Political and PR war breaks out over Fahrenheit 9/11

LOS ANGELES/WASHINGTON - Grassroots efforts to discredit Michael Moore's 'Fahrenheit 9/11' devolved into political warfare online last week, leading the film's distributors to put PR in the hands of some well-known Democratic consultants to help shepherd the documentary into theaters this week.

Opponents of the film, which is critical of George Bush and his administration, came under fire when liberal bloggers discovered that a website trying to keep it out of theaters, Move America Forward, was registered to a prominent Sacramento PR firm with strong GOP ties, Russo, Marsh & Rogers.

On its site, MAF asks supporters to call or write theaters saying they don't want them to carry the documentary.

MAF denied any formal connection to the firm, but said Sal Marsh, one of the firm's principals, was on its board. The two are located in the same building, and calls to RM&R for comment were returned by MAF.

Very shortly after the RM&R connection to MAF was alleged online, the website's registration was changed to the organization's leader, Howard Kaloogian, a conservative who spearheaded the campaign last year to stop CBS from airing the controversial movie 'The Reagans'.

In response, bloggers posted RM&R's phone number and staff e-mail addresses in what Markos Moulitsas of Dailykos. com dubbed a "two-pronged assault" on the anti-Moore efforts.

Moulitsas said he wanted to "go on the offensive against the PR firm that created the [MAF] site," as well as encourage readers to contact theater owners to voice support for the film.

At least two theater chains mentioned on the MAF site said they have been "inundated" with correspondence, though most of it was in favor of the film.

Faced with the rising tensions, 'Fahrenheit''s distributors took the unusual step of putting Chris Lehane and Mark Fabiani, one-time PR consultants to Al Gore, John Kerry, and Wesley Clark, in charge of political positioning for the film. The pair had been hired before last week's events.

The distributors also hired Mario Cuomo as a legal expert to fight the MPAA's recent decision to give the film an R rating. The distributors and the filmmaker feel it should be PG-13.

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