Pro and con reviews of "Fahrenheit 9/11" raise readers' temperatures.

Published June 24, 2004 8:00PM (EDT)

[Read Stephanie Zacharek's and Andrew O'Hehir's reviews of "Fahrenheit 9/11."]

Stephanie Zacharek takes umbrage at Michael Moore's effort not being sufficiently cerebral and "logical" and writes: "Still, the tradition, craft and standards of journalism have to count for something: Should we really be holding up cheap shots, inference and sloppy reporting as gateways to the truth?"

Well, no. But then Moore never claimed he was presenting a PBS special! In delivering a work such as this to theatergoers, one must take care to ensure a high entertainment quotient as well -- so as not to turn them off. This is what Moore has succeeded in doing: telling the story without boring his audience to tears.

Really great docu-movies are not highfalutin treatises in journalistic technique and phony issue "two-sidedness." They must also engage the viewer at the emotional level.

If I wanted highbrow journalism, I'd watch Bill Moyers on PBS.

-- Phil Stahl

I haven't yet seen "Fahrenheit 9/11," but I have seen Michael Moore's other films and am frankly bewildered by Stephanie Zacharek's assault on Moore's "faux" populism. Was the "Rabbit Lady" in "Roger & Me" a figure to be ridiculed? Perhaps the "limousine liberal" crowd that ran Moore out of town at Mother Jones thought she was simply comic relief, but I saw -- and I think Moore did, too -- a woman doing what she could with the meager resources at hand. Zacharek needs to consider to what degree she may be projecting her own cultural values on the images Moore presents.

Worse, chiding Moore over bringing home the violence of war is completely inexcusable. To criticize this during a war so aggressively sanitized that photos of coffins are verboten is completely out of touch with reality. The sad truth is that while the horror of war might be taken for granted in film critics' social circles, out here in middle America the suffering is a non-factor in what passes for thought about the war. Just this past week a letter writer in my local paper openly -- and sincerely -- advocated the indiscriminate use of automatic weapons to pacify Iraqi cities. People need a reminder of what that means.

-- John Caraher

Stephanie Zacharek pens a worthwhile review of Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," with many solid points. But the theme of her criticism is summed up in one line: "If Moore is the left's great spokesman by default, shouldn't he be using his influence (not to mention his money) to raise the level of political discourse in this country instead of lowering it?"

My immediate reaction to that: Fuck the level of discourse! The level of discourse is set by the braying asses at Fox News, and the rest of the "journalists" around the country are racing Fox to the bottom.

It's difficult enough for anyone on the left to get a message out in this climate, let alone being saddled with a responsibility to somehow raise the level of discourse. Don't turn this into a typical left event, in which the messenger is savaged by his own people.

-- Tim Doran

I have not yet seen "Fahrenheit 9/11." Even so --

Most of both your reviews this morning -- O'Hehir and Zacharek -- rings true about Moore: Moore plays fast and loose with the facts, Moore's muckraking would be more effective if there were less Moore onscreen, Moore is not above cheap shots at either friends or enemies.

So what? The fact is that Moore is on a very short list of heroes of the Republic (Molly Ivins, Robert Byrd and Howard Dean are others) who fought the "Bush is God" propaganda with everything they had, while the limousine liberals were wringing their hands and hoping Bushism would run its course. Moore, with the saga of the publication of "Stupid White Men," was first. He rallied the cause in early 2002 and derailed the canonization of George W. Bush.

Is Moore's work propaganda? Almost. It's counter-propaganda. The Bushies, aided and abetted by almost every organ of the "So-Called Liberal Media," have been propagandizing since 1999; really, since the election of 1992. Even now, Bush and Cheney continue to pretend that Saddam and al-Qaida were in bed together, confident that there will be no loud and sustained resistance to the Big Lie.

How to resist such mendacity? When Hitler heard that France had surrendered, he was filmed happily stamping his foot, once. Somebody looped the film to make Hitler look like he was doing a silly jig. Later he said something like, "You don't worry about ethics when you're trying to undo a son of a bitch." That guy had the right idea.

Fight fire with fire. Set a thief to catch a thief. No matter how you phrase it, the left needs its own dirty fighters, and Moore is self-nominated and wins by default. Who else is trying? Al Franken and Air America, maybe, but they got rolling two years after "Stupid White Men" and still don't command anywhere near the audience Moore does. Any others?

No matter how much it distresses good liberals like Stephanie Zacharek, the name of the game is brawling, not dignity. (I picture Zacharek as the society dame in a Woody Allen flick. Woody wanted everyone to gather up rocks and bricks to greet a Nazi march; she insisted that "satire" in the Times was the most effective weapon. Not always.)

So, my baseball cap's off to Mike Moore, with all his flaws -- a man who knows when to bend some truths to expose the big truths.

I'll be in the theater Friday.

-- Stuart Thiel

Even if everything you say about Moore and the movie is true, I still can't get past my irritation at the invective hurled at Moore by the same people who give Rush, Laura, Ann, O'Reilly, and Savage a free pass. If the conservatives get a free pass by the Moore bashers -- No! Wait! They get better than a free pass: Rush has had Cheney and Wolfowitz on his show, when they would never talk to Moore -- why can't Moore get a free pass based on the same standards of truth telling and propaganda mongering? Sheesh. If I may answer my own rhetorical question, the answer is because Moore really is good -- maybe even an artist! Even if he comes out with work only once every couple of years, this is somehow more dangerous than the 24/7 lying and propaganda of the conservative pundit onslaught put together.

-- Matt Burr

I have seen Mike's movies and for the most part he is very liberal with his interpretation of facts. Some he just assumes. Mostly I think it's just a big, dumb, fat white guy getting rich off the backs of whoever is the best vehicle. Your article that puts him in the company of Dickens, Springsteen? At least they had a salable talent. Whether you agree with his politics or not, the quality of Moore's movies is B-movie crap. Maybe his next will be "The Fat, Stupid White Guy Who Screwed Us All ... for Money."

-- Jim Milam

I take issue with Stephanie Zacharek's claim that "the issues at stake are too serious for a spotlight-hungry manipulator like Moore to be mucking around with." What gives Zacharek the right to decide who can comment on important issues?

The precise reason that people defend Moore as a much-needed liberal voice is that he speaks for and to working-class people. While he may not approach issues with the level of analytical rigor, intellectual nuance or artistic sophistication necessary to impress Zacharek, he can at least be counted on to provide an accessible and critical take on American government policy, even when better educated and more cerebral liberals are content to sit on their hands quietly.

Moore was born in working-class Flint, Mich., has no college education and, to my knowledge, has no formal training in film. If he is a "faux populist," what exactly does it take to be a real populist? Moore is and continues to be a valuable voice because the liberal intelligentsia in America has abandoned and ignored the left wing's populist base. His filmmaking does not negate the more powerful work done by Jehane Noujaim in "Control Room," nor does it undermine more rigorous left-wing journalism or scholarship. If anything, Moore inspires more interest in such work, and for that, he deserves our respect.

-- Tim McIntyre

By Salon Staff

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