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New Michael Moore Film <i>Fahrenheit 9/11</i> Sparks Controversy - 2004-06-22


A new documentary by filmmaker Michael Moore that is critical of President Bush opens this week in the United States. The film, Fahrenheit 9/11, won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. But it is sparking debate between liberals and conservatives over its fairness and conservative groups are already mobilizing to condemn it.

Michael Moore's last film, Bowling for Columbine, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary.

In his latest film, Fahrenheit 9/11, the liberal activist takes on the Bush administration and its approach to the war on terror.

Mr. Moore acknowledges his film is not complimentary to President Bush. He sees it more as a reflection of his worldview than a piece of documentary journalism. He spoke with NBC's Today Show.

"Like a lot of Americans, I just have not understood why for four years we have been presented with one basic view of this administration and we have not heard the other side of the story," he said. "We have not seen the truth, at least what I think is the truth."

In the film, Mr. Moore explores alleged ties between the Bush family and Saudi Arabia and accuses the administration of manipulating terror alert levels to scare Americans into supporting the war in Iraq.

He also told NBC that his film is an indictment of the U.S. news media, which he believes was too accepting of the administration's justifications to go war in Iraq.

"My film is a silent plea to all of you in the news media to do your job," he said. "We need you. You are our defense against this. If we do not have you, what to we have? And I just think a disservice was done to the American people."

White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett has slammed the allegations in the film as "outrageously false." And the president's father, former President George Bush, described the documentary as a "vicious personal attack" on his son.

Conservative groups are also mobilizing to condemn the film as biased and unfair. David Bossie is head of an independent conservative group called Citizens United.

"Well, clearly this is nothing more than a two-hour political commercial," he noted. "It is nothing more than an attack ad on President Bush. It is nothing more or less and so I think that people who go to see it will have already made up their minds and they are just making a donation to Michael Moore and to the John Kerry [presidential] campaign."

Another conservative group, Move America Forward, has organized a campaign to bring public pressure on movie theaters not to show the film.

But some liberal groups are welcoming the film's release and openly hope it will have an impact on this year's presidential election. The anti-Bush group MoveOn.org PAC is urging members to see the film, calling it a "powerful movie that lays bare the cynicism and greed behind Bush's war policy."

Media watchdog groups will also be watching the impact of the new Michael Moore film.

Mathew Felling is with a group called the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, a non-partisan organization that studies the impact of the news and entertainment media on society.

He says Mr. Moore has a reputation for bending the truth in previous films.

"Of course, this movie is going to be Michael Moore's version of what he thinks President Bush is up to and what he thinks his capabilities are," he said. "We already know that he does not think that he is really cut out for the job. So Michael Moore will pick out everything he can to support that argument and we can only hope that Americans are well-versed enough in the successes of the Bush administration that they can balance it out on their own."

Mr. Moore says his film is not a work of journalism and readily admits he hopes it will help defeat President Bush in November.

Political analysts and some film critics are now debating what impact if any the new Moore film will have on this year's election.

Most analysts believe the film will tend to reinforce whatever opinions voters already had about President Bush, either pro or con, and therefore, will have little impact on the election.

But Mathew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs says the film could sway some voters who are ambivalent about the president.

"What all this publicity has done and this firestorm that he has created has been masterful manipulation of the press in that he is going to get some people who might not be politically minded and those are the people who tend to stay away from the booths on Election Day," he said. "In that case, he could really make a dent in Bush's support and could galvanize an audience that has been politically inert to date."

Despite initial problems securing wide distribution for the film because of its controversial content, Fahrenheit 9/11 will open on at least 500 screens around the country on Friday.

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