I brought a notebook with me when I went to see Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 and in the dark made notes before I gave up, defeated by the utter stupidity of the movie.Ooh! The utter stupidity! Strong words. Let's see if Cohen can cash that check.
One of my notes says 'John Ellis', who is a cousin of George W. Bush and the fellow who called the election for Fox News that dark and infamous night when the presidency -- or so the myth goes -- was stolen from Al Gore, delivering the nation to Halliburton, the Carlyle Group and Saudi Arabia, and plunging it into war. A better synopsis of the movie you're not likely to read.Someone should send Cohen a dictionary, because unless the mountains of evidence that point towards election fraud (and worse) in Florida (and elsewhere) during the 2000 elections have all been fabricated, he seems to have mistaken history for myth.
Furthermore, Cohen must be some kind of super-genius, because how any self-respecting human being could pooh-pooh the flagrant orgy of profiteering in Iraq -- by special interests with so-close-they-might-as-well-be-having-sex ties to the Bush administration -- is far beyond my capacity to comprehend.
That these bitter pills have yet to be fully digested - thanks in large part to the efforts of America's cowed journalistic establishment - is no excuse. Cohen has to know better.
Ellis appears early in the film, which is not only appropriate but inevitable. He is the personification of the Moore method, which combines guilt by association with the stunning revelation of a stunning fact that has already been revealed countless times before. If, for instance, you did a Lexis-Nexis database search for 'John Ellis' and 'election,' you would be told: 'This search has been interrupted because it will return more than 1,000 documents.' The Ellis story is no secret.
Cohen commits the cardinal sin of journalism, here. Like most in his profession, he gets paid to winnow through the info-sphere in search of typing fodder, yet he assumes everybody knows everything he knows. His contempt for the underinformed is radiant. "You didn't know Bush's cousin over at Fox News was the one who called the election for him?! Like, what rock have YOU been living under, maaaan?!"
According to recent studies, fewer than half of adult Americans read newspapers anymore, much less every story on every page of every newspaper, magazine and trade journal in the world. Most Americans rely exclusively on television and (dear Lord) talk radio for their news. Cohen should try to keep his hipster condescension in check.
I can't help but wonder if you'd asked a hundred random people, prior to the release of F9/11, how many would have known that the first person in America to call Florida for Bush was a) a Fox News executive who b) also happened to be the President's first cousin? After attending Moore's film, I noticed that Ellis's involvement was one of the main things people were talking about in the lobby.
Rightly or wrongly, many people were shocked by what was, for them, a revelation. So the mere fact that the story has been told is no proof that the issue has been resolved. That over 1,000 documents including the words 'John Ellis' and 'election' can be found in the vast Lexis-Nexis archive tells us less than nothing. Although perhaps if he'd added the words 'cousin' and 'helped to steal' to his search, Cohen might have learned a thing or two.
But more than that, what does it mean? Ellis is a Bush cousin, Moore tells us. A close cousin? We are not told. A cousin from the side of the family that did not get invited to Aunt Rivka's wedding? Could be. A cousin who has not forgiven his relative for a slight at a family gathering -- the cheap gift, the tardy entrance, the seat next to a deaf uncle? No info.
Suddenly, Cohen the impatient know-it-all is Cohen the clueless naif, begging for more information. Ellis is, in fact, the President's first cousin.
And even if Ellis loved Bush truly and passionately, as a cousin should, how did he manage to change the election results? To quote the King of Siam, is a puzzlement.
Forgive me if I'm boring you with things you already know. I'll try to be brief.
According to Ellis himself, as detailed in the New Yorker, he was in constant contact with his cousins George and Jeb throughout the night of the election. Around 6 PM, Voter News Service sent data to all major news outlets indicating Gore had won a slim but decisive victory in Florida. Sometime after 7:52 PM, when all major networks (including Fox) called Florida for Gore, Ellis received another call from cousin Jeb.
The exact nature of the information Ellis shared with Bush during that phone call is unclear. Before it was hastily and unceremoniously dispatched on the day of the 2002 mid-term elections - and I'm sure Cohen sees no valid reasons for suspicion in that case, either - VNS provided detailed, district-by-district voter information to their media clients. John Ellis was one such client.
Is it "stupid" to consider the possibility that Ellis might have shared information about the breakdown of the Florida vote with Jeb, the Republican governor of that state, who also happened to be the Republican candidate's brother, and whose Secretary of State was Katherine Harris, who a) was in charge of Florida's elections, b) was co-chairwoman of the Florida "Bush for President" committee, c) was a Bush delegate during the Republican National Convention, and d) imperiously halted a legal recount that was slowly-but-surely eating away at Bush's bullshit, razor-thin lead?
All things considered, is it "stupid" to speculate whether there exists a possibility that Jeb might have been able to somehow use the information he got from Ellis - in combination with his substantial power as Florida's chief executive - to alter the outcome of the election?
Perhaps it's just me. Perhaps I'm paranoid.
Perhaps there was nothing strange about Team Bush taking the historically unprecedented step of holding a living room press conference in the midst of the election - not too long after that phone call to Ellis, come to think of it - to assure Americans that, despite the now-defunct Voter News Service's previously impeccable track record in these matters, Florida was still in play.
Perhaps the subsequent, near-immediate and highly atypical surge in Bush's favor - forcing VNS and the news media to retract their call for Gore and label Florida "too close to call" - was coincidence.
Perhaps there was nothing untoward about Ellis's 2 AM conversation with Jeb and George Bush, of which he later boasted: "It was just the three of us guys handing the phone back and forth - me with the numbers, one of them a governor, the other the president-elect. Now that was cool."
Perhaps there is nothing suspicious in the fact that Ellis shortly thereafter got Fox to call Florida for Bush, at a time when his lead over Gore was rapidly evaporating. Perhaps the other networks followed Fox's lead because it was late, they were tired, and they'd had enough already. Perhaps General Electric CEO Jack Welch had nothing to do with it.
Perhaps everybody should follow Cohen's lead and not care a fig about any of this, lest we be labeled "stupid", "silly" or "loony", like Michael Moore. But enough of my wild-eyed, incoherent ranting. Let's get back to the task at hand.
I go on about Moore and Ellis because the stunning box-office success of Fahrenheit 9/11 is not, as proclaimed, a sure sign that Bush is on his way out but is instead a warning to the Democrats to keep the loony left at a safe distance.
Bush's plummeting approval ratings in the days since the film's release must surely stand as affirmation of Cohen's thesis.
Speaking just for myself, not only was I dismayed by how prosaic and boring the movie was -- nothing new and utterly predictable -- but I recoiled from Moore's methodology, if it can be called that. For a time, I hated his approach more than I opposed the cartoonishly portrayed Bush. The case against Bush is too hard and too serious to turn into some sort of joke, as Moore has done.
That Cohen could be "dismayed" to the point of "recoiling" with "hate" over a film that he immediately thereafter characterizes as "a joke" seems odd to me. Then again, I have a strong suspicion that Bush stole the election, so what do I know?
The danger of that is twofold: It can send fence-sitters moving, either out of revulsion or sympathy, the other way, and it leads to an easy and facile dismissal of arguments critical of Bush. During the Vietnam War, it seemed to me that some people supported Richard Nixon not because they thought he was right but because they loathed the war protesters. Beware history repeating itself.
The hand-wringing, self-loathing blather of marshmallow liberals like Cohen - who helps counter the lies and propaganda of the conservative movement's 24/7 noise machine by penning absurdly over-the-top denunciations of an independently-produced film that has yet to be refuted on a single point of fact - is far more helpful to Bush than any film Michael Moore could ever produce. That he could accuse Moore of indulging in "easy and facile dismissal of arguments" after filing his own easy and facile dismissal of Moore's arguments tells me that Cohen, as we used to say back home, is deaf to the sounds of his own flatulence.
Moore's depiction of why Bush went to war is so silly and so incomprehensible that it is easily dismissed. As far as I can tell, it is a farrago of conspiracy theories. But nothing is said about multiple U.N. resolutions violated by Iraq or the depredations of Saddam Hussein.
I must be certifiably insane for even suggesting this, but perhaps Moore felt that bringing up Iraq's past non-compliance with various United Nation resolutions was unnecessary. And perhaps he felt it was unnecessary because a) Saddam was granting U.N. weapons inspectors access to every square inch of Iraq, b) the Bush administration's "evidence" that Saddam was in breech of anti-WMD resolutions turned out to be a tissue of lies, and c) the United Nations tried desperately to prevent Bush from launching his illegal, disastrous and pathetically bungled businessman's war of first resort.
Would it be "prosaic" of me to suggest that the Bush administration became increasingly belligerent and insistent as the organization whose resolutions he had taken it upon himself to enforce (against its will) was systematically dismantling their case for war?
In fact, prewar Iraq is depicted as some sort of Arab folk festival -- lots of happy, smiling, indigenous people. Was there no footage of a Kurdish village that had been gassed? This is obscenity by omission.
Fahrenheit 9/11 is not about Saddam Hussein's Iraq. It's about Bush's America. Cohen seems to fault Moore for failing to create an impartial, academic, encyclopedically authoritative dissertation on the preceding two decades of American foreign policy. He might as well fault Moore for failing to point out that "Clinton thought Saddam was a bad guy, too."
Furthermore, I suspect that if Moore had chosen to show images of Saddam's infamous and oft-referenced 1988 gas attack on Halabja - explaining the context of the Iraqi Kurds' treasonous alliance with Iran, against whom Iraq was waging a savage and protracted war of attrition with America's blessing and weapons - Cohen would have accused him of obscenity by inclusion.
The case against Bush need not and should not rest on guilt by association or half-baked conspiracy theories, which collapse at the first double take but reinforce the fervor of those already convinced.
It was at this point in his screed that I began to suspect Cohen had actually not seen Fahrenheit 9/11 at all, having perhaps wandered into a matinee showing of Disney's Around the World in 80 Days by mistake. I honestly have no idea which "half-baked conspiracy theories" he could possibly mean.
Surely he can't be dismissing the well-established and unprecedentedly cozy economic ties between the Bush dynasty, Big Oil, the Saudi royals and the Bin Laden clan? These "conspiracies" have been confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Surely Cohen can't be arguing that it be forbidden to investigate, with hindsight, whether these relationships might have resulted in an administration-wide blind-spot with devastating results?
Surely Cohen has heard of John O'Neill? Surely he's read Kevin Phillips's damning and authoritative Bush family chronicle, American Dynasty?
The success of Moore's movie, though, suggests this is happening -- a dialogue in which anti-Bush forces talk to themselves and do so in a way that puts off others.
Yes, because stealing moves from the conservative playbook would surely result in an electoral disaster of epic proportions. Just look how low the Republicans have sunk by talking to themselves in a way that puts off others! Conservatives must be stupid to spend so much time and effort rallying their base with dynamic appeals to the heart, soul and guts. All their divisive rhetoric has managed to give them is control of the Congress, the Senate, the Supreme Court and the White House. We wouldn't want the people Cohen ominously labels "the anti-Bush forces" to emulate this kind of unmitigated failure.
I found that happening to me in the run-up to the war, when I spent more time and energy arguing with those who said the war was about oil (no!) or Israel (no!) or something just as silly than I did questioning the stated reasons for invading Iraq -- weapons of mass destruction and Hussein's links to Osama bin Laden. This was stupid of me, but human nature nonetheless.
At long last, Cohen boils his own argument down to its fetid essence, the literary equivalent of a frustrated two-year-old's foot-stomping tantrum.
Apparently, only crazed fanatics could be upset by the obscene crush of war pigs lining up to jam their snouts into the no-bid contract trough, brimming with greenback salad smothered in a sweet crude balsamic.
Only Hitler-worshiping lunatics would dare to suggest that the neoconservatives who provided the intellectually and morally bankrupt rationalizations for Bush's war have anything but a perfectly fair and even-handed grasp of the Middle East situation.
And the less said about the sinister and psychopathic Armageddonism in which Preznit Dubya and many of his partisans indulge, the better.
Some of that old feeling returned while watching Moore's assault on the documentary form. It is so juvenile in its approach, so awful in its journalism, such an inside joke for people who already hate Bush, that I found myself feeling a bit sorry for a president who is depicted mostly as a befuddled dope. I fear how it will play to the undecided.
Cohen's fear is plain to see. It verges on the kind of wild-eyed, hysterical paranoia he falsely accuses Moore of inciting with his film. It's as though Cohen is afraid that if liberals and moderates were to become as forceful in defense of their beliefs as conservatives are, it would result in a Civil War and thus, perhaps, a decline in his standard of living.
For them, I recommend Spider-Man 2.
For the Washington Post's Richard Cohen, I recommend a swift, hard kick in the ass.