LOS ANGELES -- While the White House and the Republican National Committee have taken an official "no comment" approach to Michael Moore and his new anti-Bush documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11," some conservatives have mobilized a letter-writing campaign and crafted ads that slam the film and its maker.
"Fahrenheit 9/11," which won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, attacks President Bush's rationale for the war in Iraq and accuses him and his administration of manipulating the Sept. 11 terror attacks and fostering fear for political gain.
It is set for release on June 25, debuting on at least 500 screens, with plans to expand to hundreds more in the coming weeks.
One of the organizations rallying against Moore is Move America Forward, a pro-Bush group that evolved months ago from the letter-writing campaign that led CBS to drop its controversial TV movie "The Reagans."
The group has received several thousand e-mails of support for its Moore campaign, said executive director Siobhan Guiney, a former Republican lobbyist. But she did not know how many were sent to the various theater chains.
"Since we are the customers of the American movie theatres, it is important for us to speak up loudly and tell the industry executives that we don't want this misleading and grotesque movie being shown at our local cinema," the group says on its Web site, above a listing of phone numbers and e-mails for various cinema companies.
Said Guiney: "(Moore) is critical of what's happening right now, and there's no problem with being critical - but his movie is not a documentary, it's a piece of propaganda."
So far, however, Move America Forward's letters about "Fahrenheit 9/11" haven't changed anything.
"There has been some communication, but not an overwhelming amount. And we do intend to play the film," said Dick Westerling, spokesman for the theater chain Regal Entertainment Group, which has 6,020 screens in the United States.
Move America Forward is funded through private donations, not the Bush campaign or the Republican National Committee, Guiney said.
Who is behind the group?
Howard Kaloogian is the chairman, a former California Assemblyman who helped organize the Gray Davis recall campaign and made a failed bid for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination.
And who is behind Moore?
One of the filmmaker's press strategists is brass-knuckles political operative Chris Lehane, a former press secretary to Vice President Al Gore and frequent Democratic aide who worked on the presidential campaigns of John Kerry and Wesley Clark. Lehane earned a reputation in 2000 for gathering information on political enemies and bringing it to reporters.
Neither Lehane nor Moore would comment for this story.
Another independent conservative group, Citizens United, is crafting video ads for television and the Internet that slam Moore.
The group's head, David Bossie, is a former Republican congressional aide who was one of President Clinton's harshest critics. He was fired in 1998 by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich for withholding the public release of testimony transcripts favorable to the Clintons in a campaign fund-raising probe.
Bossie said the ads would target Moore and George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist who donated nearly $13 million to various groups seeking to defeat Bush.
"Look, this guy (Moore) is simply producing and advertising this movie at this time to try to affect the election," Bossie said. "And so clearly organizations like mine ... it seems to be left to us to make sure that the media is educated, as well as the American people are educated, as to just what they're up to."
The liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org is trying to counter the conservative campaign with mass mailings asking members to "pledge to bring their friends, relatives and neighbors" to "Fahrenheit 9/11" on opening night.
Supporters also are sending letters to theaters on Move America Forward's list, urging them not to give in to pressure to block the film.
"My guess is that their efforts will backfire and only rally support for the film, which will be terrific as far as I'm concerned," said Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate Films, which is distributing the movie. "We need less censorship in this country, not more."
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