August 2004
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Ferreting out the truth about ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’

By Janelle Holden

I’d like to write about “Fahrenheit 9/11,” but I haven’t seen it yet. I feel like I have.
Several people I work with gave me first-hand accounts, and I’ve read about 20 reviews. Some reviewers were liberals bashing the film, some conservatives. Some people thought it was good, some thought it was propaganda trash.

I didn’t see it, frankly, because I was lazy. It wasn’t playing in Livingston, and I didn’t want to drive to Bozeman on the weekend. And, I didn’t want to get too disillusioned with Michael Moore. I thought “Bowling for Columbine” and “Roger and Me,” his past documentaries, were brilliant. If, as some reviewers put it, he botched the job this time by being too heavy-handed with Bush, I really didn’t want to see it.

If you read my column regularly you’re probably aware of my political leanings. I voted for Bob Dole in 1996, Nader in 2000, and I won’t be voting for George W. Bush in 2004. I used to be a member of the righteous right, and am now aligned with the righteous left. Politically, my biography would most closely track with columnist Arianna Huffington, who made a similar switch a few years back.

The reason I bring this up is because this column is not a review of “Fahrenheit 9/11,” or even a defense of the film. It stems from a conversation I had with a friend of mine (who also hasn’t seen “Fahrenheit 9/11”). He objected to Michael Moore allegedly playing fast and loose with the facts to make his point. He is firmly in the “propaganda trash” camp.

It’s a little odd to have a debate about a film when neither party is adequately informed, but my answer was that I think the word “propaganda” is a bit harsh. I view the film as a point of view, an opinion backed up by select facts. It’s no worse than the New York Times and the New Republic, two well-respected sources of information, publishing fictional articles, and no better than a well-written opinion column in a newspaper.

However, it did get me to thinking about where I get my information, and how I feed my own particular biases. I start my day with National Public Radio. At work I get three news list serves that send relevant articles to my e-mail from a variety of news sources. I also check Salon.com to read breaking news and political analysis. Att home I’ll watch some CNN over dinner, and read Harper’s or Atlantic Monthly before I go to sleep. I’m inundated with national news.

I don’t subscribe to the local newspapers. They are, simply put, trash that I wouldn’t wrap my fish in. Not all local newspapers are like that. The Four Corners Free Press, of course, is a prime example of good local coverage. Unfortunately, I am not privy to that kind of professionalism in Montana.

So, I must admit almost all my news sources exhibit at least a slight liberal bias. I am no better than conservatives who dine with Fox News and listen to Rush Limbaugh during commutes. Like them, I like listening to people who agree with me and present information from my point of view, which is why I’ll probably enjoy “Fahrenheit 9/11” and why others will hate it.

I don’t necessarily think this is bad. Should I balance things out a little with Fox News and National Review? If I see “Fahrenheit 9/11,” should I then rent “The Passion of the Christ” on video? Should I replace bias with bias? I don’t think my opinions would change if I did. I would probably become an angrier person.

At least I know what I’m getting with biased news. The mainstream media might be more centrist, but they also tend to under-analyze the news and depend on public-relations flacks to feed it to them. They aren’t very good at explaining why news is relevant. Of course, when you truly think about it, most of it isn’t relevant. Do I really need to know about Kobe’s rape trial, or Laci Peterson’s gruesome death?

Probably not, but these stories sell papers, and I admit some rubber-necking. I choose People over Newsweek in doctor’s offices, and shamefully, today I searched online to find out what was going on between Lance Armstrong and Sheryl Crow.

We may have more information at our fingertips than at any other time in history, but it is more difficult to ferret out the truth than ever. I don’t have any magic answers for people looking for solid information from reliable sources. I suppose it’s best to look at everything with a jaundiced eye. When I finally see “Fahrenheit 9/11,” I won’t take it as gospel. I know where it came from, and that, at the least, is some comfort.

Janelle Holden writes from Montana.


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