Little Brother

Thursday, July 8th, 2004

During the 2002 congressional campaign, Republican donors who shelled out enough money could get a photo of President Bush in his commander-in-chief action-figure role, talking to Cheney on the phone aboard Air Force One the morning of Sept. 11 and displaying, so the script went, “courageous leadership during this historic time.”

That’s our president! We bought more than just the photo. We bought the whole concept of a man in charge during trying times and followed him to war against two countries.

The 9/11 Commission eventually poked some jumbo-jet-sized holes in this picture: i.e., Bush was totally out of the loop for much of that morning and no one at a high level, least of all the commander-in-chief, was making command decisions when they might have done some good.

Still, it took Michael Moore, troublemaker extraordinaire, to fully undo the work of the best PR money can buy and spin Bush’s morning all the way back to zero. With the devil’s own audacity, Moore chose to include seven excruciating minutes of real-time presidential inaction — resurrected from the cutting-room floor of history — in his new documentary.

And thus the nation is now watching, in phenomenal numbers, the commander-in-chief, upon learning that jetliners have struck the World Trade Center, sitting frozen in cluelessness in front of a class of Florida elementary school students, reading, God help us, “My Pet Goat.”

Those who hate Michael Moore hate most of all his uncanny knack for messing with the official script. Those seven merciless minutes, which, of course, launch “Fahrenheit 9/11,” are simply unadorned George W. Bush, sitting, sitting, sitting. He’s all by himself, shooting occasional furtive glances around the room. That’s it. And it’s devastating.

It’s an example of what I have heard called the Little Brother phenomenon, of which Moore is the unsurpassed master. While Big Brother can use modern technology to expand his control of the masses, Little Bro, in a development unforeseen by George Orwell, can use the same technology (video, the Internet, etc.) and aim it back at those in power.

In that way, emperors are rendered naked and “Truth ultimately finds its way to people’s eyes and ears and hearts.”

The words, ironically, are those of Donald Rumsfeld, quoted in “Control Room,” another excellent documentary currently playing in theaters, as the defense secretary rails to embedded reporters against the independent Arab TV station Alcazar.

The truth Rumsfeld apparently had in mind is delivered by guided missile, because shortly after he utters them a U.S. fighter jet opens fire on the unguarded building headquartering Alcazar in Baghdad, killing one of the station’s reporters.

Rumsfeld’s words are nonetheless deadly accurate, thanks to the likes of Alcazar itself, which has covered the U.S. invasion of Iraq with breathtaking, Little Brotheresque fearlessness and independence. The station’s mission, which the secretary finds to be such a torment, is, unstintingly, to show the human cost of war.

Like Moore, the Alcazar journalists refuse to follow the official script. They refuse to airbrush the reality they put on display to their 40 million Arab viewers. Thus we see the blood and entrails of the Iraqi wounded; we hear their screams. We see frightened American POWs. We see American corpses, which one commentator thought might be “especially jarring to U.S. viewers,” since such sights do not, after all, make it to the television screens of the folks back home.

The official script has us bringing democracy to Iraq. The raw reality purveyed by independent media outlets shows us bringing fear, pain and death.

How long will those who most vociferously call themselves patriots hew to the script their leaders’ PR minions have handed them? How long will they deny the witness of Little Brother, who presents compelling evidence that the emperor is not only naked but cruel?

A generation ago, people asked: Suppose they gave a war and nobody came? With the unscripted truth finding its way, at long last, to so many people’s eyes and ears and hearts, I no longer think the question is preposterous.