“Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, appearing just before the presidential election in November 2004, offers an alternative interpretation of the 2003 Iraq war to that of the US government and most of the American media. Critics accused it of being ‘Propaganda’ Do you agree? This film is classed as a ‘documentary’ by Moore in its production and on its release.
For a film to be classed in such a way, it must contain a neutral view and report on factual findings, but Fahrenheit 9/11 has narration; a view in spoken word. The film could have been seen as a personal vendetta to George W. Bush and his American government. Innuendo was placed in the minds of the viewers, the American public, to pose question of their leader, but was this freedom of speech? If it was an ‘op-ed’1 and not propaganda, why was it released just weeks before the Presidential elections?
The probable reason for its release on such a date was to create maximum publicity for the film, fuelling media speculation that it could be propaganda but is free speech, but at the same time, to turn the public off from re-electing Bush and his constituents, thus making it propaganda2. Most definitions of propaganda refer to mass-manipulation of the audience’s emotions and prejudices, and imply a willingness to deceive in order to gain power. Moore was fully aware that any documentation about 9/11 or the war on Iraq would touch people’s emotions, but did he gain any real power, and be true to the term ‘propaganda’?
After and before the film’s release, he did gain a level of power in means of recognition by the media and the public for causing a stir for the government, but he did not bring home troops or reunite families who were torn apart by 9/11 or spark an investigation on Bush for allegedly going to war unnecessarily and an investigation on the American media for allegedly making Bush President to begin with when Gore had won the election. However, the film made a gross US$100m, making it the top-earning documentary.
3 This could buy you a lot of power. One of the commonly employed propaganda techniques is the omission of relevant or truthful information that works against propagandist’s thesis. This could be seen as deception, but some scholars4 believe that omission is a normal part of human communication. Omissions ignore the contexts that may justify or intentionally give the wrong impression, and this is powerful and propagandistic because sometimes the audience may not even realize that an idea or context that may justify was missing.
An example of this in the film was when Moore ambushes congressmen to enlist their children to the services. Republican congressman Mark Kennedy gave a quizzical look, but what was omitted, was Kennedy’s response. To the audience that would have been seen as negative from the congressman, but Kennedy replied with “I have a nephew on his way to Afghanistan”. According to an American newspaper5, Kennedy actually has two nephews in the military and a son considering the Navy. Moore was charged with censorship for cutting the clip, but stated that it was omitted because “Kennedy didn’t answer my question”.