The battle over Michael Moore’s scathing new documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, began long before the film was released to theaters nationwide on June 25. In addition to the well-publicized refusal of Walt Disney Pictures to distribute the film, Moore has faced attacks from prominent Republican operatives, grumbling from science-fiction author Ray Bradbury, a concerted grassroots campaign by conservatives to pressure local theaters not to release the film and numerous charges of inaccuracy and the distorting of facts. Not surprisingly, the controversy may have been just what Moore wanted – the film to in an estimated $23.9 million on its opening weekend, making it the most popular debut for any documentary film.
The initial showdown between Moore and top Disney executives has been widely reported. When the Disney corporate board blocked its subsidiary Miramax from distributing Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore claimed that Disney feared losing its corporate tax breaks in Florida (a state where it has its most profitable theme parks and where Jeb Bush is governor). Miramax executives Bob and Harvey Weinstein personally acquired all rights to Fahrenheit on May 30 and are using The Fellowship Adventure Group, a new special-purpose company, to distribute the film.
The battle over Fahrenheit 9/11 has gone well beyond the corporate boardroom in the last three weeks, however. A right-wing group called Move Forward America recently launched an Internet campaign to pressure local movie theaters not to show Fahrenheit 9/11. “Why on earth are any movie theaters showing this film?” the site asks. “Fahrenheit 9/11 should be shown as a recruiting video for Al-Qaeda, not in our movie theaters.” Local theater executives need to be “overwhelmed with letters, phone calls and faxes, in addition to emails,” says the site, which includes the contact information for dozens of local cinemas.
Although Move Forward America calls itself a “grassroots” citizens group, an investigation by online blogger Kurt Nimmo revealed that the group was founded and financed by “diehard Republicans, anti-tax activists, and former legislative staffers.” Additionally, the PR firm that owns and operates the Move Forward website is Russo Marsh & Rogers, a GOP consulting firm.
Moore’s supporters are fighting back. Pro-Moore websites include the same lists of theater contact information and encourage readers to contact cinemas in support of the film. Most amazing of all, however, is the extraordinary length gone to by Michael Moore himself to defend Fahrenheit. According to a recent article in the New York Times, Moore has retained well-known Democratic Party strategist Chris Lehane, a master of the art of political opposition research. Moore
has also hired a bevy of fact-checkers led by an ex-New Yorker editor to pick the movie apart, and told the Times “any
attempts to libel me will be met by force.”
In the end, there will probably be two ways to determine ultimate victors in the battle over Fahrenheit 9/11. The first will come at the box office. The second, of course, will come on the first Tuesday in November.