ALTHOUGH the very mention of Michael Moore, Flint, Mich.'s own enfant terrible, brings forth denunciations in hot rage or cold fury by political neoconservatives, it would be a mistake to dismiss him as an uncouth, unshaven barbarian with a ball cap and a penchant for shaving the facts.
Mr. Moore is riding a publicity high just now, thanks in part to the ham-handed efforts by some right-wingers and the political trimmers of the Disney organization, which had bankrolled him, to dismiss or even censor his latest movie. The film, Fahrenheit 9/11, its title a casual steal from Ray Bradbury's brilliant satire on book-burning as a means of wiping out freedom, has held its own for a second weekend despite rugged competition from the opening of the pop culture film, Spider-Man II. The Moore documentary, or, more properly, mockumentary, cost $6 million to produce. It has grossed more than $61 million, and its run is hardly done.
We would not describe the film as fair and balanced, any more than Fox News is. But Mr. Moore is unafraid, and he certainly has a talent for putting film clips together to pillory his subjects unmercifully. Viewers should know, if they don't already, that the film-maker is a propagandist of great skill.
However, that issue becomes less relevant when one considers the way some in the major news media, in effect, the embedded foot soldiers of the misnamed war on terrorism, have copped out on balanced coverage of the Bush-Cheney Administration, which freely takes liberties with the truth. This film has plenty of warts, but don't take our word for it, or that of any other critic. Go see for yourself. That's the way the marketplace of ideas should operate.
Fahrenheit 9/11 explores the Bush family-Saudi connections, shows military recruiters trolling down-scale malls in recession-ravaged Flint looking for prospective enlistees, dares to suggest that the invasion of Iraq did not exactly make the lives of average Iraqis safer or more prosperous, and shares a family's grief over the loss of a son in Iraq. Wisely, Mr. Moore plays down his time on camera, despite his fondness for it.
In an interview Mr. Moore told of a navy surgeon who apologized for his anger at the film-maker's Oscar acceptance speech in which he sharply criticized the administration. In his reply, Mr. Moore said the man had no reason to apologize: "Apologize for what? You should believe the President, because if you can't believe our President, we're in deep trouble."
That's vintage Moore.
Perhaps he is familiar with the adage of New York newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer that the role of the press is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. His targets know he writes books, too. And he is as free to take his money to the bank as are the kept commentators of the 24/7 media factories.
Mark Twain has said that Americans enjoy three unspeakable blessings, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, and the good sense to exercise neither of them. Michael Moore lets his good sense walk on the wild side now and then, which makes our national dialogue more healthy.