what happened on September 11, 2001.... Moore is un-American, he's un-British. He must be French." -- David Hardy, co-author of the book Michael Moore Is A Big, Fat Stupid White Man in "Fahrenhype 9/11"
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Around the time Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" was released in the summer of 2004, New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier wrote: "It is very hard to forgive George W. Bush for the good fortune of Michael Moore." I feel the same way.
I find it difficult to forgive George W. Bush a lot of things -- mostly having to do with not telling the truth about important public matters, and then pretending it was no big deal that he had mislead -- and, come to think of it, that's pretty much my problem with Michael Moore, too . . . although one is a clown who makes movies and the other is, well, President of the United States. I had big problems with Moore's blatant dishonesties in "Bowling for Columbine" (detailed elsewhere on the web), but also with the tone of "Fahrenheit 9/11," which could have been so much more effective if it had just asked the important, absolutely legitimate -- and largely still unanswered -- questions, rather than insinuating so many misleading or entirely hypothetical "answers."
But, as illustrated by the absurd and logically (not to mention morally) indefensible quotation at the top of this article, we live in the age of the false dichotomy, an old propaganda trap (and logical fallacy) that says, for example: If you're not for the President's way of fighting terrorism (even if you'd like him to provide more information about what, exactly, that is), you are automatically assumed to be on the side of the terrorists; or, if you find fault with Michael Moore's methods, you must be on Bush's side. Of course, neither of these propositions is necessarily true.
That's worth keeping in mind when watching this election year's political docs (or "op-umentaries" or "prop-umentaries") like "Fahrenheit 9/11" and its DVD-nemesis, "Fahrenhype 9/11." It should be obvious, but let me say it again for the record: Just because one of them is wrong doesn't mean the other is right. In fact, just because one is wrong doesn't even mean the other offers the evidence to prove it. You know how far the level of political discourse in American has fallen when people are asked to take the word of either Dick Morris or Michael Moore at face value. So don't. And don't take my word for it. Do your own research. (You'll find some worthwhile links to various sources -- including original documents --available further down the page.)
* * * *
"Michael Moore's film, in trying to knock our liberty, and in trying to say that we don't have any, is the best illustration of how wrong his film is." -- just one of Dick Morris' unsupported, off-the-wall statements that make you go "Huh?" in "Fahrenhype 9/11"
(Aside: When there are good, solid reasons, based on verifiable evidence, to criticize someone -- whether it's Michael Moore or George W. Bush or Saddam Hussein or France -- I'm continually confounded that people almost reflexively stoop to exaggerating and making things up, as if they fear their case isn't strong enough to stand on its merits.)
The sub-title of "Fahrenhype 9/11" (which is available on DVD on the internet) is "Unraveling the Truth About Michael Moore's 'Fahrenheit 9/11.'" The advertising tagline (also on the DVD box) is : "You knew it was a lie... Now you'll know why."
As a fierce advocate of idependent critical thinking, I find this a bit disturbing, since it suggests that this movie's intended audience is accustomed to reaching a conclusion before examining the evidence. But "Fahrenhype 9/11" isn't exactly a thorough or level-headed piece of reasoning or investigative journalism; it's every bit the hot-headed political advertisement that Moore's film was, just a lot less funny. Gosh, maybe that's why the titles are so similar.
"Fahrenhype 9/11" was co-scripted and narrated by Dick Morris (the former Clinton pollster, advisor to Trent Lott, and all-around political op), who also probably receives more face-time than anybody else as one of the film’s interviewees, and narrated by actor Ron Silver (a former Clinton-Gore supporter who addressed the 2004 Republican National Convention), another prominent interviewee. Its cast of traditional documentary-style talking heads includes Jason Clarke and David T. Hardy, the authors of the book Michael Moore Is A Big, Fat, Stupid White Man; Ann Coulter, the author of Slander and Treason (and famous for getting fired from the National Review Online for writing of Islamic countries: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity"); David Frum, the former White House speechwriter and self-proclaimed author of the first two words in the famous Bush phrase "axis of evil"; Zell Miller, the fiery, duel-challenging conservative Democrat from the 2004 Republican Convention; and Frank Gaffney, identified as a former assistant secretary of defense for Ronald Reagan (in 1987), but who was also deputy assistant secretary of defense (1983-1987) under Richard Perle, one of the architects of the Bush administration's pre- and post-9/11 "first strike" Iraq policy, and writer of a National Review Online column urging the invasion of Iraq -- in February, 2001.
This is a mixed -- and, overall, surprisingly lightweight -- bag of sources and commentators (does Ron Silver know more about politics than the right's favorite celebrity punching bag, Barbra Streisand?), but that doesn't mean they don't have some valid points to score against Michael Moore's movie – some (like “Fahrenheit 9/11” itself) more successful than others.
Unfortunately for those interested in factual information, this movie places greater emphasis on rhetorically smearing Moore, as indicated by the direct quotations above, than in rebutting the questions raised (and/or aspersions cast) in "Fahrenheit 9/11." It begins with blurry footage of Moore downplaying the monolithic spectre of the "terrorist threat" ("There is no terrorist threat," Moore insists. "Yes, there have been horrific acts of terrorism and, yes, there will be acts of terrorism again. But that doesn't mean that there's some kind of massive terrorist threat."). What is he talking about? That other terrorist attacks have been happening around the world for decades, just not on such a massive scale and not in America? Or is he referring to 2001 intelligence estimates that Al Qaeda had only a few thousand members worldwide (much more now)? I don't know. "Fahrenhype 9/11" doesn't identify where or when or under what circumstances these remarks were made, but you should at least know they're not in "Fahrenheit 9/11."
Silver is shown driving around Manhattan in his convertible, wryly trashing Moore with comparisons to Leni Riefenstahl, Ezra Pound during WWII, and Tokyo Rose. And Coulter lumps him together with Barbra Streisand and those liberal Hollywood celebs, accusing them all of being so rich and above-it-all that: "They don't need America. They're too cool to need America." Really. Adults are supposed to approve and accept this kind of infantile namecalling? I hate to say it, but when it comes to political humor, Moore's cheap-shots are feather-light compared to Silver's and Morris' and Coulter's.
Moore and "Fahrenheit 9/11" are accused of a litany of lies, false impressions, deceitful manipulations, sins against God, man, and America, and not taking the threat of terrorism, or even the attacks of 9/11, seriously enough. "Here is a man who says the United States has spread misery throughout the world. C'mon," says Senator Miller. That's the extent of his counter-argument. (A recap of the history of international overt and covert CIA operations in the last 60 years might be helpful here, if only to demonstrate that one nation's national security is sometimes another nation's misery.)
Right at the start, "Fahrenhype 9/11" spends five minutes or so defending Bush against Moore's charges that he just sat there in that Florida classroom with a pet goat book in his lap for seven minutes after being told that the second plane had hit the World Trade Center and that the country was under attack. The makers of "Fahrenhype 9/11" state unequivocally that the president sat there for five minutes -- not seven -- while his people told him to stay put as they investigated further, and they all assert (including a school official who was there with the president at the time) that he was very presidential during each and every one of those minutes.
The (relatively trivial, I think) question is left up to the viewer: What would you hope you would have done? Keep sitting for the photo op (that you knew wasn't going to get any coverage for your education agenda because of what had just happened) after learning the country was at war? Or politely excuse yourself to find out first-hand what was going on because, after all, it was a catastrophic national emergency? You decide.
The movie nails Moore for taking a headline from a pro-Gore letter to the editor in a Florida newspaper ("Gore Won Florida Recount"), enlarging it, changing the date, and using it as a graphic element in a brief montage, making it appear as though it were an actual news article -- "all for one second of footage in the film," according to Jason Clarke, who thus singlehandedly deflates the significance of his own finding.
And it offers opinions aplenty, if not always hard evidence, against Moore’s insinuations, including:
* Bush's remarks about his "base" being the "haves and have-mores" at a ritzy banquet (it was actually a Catholic charity affair, and Al Gore was there, too)
* the Washington Post's report that Bush spent 42 percent of his first eight months in office on vacation (that included travel and working sessions in Crawford and Camp David)
* that Congressman Porter Goss -- now nominated to head the CIA -- did not have an 800 number ("Fahrenhype 9/11" says it was a toll-free number, but not with an 800 prefix; but shortly after Moore's movie was released USA Today quoted a spokesperson in Goss' office saying that Goss didn't mean to imply an 800 number really exists: "It is a reference to the intelligence committee," the spokesperson said at the time. "Mr. Moore decided to take it literally and it wasn't meant that way.")
* that Saudi Arabian investments account for seven to eight percent of the US economy (not even close, say those in "Fahrenhype 9/11" – although the quote from the source in Moore’s film is: “Well, in terms of investments on Wall Street, American equities, it's roughly six or seven percent of America”)
* that well-connected Saudis and bin Laden family members were allowed to fly out of the country on chartered and commercial planes right after September 11, with clearance from the White House (not Bush, but Richard Clarke), and that some but not all of them were interviewed by the FBI first. "Fahrenheit 9/11" says: "It turns out that the White House approved planes to pick up the bin Ladens and numerous other Saudis. At least six private jets and nearly two dozen commercial plans carried the Saudis and the bin Ladens out of the U.S. after September 13th. In all, 142 Saudis, including 24 members of the bin Laden family, were allowed to leave the country.” (Perhaps a more pertinent question is, at a time when people were being rounded up and indefinitely detained with no evidence of terrorist connections against them, why would people with well-documented familal and financial connections to bin Laden be allowed to depart so swiftly? Doesn't anyone care to acknowledge that it's sure to look bad to the American public and the rest of the world -- or, after Enron and Halliburton and Scalia hunting with Cheney, doesn't the ethical standard of the appearance of impropriety matter anymore? Oh. I think we already know the answer to that rhetorical question.)
* that an oil pipeline through Afghanistan, the subject of a state visit by Taliban officials to Texas while Bush was governor and Clinton was president, may have been behind the decision to invade Afghanistan (they say Clinton supported this pipeline plan, but Bush backed a different proposal; and, besides, governors don’t determine which foreign officials can visit the US)
This latter charge/counter-charge is worth examining further, in part because Dave Kopel (a Second Amendment activist with the Colorado-based "free-market" think tank, the Independence Institute, who compiled a document on the web called "Fifty-Nine Deceits in 'Fahrenheit 9/11'") makes a forceful straw-man argument, breaking into a flickering grin as he really gets going: "The theory that it [the invasion of Afghanistan] was done solely to enrich Bush's business cronies is just preposterous -- it is both impressively stupid and impressively, and maliciously, arrogantly mean-spirited."
Make no mistake, this is a carefully worded statement, a bit like inserting "British intelligence has learned" before unsubstantiated charges about Iraq and "uranium from Africa" in the State of the Union address. If you go back and look at Moore’s film, it’s more of a shifty rhetorical implication than an articulated “theory” that this was a rationale behind the invasion (even Moore isn't that stupid): “Or was the war in Afghanistan really about something else?” says narrator Moore. “Perhaps the answer was in Houston, Texas..." He then goes on to mention a Taliban visit just five-and-a-half months before 9/11 that “Fahrenhype 9/11” does not address: “Why on Earth did the Bush administration allow a Taliban leader to visit the United States knowing that the Taliban were harboring the man who bombed the USS Cole and our African embassies?” -- the link between Al Qaeda and the Cole bombing having not been officially confirmed until Bush took office. That's a fair question. And, if you’ve seen “Hijacking Catastrophe,” you’ve also seen maps showing that US military bases in northern Afghanistan today are located along the route of that proposed pipeline: “Our bases are there to solve a problem that the Taliban could not solve,” says Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, a Pentagon whistleblower. “The Taliban couldn’t provide security in that part of Afghanistan. Well, now that’s where our bases are.”
The truth about how much -- if any -- of a role the proposed pipeline played in the decisions regarding why and how and when to invade Afghanistan may not be known for years; certainly there were others (like finding Osama bin Laden) that were rather more apparent. But I'll venture to bet the story's more complex than either Moore or Morris make it out to be in their movies.
"Fahrenhype 9/11" also includes interviews with people who were either directly interviewed or shown in "Fahrenheit 9/11" -- a serviceman injured in Iraq; the aunt of a soldier killed in Iraq; an Oregon State trooper -- who say they feel tainted by association with Moore's film because they do not agree with his conclusions or felt he misrepresented what they said. In some cases, they agreed to be interviewed, but they didn't know the footage of them would be later used by Moore. In the case of the soldier's funeral, I don't know where Moore got the footage, but it was used the context of showing a side of the war that wasn't being seen in the American media, particularly after the Bush administration took the unusual step of prohibiting cameras from showing the flag-draped coffins of US soldiers as they returned from Iraq.
Others say they think Moore made "all" American soldiers look like maniacal killers who listen to heavy metal. That's their impression. But Moore didn't make up those soldiers, who gave interviews and said what they said (though not to Moore himself). The abuse at Abu Ghraib and other prisons run by Americans indicates a certain familiar war-mania wasn't exactly isolated. And these guys weren't the only soldiers shown in "Fahrenheit 9/11" (others were much more introspective about the human cost of the war), but they did provide a shocking behind-the-scenes glimpse of behavior and conditions that Americans at home were not getting from our embedded reporters.
Meanwhile, Frank Gaffney, the Perle protege and pre-9/11 advocate of invading Iraq, gravely states: "I think the image and the thesis that underpinned the film, that President Bush was only too happy to provoke a war with Iraq and wanted more than anything in the world to go to war and seized upon the pretext of 9/11 to have the war that he wanted to have is simply a fabrication."
Although carefully phrased as a personal opinion (it directly contradicts insider accounts from Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neill, and those in the Bush-approved "official" accounts of post-9/11 events, Bob Woodward's "Bush at War" and "Plan of Attack" -- best-sellers touted on Republican web sites that were based on the principals' own notes and interviews), it seems, well, a bit disingenuous coming from Gaffney. He's the guy who wrote in February, 2001: "Fortunately, the senior ranks of the incoming Bush Cheney administration are being increasingly populated by individuals who have, in the past, endorsed such an alternative approach” to regime change in Iraq, including Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Richard Armitage, John Bolton, and other signers of the 1998 open letter to President Clinton, in which they advocated the very sort of military action against Iraq that they did indeed bring into the Bush White House: "In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power."
Morris says France, Germany, and Russia had all been influenced -- or outright bribed -- by the Iraqis, who offered them oil in exchange for voting to lift the UN sanctions, and that France had given assurances that it would never vote to authorize military action against Iraq. And yet that's precisely what the Bush administration said the unanimous UN resolution 1441 did authorize when it used the phrase "serious consequences" -- although many who voted for it (including France) said that wasn't the intention behind it at all. At any rate, it seems the UN resolution the Bush administration claimed authorized its military invasion of Iraq was not quite as unanimous as it first appeared.
In light of this, perhaps the most surreal moment in "Fahrenhype 9/11" is saved for the very end, as Morris surveys the Manhattan skyline and points to the spot where the twin towers once stood as the "symbol of loss," then points to the Statue of Liberty in the harbor as the "symbol of hope." Dare anybody remind him that it was a gift from France?
Political disclaimer: The author of this review is neither a registered Republican nor a Democrat, but an independent whose views are, generally speaking: libertarian when it comes to individual rights and liberties; fiscally conservative; and socially liberal in that I think it's the government's responsibility to ensure equal rights for all citizens and to provide accountable public ownership and oversight of essential services in exchange for our tax dollars, such as national defense, infrastructure, utilities [water, power], health care, public lands, Social Security -- the kinds of civil assets that cannot be sold off to profit-based private businesses because they belong to all of us. And a chicken in every pot, except for vegans, who can have celery stock.)
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...