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July 31, 2007

Harry Phibbs ask, did Michael Moore win the 2000 election for Bush? Citizen Moore: An American Maverick - Roger Rapoport

Posted by Harry Phibbs

Citizen Moore: An American Maverick
by Roger Rapoport
London: Methuen
Paperback, £8.99

The willingness of so many on the Left to persist in idolising documentary maker Michael Moore - despite the persistent and shameless extent to which he has distorted the truth to fit his purpose - demonstrates their fierce acceptance of the principle that the ends justifies the means.

He had a job on a left wing journal, called Mother Jones, where his colleagues found him a nightmare to deal with. Moore was furious at the publication of an article on the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, which - while sympathetic - included criticisms of their violations of press freedom, human rights and civil liberties. It wasn't that Moore questioned the accuracy of the specific charges - just that he didn't regard criticisms of the Sandinistas as acceptable.

Moore irritates people so much because of his critical and commercial success combined with a lack of any political or journalistic credibility. One problem for the poor boy from Flint who constantly attacks the rich is that he has become rich himself.

His biographer Roger Rapoport manages a balanced account. He seems to quite like Moore while being happy to scrutinise the many failings he encounters. Rapoport says:

The long gestation period for Sicko, Moore's paintball-style attack on the American health-care system, reflects parallel changes in his own life. Recognising the irony of an overweight director on a bad diet preaching healthy living, Moore decided to heal himself. He hired a personal trainer and began taking long walks.
Perhaps every American should have their own personal trainer.

For all his supposed love of the working man the book is riddled with instances of the disrespect and lack of consideration he shows for those working for him. Then there is the question of trust. One of his favourite techniques is to personalise his attack on capitalism by demonising the boss of a larger corporation. Often what works well for this purpose is for the boss to be too secretive and ashamed to face the cameras. For instance his exposť of General Motors, based upon the experiences of Moore's home town of Flint in Michigan, was called Roger & Me, and a central part of it was how Roger Smith, the Chief Executive of General Motors, had refused to be interviewed. Er, except he hadn't. Rapoport says:

Moore's decision to leave two filmed interviews with Smith on the Roger & Me cutting-room floor raises questions he has not answered. The ethics of launching his career by falsely claiming that he couldn't get an interview with the head of General Motors creates a credibility gap. Is it a good idea to rewrite history so that it creates the storyline and publicity necessary to reach an audience that normally skips documentaries?

After years of dodging the subject, Moore confirmed my story that he did, in fact, film an interview with Smith. Then he made the mistake of arguing that this event took place before he began working on Roger & Me. According to his commentary on the documentary's DVD, shooting began in February 1987, three months before the first filmed interview at a GM annual meeting in Detroit. The second deleted interview, a "home run" according to the soundman, also Moore's friend and Ralph Nader's attorney, Jim Musselman, took place in January 1988.

By the way the film also included a sequence of impoverished tenants from Flint being evicted. While it was being shot Moore was dissatisfied at one woman's unemotional response and the filming was interrupted while she was persuaded to start screaming. Then the filming resumed.

Sometimes one of Moore's great bogeymen will make it onto the screen. In Bowling for Columbine, he pitches up at Charlton Heston's home to ask the veteran actor about his opposition to gun control. With Moore brandishing a NRA card the kindly old man agrees to see him unaware of the ambush. Heston comes out of it pretty well despite impending Alzheimer's.

While personally successful it is a different matter of how politically effective Moore has been. US Republicans naturally despise him and and some have even established a website dedicated to fact checking his output. But the Democrats have probably a greater sense of grievance. For all his tub thumping attacks on President Bush, Moore indirectly helped get Bush elected by campaigning for Ralph Nader against the Democrats candidate Al Gore.

One dreads to think the sort of deals Moore will have made with the Cubans to facilitate footage of gleaming hospitals. But how many really believe the Cuban hospitals are vastly superior to American ones once the cameras have stopped running? I suppose those who want to believe it will believe it. But while anti-Americanism plays well as a left wing theme in the rest of the world it has less resonance in America itself for understandable reasons.

I'm afraid Moore has many imitators. The 50-somethings who recall student sit-ins during the late 1960s and early 1970s have not all grown up. Some indulgently pitch up in the foyer of a company and demand to see the boss immediately to ask a whole load of tendentious questions. Had they been serious about getting answers they would have made an appointment rather than turned up on spec. But this is about theatre rather than elucidation - emotional spasm rather than enlightenment as to how the complex nature of our society might be improved. Moore may not do much real harm to international capitalism but he is certainly annoying.

Harry Phibbs is a journalist.

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Harry Phibbs piece raises many good questions being asked by those who love Michael Moore. Here's the good news for those who love the director and hate him. His next film, Fahrenheit 9/11 1/2, is now scheduled for 2008, just in time for the national election. Also, he has announced that after one or two more documentaries he is going to start making dramatic features akin to his Canadian Bacon, a funny film starring John Candy that was panned by the critics and was shelved shortly after opening to a disastrous box office.

Posted by: Roger Rapoport at August 1, 2007 03:38 PM

A good example of a "foyer ambush" which backfired can be seen in John Sweeney's Panorama on Scientology.
The background to this was sketched out in the CoS's own rebuttal documentary which can be found on Youtube.

Posted by: B Wood at August 2, 2007 07:49 AM

You mention that Moore's hometown is Flint, Michigan. This is yet one more Moore myth. According to Hardy and Clarke in 'Michael Moore is a big fat stupid white man', Moore was born and raised in Davison, Michigan and attended Davison High School. As Hardy and Clarke point out, "While Davison is near Flint, proximity doesn't translate to similarity between the two cities. Davison is the prosperous, white "bedroom town" of the areas, largely inhabited by management, not labor..... Davison is also lily-white to a staggering degree; African-Americans make up only one half of one percent of its population."
Hardy and Clarke's book is to be recommended for its thorough debunking of Moore whom they argue is a dangerous propagandist and paranoid narcissist of the first order. Nothing he has said can be trusted.

Posted by: Robert at August 20, 2007 12:04 PM
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