STORY :: JUNE 30, 2004
How hot - and fair - is Fahrenheit 9/11
When Michael Moore’s latest film, “Fahrenheit
9/11,” opened at NCG Eastwood Cinemas and Celebration! Cinema
on June 25, hundreds flocked to the sold-out matinee premieres.
In media interviews, Moore says that the title is meant to symbolize
the temperature at which “freedom burns.” As fans and enemies
of the Flint filmmaker undoubtedly know, the key themes in this controversial
documentary are the supposedly stolen 2000 election, ignored warning
signs of Sept. 11 and the heavy toll of an unjust war at home and abroad.
At the NCG Eastwood premiere, I observed tears, cheers and applause.
After the film, I met at the Evergreen Grill with three moviegoers to
discuss their immediate impressions: the Rev. Bob Roth, director of
the Shalom Center for Justice and Peace, Ray Ziarno, the 2002 Green
Party candidate for Michigan secretary of state, and Joe Ross, the owner
of the East Lansing public relations firm Communication & Research.
Moore says Fahrenheit 911 is the temperature at which freedom burns.
Well, has the film ignited any fires among you?
Rev. Bob Roth is the director of the Shalom Center for Justice
and Peace at Central United Methodist Church in Lansing. The Frankenmuth
native, who has been a driving force behind the Greater Lansing
Network against War in Iraq, knew Moore personally during the
early days, when he was editing the weekly alternative newspaper
the Flint Voice. Roth is also a freelance writer and social activist.
North Lansing resident Ray Ziarno served as an officer in the
U.S. Air Force and has worked for G.M., Sears, the Census Bureau
and the Postal Service and as an engineering consultant and political
volunteer. The Saginaw native was the Green Party’s 2002
candidate for Michigan secretary of state. He’s an expert
in electoral reforms and supports Instant Runoff Voting.
Joe Ross is the owner of the East Lansing-based Communication
& Research, a public relations firm that specializes in the
area of economic and workforce development. Ross is involved with
a workforce study in Moore’s hometown, Flint. He said that
some of his researchers support free market politics and others
are “staunch” Democrats.
Ross: As a child, I saw clips and photos in Life magazine
of Vietnam, and today I saw two hours of human tragedy and blood. But
we’re only seeing one view that stresses all the bad things. Moore
didn’t bring up some of the recent polls in Iraq showing that
a large number of people are happy that Saddam Hussein is gone and that
Americans have done some work there.
Ziarno: The mainstream media have portrayed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
antiseptically. We haven’t seen blood and guts. Under the current
administration, the press can’t show wounded people or soldiers
in caskets. And Vietnam is ancient history for most of the kids nowadays.
They don’t really know what war is like. Al-Jazeera is so popular
in the Arab community only because they’re showing images of the
war as it really is. Our press is totally one-sided.
Roth: I’m very concerned because I think the contrast between
what Michael Moore is doing in the movie and our nightly news is so
stark. The Gulf War and this war are the first two in which we didn’t
see what was going on. We see a video game maybe. I would rather have
people have the kind of presentation we saw in “Fahrenheit 9/11”
than no presentation at all. Why don’t we have a fair press? Why
haven’t they covered this war? It’s been going on for 16
What did you like about the movie, and what didn’t you like?
Ross: Somewhere in the middle of the movie I fell asleep. I did watch
a good 1-1/2 hours of it, though. What really was worrying on me is
who Moore chose to interview. He has a habit of interviewing people
who are totally emotionally attached to the issue. There’s a lot
of video of soldiers. I would have rather seen some real analysis, rather
than just people on the street and the emotional side. If your leg has
just been blown off ... As a researcher, I would rather interview those
people 20 years from now.
Do you think Moore should rather have interviewed George W. Bush, Donald
Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney?
Ross: No. I wish he had interviewed the Cato Institute [a conservative
think tank]. The problem is that he already knows the result of what
he’s going for. In the news business, we call this shotgun journalism.
Although, I will say that I was shocked as much as I laughed. There’s
some really funny stuff in there. I’m 46, and I’m embarrassed
to admit that I was laughing. Well, everybody else was laughing, so
maybe that makes it a little easier.
Ziarno: This is not a documentary movie. This is an op-ed piece by Michael
Moore. It’s very one-sided. If you’re reading his books,
you will have the same impression. But I thought he did it very well.
This is a shock job. This is like Howard Stern against George W. Bush.
Roth: I think it is a documentary film. Moore is documenting a point
of view unapologetically, but he is also documenting stuff that’s
already in books. It’s in the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker
magazine and The Washington Post. He’s documenting the emotions.
I disagree with Joe, because I can already get the analysis from Cato,
American Enterprise and the Brookings Institute on my TV 24 hours a
Ross: It wouldn’t be entertaining!
Roth: Actually, I do like this kind of analysis, but I think we get
that all the time. Who else is showing the human side of the story?
People are doing documentaries, but not many are widely viewed. “Fahrenheit
9/11” is on 850 screens nationwide tonight. I think Moore is documenting
one viewpoint of the reality of war and the role of money in government.
Ross: One thing that should be brought to light is that you can insulate
yourself from war if you live in America. And obviously, folks in Congress
have found a way to live their lives and to insulate their children
and themselves from actually going to war. I walked out of there today
thinking that it annoys me that Moore uses Hollywood techniques to get
people to say things he knows they’re going to say. But I was
also thinking: Goddamn it, this guy gets to say it! And yes, that’s
pretty cool. But if I look at the history of mankind, from the recent
books I have read on social anthropology, I think we’re a kinder,
gentler nation. I was born into a home on the corner of Martin Luther
King and Michigan avenues, and we were dirt poor. But I got out of this
neighborhood. I really think that we all have that opportunity. Moore
is interviewing people from the perspective of “You’re trapped
in having to go to war, because you are poor.” I think that is
a damaging message. It’s wrong.
Ziarno: It is in fact true!
Michael Moore shows a group of inner city kids whose only option for
education and a better life is to enlist in the Army. So, is there plausibility
in Moore’s general line of argument, that the war is waged on
the backs of the working poor?
Ross: It always has been. I served as a workforce analyst for the Federal
Reserve, as a volunteer, and what I realized is that the Army has always
been a workforce development tool. In my neighborhood, that’s
where young men went if they couldn’t get someone to write them
a letter to go to Harvard. There are hundreds of thousands of success
Roth: But it’s widely changed since World War II. George Bush
Sr. was a war hero and John Kerry was in Vietnam. But that’s changing
with our generation. If you look at the complexion of the military,
literally at the skin color and economic status, it’s far less
reflective of the overall population than in WW II. When my father went
into WW II, everybody went in, no matter whether you were rich or poor.
There are far more Latinos and African-Americans and working poor in
Iraq than during WW II. I don’t think it is a coincidence. Something
Ross: These people make their choice to go into the Army.
Roth: For economic reasons. In other words, it’s not like they
are more patriotic than wealthier white Anglo-Saxons. They are not saying,
“We believe in this Iraq war, let’s go try it.” They’re
saying, as illustrated in the movie, here are benefits, free education
and all the things we will hopefully get out of this.
Ross: So really, going into the Army is more like gambling?
Roth: That’s right.
Ziarno: I think what Moore is trying to do is compare the dying in the
service with people in Congress who don’t send their sons and
daughters to the military, which is very unique because before they
were proud of it. And guess who didn’t serve? Vice President Dick
Cheney and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Somebody in the
White House would usually be a military hero. Now they’re sending
poor people into the military, but they themselves have no personal
experience at all.
Roth: I think all the soldiers ask of us is that we tell them the truth
why we’re sending them into war. “Fahrenheit 9/11”
touches on this toward the end of the movie. Two big reasons went out
of the window, starting with weapons of mass destruction and Saddam’s
involvement with the Sept. 11 attacks. What do you tell this mother
in Flint who lost her son in Iraq? Do you feel the reasons were there
for this war?
Ross: Well, I look at what our country did to Germany, and what we did
to Japan. We blew them up and turned them into democracies.
When the Bush administration made the case for war in Iraq, it particularly
mentioned the liberation of Germany and bringing democracy to Europe
after WW II. Do you think this is an accurate analogy?
Ross: I don’t think I’m really qualified to go into that
discussion. But I do know that there have been wars that have been iffy
— that we have waged on not perfect information. But in the case
of Germany and Japan, we’ve turned them into economic juggernauts.
Roth: Did it matter that Japan attacked us, [in our decision] whether
or not to attack? It would matter to me. Saddam had nothing to do with
Sept. 11! We know that now.
Ross: We’ve gone to war with people, and they’ve become
democracies at some level. They’ve gotten the focus off of a war
economy, and turned to free-market capitalism.
Ziarno: We didn’t fight Japan and Germany to turn them into democracies
or economic juggernauts. We did it because they attacked us. We don’t
have a democracy ourselves. We have a representative republic. Bush
using the term of turning Iraq into a democracy is so mind-boggling
and idiotic that people can’t understand it. Iraq has absolutely
no experience with democracy. We won’t see this in our lifetime.
Moore suggests that business ties between oil-rich Saudi Arabia and
the Bush family resulted in helping Osama bin Laden’s family to
flee the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks, even though 15 of the 19 terrorists
who hijacked planes were Saudi. He claims that the influential Saudi
own 4 percent of the U.S. economy.
Ross: Who cares how many other countries own this country? This is the
same kind of racism that the Japanese got in the 1980s. They were hated
because they were buying blocks of cities, golf courses and neighborhoods.
They’re investing in our country, and venture capitalists take
their money and build our country even larger. It’s the best thing
that could possibly happen.
Roth: I would agree with you, if these wars would be for the goals that
you’ve said. When we talk about Saudi Arabia owning X amount of
the U.S., my problem with that is that they are not a democracy. They
are a dictatorship. So if Germany during Hitler started buying up America,
I’d go “wow!” My concern is, who is buying and why?
Ziarno: This is all about oil, money and big business. Let’s assume
I’m wrong, and all the anti-Bush and anti-war people are wrong.
Let’s assume there will be a democracy in Iraq tomorrow and everything
is fine and dandy. What advantage are you going to get from this in
the United States? The only benefit is for global business.
Ross: You keep forgetting that when we get more oil, they get to sell
the only real resource they’ve got!
Ziarno: Who cares if we create more rich people in Iraq? Who gave a
shit about Iraq until 9/11? Bush couldn’t even find it on the
Some critics have called “Fahrenheit 9/11” a work of revolutionary
cinema, others have called it a work of political propaganda similar
to the films of Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl.
Roth: A propaganda film is produced by a government or perhaps a big
multinational corporation controlling a group of people. If Joe makes
a movie and I go to see it, no matter what techniques he uses, it wouldn’t
be propaganda. He’s a citizen expressing what he’s expressing.
It’s different if a government does propaganda because they have
a whole institution behind them. When Michael Moore goes home tonight,
all he has is his movie and a book.
Ziarno: I disagree. Propaganda can be truths or lies. It is trying to
convince a group of people that may be large or small to change the
way they think. Moore has been doing this for 20 years, and now people
are listening to him because the media are finally paying attention
Ross: Moore has an audience bigger than GM. If they have a global press
conference, they could not spend enough public relations dollars to
have an audience like Moore has. He’s got power. That’s
why I go to his movies. I’m not saying he’s right. I’m
a student of culture and I want to learn more about it. The last time
I saw cheers like that was when I saw “The Color Purple,”
and everybody including me walked out of the movie crying. You don’t
see that very much.
Has watching Michael Moore’s film changed any of your views?
Ross: I think it put the history of the Middle East on my radar.
Do you trust George W. Bush more or less than before watching this film?
Ross: I came to this discussion as someone who thinks that what makes
us better is the economy. I’m a free-market capitalist, and that
doesn’t mean I vote straight Republican. I vote both ways. I generally
don’t get involved with politics. The reason why I fell asleep
is probably because I don’t follow it that closely.
Roth: The film didn’t really change my attitudes toward Bush,
Cheney and company. But I think it changed my attitudes about Peter
Jennings, Dan Rather and Ted Koppel. “Fahrenheit 9/11” reminded
me what those network stations are not doing in their 22 minutes of
news, including commercials.
Michael Moore wants this film to be remembered as the first big-audience,
election-year film that helped unseat a president. Do you think it will
have an impact on George W. Bush’s popularity?
Ross: No. As a public relations guy I can tell you, I think he cancels
himself off. I think he’s energizing liberals, but at the same
time he is inflaming conservatives. But I do think there’s still
a benefit to this, because four people have come together tonight to
have a conversation that I would have never had otherwise.
Ziarno: Bingo! As I watched the movie I overheard a tall kid saying,
“I never voted before, but I’m going to vote now, and I
hope people are going to vote against Bush.” And a lot of young
people are going to see this film.
Roth: As of a week ago, for the first time national polls are showing
that a majority of Americans don’t like Bush. I think “Fahrenheit
9/11” will be a factor for swing voters who look at this movie,
and whereas the war wasn’t even an issue for what they were going
to vote about before, now it is an issue.
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