'Fahrenheit 9/11' Is a Red-Hot Ticket
But both Clarke and the 9/11 Commission have said officials did nothing wrong by chartering those flights. And as for the oil investment: "Even if it happened, its significance is nothing," says Peter Bergen, author of "Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden." "Salem couldn't be more different than Osama bin Laden. He loved the U.S. He spent a lot of time in Houston. He played guitar. He is the mirror image of Osama."
Another controversy arose over the portrayal of Rep. Mark Kennedy (R-Minn.) in the trailer, and later in the movie. In a throwback to his "Roger and Me" days, Moore went to Capitol Hill and stuck a microphone in the face of various congressmen to ask them whether they would help sign up their children to fight in Iraq. Most knew to duck Moore, but Kennedy was polite enough to stop.
The movie shows Kennedy looking trapped and afraid. But in reality, he explained to Moore that he has a nephew serving in Afghanistan and he would like to help in the recruiting effort, particularly for those congressmen who supported the war.
When Kennedy complained about his portrayal, Moore responded with his trademark combination of literal-mindedness and aggression. On his Web site Moore prints the exchange between him and Kennedy but still says the film's portrayal is factually accurate. He then badgers Kennedy for failing to live up to his promise and actually ask members of Congress to sign up their kin.
One touchy issue that hasn't yet gotten much notice is over Moore's portrayal of U.S. troops. In the movie they badger civilians, women and children included. They taunt prisoners. They listen to a rock song, "Fire Water Burn," as Iraq burns behind them.
Paul Rieckhoff fought in Iraq for a year and came back to start the Web site Operation Truth to tell Americans that war is not some video game. MoveOn touted him as a spokesman because he admires Moore and wanted to see the movie.
"It's thought-provoking. Sensational. Will really energize conversation," he said after he saw it. "It's obviously slanted in one way, so if you take it as your only source of information that would be pretty narrow. But some people will love it, some will hate it."
But, Rieckhoff added, "I'm ticked off at the way he portrays soldiers. It really makes them look stupid, like these testosterone-enraged mindless killers, like a bunch of barbarians. I'm going to tell him that."
To the young veterans of the Howard Dean campaign, graduates of Rock the Vote and an older generation of Bush haters who are well aware of his flaws, Moore still carries the hope of reaching out to a larger audience.
Moore is not a registered Democrat; he styles himself as more of a populist. Although he lives on New York's Upper West Side now, his heart is in Flint, Mich., he always says, where he grew up as the son of an autoworker.
"Yes, he's a celebrity of the left, but he can also reach up and appeal to a broad cross section of Americans," says Adam Ruben, field director for MoveOn PAC, which is organizing voter registration drives around theaters showing the movie. "That's what makes this film more important."
But Moore says he doesn't mind preaching to the choir.
"I'm very happy to speak to them because that choir has been asleep," he says. "Many of them have turned into cynics who have just decided to sit on the sidelines. If I can give them a song to sing as they leave the theater and become active once again, that's a good thing."
At a party at an Adams Morgan restaurant after the premiere, Moore called the reception in Washington "unbelievable."
"It's a great audience because they get all the inside, wonky stuff. . . . You don't have to explain Arbusto or Harkin Energy or what the Securities and Exchange Commission does."
Moore spent the night in a back corner booth at the Left Bank, drinking wine and eating sushi with his wife and friends, gratified, he said, that people here "got it."
Staff writer Richard Leiby contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company