The lies of Michael Moore.
Indeed, Moore's affected and ostentatious concern for black America is one of the most suspect ingredients of his pitch package. In a recent interview, he yelled that if the hijacked civilians of 9/11 had been black, they would have fought back, unlike the stupid and presumably cowardly white men and women (and children). Never mind for now how many black passengers were on those planes—we happen to know what Moore does not care to mention: that Todd Beamer and a few of his co-passengers, shouting "Let's roll," rammed the hijackers with a trolley, fought them tooth and nail, and helped bring down a United Airlines plane, in Pennsylvania, that was speeding toward either the White House or the Capitol. There are no words for real, impromptu bravery like that, which helped save our republic from worse than actually befell. The Pennsylvania drama also reminds one of the self-evident fact that this war is not fought only "overseas" or in uniform, but is being brought to our cities. Yet Moore is a silly and shady man who does not recognize courage of any sort even when he sees it because he cannot summon it in himself. To him, easy applause, in front of credulous audiences, is everything.
Moore has announced that he won't even appear on TV shows where he might face hostile questioning. I notice from the New York Timesof June 20 that he has pompously established a rapid response team, and a fact-checking staff, and some tough lawyers, to bulwark himself against attack. He'll sue, Moore says, if anyone insults him or his pet. Some right-wing hack groups, I gather, are planning to bring pressure on their local movie theaters to drop the film. How dumb or thuggish do you have to be in order to counter one form of stupidity and cowardice with another? By all means go and see this terrible film, and take your friends, and if the fools in the audience strike up one cry, in favor of surrender or defeat, feel free to join in the conversation.
However, I think we can agree that the film is so flat-out phony that "fact-checking" is beside the point. And as for the scary lawyers—get a life, or maybe see me in court. But I offer this, to Moore and to his rapid response rabble. Any time, Michael my boy. Let's redo Telluride. Any show. Any place. Any platform. Let's see what you're made of.
Some people soothingly say that one should relax about all this. It's only a movie. No biggie. It's no worse than the tomfoolery of Oliver Stone. It's kick-ass entertainment. It might even help get out "the youth vote." Yeah, well, I have myself written and presented about a dozen low-budget made-for-TV documentaries, on subjects as various as Mother Teresa and Bill Clinton and the Cyprus crisis, and I also helped produce a slightly more polished one on Henry Kissinger that was shown in movie theaters. So I know, thanks, before you tell me, that a documentary must have a "POV" or point of view and that it must also impose a narrative line. But if you leave out absolutely everything that might give your "narrative" a problem and throw in any old rubbish that might support it, and you don't even care that one bit of that rubbish flatly contradicts the next bit, and you give no chance to those who might differ, then you have betrayed your craft. If you flatter and fawn upon your potential audience, I might add, you are patronizing them and insulting them. By the same token, if I write an article and I quote somebody and for space reasons put in an ellipsis like this (…), I swear on my children that I am not leaving out anything that, if quoted in full, would alter the original meaning or its significance. Those who violate this pact with readers or viewers are to be despised. At no point does Michael Moore make the smallest effort to be objective. At no moment does he pass up the chance of a cheap sneer or a jeer. He pitilessly focuses his camera, for minutes after he should have turned it off, on a distraught and bereaved mother whose grief we have already shared. (But then, this is the guy who thought it so clever and amusing to catch Charlton Heston, in Bowling for Columbine, at the onset of his senile dementia.) Such courage.
Perhaps vaguely aware that his movie so completely lacks gravitas, Moore concludes with a sonorous reading of some words from George Orwell. The words are taken from 1984 and consist of a third-person analysis of a hypothetical, endless, and contrived war between three superpowers. The clear intention, as clumsily excerpted like this (...) is to suggest that there is no moral distinction between the United States, the Taliban, and the Baath Party and that the war against jihad is about nothing. If Moore had studied a bit more, or at all, he could have read Orwell really saying, and in his own voice, the following:
The majority of pacifists either belong to obscure religious sects or are simply humanitarians who object to taking life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point. But there is a minority of intellectual pacifists, whose real though unacknowledged motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration for totalitarianism. Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writing of the younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States …
And that's just from Orwell's Notes on Nationalism in May 1945. A short word of advice: In general, it's highly unwise to quote Orwell if you are already way out of your depth on the question of moral equivalence. It's also incautious to remind people of Orwell if you are engaged in a sophomoric celluloid rewriting of recent history.
If Michael Moore had had his way, Slobodan Milosevic would still be the big man in a starved and tyrannical Serbia. Bosnia and Kosovo would have been cleansed and annexed. If Michael Moore had been listened to, Afghanistan would still be under Taliban rule, and Kuwait would have remained part of Iraq. And Iraq itself would still be the personal property of a psychopathic crime family, bargaining covertly with the slave state of North Korea for WMD. You might hope that a retrospective awareness of this kind would induce a little modesty. To the contrary, it is employed to pump air into one of the great sagging blimps of our sorry, mediocre, celeb-rotten culture. Rock the vote, indeed.
Correction, June 22, 2004: This piece originally referred to terrorist attacks by Abu Nidal's group on the Munich and Rome airports. The 1985 attacks occurred at the Rome and Vienna airports. ( Return to the corrected sentence.)
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
Photograph of Michael Moore by Pascal Guyot/Agence France-Presse. Stills from Fahrenheit 9/11© 2004 Lions Gate Films. All Rights Reserved.Photograph of Michael Moore on the Slate home page by Eric Gaillard/Reuters.