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Context of 'April 2005-January 2006: 9/11 Conspiracy Documentary Released; Becomes ‘Internet Blockbuster’'

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Fahrenheit 9/11 movie poster.
Fahrenheit 9/11 movie poster. [Source: Lions Gate Films]Fahrenheit 9/11, a film by well-known documentarian and author Michael Moore, is released in the US. Amongst other things, this film reveals connections between the Bush family and prominent Saudis including the bin Laden family. [New York Times, 5/6/2004; New York Times, 5/17/2004; Toronto Star, 6/13/2004] It reviews evidence the White House helped members of Osama bin Laden’s family and other Saudis fly out of the US in the days soon after 9/11. [New York Times, 5/17/2004; Toronto Star, 6/13/2004; New York Times, 6/18/2004; Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004; Newsweek, 6/30/2004] It introduces to the mainstream damning footage of President Bush continuing with a photo-op for seven minutes (see (9:07 a.m.) September 11, 2001) after being told of the second plane hitting the WTC on 9/11. [New York Times, 6/18/2004; Washington Post, 6/19/2004; Newsweek, 6/20/2004; Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004] Disney refused to let its Miramax division distribute the movie in the United States, supposedly because the film was thought too partisan. [New York Times, 5/6/2004; Guardian, 6/2/2004; Los Angeles Times, 6/11/2004; Agence France-Presse, 6/23/2004] The film won the top award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival—the first documentary to do so in nearly 50 years. [BBC, 5/24/2004; Guardian, 5/24/2004; Agence France-Presse, 6/23/2004] It is generally very well received, with most US newspapers rating it favorably. [Agence France-Presse, 6/23/2004; Editor & Publisher, 6/27/2004] The film is an instant hit and is seen by tens of millions. [Associated Press, 6/27/2004; BBC, 6/28/2004; Associated Press, 6/28/2004; CBS News, 6/28/2004] There are some criticisms that it distorts certain facts, such as exaggerating the possible significance of Bush and bin Laden family connections, and gripes about a $1.4 billion number representing the money flowing from Saudi companies to the Bush family. However, the New York Times claims that the public record corroborates the film’s main assertions. [New York Times, 5/17/2004; New York Times, 6/18/2004; Newsweek, 6/30/2004] Shortly before the film’s release, the conservative organization Citizens United tried to block the film’s distribution (see June 27, 2004). The effort failed (see August 6, 2004).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bin Laden Family, Michael Moore, Osama bin Laden, Citizens United, Walt Disney Company, Miramax

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections

The DVD cover for ‘Celsius 41.11.’The DVD cover for ‘Celsius 41.11.’ [Source: Citizens United]The Federal Election Commission (FEC) refuses to allow the conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) to advertise on television its upcoming film Celsius 41.11—The Temperature at Which the Brain Begins to Die, a documentary that the group intends as a refutation of the documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), a film by liberal documentarian Michael Moore that savaged the Bush administration’s handling of the 9/11 attacks. The FEC also refuses to allow CU to pay to run the film on television. The FEC bases its decision on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (McCain-Feingold—see March 27, 2002), and its restrictions on nonprofit groups such as CU using unregulated contributions to pay for “electioneering communications” to be shown within 60 days of a federal general election. CU would broadcast the film in late September, less than 60 days before the November 2 elections. CU argued, unsuccessfully, that it is a member of the news media and therefore can use a legal exemption provided for news, commentary, and editorial content. In a 4-0 vote, the FEC rejects the argument, saying that CU intends to buy air time instead of being paid to provide content, and that its primary function is as an advocacy group and not a film production organization. FEC vice chair Ellen L. Weintraub, one of the commission’s three Democrats, says: “You don’t want a situation where people are airing campaign commercials and they are exempt from commission rules because they are considered a media event. The danger is that the exemption swallows the rules.” CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) says he is “clearly disappointed” with the ruling, and adds, “They [the FEC] want to limit free speech, and that’s what this issue is about for us.” The company marketing Fahrenheit 9/11 was not allowed to run advertisements promoting the film within 60 days of the elections, and a CU complaint against that film was dismissed after its distributors promised not to air such advertisements (see August 6, 2004). CU has helped fund the publication of a book by Bossie attacking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), and has released numerous documentaries attacking the Clinton administration and the United Nations. The current film contains some material attacking Kerry, though that material is not the primary focus of the film. Bossie says the group will attempt to show the film in theaters to paying audiences within a few weeks (see September 27-30, 2004). [New York Times, 9/9/2004; New York Times, 9/30/2004]

Entity Tags: Federal Election Commission, Bush administration (43), Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Citizens United, Clinton administration, John Kerry, Michael Moore, David Bossie, United Nations, Ellen L. Weintraub

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections

The conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) releases a documentary intended as a refutation of the popular documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), a film by liberal documentarian Michael Moore that savaged the Bush administration’s handling of the 9/11 attacks. The CU film is entitled Celsius 41.11—The Temperature at Which the Brain Begins to Die. CU spent six weeks making the film, and is releasing it in small venues around the nation after the Federal Election Commission (FEC) denied the organization permission to broadcast it on television (see September 8, 2004). (In August, the FEC dismissed a complaint against Moore over Fahrenheit 9/11 filed by CU—see August 6, 2004.) The slogan for the movie is “The Truth Behind the Lies of Fahrenheit 9/11!” The movie was written and produced by Lionel Chetwynd, who has written and produced a number of Hollywood feature films and documentaries. Chetwynd, a vocal conservative, produced the September 2003 “docudrama” 9/11: Time of Crisis, which portrayed President Bush as a near-action hero during and after the 9/11 attacks, and took significant liberties with the actual events (see September 7, 2003). Of this film, Chetwynd says: “We could have gone wall to wall with red meat on this, but we purposely didn’t. The cheap shots may be entertaining in Moore’s film, but we wanted to make the intellectual case and go beyond lecturing to the converted.” New York Times reporter John Tierney describes the movie as overtly intellectual, sometimes appearing more as a PowerPoint presentation than a film made to appeal to a wider audience. It features a point-by-point defense of Bush’s actions during the 9/11 attacks, and features “politicians, journalists, and scholars discoursing on the legality of the Florida recount in 2000, the Clinton administration’s record on fighting terrorism, and the theory of American exceptionalism.” There are a few “red meat” moments, Tierney notes, including the juxtaposition of the Twin Towers burning as Moore says in a voiceover, “There is no terrorist threat.” It also includes a few slaps against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), mostly in the form of a country song where the singer Larry Gatlin sings, “John boy, please tell us which way the wind’s blowing,” a reference to the Bush campaign’s attempt to portray Kerry as a “flip-flopper” who goes back and forth in his views on various issues. The Georgetown premiere of the movie attracts some 300 viewers, almost all Republicans, according to Tierney. The audience, according to Tierney, views the film as more “thoughtful and accurate” than Moore’s film, and unlikely to make anywhere near the profits the earlier film garnered. Chetwynd says he resisted the temptation to launch an all-out assault on Kerry “the way that Moore did with Bush.” Filmgoer Jerome Corsi, who has written a bestselling book attacking Kerry’s Vietnam record, praises the film, as does Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of the airplane that was flown into the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001 (see 8:51 a.m.-8:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). Burlingame, a founder of a group of 9/11 victim relatives that supports Bush, says: “Michael Moore actually used footage of the Pentagon in flames as a sight gag. It was really hard to sit there in the theater listening to people laugh at that scene knowing my brother was on that plane. I wish more people would see this film instead.” [New York Times, 9/30/2004] In October, the Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott will dismiss the film as “generat[ing] heat but no new light,” calling it “sad in a sad sort of way… dull, lazy, and inconsistent,” and suffused with an “unabashed idolatry of the Great Leader (in this case, George W. Bush)” in the same way that Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl made her documentaries (he wonders, “Has the conservative worldview really been reduced to a slavish worship of authority?”). Kennicott will ask if the film is an attempt to refute Moore’s documentary or an “overlong attack ad on John Kerry,” and concludes that the film is little more than a combination of “dreadful political advertisements and dreadful political talk shows.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004] TV Guide’s Maitland McDonagh will call the film a “shrill, repetitive screed” obviously released just in time to influence the 2004 presidential election, and bearing “all the hallmarks of having been thrown together in a heated rush.” [TV Guide, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: Jerome Corsi, Debra Burlingame, Clinton administration, Citizens United, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Philip Kennicott, Lionel Chetwynd, Federal Election Commission, Larry Gatlin, Leni Riefenstahl, John Tierney (New York Times), Maitland McDonagh, John Kerry, Michael Moore

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections

Korey Rowe, Jason Bermas, and Dylan Avery. Korey Rowe, Jason Bermas, and Dylan Avery. [Source: Beyond the Ordinary]A feature-length documentary film is released that suggests the 9/11 attacks were planned and implemented by people within the US government. The film, called Loose Change, is made by three men in their twenties from upstate New York: Dylan Avery, Korey Rowe, and Jason Bermas. The three are “Entirely self-taught, and without a single journalistic qualification between them beyond a couple of media courses Jason sat at college ” Avery, the film’s writer and director, had begun work on it when he was just 18. [Vanity Fair, 8/2006; Guardian, 1/26/2007] The original version of Loose Change is released in April 2005. In response to advice and criticism, an updated “2nd Edition” comes out in January 2006. [Salon, 6/27/2006] The London Daily Mail describes the film as “a blitz of statistics, photographs pinched from the web, eyewitness accounts and expert testimony, all set to hip-hop music. And it is dramatically changing the way people think about 9/11.” [Daily Mail, 2/9/2007] Some of Loose Change’s key allegations are:
bullet The World Trade Center towers were in fact brought down as a result of a “carefully planned controlled demolition.”
bullet Flight 77 did not hit the Pentagon. Hani Hanjour, its alleged terrorist pilot, lacked the flying skills necessary to make the difficult maneuver supposedly made by this flight. Instead, the building looked more like a missile had hit it.
bullet Flight 93 did not crash in a field in Pennsylvania. The debris field showed nothing resembling a crashed airplane. Instead, it landed at Cleveland Hopkins Airport, after this had been evacuated.
bullet Cellphone calls made from the hijacked planes were in fact staged. The film refers to a study that claims phones wouldn’t get cellular signals at high altitudes.
bullet Video footage of Osama bin Laden claiming responsibility for 9/11 was faked. [Salon, 6/27/2006; Guardian, 1/26/2007; Guardian, 2/6/2007]
The documentary is hugely popular. By early 2007, an estimated 100,000 copies of it on DVD will have been sold and about 50,000 copies given away free. An unknown number of duplicates will have been given out, due to the makers’ encouragement of viewers to burn their own copies and pass them on. Up to 50 million people will see it when it is shown on television in 12 countries on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Millions more watch it for free over the Internet. Vanity Fair says Loose Change “just might be the first Internet blockbuster.” [Vanity Fair, 8/2006; Guardian, 1/26/2007] The film also receives some harsh criticism. Canadian journalist Gwynne Dyer calls it “pure paranoid fantasy.” [New Zealand Herald, 3/8/2007] British left-wing journalist George Monbiot calls it “a virus sweeping the world” that “infects opponents of the Bush government… and turns them into gibbering idiots.” He claims, “Read some conflicting accounts, and Loose Change’s case crumbles faster than the Twin Towers.” [Guardian, 2/6/2007] Some skeptics of the official 9/11 account are also critical, and while agreeing that the US government was behind 9/11, disagree with many of Loose Change’s specific claims. According to Vanity Fair, though, “Undoubtedly what has put Loose Change ahead of the pack of 9/11 conspiracy fare is that it’s a pretty watchable movie—especially considering it cost $2,000 and was made on Avery’s Compaq Presario laptop.” [Salon, 6/27/2006; Vanity Fair, 8/2006]

Entity Tags: Korey Rowe, Jason Bermas, Dylan Avery, Loose Change

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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