Guest commentary

'Fahrenheit 9/11'

New film shows what news media were afraid to

By Robert C. Cuddy
Posted June 28, 2004

"Fahrenheit 9/11" draws a big crowd in Oakland.
(Photo from www.michaelmoore.com.)

Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" has been in theaters less than a week and it is already more than a mere movie. It has become a cultural event, like Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" earlier this year. Not coincidentally, the right-wing "noise machine," as author and former GOP operative David Brock calls Fox and other reactionary media, is furiously snarling and barking, intent on making sure that nobody believes anything Moore says in his film.

More power to them. They're entitled to their opinion. One could hope that they would ground their arguments in reason. But that is apparently not going to happen.

For example, one of their chief complaints is that Moore's film is not objective.

Say what? Whatever made them think it is supposed to be objective?

Perhaps I have a bias here. I wrote thousands of editorials and columns and occasionally heard the same complaint from people who were unclear on the concept. "Your column was slanted!" they would pout. My response: "Indeed it was. And your point is?"

Moore's film is a cinematic version of Bob Novak, Molly Ivins, Maureen Dowd, Alex Cockburn, George Will and other polemicists. It's his take on the situation. You can take it or leave it.

Still, I can understand their confusion on that point. But here's what I can't understand. Critics of "Fahrenheit 9/11" fume over Moore's decision to show dead and wounded Iraqi civilians and American soldiers, as well as their grieving families. That's bias, they say.

The hell it is. To me, this objection is outrageous. My first reaction upon seeing legless soldiers and maimed Iraqi civilians and dehumanized young Americans and grieving mothers was fury. But not at Moore - at the American news media.

Why, I thought, have we not seen this on television every night, or at least once in a while? Why did I have to wait a year and buy a ticket to the Multiplex?

Presenting this crucial information is biased only if you have no training as a professional journalist. Every student in Journalism 101 will tell you about the five W's and the H: who, what, when, where, why and how.

Death, dismemberment, misery, anguish, grief, pain, loss: These are all part of the "what." We went to war, and this is what happened.

Will showing Americans these fruits of war have political repercussions? Of course it will. As will not showing them. The media are not charged with measuring the larger political consequences of reporting the facts. They are supposed to lay the information out there, and trust the American public to draw its own conclusions.

America's press did not do that for more than a year. Michael Moore has. Even Al Jazeera, which, absurdly, gets criticized for showing its viewers the human aftermath of war, knows that it is part of the story.

Eighty-seven years ago, Sen. Hiram Johnson of California wrote, "The first casualty when war comes is truth." It's a sardonic, cynical and, alas, generally truthful observation. But it doesn't have to be that way.

It is time for American news organizations to start doing what they are supposed to do: present the facts and let the rest of us sort them out. We're up to the task.

Bob Cuddy is a former editorial pages director for the Alameda Newspaper Group and a former member of the Contra Costa Newspapers editorial board.