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Good Points

Randy Barnett on Michael Moore:

Having read the lengthy piece by David Kopel, Fifty-six Deceits in Fahrenheit 911, I was struck by the sheer cunningness of Moore's film. When you read Kopel, try to detach yourself from any revulsion you may feel at a work of literal propaganda receiving such wide-spread accolades from mainstream politicos, as well as attendance by your friends and neighbors.

Instead, notice the film's meticulousness in saying only (or mostly) "true" or defensible things in support of a completely misleading impression. In this way, Kopel's care in describing Moore's "deceipts" is much more interesting than other critiques I have read, including that of Christopher Hitchens. Kopel's lawyerly description of Moore's claims shows the film to be a genuinely impressive accomplishment in a perverse sort of way (the way an ingenious crime is impressive)--a case study in how to convert elements that are mainly true into an impression that is entirely false--and this leads in turn to another thought.

If this much cleverness was required to create the inchoate "conspiracy" (whatever it may be, as it is never really specified by Moore), it suggests there was no such conspiracy. With this much care and effort invested in uncovering and massaging the data, if there really was a conspiracy of the kind Moore suggests, the evidence would line up more neatly behind it, rather than being made to do cartwheels so as to be "true" but oh-so-misleading. If the facts don't fit, shouldn't we acquit?
That's 100% true.

The funny thing, though, is that if I wrote "The 56 Deceits of George W. Bush" (as, indeed, many people have done) then some very intelligent Volokh Conspirator (as, indeed, many of the conspirators are) would doubtless have written a post in response (as, indeed, I've read at the Conspiracy) arguing that most of the alleged "lies" weren't lies per se (and, indeed, they're mostly misleading juxtapositions of technically true information) and that these sorts of ad hominem attacks don't really prove that the presidents' policies are actually wrong.

The really funny thing, though, is that while George W. Bush is president of the United States and wrecking (a) the country's foreign policy and (b) the country's fiscal policy, Michael Moore is a somewhat famous guy who makes movies. Get it?

July 5, 2004 | Permalink


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» F-9/11 critics descend into self parody from Majikthise
Randy Barnett of the Volokh Conspiracy, on The Impressiveness of Farenheit 9/11: I was struck by the sheer cunningness of Moore's film. When you read Kopel, try to detach yourself from any revulsion you may feel at a work of [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 5, 2004 5:52:06 PM

» Lies from Sebastian Holsclaw
At a pool party a friend was talking about how Michael Moore's new movie taught him so much. I sighed, asked what he learned, and cringed as he told me about pipelines through Afghanistan, Saudis leaving while everyone else was... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 6, 2004 1:14:49 PM

» Matthew on Moore et al from Gavin's Blog.com
Matthew Yglesias also has some new takes on Moore, and comparisons with Bush, strangely enough. Of course I have read Chrisopther Hitchens' now famous criticism of Moore. So too, I have read "Fifty-nine Deceits in Fahrenheit 9/11", by Dave Kopel.... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 6, 2004 7:45:53 PM

» More on Moore's "deceits" from Crooked Timber
Matt Yglesias has been doing sterling work on the double standards employed by Michael Moore’s critics. So, as a supplement to my two earlier posts on the same topic, I’d like to draw attention to his latest. He cites Volokh... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 7, 2004 5:47:22 AM

» Gift Basket from Tom Jamme's Blog
Sweet Blessings, a new Christian-based online shop featuring cookie bouquets, candy bouquets and gift baskets, opens with a campaign to donate a portion of all profits to Habitat For Humanity. The devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, while not a... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 6, 2005 8:00:05 PM


Another question for Mr. Barnett. If the "inchoate 'conspiracy'" is never really clear, then of what should we "acquit" the President?

Put another way, it's easy to read the post, much of which I agree with, as a strawman. I'm sure that Barnett doesn't really believe that Moore's sloppiness exonerates Bush of all criticisms, but it might be read that way.

Posted by: Me | Jul 5, 2004 1:31:58 PM

The thing that seems to be making the Moore film successful is that it tells a good story, like the work of a successful prosecuting attorney. The facts on which the story is are scrupulously correct. The story is making the facts real to much of the public, just as a good prosecutor makes the evidence real to a jury.

Do I wish the public was using a more reliable way of evaluating the evidence? Hell, yes! (And I wish juries did so too--there would be fewer innocents on death row.) But I'll take what I can get--voters are people on earth, not saints in heaven.

Posted by: Randolph Fritz | Jul 5, 2004 2:04:42 PM

For further amusement, check out the headlines at the Weekly Standard. An argument that Moore's movie "connects dots that aren't there" juxstaposed with an interview with Dick Cheney by Stephen Hayes (along with several other manifestations of Hayes desperately flogging a dead horses' ass.) This is all apparently unironic.

Posted by: Scott | Jul 5, 2004 2:05:11 PM

But Moore is FAT, and W is Lincoln and Jesus combined!!!

"I'm doing God's Work. Now watch this drive."

Posted by: MattB | Jul 5, 2004 2:12:06 PM

I'm on a mission to keep saying this everywhere, even though I realize that I have become a monomaniac. A lot of people still haven't seemed to have gotten the word.

In the political game as it is played today (and really, during every period) you need to have some way of getting your message out to intuitive gut thinkers who don't pay close attention to facts and logic. You know, the salt of the earth types and fuckups.

Michael Moore is able to do that, whereas the Democratic party itself has been pitifully weak in this respect.

The Republican machine, including its surrogates, is masterful at doing this. Over the last 25 years or so, Republicans and conservatives have profited enormously from Republican skills in this area. It's been one of the defining factors in American political life. And whether they listen to them or not, and whether they praise them or not, they're all implicated with Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Tim Russert, and any number of other equally sleazy but less famous characters. (To say nothing of William Safire).

When conservatives make high-minded statements of outrage about Moore or any Democrat like Moore, unless they can point to a track record of consistent rejection of the comparable Republican flaks, they show themselves to be partisans pure and simple and thus discredit themselves (except as more or less effective operatives).

"Two wrongs don't make a right". YES THEY DO, in a competitive sport. Both sides get to play by the same rules. If reaching in or pushing off or palming the ball or travelling or standing in the 3-second lane is allowed for one team, it has to be allowed for the other.

Michael Moore's film is impressionistic, propagandistic, polemical, and not really fair. It is NOT especially dishonest or inaccurate. His film should be very effective in convincing a lot of ill-informed whim voters.

I.E., Voters the Republicans thought they owned, because of their decades of success with impressionistic propaganda.

Posted by: Zizka | Jul 5, 2004 2:21:36 PM

"His film should be very effective in convincing a lot of ill-informed whim voters. I.E., Voters the Republicans thought they owned, because of their decades of success with impressionistic propaganda."

Which is exactly why they're reacting with such rage. F9/11 is like the missile going down the exhaust chute of the Death Star.

Posted by: Swopa | Jul 5, 2004 2:39:08 PM


We need Moore's movie because Bush used EXACTLY the same techniques for promoting an unjust war.

Mushroom clouds.
Aluminum tubes.
Yellowcake from Niger.
Saddam refusing to allow weapons inspectors in.
Saddam and bin Laden indistinguishable.

Bush's deceptions were less honest than Moore's.

What is certainly true is that from money to al Qaeda, to refusing to allow the FBI unfettered access to the hijackers' families, to financial support of religious schools teaching anti-Semitism and hatred of the USA, the current regime in Saudi Arabia has MUCH closer ties to terror and al Qaeda than Iraq.

Moore just fights fire with fire. Bush's deceptions and fearmongering have now been answered in the only appropriate way: with deceptions and paranoia. It is up to Bush and his supporters to change the tone, not some moviemaker. Until then, my response to the hair pulling over this movie: Go Cheney yourselves.

Posted by: epistemology | Jul 5, 2004 2:43:41 PM

The gist of Moore's substantive contention is that Bush used the war in Iraq as a cover for Saudi Arabia's deeper connection to al Qaeda.

David Kopel says:

Fahrenheit shows Condoleezza Rice saying, “Oh, indeed there is a tie between Iraq and what happened on 9/11.” The audience laughs derisively. Here is what Rice really said:

Oh, indeed there is a tie between Iraq and what happened on 9/11. It’s not that Saddam Hussein was somehow himself and his regime involved in 9/11, but, if you think about what caused 9/11, it is the rise of ideologies of hatred that lead people to drive airplanes into buildings in New York.

But the larger point is that Saudi Arabia is much more of a font of the ideologies of hatred than Iraq was. And as for the laughable contention than harboring Abu Nidal proves a terror connection:
1. The Oslo accords stipulate that prior terror acts are forgiven if the perpetrator renounces terror, as Nidal did; even decrying 9/11 when it happened.
2. As usual, Saudi Arabia is worse, harboring Idi Amin, one of the world's worst mass murderers, when the second Gulf War began.

The genius of Moore's movie is that it gives xenophobic middle Americans someone foreign to hate in place of Saddam: shadowy Saudi money men. And the FACTS are that Saudis, in and out of government, are far more supportive of the hateful ideologies that Kopel blames (correctly) for 9/11.

Answer the question, Kopel, are Saudis more to blame for the hateful religious ideologies that spawned al Qaeda than Saddam?

Posted by: epistemology | Jul 5, 2004 4:04:16 PM

Excellent point, Matt.

How many times have we heard, "They never actually said 'imminent?' "

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov | Jul 5, 2004 4:09:02 PM

The Kopel piece isn't exactly a damning indictment; here's an example of a 'deceit' Moore was caught in.

Fahrenheit mocks President Bush for continuing to read a story to a classroom of elementary school children after he was told about the September 11 attacks.

What Moore did not tell you:

Gwendolyn Tose’-Rigell, the principal of Emma E. Booker Elementary School, praised Bush’s action: “I don’t think anyone could have handled it better.” “What would it have served if he had jumped out of his chair and ran out of the room?”…

She said the video doesn’t convey all that was going on in the classroom, but Bush’s presence had a calming effect and “helped us get through a very difficult day.”

“Sarasota principal defends Bush from ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ portrayal,” Associated Press, June 24, 2004.

Michael Moore's 'deceit' is that some nobody principle thinks Bush did the right thing, instead of, say, authorizing the air force to shoot down hijacked planes.

This isn't deceit, this is Nedra Picklering.

Posted by: Gabriel | Jul 5, 2004 4:09:15 PM

The list of 56 "deceits" isnt' good at all. Some are of the sort, well Clinton did it, too. That's nice, but Moore's film wasn't about Clinton.

And there are some that get simply contradicted by reading the transcript of the film (eg #17). I stopped reading when he invoked Laurie Mylroie as an expert in #'s 38-39. Mylroie is a well known crackpot.

If this is the best the right wing can do, the film is, for all intents and purposes, pretty doggone airtight.

Posted by: tristero | Jul 5, 2004 4:30:29 PM

> The gist of Moore's substantive contention is that Bush used the war in Iraq as a cover for Saudi Arabia's deeper connection to al Qaeda.

I don't think that's the point at all.

I think what he's saying is that Bush pretends to be on a crusade to eliminate evil mideast dictators, but in reality, he spends his free time hanging out with and smoking cigars with evil mideast dictators. This is very offensive, especially in light of the fact that he portrays himself as the flaming sword of justice by which the world will be purified of these evil regimes. Imagine if FDR had sent troops against Hitler while playing golf with Mussolini. It would have really brought into question how serious he was.

Posted by: Josh Yelon | Jul 5, 2004 4:41:05 PM

Agree with tristero. Most of the nitpicking here is about tone and presentation; basically an announcement that if you don't like the tone of Moore's film, it must be packed with "lies." "Ah ha! Michael Moore speculates that Bush didn't read X briefing -- but he can't actually prove he didn't! Deceit! Deceit" Pathetic.

Posted by: Doctor Slack | Jul 5, 2004 5:16:10 PM

Terribly silly list, which just goes to show the strength of Moore's film. Like someone said above, "if this is the best they can do," etc.

Most of these aren't "deceits" at all, just a refusual to present Republican spin alongside objective fact.

Posted by: G C | Jul 5, 2004 5:25:54 PM

I have a pretty strong aversion to film as propaganda, independent of what political convictions I have, so I really don't give a shit whether Moore's film is "on the side of good," i.e. the Democrats, with respect to the issue of criticizing it. But, in any case, I am bored by the persistance in conceptualizing the thing (on both sides) in terms of whether Moore has his facts straight and how that ought to be weighed. This is a dull and wonkish way of thinking about it.

Also, zizka, as an "intuitive/gut thinker," I think you're wrong to suggest that Moore's chicanery is the thing that will persuade uncommitted "folk." It strikes me that his sneering and conspiracy mongering is "for," and will mainly be found compelling by, ill-informed but already viscerally committed, fringe-left types who delight in being led by the nose through elaborate right-wing plots. As for the uncommitted, I think the film will strike the most effective blow against Bush where it actually approaches honesty (that is, where the viewer has to confront certain manifest facts, despite Moore's ministrations)--I'm thinking about, e.g., scenes of violence and chaos in Iraq, and Bush's transparent befuddlement and impotence in learning of the WTC attacks.

Posted by: spacetoast | Jul 5, 2004 5:40:38 PM

"Give 'Em Hell, Harry!"
The campaigning President Truman explained that he just told the truth about Republicans and they felt it was Hell...
Kinda like today, huh?

Posted by: wilson | Jul 5, 2004 5:57:12 PM

Boy, that Moore guy is one bad dude! First, he uses facts to present his case- now that's what i call really hitting below the Beltway! But even worse, he never even tells you the conspiracy theory that (you'll just have to trust me, I have no facts) he's presenting to you!

Modern right-wingers have given a whole new meaning to "Drink the Kool-aid".

Posted by: serial catowner | Jul 5, 2004 6:16:04 PM

I wish I'd said it, but it was Tom Burka, in paraphrase:

"Weekly Standard Reveals Moore's Lies: Farhenheit 911 Not Even Really About Temperature"

Posted by: Brian C.B. | Jul 5, 2004 6:29:41 PM

"Which is exactly why they're reacting with such rage. F9/11 is like the missile going down the exhaust chute of the Death Star."

Brilliantly evocative description.

Posted by: DavidNYC | Jul 5, 2004 7:11:48 PM

"Which is exactly why they're reacting with such rage. F9/11 is like the missile going down the exhaust chute of the Death Star."

A good simile, as Karl Rove's sense of inevitability almost defies comparison with real-world figures, and it's fun to picture him wearing Grand Moff Tarkin's Imperial getup. But it wasn't a missile, it was **two** proton torpedoes. Duh.

Posted by: Geek | Jul 5, 2004 7:42:31 PM

Spacetoast -- don't see your point at all. I am not really conceding that Moore is dishonest or over-the-top. But he does present a case which is impressionistic and not fact-and-logic based. There's lots of stuff in there that will work best with less-informed, less-analytic people, but it's not lies.

Incidentally, reports I've seen that a lot of the stuff in the movie which is old hat to us, is new and shocking to a lot of people. I've seen many reports that the movie is effective with the undecided (not the hard right, but the soft nonideological center).

The thought just occurred to me: if Chimsky had made this film, it would have been three or four hours long, would have been logically argued, would have been crammed with facts, and would have presented a complex, detailed analysis of 40-50 years of Middle Eastern history. Nobody would have watched it, but the same people criticizing Moore would have criticized Chamsky just as harshly for completely different diametrically-opposed reasons.

Posted by: Zizka | Jul 5, 2004 8:07:46 PM

There is much about the film that annoys me and I was not even always sure what Moore's point was with some of the discussion of Bush's financial ties to the Saudis. But I do know that if the Bush administration had as much factual evidence of a financial link between Saddam and al Qaeda as there is of financial links between Bush, the bin Laden family, and the Saudis, they would be blathering about it daily.

Posted by: Yu Le | Jul 5, 2004 8:31:24 PM

One could easily write a piece on the 56 deceits in "The 56 Deceits." Let's start with the very first one... in debunking Moore, the author claims that CBS retracting its call of Florida for Gore somehow refutes the fact that FOX was the first to call the state for Bush. Indeed, the author avoids saying who DID first call the state for Bush, because, like Moore, he is a propagandist, not in search of the truth.

This all gets rather tiresome, because, like you said, Moore is a filmmaker, this guy from the NRO is a conservative hack, and President Bush is -- well -- the PRESIDENT. Whose "deceits" matter most?

- Marc

Posted by: whopundit | Jul 5, 2004 9:37:22 PM


This is a lousy forum for voicing my speculations on film rhetoric, and I don't have the jargon to do it felicitously anyway, so I'll drop it. I'll just say that I think, at bottom, the movie is really not--does not function as--a persuasion piece, and, to the extent that it does, it does so in a way that's incontravenable by anyone's uncovering doctoring and so forth at the level of brute fact.

As for Nim Chimpsky, I'm sure you're right that people would criticize his film, but I don't see what that proves unless that you can't make a political film without people criticizing it. I fail to see that either Michael Moore must be exempt from criticism or Chomsky must.

Posted by: spacetoast | Jul 5, 2004 11:05:04 PM

i can't let this go by without noting that, even by the debased standards of argument in which right-wing bush enablers specialize, the notion that it's fine that bush sat there for...seven...minutes because the principal of the school in question says so is astonishing.

For all Bush knew, there were more attacks to come; there were attacks taking place elsewhere in the world; there was a financial crisis breaking out on wall street; there was a chance to take action that required the approval of the commander-in-chief. The idea that projecting calm to a roomful of second graders trumped the importance of all these other possibilities doesn't withstand one second of thought.

The principal is undoubtedly a good principal, concerned about the students, but she is a terrible judge of national security and the best interests of the other 280M of us.

If there is any single action that demonstrates bush's essential unfitness for the executive office, it was that he didn't immediately jump to respond to america under attack....

Posted by: howard | Jul 5, 2004 11:19:48 PM

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