TUESDAY, JUNE 29, 2004
ALL IN THE FAMILY: Thrilling conclusion tomorrow!
GOOF SQUAD: How has the press critiqued Michael Moores film? Here is another clip from Lisa Myers Truth Squad segment on Fridays NBC Nightly News. (Heres the same segment, from Friday nights Countdown.) Only a full-fledged member of the Washington press could dream of being this silly:
MYERS: The powerful story of Lila Lipscomb, whose son was killed in Iraq, is also undeniable. But on other key points, critics say this so-called documentary is either wrong or deliberately misleading.Incredibly, this is by far the biggest chunk of Myers Truth Squad segment. Its also numbingly foolish. Myers is critiquing one of the films jokes—a segment in which Moore tries to get congressmen to sign up their children for Iraq. Before he runs the clip of these efforts, Moore has stated the relevant fact—out of 535 members of Congress, only one has a child serving in Iraq as an enlisted soldier. The interviews with members of Congress are presented because theyre funny. Kennedys name isnt mentioned in the film, and his fleeting appearance (you see the full text of his segment above) is included for an obvious reason—Kennedy gave Moore a classic double-take, producing perhaps the films biggest laugh. To state the obvious, the fact that Kennedys nephew is on his way to Afghanistan doesnt contradict Moores statement, and it doesnt mean that this so-called documentary is either wrong or deliberately misleading. And yet, given a two-hour film to critique, this seems to be the biggest outrage Myers could find! Her Truth Squad segments have been a joke for years, but this hapless effort helps us see how utterly foolish your press corps can be—and it shows that Moore can generate unintentional humor even from those who attack him.
Yes, there are problems with Moores film, and there are major strengths as well. But you live in an age of propaganda—and no, you dont have a serious press corps, as Myers is eager to show you.
CLARKE SPEAKS: Is there anything more depressing than watching the press corps critique a film? There are sensible things to be said, pro and con, about Fahrenheit 9/11. But in the press corps, standard propaganda campaigns have been launched in which outraged, phony critiques of the film go well beyond the faults of the film-maker. The same thing occurred several months ago in the case of Mel Gibsons The Passion—and in each case, Christopher Hitchens has proven a natural-born leader when it comes to the faking and dissembling. But you live in an age of propaganda, and the forces of propaganda are once again ruling the day.
Along those lines, a few readers have questioned something from yesterdays HOWLER—a statement about Richard Clarkes role in approving the flights which took Saudi citizens out of the country on September 14, 2001. Lets take a look at what we said, since the press corps approach to this issue typifies the way the corps have discussed Moores film as a whole.
First, a flaw with the film. Yes, Fahrenheit 9/11 does seem to suggest that these flights were leaving the country when all other flights were grounded—when even Ricky Martin wasnt able to fly. (Please dont send us irrelevant text from the film.) It turns out that this apparent suggestion is inaccurate, but its a minor flaw in the film; it doesnt speak to the more serious claim that the departing Saudis should have been questioned more strenuously. Were the departing Saudis improperly questioned? We dont have the slightest idea, and weve seen few serious attempts to examine that matter in the press. (In the film, a former FBI honcho makes the charge.) Instead, weve seen truncated analyses like this one by Myers on that same Nightly News:
MYERS: Finally, Saudi flights after 9/11. The film suggests that planeloads of Saudis including the bin Laden family were allowed to leave the US after 9/11 without proper vetting. However, the 9/11 commission says nobody was allowed to depart who the FBI wanted to interview.But that doesnt quite get at the charge. Ever since Clarke testified to the 9/11 Commission in March, weve more or less known that the FBI signed off on the departing Saudis (text of testimony below). Moores question is different: Should they have let the Saudis depart? On that, we dont have the slightest idea, and neither, most likely, does Moore himself. But he has a perfect right to ask the question; in a slightly more rational world, his question might provoked serious attempts at an answer. Should the departing Saudis have been questioned more thoroughly? Lets say it again: We dont know.
However, a couple of readers challenged our claim that Clarke has contradicted himself on this matter. Upon further review, were not sure how to sort this one out. So well show you the relevant texts.
The suggestion that Clarke had contradicted himself was made in The Hill on May 26. Alexander Bolton had interviewed Clarke about these flights. Heres how his report started:
BOLTON: Richard Clarke, who served as President Bushs chief of counterterrorism, has claimed sole responsibility for approving flights of Saudi Arabian citizens, including members of Osama bin Ladens family, from the United States immediately after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.Later, Bolton suggested that these statements contradicted Clarkes earlier testimony:
BOLTON: This new account of the events seemed to contradict Clarkes sworn testimony before the Sept. 11 commission at the end of March about who approved the flights.Well provide a larger chunk of Clarkes testimony below. But if you read further in Boltons article, you will see that this issue remained fairly murky as of late May. In particular, commissioner Roemer remained unclear about what had actually happened:
BOLTON: Clarkes testimony did not settle the issue for Roemer, either.Should the Saudis have been questioned harder? The question seems a bit less simple than Myers implied in her Truth Squad segment. Have Roemers doubts been set aside now? Dont expect to find out in the press. The questions raised in Fahrenheit 9/11 are being met in the usual way, with propaganda campaigns and with pseudo-analysis. We dont know if the Saudis should have been grilled, and given the way our modern world works, its unlikely well ever find out.
WHAT HE SAID: Heres a chunk of Clarkes televised testimony in March. Should you be concerned about any of this? At THE HOWLER, we simply dont know:
CLARKE: Someone—and I wish I could tell you, but I don't know who—someone brought to that group a proposal that we authorize a request from the Saudi embassy. The Saudi embassy had apparently said that they feared for the lives of Saudi citizens because they thought there would be retribution against Saudis in the United States as it became obvious to Americans that this attack was essentially done by Saudis, and that there were even Saudi citizens in the United States who were part of the bin Laden family, which is a very large family, very large family.