The Times' Philip Shenon on Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11: After a year spent covering the federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, I was recently allowed to attend a Hollywood screening. Based on that single viewing, and after separating out what is clearly presented as Mr. Moore's opinion from what is stated as fact, it seems safe to say that central assertions of fact in "Fahrenheit 9/11" are supported by the public record (indeed, many of them will be familiar to those who have closely followed Mr. Bush's political career). ...it may turn out that the most talked-about moments in the film are the least impeachable. Mr. Moore makes extensive use of obscure footage from White House and network-news video archives, including long scenes that capture President Bush at his least articulate. For the White House, the most devastating segment of "Fahrenheit 9/11" may be the video of a befuddled-looking President Bush staying put for nearly seven minutes at a Florida elementary school on the morning of Sept. 11, continuing to read a copy of "My Pet Goat" to schoolchildren even after an aide has told him that a second plane has struck the twin towers. Mr. Bush's slow, hesitant reaction to the disastrous news has never been a secret. But seeing the actual footage, with the minutes ticking by, may prove more damaging to the White House than all the statistics in the world. The article details the lengths Moore's team has gone to in vetting content and marshalling empirical backing for each allegation in the film, and describes his commitment to take a more aggressive approach to rebutting critics of this film than his last one. More power to him (although it would have been easier to rebut the scurillous criticisms of the Bowling for Columbine if he hadn't cut corners in unnecessary ways with a few of the facts in the first place). Except for this part: "Any attempts to libel me will be met by force," he said, not an ounce of humor in his familiar voice. "The most important thing we have is truth on our side. If they persist in telling lies, knowingly telling a lie with malice, then I'll take them to court." No, no, no. Moore should know better. He should recognize that American libel law (although thankfully to a lesser extent than its European counterpart) creates a chilling environment which threatens free speech, and threats of lawsuits against critics both cheapen the discourse and give powerful ammunition to the opposition where it really matters - in the court of public opinion.


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