Truth is Fiction: "Fahrenheit" is only as biased as CNN

by Anthony Kaufman
June 24, 2004 2:28 AM
4 Comments
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Iraq184.jpg

One of my favorite moments in Jehane Noujaim's documentary Control Room occurs when an Al Jazeera editor is accused of not being "objective" by a Western journalist, and responds, "This word, 'objectivity,' is a mirage."

With every film critic, journalist and moviegoer about to pass judgement on the "factual accuracy" of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9-11, I felt compelled to say something about this "mirage" we call objectivity. As Control Room so brilliantly conveys, everyone is biased, coming to the table with their own views of the "truth." Is the picture attached of a bombed out building in Baghdad the result of American airstrikes or insurgent mortar fire? Depends on who you ask.

Michael Moore has gotten some flack in the past for bending the truth in Roger and Me and Bowling for Columbine, but I would argue that Moore is just another manipulative storyteller in a crowded field of manipulative storytellers, which includes everyone from ABC News to CNN to that "objective" purveyor of "fair and balanced" reporting, Fox TV. In his book Spike, Mike Slackers and Dykes, John Pierson counters the Moore-bashing with a quote from filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard: "You can start with either fiction or documentary. But whichever you start with, you will inevitably recall the other."

Welcome to the 21st century folks! Truth is a very slippery thing. Get with the times. Postmodernism is old news. Who are these people who hold onto such fallacies as truth and objectivity? They're certainly not documentary filmmakers, who know full well that when you take images and put them together into a representation of reality, it is NOT reality. It is a representation, colored by personal views, cultural contexts and a little thing called editing. Did Andrew Jarecki leave out some important facts in his enthralling documentary, Capturing the Friedmans? You bet he did. Did so-called "verite" filmmaker Frederick Wiseman's landmark work Titicut Follies not employ a powerful use of montage, implicating mental hospital workers in the death of an inmate? Of course it does.

At last year's IDFA documentary festival in Amsterdam, Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad got blasted because he staged a scene in his brilliant "nonfiction" film, Ford Transit. According to Variety, Abu-Assad believed his film got much closer to the "truth" than many of the news reports being churned out about the Palestinian-Israeli situation.

Then there's Errol Morris, one of the most important filmmakers working in the documentary form. He certainly has no illusions about the truthfulness of the image-based medium, or quite frankly, the lies we tell ourselves to survive through the day. (After all, he makes commercials.) "When people talk about truth, they have this idea that truth is just sort of handed over to you. Say on a combo platter, the truth combo platter," he says. "But it doesn't work that way. It's difficult to come by, and properly speaking, it's a quest; it's the pursuit of an ideal."

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4 Comments

  • Nick | January 25, 2012 12:06 AMReply

    I think Mark Ames said it best writing for the exiled:


    "In fact, the main cause for the demise of the American Left is much more sinister than that. The American Left is responsible for destroying the American Left. I don’t mean that metaphorically. I mean quite literally that anytime the Left starts to get somewhere, you can be sure that a vigilante mob of other Leftists will rise to the occasion to crush it, to make sure they stay as marginalized and ineffective as always. It's a kind of ghetto envy endemic to the Left - the Right is always rooting for its heroes to succeed. Not the Left. The key for them is to sound Virtuous - and oftentimes that means eating their own in order to promote themselves.

    Nowhere is this more clear than in the American Left's envy-fueled lynching of Michael Moore, the only Leftist to make it out of the ghetto. I cannot think of a single American Leftist in my lifetime as effective as Michael Moore, and if Fahrenheit 9/11 is objectively anything at all, it is objectively effective. Bravery is fairly cheap on the Left exchange - you have to be brave to be Left in this Reptilian Age - but to actually get out of the Left's ghetto, into the debate, and to strike and strike hard... only one managed that, without going soft or becoming 'balanced' and 'realistic.'

  • Nick | January 25, 2012 12:02 AMReply

    I think Mark Ames said it best writing for 'the exiled':

    "In fact, the main cause for the demise of the American Left is much more sinister than that. The American Left is responsible for destroying the American Left. I don’t mean that metaphorically. I mean quite literally that anytime the Left starts to get somewhere, you can be sure that a vigilante mob of other Leftists will rise to the occasion to crush it, to make sure they stay as marginalized and ineffective as always. It’s a kind of ghetto envy endemic to the Left – the Right is always rooting for its heroes to succeed. Not the Left. The key for them is to sound Virtuous – and oftentimes that means eating their own in order to promote themselves.

    Nowhere is this more clear than in the American Left’s envy-fueled lynching of Michael Moore, the only Leftist to make it out of the ghetto. I cannot think of a single American Leftist in my lifetime as effective as Michael Moore, and if Fahrenheit 9/11 is objectively anything at all, it is objectively effective. Bravery is fairly cheap on the Left exchange — you have to be brave to be Left in this Reptilian Age — but to actually get out of the Left’s ghetto, into the debate, and to strike and strike hard…only one managed that, without going soft or becoming “balanced” and “realistic.”

  • Elio | June 25, 2004 9:27 AMReply

    I have to say that this article is truly depressing - you're basically saying that it's okay for us to be "manipulated" since we should be used to it by now

    you're side-stepping the bigger point: moore tries to pass himself off as some translator of truth - "Don't worry guys, I'll tell you what really happened." - and people like you just lap it up

    i'm not a repulican, nor anti-moore, but i feel that he cowtows to his "audience" - moore isn't some hero for the little man, he's a master propaganda filmmaker

    if another filmmaker came along and made a film just as wonderfully and just as powerful as this one, but it supported the president and supported his decisions i'm sure you wouldn't be saying the same things about that filmmaker that you've said about moore

    and that is what i find so depressing

  • Nick Robinson | June 24, 2004 10:03 AMReply

    Anthony - are you saying that Morris is more important than Moore? While Morris is undoubtedly an amazingly talented filmmaker, Moore has singlehandedly revitalized the documentary genre/industry. (see URL for more)

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