After watching the movie Fahreheit 9-11 (I watched it well after the 2004 presidential election), a bunch of thoughts struck me:
- It is a one-sided movie that leaves no doubt about what Moore wants to convey by presenting only one side of the story. John Berger writing in The Guardian termed it in the same breath "cunning and moving." Moore isn't trying to present both sides of the picture and let the viewer make up his/her mind - he's out to convince the viewer of the truth of what he believes to be right.
- It is a powerful movie - most folks who watched the movie couldn't but start to wonder if Bush deserves four more years after all one saw in the movie.
- How many Americans actually watched the movie? Quite a few it seems. According to Boxofficemojo.com, it grossed over $119 million across 2000+ theatres in the US alone in 2004 including about $24 million in the opening weekend and grabbed the top spot in the U.S. home video rental market as the most watched documentary debut of all-time with more than 2.6 million DVD and VHS viewers, turning 1.36 million copies and earning more than $5.46 million in its first week. It was also available on pay-per-view to subscribers of the Dish Network in USA, and for online streaming through the internet video provider CinemaNow on election eve to potential audience of millions of households.
- How many Americans never watched the movie because they felt it was too anti-American, when Moore's intention I thought was to be pro-American but anti-Bush?
- Have there been any studies on the impact of Fahreheit 9-11 on voters' choices in the 2004 election? The movie's influence on the voting decisions of those who watched the movie and those who didn't watch it, but heard about it in the press and the voting decisions of pro-Bush, anti-Bush and the fence-sitting voters. What are the results of those studies, if any? (I haven't been able to find any mention of a study online as yet).
Wondering about the veracity of Moore's presentation, I came across a list of 59 deceits in Fahrenheit 9-11 published by Dave Kopel, who lists himself as a lifelong Democrat who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. Koppel says
In this report, I number Moore’s deceits. Some of them are outright lies; some are omissions which create a false impression. Others involve different forms of deception. A few are false statements Moore has made when defending the film. Judge for yourself the credibility of Michael Moore's promise, "Every single fact I state in 'Fahrenheit 9/11' is the absolute and irrefutable truth...Do not let anyone say this or that isn't true. If they say that, they are lying."
Kopel has also published a detailed item by item explanation of each of the 59 deceits in the movie along with Moore's response to some of the items. Reading this drove home the power of the visual medium to influence people's views by selective presentation of facts and opinions and towards what one wants them to believe. The medium leaves little room for critical thinking, if that is the intent of the producer.
An article in the International Herald Tribune (before the 2004 election) argues that it still holds true that people go to the movies to be entertained, fully aware that they are seeing artifice, even if it is nonfiction artifice.
Polls have already shown that the impact of "Fahrenheit 9/11" has been minimal or nonexistent. Most of its audience was anti-Bush before entering the theater, and the other folks are as likely to be repelled as converted. One of the wiser political consultants, David Axelrod, noted that while many swing voters are disappointed with Bush, few dislike him. For them, Moore's blunt polemic could prove counterproductive.
It turns out that the Republicans reacted to Fahrenheit 9-11 by coming out with their own film titled Celsius 41.11: The Temperature at Which the Brain Begins to Die to put across their point of view. I wonder how many Democratic supporters would have watched this film.
It seems to be dawning on the Democrats that Michael Moore might actually be a double-edge sword they've cut themselves on. An article in The American Prospect suggests that Michael Moore and his movie had more of a negative impact on the Democrats than positive to the extent that some
Democrats are even blaming Moore for Kerry's loss and have called for Democrats to surrender Moore to the same gods to which Bill Clinton sacrificed the controversial rapper Sister Souljah in 1992.
Back then, at a conference of the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, candidate Clinton caused a small ruckus by repudiating earlier comments from Souljah that some had construed as condoning black-on-white violence. The genius of Clinton’s rebuke of Souljah was that it was geared not to the assembled black leaders seated in front of him but to moderate whites, who needed to see that Clinton was not some patsy of narrow left-wing interest groups. It was cold, calculated, and effective. “You have to recognize that Clinton was the only non-accidental Democratic president elected in 40 years,” one high-ranking Democratic operative told me, suggesting that Jimmy Carter won by virtue of Watergate and Lyndon Johnson by virtue of succeeding a slain president. “With that in mind,” he said, “Democrats have to be prepared to recognize the utility of some of the tactics he employed to get into office, including the ‘Sister Souljah moment.’”
Of course, “Sister Souljah-ing” Michael Moore would only be tactically useful for Democrats if they can plausibly argue that Moore scares away more voters than he attracts. According to University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, who has been poring over polling data from the election, this remains unclear. “While it is fair to say that he contributed to additional turnout on both sides,” Sabato says, “data specifically analyzing the individual impact of Moore does not yet exist.” To the extent that voters associated Moore’s politics with that of the Democratic Party, it is because Democrats are not effectively articulating what it is they actually stand for.”
By contrast, the Republican “brand” is strongly recognized, and voters can easily distinguish mainstream Republicanism from its extremist impostures. Ronald Reagan made the distinction clear in 1966, when he mused that the endorsement by the McCarthyite John Birch Society of his candidacy for governor of California meant only that “they’re buying my philosophy; I’m not buying theirs.” More recently, no one seriously thought that the über-conservative author Ann Coulter represented the views of the Republican Party when she suggested in a column soon after the September 11 attacks that the proper response September 11 was to “invade [Muslim] countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity.”
The Democrats, meanwhile, make no such distinction. Indeed, some Democratic leaders have appeared publicly with Moore, and when he appears with members of the party, it becomes ever more difficult to deny that he, at least in some way, represents them. Just ask Virginia Schrader, a progressive Democrat who in 2004 narrowly lost the congressional race for the 8th District of Pennsylvania, located in suburban Philadelphia and the Delaware River Valley. Early in her campaign, Schrader hosted a fund-raiser at which she screened Fahrenheit 9-11. Months later, as the campaign was getting down to the wire, the Republican National Congressional Committee targeted the district with a flier that read “The Hate America Crowd has found their candidate. Ginny Schrader raised money by showing the anti-American movie Fahrenheit 9-11.” The flip side featured a chubby caricature of Moore’s face, above which read “Now there’s a running mate that will slow you down.” The flier was nasty, but effective. Polling data Schrader relayed to the Prospect after the race indicated that 12 percent of the flier’s recipients claimed to have been affected by it one way or the other. And for 8 percent of those 12 percent, the flier helped persuade them to vote against Schrader.