WASHINGTON — You may love Michael Moore or you may hate Michael Moore. You may say that Mr. Moore is a one-man force for truth and justice out to save America from itself. Or you may say that Moore is a venomous character assassin who will say whatever it takes to get the president.
But whatever you say about Moore, don't call him objective. Don't say he's out to give a balanced view of anything. He'll tell you that much. His films are made with a definite point of view, a liberal point of view, and he does not apologize for it. This distinction is important, because it should affect how you view his latest adventure in filmmaking, "Fahrenheit 9/11" - if, indeed, you view it at all.
"Fahrenheit" is, as one might expect from Moore, a mishmash of his political views and cheap shots at the president punctuated by an occasional flash of solid documentary filmmaking tied together by the events of the past three-plus years.
At times it pointlessly meanders, as it does in the beginning when it tries to tie the president's relationship with the Saudis to everything from secret flights out of the US after 9/11 to the sinking of Lusitania. (OK, he doesn't really do that, but I'm sure he could if he tried.)
At times it is poignant, as when Moore's cameras are trained at US soldiers in Iraq who say things both sublime and ridiculous. And Moore makes many points people have made (correctly) about the president ad nauseum - the rush into Iraq, the stretch to link Al Qaeda and Iraq.
If you haven't been paying close attention to the news in the past few years and you are looking for a case against the president, you will love this film. If you support the president, you may leave the film angry, but also concerned. Moore's gifts for audiovisual irony and sarcasm along with his over-the-top pathos can be convincing. On top of that, his target isn't exactly difficult to hit. Mr. Bush's oratorical miscues don't need much help from Moore to make the president look like a boob.
So there you have it, "Fahrenheit 9/11" in a nutshell. All of which leaves one to wonder, what exactly is all the fuss about? We know Moore and we know the president, so what exactly was everyone expecting? The real question around the media's Fahrenheit frenzy isn't "What will the movie say?" It's "Why is everyone so shocked or excited by it?"
Michael Moore is not a journalist. He has become the left's answer to Rush Limbaugh, engaging in the same sort of half-truth-telling that Rush does. Lies? Maybe. Sometimes. But more often, it's about telling one side of the story and then using a selection of damning facts to fill in the rest.
Moore isn't exactly the mirror image of Rush. His everyman "common sense" is generally more piercing than Rush's over-the-top gusto, and it is often put together in a cleverer fashion. But, make no mistake; it's the same game.
So what's wrong with that? Well, nothing really. The nation's liberals should be able to play in the same garden of self-affirmation as its conservatives if they so desire - and judging by last weekend's $21.8 million box office for "Fahrenheit," they do so desire.
But in attacking the president for things like taking too many vacations or golfing while discussing terrorism, Moore goes off point.
The case against Bush's presidency is not difficult to make. The list of failed or floundering policies run from the decisions in Iraq through No Child Left Behind to the federal deficits that stretch out as far as the eye can see. But those things are about poor decisions, not the president's inability to pronounce the word "nuclear" correctly, or the amount of time he spends on his ranch. And that's where Moore's movie and his general approach go astray.
In his eagerness to paint the president with the most negative brush possible, he has jumbled up some solid critiques with everything else he could think of. The end result is more of a diatribe than a documentary, and the more legitimate stuff will be difficult for some to ferret out - media literacy is not an American strength.
Yes, this is part of politics these days. And yes, every negative political ad you see in the next four months will be full of the same half-truths and spin. And yes, Moore is only doing on the silver screen what Rush Limbaugh and company do on the AM dial everyday.
But in the end, all that means is the nation's political dialogue - already a mess - is going to get sloppier.