UNDER THE HOT LIGHTS

Can Michael Moore be believed? It is a question more than a few moviegoers may be asking this week as his new documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11," hits theaters. Like Moore's previous works, the movie is a melange of investigative journalism, partisan commentary and conspiracy theories. A run-down of some of Moore's most provocative allegations, and how they stack up against the record:

Bush's initial response to the 9/11 attacks. Moore has unearthed video showing Bush attending a photo op in a second-grade classroom in Sarasota, Fla., when chief of staff Andrew Card whispers in his ear: "America is under attack." Card told a TV interviewer in 2002 that the president got up from the classroom "not that many seconds later." Moore's video depicts a seemingly shaken Bush continuing to sit in the classroom for seven agonizing minutes, even reading to the children from a book, "My Pet Goat." The movie suggests Bush reads from the book because he is uncertain about what to do. A report this week by the federal panel investigating 9/11 confirms Bush did remain in the classroom "for another five to seven minutes." It also offers Bush's account: "The president felt he should project strength and calm until he could better understand what was happening," the report states.

Saudi flights out of the United States. The movie claims that in the days after 9/11, when airspace was shut down, the White House approved special charter flights so that prominent Saudis--including members of the bin Laden family--could leave the country. Author Craig Unger appears, claiming that bin Laden family members were never interviewed by the FBI. Not true, according to a recent report from the 9/11 panel. The report confirms that six chartered airplanes flew 142 mostly Saudi nationals out of the country, including one carrying members of the bin Laden family. But the flights didn't begin until Sept. 14--after airspace reopened. Moreover, the report states the Saudi flights were screened by the FBI, and 22 of the 26 people on the bin Laden flight were interviewed. None had any links to terrorism.

The Bush-bin Laden family connection. Moore's film suggests that Bush has close family ties to the bin Laden family--principally through Bush's father's relationship with the Carlyle Group, a private investment firm. The president's father, George H.W. Bush, was a senior adviser to the Carlyle Group's Asian affiliate until recently; members of the bin Laden family--who own one of Saudi Arabia's biggest construction firms--had invested $2 million in a Carlyle Group fund. Bush Sr. and the bin Ladens have since severed ties with the Carlyle Group, which in any case has a bipartisan roster of partners, including Bill Clinton's former SEC chairman Arthur Levitt. The movie quotes author Dan Briody claiming that the Carlyle Group "gained" from September 11 because it owned United Defense, a military contractor. Carlyle Group spokesman Chris Ullman notes that United Defense holds a special distinction among U.S. defense contractors that is not mentioned in Moore's movie: the firm's $11 billion Crusader artillery rocket system developed for the U.S. Army is one of the only weapons systems canceled by the Bush administration.