By Ciro Scotti
It's hard not to be charmed by Michael Moore, the filmmaker whose anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 has been sweeping across the country like a summer forest fire in a drought of truth. He's fat and jolly, smart and sassy, a left-wing Falstaff who has become an overnight sensation in the most unlikely pockets of America.
His film, which attacks the war in Iraq as an invasion mounted under false pretenses, is said to be playing well near military bases. And as Moore told some 800 progressive groupies who gathered somewhat incongruously yesterday in the ballroom of a chain hotel in Cambridge, Mass., for a rally organized by the Campaign for America's Future, he's even making inroads in NASCAR land.
Moore says he was recently channel-surfing when he saw hot, young driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. telling Fox Sports that he took his pit crew to see Fahrenheit. "Then he says," quotes Moore, "'I think all of America should see this movie.' Whoo-hoo! I almost fell off the couch."
Actually, Moore said, he offered up a prayer for George Bush: "Oh, my God, I hope he's not watching this race and eating pretzels."
IN BED, NOT EMBEDDED.
Funny stuff, but Moore's barbs aren't aimed just at the President. Yesterday, he seemed just as interested in going after the press. "The unstated villain in the film is our national media," he said. "The film outs them as shills for the Bush Administration...and cheerleaders for the war."
As the crowd hooted its approval, Moore addressed the press: "We need you to do your job. You do us no service...by looking the other way" or failing to ask a hard question for fear of being called un-American.
He was especially harsh on NBC. He called General Electric (GE ), parent of NBC, a "war profiteer" that has $600 million worth of contracts in Iraq. So, he suggested, it's hardly surprising that GE's "news entity" didn't tell the truth about the war. "You haven't just been embedded," he said again to the press, "you've been in bed with the wrong people."
"UNCOOL TO BE APATHETIC."
But the press's failings go beyond swallowing the Administration line on Iraq, Moore said. He ridiculed the media mindset that the U.S. is a 50-50 country, almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. He said the press just keeps looking at "likely voters," but September 11 has changed everything, and Nov. 2 will see a sea change because the 50% of America that doesn't vote is now talking politics.
"I have traveled across the country quite a bit in the last year," he said. "It ain't a 50-50 country.... That's the big story that the media has missed.... It's cool now to talk about politics. It's uncool to be apathetic -- that's why Jon Stewart is so popular."
Moore claims that in their hearts, the majority of Americans are liberal and progressive. "There is just a small minority that hate," he said talking about right-wing Republicans. "They are not patriots, they're hate-triots."
As already observed, the man has a zinging wit. And mostly he's right about the media drinking the Administration Kool-Aid on Iraq and being afraid to ask the tough questions. Many in the media were shameful weenies on Iraq, and maybe we do have tunnel vision about the electorate.
But Moore has a double standard about being duped about weapons of mass destruction. He defends John Kerry's vote to invade Iraq because the Democratic about-to-be-nominee like so many other Americans believed in the Commander-in-Chief. The press doesn't get that same pathetic pass.
And despite Moore's brilliant use of humor and pathos to deliver a political broadside, Fahrenheit is seriously flawed. A critic as tough as Michael Moore could make the case that the great auteur has foisted on the country an argument against U.S. involvement in Iraq that avoids the central reason behind the invasion. Talk about being chicken-hearted and missing the big story.
The film goes on about filial revenge and oil, but it never ventures onto really touchy turf -- namely the role of fiercely pro-Israel neocon hawks in convincing Bush to go to war. The elephantine Mr. Moore conveniently fails to mention that other pachyderm in the Democratic room. Why didn't Fahrenheit go there, Mr. Moore?
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Scotti, senior editor for government and sports business, offers his views every week in A Not-So-Neutral Corner, only for BusinessWeek Online