Thursday, July 22, 2004

QUITE POSSIBLY THE LAST REVIEW OF FAHRENHEIT 9/11 THAT YOU'LL EVER READ. Media Log kicks off its official coverage of the Democratic National Convention today with a review of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. (Click here for Peter Keough's Phoenix review.) I realize that I'm late to the scene, but hey, I've been busy. But since yesterday afternoon was relatively unscheduled, I figured I'd hop over to Harvard Square and watch it with a sympathetic audience.

That turned out to be Mistake #1: rather than the rapturous crowds I'd heard about from the likes of Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman, applauding Moore's every Bush-bashing touch, there were maybe a half-dozen of us. My fellow theater-goers looked, for the most part, like they were trying to get out of the heat as much as they were hoping for some good old-fashioned left-wing agit-prop.

Mistake #2 was thinking that Fahrenheit 9/11 was going to suck. I've never been a fan of factual distortion, regardless of ideology. I'd read Christopher Hitchens's monumental takedown of Moore in Slate, as well as Newsweek's dissections of Moore's alleged problems with the truth (click here and here). The film also did not get off to a promising start in its evocation of the Florida fiasco. Moore, like many unthinking critics, suggested that there was something sinister about Bush's cousin John Ellis making the call from his post at the Fox News Channel. Well, I know Ellis, and I know that he's a good guy. He also happens to be a professional pollster whose job it is to get it right. Perhaps he shouldn't have let himself get wedged into such an awkward position (although he's got a right to make a living, doesn't he?). But he'd be the first one to tell you that the screw-ups that night - not just his, as you may recall - were bad for business.

Then a funny thing happened. I became totally engrossed in Moore's take on the Bush presidency. It was as though we had arrived at roughly the same place by traveling different routes. Moore takes up permanent residence on the wilder edges of Bush-bashing. His insinuation that George W. Bush was slow to act against Al Qaeda because of his family's business ties with Saudi Arabia and the bin Laden family is unsupported. And, as has been widely reported, one of Moore's accusations more or less blew up in his face when former counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke, hardly a Bush fan, took personal responsibility for letting the bin Laden family fly out of the country.

But on broad, thematic, big-picture stuff, Moore has it right, and presents it in a way that is both funny and moving. Critics have gone after Moore for making fun of Bush as he sat stone-faced in that Florida classroom for seven minutes after learning that the second World Trade Center tower had been hit. Well, why? After all, he knew at that point that the country was under attack. Didn't occur to him that he could have politely excused himself and then gone and made a decision or something? (Oh, right; that's what Cheney's for.)

Moore has also been criticized for exploiting Lila Lipscomb, whose son, Michael, a sergeant in the Army, was killed in Iraq. Indeed, Moore depicts Lipscomb's grief in the rawest manner imaginable. But there's also no doubt that Lipscomb wanted Moore to be there - to get out the message that this former conservative Democratic war supporter has been radicalized by the death of her son, and that she wants others to know what is going on in Iraq. Here's what Lipscomb told the Guardian recently:

The reason I didn't hesitate was because I was carrying my son's words with me. And as a mother I have to carry each and every day the fact, could I have done a little bit more? Could I have been more vocal so that the president would not have been given that much authority within himself? And nobody can make that go away. My son got sent into harm's way by a decision made by the president of the United States that was based on a lie. Would my son still be here today if I had had my uprising then?

Of course, war is a terrible thing, and intellectually we understand that Lipscomb's grief was amplified thousands of times over in World War II, just as we understand that Moore's depiction of normal, happy people in Iraq before the war is completely at odds with the totalitarian terror with which Saddam Hussein ruled his country.

But we also know that the world is an ugly, complicated place - that Iran and North Korea, and, yes, so-called friends such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia may be bigger threats to the US than Iraq was. We now know that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and no real ties to Al Qaeda (unlike Iran). More than 900 American soldiers have been killed, and we're placing all our hopes in an appointed prime minister who may turn out to be Saddam Lite. The international community was right. Bush was wrong.

The Bush presidency has been a tragedy in many ways - for the country and for the world. A few factual quibbles aside, Moore has captured that tragedy. If the Democrats had any guts, they'd show Fahrenheit 9/11 on one of those big plasma screens at the FleetCenter next week.

MEDIA LOG'S ASSIGNMENT DESK KICKS INTO GEAR! The Globe's Hiawatha Bray has a good piece today on how WiFi-equipped laptops may be a security threat at the Democratic National Convention. According to Bray, there won't be any WiFi inside the media area, and laptops may be rendered unusable unless the WiFi card is turned off.

Okay. Now, Hiawatha, for your next piece, please investigate this lead paragraph from an article in Tuesday's New York Times:

Work spaces have been assigned and wireless Internet access has been arranged. Phone lines, electric outlets, parking spots for satellite trucks: all are details being worked out for the massive media center that will be created in Midtown Manhattan for the Republican National Convention at the end of August.

Why New York and not Boston? Why the Republicans and not the Democrats? Why the Yankees - oh, never mind. Just find out, okay?

HOWIE CARR, "SIMPERING CLOWN." Bob Somerby nails the bad boy of the Boston Herald and WRKO Radio (AM 680). (Scroll down a bit.)

TECH NOTES. As you might have surmised, Media Log is back at full computational strength. The Apple store was able to restore my data, but I had to reinstall the software myself. My coal-era Web-design program, Claris Home Page, would not install, so I'm using the free Mozilla Composer. It has some nice features - for one thing, I like not having to switch back and forth between OS 9 and X. However, it leaves a few things to be desired.

If anyone has a suggestion for a good, cheap WYSIWYG Web-design program for OS X, I'm all ears.

On the bright side, I got upgraded to Panther. Nice file management!

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. A delegate's guide to the Boston media. Plus, a breathtakingly incomplete guide to the national political press.


alkali said...

I thought it would be the last one too, until the new (to these shores) issue of the British film magazine Sight & Sound showed up in my mailbox. Curses.

Tim W said...

Why do you need a WYSIWYG HTML editor? Just modify your blogger template (or, better yet, steal one!) to handle the sort of things that you need to do.