Wednesday, June 30, 2004
Koch: Moore's propaganda film cheapens debate, polarizes nation
By Ed Koch
SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
It is shocking to me that Americans in a time of war, and we literally are at war with Americans being deliberately killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere by Islamic terrorists, will attack their own country, sapping its strength and making its enemies stronger. I am not a supporter of the xenophobic slogan “My country right or wrong.” But I do believe, when seeking to make it right if it is wrong, that none of us should endanger the country, our military personnel or our fellow citizens.
Disagreeing with America’s foreign policy and seeking to change it, responsibly or irresponsibly, is a fundamental right protected by the First Amendment. Shaming those who do it irresponsibly is our only lawful recourse and rightly so.
Senator John Kerry in criticizing United States’ foreign policy and the incumbent president is acting responsibly, albeit I disagree with many of his views. On the other hand, Michael Moore, writer and director of the film “Fahrenheit 9/11,” crosses that line regularly. The line is not set forth in the criminal statutes, but it is determined by Americans who know instinctively what actions and statements taken and uttered violate the obligations of responsibility and citizenship they deem applicable in time of war.
David Brooks, in a brilliant New York Times column on June 26, collected some of the statements that Michael Moore has been making in other countries which denigrate the U.S. and, in my opinion, cross the line. Brooks writes:
“Before a delighted Cambridge crowd, Moore reflected on the tragedy of human existence: ‘You're stuck with being connected to this country of mine, which is known for bringing sadness and misery to places around the globe.’ In Liverpool, he paused to contemplate the epicenters of evil in the modern world: ‘It's all part of the same ball of wax, right? The oil companies, Israel, Halliburton…We, the United States of America, are culpable in committing so many acts of terror and bloodshed that we had better get a clue about the culture of violence in which we have been active participants...Don't be like us,’ he told a crowd in Berlin. ‘You've got to stand up, right? You've got to be brave.’ In an open letter to the German people in Die Zeit, Moore asked, ‘Should such an ignorant people lead the world?’
In an interview with a Japanese newspaper, Moore helped citizens of that country understand why the United States went to war in Iraq: ‘The motivation for war is simple. The U.S. government started the war with Iraq in order to make it easy for U.S. corporations to do business in other countries. They intend to use cheap labor in those countries, which will make Americans rich.’ But venality doesn't come up when he writes about those who are killing Americans in Iraq: ‘The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not `insurgents' or `terrorists' or `The Enemy.' They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow — and they will win.’ Until then, few social observers had made the connection between Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Paul Revere.”
Undoubtedly, too long a quote, but there is no substitute for the original.
A year after 9/11, I was part of a panel discussion on BBC-TV’s “Question Time” show which aired live in the United Kingdom. A portion of my commentary at that time follows:
“One of the panelists was Michael Moore, writer and director of the award-winning documentary “Roger & Me.” During the warm-up before the studio audience, Moore said something along the lines of “I don’t know why we are making so much of an act of terror. It is three times more likely that you will be struck by lightening than die from an act of terror.” I was aghast and responded, “I think what you have said is outrageous, particularly when we are today commemorating the deaths of 3,000 people resulting from an act of terror.” I mention this exchange because it was not televised, occurring as it did before the show went live. It shows where he was coming from long before he produced “Fahrenheit 9/11.”
Many in the audience assembled by the BBC included Americans and people from other nations. Their positive responses to Moore on this and other comments he made during the program convinced me that the producers had found a lair of dingbats when looking to fill the studio with an audience. Moore later called President Bush a “dummy,” denigrating him for having threatened Iraq with consequences including war if it did not comply with the United Nations resolutions to which it agreed when it was defeated in the 1991 Gulf War. Again, I couldn’t contain myself and said, “That’s what you radicals on the left always do. You don’t debate issues, you denigrate your opponents. You did it with President Reagan, saying he was dumb. After he left office, 600 speeches, many hand-written by him, demonstrated his high intelligence.”
In World Wars I and II, the U.S., suffering great casualties to its military personnel, saved the world, particularly in WWII, from occupation by the German Nazi Reich and Japanese empire. We currently are fighting the battle against a minority of fundamentalist Islamists whose objective is to destroy Western civilization. They are willing to use every act of terrorism from suicide bombers to hacking off heads to destroy and terrorize us into surrender. And Michael Moore weakens us before that enemy. How should we respond? With scorn, catcalls, the Bronx cheer and the truth. Of course, we should recognize the outrages and criminal acts committed by Americans in military service and civilians at the Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib. We should continue as we have done and take action to punish those involved. But we ought not in the media show again and again the pictures of the atrocities to simply flagellate ourselves and give aid and comfort to our enemies. A good rule of thumb might be to show the pictures of Abu Ghraib as many times as we show the beheadings of Danny Pearl, Nicholas Berg and Paul Johnson.
I am a movie critic, so I went to see “Fahrenheit 9/11.” The movie is a well-done propaganda piece and screed as has been reported by most critics. It is not a documentary which seeks to present the facts truthfully. The most significant offense that movie commits is to cheapen the political debate by dehumanizing the President and presenting him as a cartoon.
Newsday reported some of Moore’s misstatements as follows: “At the start of ‘Fahrenheit 9/11,’ filmmaker Michael Moore shows a clip of CNN analyst Jeffrey Toobin saying that if ballots had been recounted in Florida after the 2000 presidential vote, ‘under every scenario Gore won the election.’
“What Moore doesn't show is that a six-month study in 2001 by news organizations including The New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN found just the opposite. Even if the Supreme Court had not stopped a statewide recount, or if a more limited recount of four heavily Democratic counties had taken place, Bush still would have won Florida and the election…Moore suggests Bush's conflict of interest was manifest shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks when the White House ‘approved planes to pick up the bin Ladens and numerous other Saudis’ who, fearing reprisals, were flown out of the United States. Embellishing the well-known scenario, Moore interviews a retired FBI agent who says authorities should have first questioned the bin Ladens.
“But the bin Ladens were questioned. The commission investigating the attacks reported in April that the FBI interviewed 30 passengers: ‘Nobody was allowed to depart on these six flights who the FBI wanted to interview in connection with the 9/11 attacks or who the FBI later concluded had any involvement in those attacks’” It is clear to me from the tenor of the film’s off-screen commentary by Michael Moore that he would have denounced WW II. Did he support the United States and NATO going into Bosnia to save the Muslims from ethnic cleansing and destruction? Would he agree that we should have attempted to save the Muslim men from death at the hands of the Serbs in Srebrenica? Should we now be going into the Sudan and saving perhaps a million black Christian and Animist Sudanese from Arab marauders who are murdering, raping and starving the blacks and even selling some into slavery? Weren’t we right to go into Iraq on the basis of United Nations Resolution 1441 which stated the Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction and that was a cause for war unless they accounted for them and destroyed them, which they refused to do?
Now that no WMDs have yet been found, was the invasion to end the reign of Saddam Hussein, who had killed and tortured hundreds of thousands of his own citizens, still supportable? Moore thinks not. I think, yes.
The movie’s diatribes, sometimes amusing and sometimes manifestly unfair, will not change any views. They will simply cheapen the national debate and reinforce the opinions on both sides.
Edward I. Koch, who served as mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989, is a partner in the law firm of Bryan Cave.