Michael Moore, America's most newsworthy documentary filmmaker, releases his controversial polemic "Fahrenheit 9/11" this week. Moore has many supporters and detractors, those who see him as an agent of truth and those who perceive him as a propagandist for the left.
Much of Moore's indictment of the Bush administration comes in the first third of "Fahrenheit 9/11," where he congregates facts that are already a part of the public record. But even facts are subject to interpretation, and the ones presented in Moore's work are sure to stir up debate. Are they impenetrable on their own — or are they manicured to fit Moore's own motivations?
Here, we present five critical facts presented in "Fahrenheit 9/11" that are the foundation of Michael Moore's criticism of the Bush presidency.
In his first eight months in office, President George W. Bush was on vacation 42 percent of the time.
Moore presents this statistic as he examines the first part of Bush's term as commander in chief, pre-9-11, portraying him as impotent on issues of policy and federal appointments. The number, which was calculated by The Washington Post (and was also reported, independently, in England's The Guardian), is the first empirical fact presented in the film, and is conspicuous in light of the fact that most working Americans get less than 5 percent of the year off, and are only eligible for that after working for 12 months. Moore shows Bush's vacations — spent on his ranch in Texas, mostly — as leisurely getaways filled with hunting, fishing and golf. During an interview in August 2001, in the middle of a monthlong vacation, Bush argues that he can lead the country just as effectively outside Washington as inside. Moore, however, uses the 42 percent number to portray Bush as a president who, before September 11, lacked focus.
After learning that a commercial airliner had hit the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, President Bush went ahead with a reading and photo-op at a grade school in Florida. He learned that the second plane hit while reading a book, "My Pet Goat," with a classroom of children. Bush sat with the children for about seven minutes longer before getting up to leave.
This is perhaps the most damning part of "Fahrenheit 9/11," one that reinforces Moore's point that Bush's presidency lacked focus even as the tragic events of that day were unfolding. Moore uses footage from the classroom, provided by the teacher: It shows Bush sitting in front of the class, with book in hand and a look of both dread and vacancy on his face. Moore uses a clock to emphasize just how long Bush remained inactive.
In the days following September 11, after commercial air traffic was resumed, the White House allowed 142 Saudi Arabians, including members of Osama bin Laden's family, to leave the United States without questioning them — even after it was known that many of the 9-11 hijackers were Saudi nationals.
Air traffic resumed over American skies on September 14, and shortly thereafter, members of bin Laden's family and other Saudis were allowed to leave the United States (on six private charters and 24 commercial flights) for their home country without being questioned. The specific numbers Moore presents in the film haven't been confirmed, but the general flight information was confirmed through media reports and statements from both the White House and the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S.
Some, however, don't see the journey of the Saudis, many of whom were students enrolled in American colleges, as insidiously as Moore does. The explanation given by the White House was that Saudis connected to the royal family, including bin Laden's relatives, were afraid of possible repercussions against them (even though many bin Ladens said they had disowned Osama). Moore spends much of "Fahrenheit 9/11" criticizing the cozy relationship between the Bush family and Saudi royals. He asserts that the relationship might prove to be a colossal conflict between the interests of America and those of the Bush clan.
However, one of the people who admitted to being involved in the decision to authorize those flights is Richard Clarke, former counter-terrorism adviser on the U.S. National Security Council, who has been highly critical of Bush's handling of the war on terror in interviews and his book, "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror." Moore uses several bites of Clarke's criticism but doesn't question Clarke himself about authorizing the flights. Under questioning by the 9-11 Commission, Clarke confirmed his role in the authorization.
George H.W. Bush was on the payroll of the Carlyle Group, a Washington, D.C.-based private investment firm, which also counted Osama bin Laden's brother Shafig as an investor. The Carlyle Group is one of the world's largest private-defense contractors, with many Saudi Arabian investors and several former political players on its payroll.
The Carlyle Group lies at the heart of Moore's assertion that the Bush family is all too cozy with the Saudis — and he throws a spotlight on those connections through an investment firm that usually prefers to remain low-key. The Carlyle Group is staffed by several former, mostly conservative, members of the CIA, the White House and other branches of the government — such as former Secretary of State James Baker and the first President Bush.
George H.W. Bush was one of Carlyle's advisers until 2003, and Moore shows him stumping for the company in Saudi Arabia after September 11 — after 15 of the 19 hijackers were determined to be Saudis, and after Osama bin Laden was named as Public Enemy #1. The bin Laden family was among the firm's investors until October 2001.
The Carlyle Group is also one of the biggest defense contractors in the world. Having ex-members of the public sector use their contacts for the private sector is beneficial for the Carlyle Group's investments, and Moore exploits this idea in his movie to imply that the war on terror is a machine to create fortunes for Carlyle, its employees and its investors.
The Bush/Saudi connection is emphasized by Moore with other facts, too, such as the fact that the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar, was invited to the White House for dinner just two days after the September 11 tragedy. Moore, via a stunt in the movie, also reveals that the ambassador has a Secret Service detail afforded him and the Saudi embassy — something that is normally associated only with protecting the president, his staff and presidential candidates.
There are 535 congressmen and senators, and only one has an enlisted son or daughter who served in the military in Iraq.
One of the sub-themes in "Fahrenheit 9/11" emphasizes how a disproportionate number of soldiers fighting the war in Iraq are from lower-income families in places like Flint, Michigan, Moore's hometown. Moore attempts to highlight this by presenting the notion that, of the many people in Congress voting to send young men and women to war, very few would commit their own children to the fight. Senator Tim Johnson's son Brooks was a sergeant in the 101st Airborne, which Moore acknowledges.
But others in Congress do have children in the military — Senator Joseph Biden's son is a member of the National Guard, and FOX News says a poll revealed six other members of the House of Representatives who have children in the military. While Moore has already received criticism for this seeming discrepancy, the fact remains: Just one child of a congressman or senator served in Iraq.
Check out everything we've got on "Fahrenheit 9/11."
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