Michael Moore: American Muckraker or Patriot?
Fahrenheit 911 poster
By Stephen Lucas     Published June 22, 2004
From what I?ve read, seen, and heard from those against Michael Moore, not one source has been able to present neither a clear, unbiased case against him nor his films.
Michael Moore won an Oscar for ?Bowling for Columbine,? his 2002 documentary about gun use in the United States. When accepting the award, Moore took it upon himself to make an anti-war statement against the government?s choice to go to war in Iraq. His scornful words were met with a mixture of applause and booing; some were even so brash to give him a standing ovation and others yelled things against him from their seats.

This was not the first but of many attacks against the war in Iraq and of Michael Moore. Perhaps this issue over Moore ?hit the fan? with his bold decision at the Oscars, but it is once again in the limelight with the release of Moore?s latest film, ?Fahrenheit 9/11.? The documentary, set to open this weekend in 868 theaters, approaches the topic of the Iraqi war and the actions taken by the Bush administration. With such a heavy topic, the question as to whether the fifty-year old filmmaker is a modern muckraker or an intelligent political activist is ripe as ever. The answer is purely up to debate, as is Moore?s work.

I feel it is only fair to make it clear that I am a fan of Michael Moore?s work and that I feel it is important and intellectual in stature. Despite this, my political opinions do not directly reflect those of Moore?s, nor do I see a direct problem with those who oppose his films. Rather, this article is an examination of Moore, his films, and the controversy that has erupted as a result. Any questions or comments you may have upon reading this article may be directed to me via e-mail.

With the completion of ?Fahrenheit 9/11,? it came as no surprise that conflict arose. Because of the film?s message against the Bush administration, then-distributor Miramax (owned by Disney) was not permitted to release it, by demand of Disney chief executive Michael D. Eisner. This story broke just as ?Fahrenheit? premiered at Cannes Film Festival in May. Eventually, after weeks of heated deliberation, Miramax executives Bob and Harvey Weinstein bought rights to the film and joined forces with both Lions Gate Films and IFC Films to release ?Fahrenheit 9/11? nationwide. (?Bowling for Columbine? had only been released in a high of 248 theaters.)

Coming of a dose of professional poison aimed at Eisner, the jury at Cannes awarded ?Fahrenheit 9/11? with its most prestigious award: The Palme d?Or. Although there are some who contest the choice was entirely political, the majority of early reviews for the film (most of which came from Cannes) have been positive.

Now, getting back to ?Bowling for Columbine.? It?s currently the highest grossing American documentary of all-time with a domestic gross of $21.3 million and a total of $58 million worldwide. A substantial number of people saw this film in theaters, not to mention those who rented it on DVD as I did. (Variety reports that there has been close to $100 in DVD sales revenue alone.)

Bowling? is certainly a film that demands debate, even though it presents a one-sided testament on gun control. I believe Moore set out to encourage such behavior having chosen to make a political film. (In politics, where isn?t there a debate?) This, my friends, is where it gets ugly. Not only do facts, opinions, and quotes get stretched and spun (as many say Moore did making ?Bowling for Columbine?) but Michael Moore, the person, the American citizen, is pulled into question and, in my opinion, unfairly persecuted.

Websites such as MooreLies.com, BowlingForTruth.com, MooreExposed.com and MooreWatch.com have been created with the purpose of denouncing Michael Moore for his misrepresentation of the truth, or so these projects claim. The debate as to whether Moore is a positive or negative impact on America has been discussed for a while now and it comes as no surprise that sites like MooreLies.com have been realized because of it.

However, what still remains in question as well is whether these efforts (including a new novel, ?Michael Moore is a Big Fat Stupid White Man? and film, ?Michael Moore Hates America?) have been started because Moore is most defiantly a bad person, or that people just disagree with him politically. In the latter case, these efforts are be smear campaigns.

When part of MooreExposed.com is a large banner asking the question ?Should a 320lb man advise us on the evils of over-consumption?? and sporting an unflattering, cartoonish graphic to represent Moore, I feel it becomes less a disagreement politically or artistically with Moore than an outright personal crusade.

To be fair, there isn?t an answer to the motive for people to create such a web site or write such a book, but from what I have gathered from them thus far, it seems people are against Moore and the way he expresses his opinion. Consequently, they feel they must retaliate, at any cost. Granted, anti-Moore activists have their right to expose fallacies they observe, but many of their attempts have been in vain and bluntly hypocritical.

MooreLies.com, perhaps one of the largest of anti-Moore projects, cites Moore?s Oscar acceptance speech as the reason the site was created, as stated on the site itself. ?I founded Moorelies.com following the last (but not least) straw that was Michael Moore's outrageously self-indulgent Academy Award acceptance speech in March of 2003,? is the exact wording used. By using a phrase like ?self-indulgent? to describe a statement applicable to a wide audience (i.e. the United States; the world, even) seems as rather illogical and biased.

Furthermore, the creator goes on to give a quasi-mission statement: ?So, I conceived and built Moorelies.com with the intent that it would serve as a centralized (and almost daily) chronicle, archive, and sounding board for facts and information about the inaccuracies, misconceptions, and shameless publicity stunts eminating from the multi-million dollar cottage industry that Michael Moore has now become.? In all honesty, this is a noble statement. Yet, juding by the site?s content, including daily jabs at Moore (putting a negative spin on nearly everything), the execution is not quite so scrupulous.

Paired with the website, the creators were the ones to spearhead the publishing of the aforementioned novel, ?Michael Moore is a Big Fat Stupid White Man? (due out June 29th). Amongst the site?s claims against Moore, they say that he is selfishly making money from his message films. But, isn?t that what the book is doing for them? At a list price of $22.95, they are profiting by downing Moore.

BowlingForTruth.com was opened in August 2003, mere months after Moore won an Oscar in March 2003. The site?s creator, Richard Bushnell, says in a message published on the site that ?[BowlingForTruth.com] is not, in large part anyway, even to rebut Moore's beliefs. Rather, this site exists because Michael Moore is clever and glib and a very good filmmaker - but he uses his powers for evil. Michael Moore persuades his viewers by deceiving them, and this site exists for those who wish not to be fooled.? He goes on to state the purpose of his site is ?to give you the information you didn't see in the movie that is important to your decision making.?

On BowlingForLies.com, there are several pages that go into deep analysis of scenes from ?Bowling for Columbine.? Included in them is the scene in which Moore goes to a bank to open an account that will get him a free gun from the bank. The site claims that this scene was staged for hours and was planned months in advance. The source backing this is the bank teller featured in the film. But, why wouldn?t she be a biased source? Her bank and she personally were shown in an unflattering light. Is that Moore?s fault? Sure, he?s the one who attempted the scene, but that doesn?t make the teller a credible source.

She says that guns are not kept at her bank to be given to customers, which is a claim that cannot be proven or disproved at this point. Yet the fact that the bank gives such an incentive is fact and she doesn?t denounce it. Moore exposed this for the sake of his message.

BowlingForLies.com says that the scene was intended to show the ease of obtaining the gun, but Michael Moore himself contacted the site to say that the purpose of the scene was to show that guns could be obtained, not how easy they are to obtain. Both arguments are open to interpretation just as the entire film is open to interpretation and personal opinions.

Yet, some cite the biggest flaw of ?Bowling for Columbine? as being one sided; they claim Moore did not present the other side of the gun control debate as he should have. There is no question: the film has an agenda and it lays it right out in front of you to soak up or dismiss as you wish.

Moore has publicly stated that he hopes that ?Fahrenheit 9/11? helps keep President Bush from being re-elected in the fall, and that a summer release date will help make that possible. ?Bowling for Columbine? had a purpose as well, which is why neither film must present both sides flatteringly. Moore?s intent with ?Columbine? was to promote gun control, and his intent with his new film is to deter voters from re-electing the president. What filmmaker in his right state of mind would want to present a non-partisan film about politics?

Although it is not directly about politics, the 2004 documentary ?Super Size Me? made strong statements about McDonalds and how the fast-food menus have contributed to obesity. Yet, despite its harsh claims, I have yet to read debates that question its intentions against one of the world?s largest corporations. Ironically, the web sites, books, and films against Moore are one-sided without the kind of all-including spirit they are demanding of the filmmaker. It appears the golden rule has been ignored; treat others as you would like to be treated, or don?t complain about it.

Also, remember the controversy over ?The Passion of the Christ? this past spring? Director Mel Gibson never apologized for his vision of the classic biblical story portrayed in the film or his film?s portrayal of it. I can?t seem to find the book written about Gibson like the one written about Moore; Amazon doesn?t have a match for my search for ?Mel Gibson is a Big Fat Stupid Catholic.? Oh, wait, no one has stooped to that level, have they? (Or, at least, not yet.)

In fact, isn?t Gibson even more commendable for having pursued his interest in religion than someone who may not have? Similarly, Michael Moore has proven throughout his career that he is anything but a stupid American. He is the one putting his voice out there, making films about things that matter, like the massacre at Columbine High School and the elements that contributed to it. How is that not commendable?

Too many fail to realize the essence of ?Bowling for Columbine? in their quest to bring Moore down. The film isn?t merely about gun control laws, but rather questioning why it is Americans are so violent. Is this not a meritorious question to pose? In the midst of being bombarded with big-budget, oft-violent blockbusters at the theater, people are given the option (by Moore) to see something with more pertinence to daily life and patriotic duty.

The United States government was created with principals of democracy and a system of checks and balances. By challenging Bush and his administration with his latest film, ?Fahrenheit 9/11,? Moore is playing an active part in the said qualities of our government. So, those involved in researching and contributing to ?Michael Moore is a Big Fat Stupid White Man,? I have only one thing to contend: I won?t buy your book. Conceptually, it?s a pathetic ode to egoism.

In fact, this book claims to emphasize the very discrepancies its authors claim to dislike about Moore?s way of expressing his opinions. MooreLies.com, the site behind the novel, often twists the facts, fails to include all sides of each issue, and is as in-your-face if not more so than Moore?s books and films. Moore is loosely labeled as a hypocrite by his detractors, but those who affiliate with this site and others like it are hypocrites themselves.

What is also discrediting is how ridiculous some of their arguments have become. BowlingForTruth.com went into detail to show how Moore is a liar, commenting on a remark he made on the Oprah Winfrey show back in 2002 while promoting his film. In connection to the scene that shows the bank giving guns out with checking accounts, Moore said, "What happened to giving out toasters, you know? I'd never heard of anybody killed by a toaster, you know?" The site then presents a list of deaths caused by toasters or toaster use.

If people dissected broad comments like that said by everybody on TV, we?d need thousands of web sites. Furthermore, if books like ?Michael Moore is a Big Fat Stupid White Man? were published about every person who?s disagreed with, Barnes and Noble would be a bland, bitter place to shop. In all fairness, Moore said what he did on the Oprah show but let?s look at the bigger picture: Are deaths by toasters as common as those caused by guns? No, and the latter are what Moore was targeting with ?Bowling for Columbine.?

I wouldn?t be writing such harsh words if they were not well deserved. The ?other? side of this discussion is that they have their right to write, publish, and sell their book against Moore and there is no problem in that; I?m not saying they don?t have the right. Rather, I wish to point out that those involved in creating or supporting this book?s claims are being hypocritical themselves.

Also, BowlingForTruth.com, among other discrepancies, makes fun of three Canadian teenagers who were interviewed and featured in ?Bowling for Columbine.? Moore asks their opinion on health care outside a local Taco Bell to emphasize one of the film?s several points. The site says these kids are ?not intelligent enough to be on camera? and go on, using sarcasm to say: ?The anti-social looking high schoolers show us their brilliant assessment of American geopolitics.? Fundamentally, people are being judged by physical appearance and the site uses sarcasm ? not facts ? to make their point here. In the search for credibility, it doesn?t seem anyone has yet to have room to point a finger at Moore and his alleged lack of it.

From what I?ve read, seen, and heard from those against Michael Moore, not one source has been able to present neither a clear, unbiased case against him nor his films. They fire rounds of ammo, but don?t cock the gun in the right place. All of these anti-Moore efforts all claim to be created because they don?t want people to be misinformed, yet they present very little to make their claims look any better.

Instead, the fight from both sides resembles a schoolyard-level rebuttal. I was taught that when in a debate, participants must present information, facts, and statistics to back their claim. The web sites, books, and films against Moore do just that, which is fine. However, when they attack Moore for being ?one-sided,? it is wrong and unjustified because they do just that themselves.

Think of this as a common debate, with two sides. Moore stands on one side and presents his side through films and books that he creates, and his protractors are on the other side present their rebuttals using their own means. In essence, this is a normal, perfectly acceptable debate. What ultimately discredits the latter side is that they make personal, professional claims against Moore when in theory they are doing the same things. No hypocrite ever should win a debate, and they have not.

Although many may protest against ?Fahrenheit 9/11" on June 25th, or even release a book four days later to do so (read: ?Big Fat?), the film will be out there for people to see. Art and politics have long been artifacts of debate, which is why Moore?s films get such heated responses. I wouldn?t be surprised if even more sites pop up in the next few months, denouncing ?Fahrenheit.? There are even more supporters of the war in Iraq and of President George W. Bush than there are pro-gun activists; the response should be interesting, and so will this latest film from Michael Moore.


Share, Bookmark
'Fahrenheit 911' Articles
  • Craig's Fahrenheit 911 review A
    June 26, 2004    An infuriating, compelling, and incredibly moving tearjerker that should not be missed. -- Craig Younkin
  • Crowd Report: "Fahrenheit 9/11"
    June 26, 2004    This is the first film I?ve ever seen where the audience has applauded many times throughout the movie, and also the first time I?ve ever seen half the crowd give a standing ovation afterwards. -- Lee Tistaert
  • Friday Box Office Analysis (6/25)
    June 26, 2004    While the documentary didn?t eclipse Spider-Man?s record opening day average of $10,901 per-screen, its holdup throughout the weekend could mirror that movie?s performance or that of the Passion. -- Lee Tistaert
  • NY Box Office Debut: "Fahrenheit 9/11"
    June 24, 2004    If ratios prove to be accurate, Fahrenheit could possibly be looking at a Friday figure in the vicinity of $8.0 million, giving the film a Star Wars-like average in the mid-$9,000 range in 868 theaters. -- Lee Tistaert
  • Cannes Film Festival Winners
    May 23, 2004    Michael Moore takes top honor, "Ladykillers" picks up an award... -- Staff of LMI