Greg Palast is no Michael Moore, and his attempted take-down of President George W. Bush, Bush Family Fortunes, is certainly no Fahrenheit 9/11. This hour-long documentary is backed by lefty UK newspaper The Guardian and the BBC, so it’s clear from the start that Palast isn’t exactly attempting to present a fair and balanced look at his subject. Palast, an “award-winning” reporter who has been lauded primarily for similar hit pieces on Tony Blair and Rev. Pat Robertson, has all the liberal talking points down, though his presentation is not only less than convincing, it’s virtually sleep inducing.
Anyone who follows politics from either side of the aisle will have heard all of Palast’s arguments before: Bush’s family connections got him out of Vietnam; he didn’t show up for his National Guard duty; he stole the 2000 election from Al Gore by disenfranchising African-American voters in Florida and then stopping the recount; all the way down to the supposed connections with the Bin Laden family. Whether you believe these allegations or not, Palast provides no new evidence or insight into any of the topics he tackles.
In one instance, it’s more a matter of bad timing than anything else. For his attack on Bush’s supposed shirking of his guard duty, Palast relies on a sole interviewee: former Texas national guardsman Bill Burkett. Of course, we know now that Burkett was the source for those forged documents that have caused Dan Rather and CBS so much trouble. So it’s more than a little hard to believe him when he tells Palast with conviction that Bush was AWOL during his time with the guard.
But here’s the thing: in a film like this, it doesn’t matter if your allegations are true or not. Democrats and liberals will see an attack film on Bush to have their own beliefs confirmed; Republicans and conservatives will go to get worked into a fervor. That’s how Fahrenheit 9/11 grossed more than $100 million in the US alone.
What Michael Moore (who’s quoted on the disc cover as calling the film “Courageous reporting”) understands is that a movie, even a documentary, is primarily about entertainment. It’s not enough just to trot out supposed “evidence” and “experts” to create a compelling film; there has to be something on screen that holds the viewers’ interest. Moore’s 9/11 and Palast’s Fortunes have the same goal: prove that George W. Bush is a privileged, corrupt, lying son-of-a-bitch by any means possible. Moore, for all his faults, goes about the task in a creative and interesting (though ethically questionable) way. By contrast, Palast, even though he’s inexplicably dressed like Matt Drudge, fedora and all, seems simply content to lecture the audience, waving around documents without quoting from them, and showing a smattering of heavily edited interviews with people who are at most tangentially connected to the issue at hand.
As a moderate conservative, I was ready to give Palast a fair shake at convincing me that I shouldn’t vote for Bush in November. What was so disappointing was that not only did he fail, he did so without even getting me the slightest bit enraged. In fact, for what essentially amounts to an hour-long slur on a sitting President, there’s really little to offend anyone in Bush Family Fortunes. Republicans are more likely to laugh off the attacks and allegations that by now have become old hat, and Democrats are unlikely to hear anything they haven’t already heard the mainstream media trot out before.
The real problem is that there’s no hook. There’s nothing to grab the viewer and keep them watching. Even though the film clocks in at just over an hour, I found myself struggling to keep watching. And, there’s no panache. Palast doesn’t even appear to ever be all that upset about the dark secrets he claims to be uncovering. And if he’s not all bent out of shape, why should we be?