BuzzFlash Interviews Michael Moore
March 13, 2002
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER, TV HOST, AND AUTHOR OF "STUPID WHITE MEN"
Michael Moore burst on the scene in 1989 with Roger and Me, a documentary that went straight to the top of the automotive industry and asked Roger Smith, chairman of the world's largest corporation, General Motors, how he could turn Flint, Michigan (Moore's hometown), "into a ghost town." The film won a number of awards and offered Moore the opportunity to create films, television, and books that sought to uncover corporate and government hypocricies, injustices, and flat-out lies.
Along the way, Moore won an Emmy for his TV show, TV Nation, and was nominated for an Emmy for his last foray into television, The Awful Truth. In addition to his current best-selling book Stupid White Men, Moore wrote Downsize This and co-wrote Adventures of a TV Nation. Other films include The Big One, a film that took Nike to task for hiring children to make its shoes, and Canadian Bacon, "the strangest brew of political satire and farce since Dr. Strangelove."
We were lucky to get a few minutes of Moore's time while he traverses the country on his book tour and puts the final editing touches on a new film. Always controversial, in our interview with Moore he pulls no punches when it comes to Enron, the economy, the media, George W. Bush, and a host of other topics.
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BUZZFLASH: Let's start with the title of your book. Who are the stupid white men and where can you find them?
MICHAEL MOORE: That's a secret that I don't reveal in the book. You either know you are, or you aren't; or you know where they are, or you don't.
BUZZFLASH: Do you feel that in general, the working class has a good sense that Bush and his Enronomics are not good for the working class?
MICHAEL MOORE: Oh, yeah. I think Enron has certainly reminded anybody who wasn't aware or hasn't thought about it. I think that Enron has sent an unspeakable chill throughout the average American home, the average American who works for a living and always thought their 401K or their retirement plan was safe. And if this could happen at Enron, it could happen anywhere. If it happened at this company and this company, and then that was the person in the Oval Office -- boy, I think it's made a lot of people sit up and take notice.
BUZZFLASH: Do you think Enron is a symptom of a problem?
MICHAEL MOORE: I think it's the tip of an iceberg where you have an economy, essentially, that's built on a house of cards, that's been built mainly on debt and encouraging the average person to go into debt. And debt has financed and fueled much of this economic boom. So, I think Enron is, will be, the first of many companies we'll discover have been cooking the books. And I think probably a lot of people are gonna be hurt by this.
BUZZFLASH: Why do you think the media has lied down like a doormat for Bush Incorporated?
MICHAEL MOORE: They usually do. I think the media generally is pretty lazy. They're easily intimidated. Ari Fleischer says, "be careful what you say, and be careful what you do." And they can all toe the line to that. You know, they make -- who was it that met with the network executives? Is that Condoleezza Rice or . . .
BUZZFLASH: I think both she and Karl Rove.
MICHAEL MOORE: . . . she and Karl Rove had the big solemn conference call there and got everybody in line. And it's pretty sad. So, I guess, I'm counting on there being one or two people in the media who are not in lockstep with everyone else, who are not lazy, and who are going to do the job to bring the truth to the American people. And that may happen, maybe not, in our traditional media. It may happen on the Internet and other new media.
BUZZFLASH: Do you think that the two trends that seem to be occurring with the media -- one, increased consolidation, and two, increased corporate ownership of the media -- have had an impact on coverage of the Bush administration?
MICHAEL MOORE: Absolutely. I think that when you have the control of our sources of information in the hands of fewer and fewer people, you are creating a situation where just a few individuals, concerned primarily for the bottom line, are going to be calling the shots as to what we know and don't know. And that is never a good thing in a free society, because in a free society, you need to have as much information as possible in order to make the best decisions. I mean, that's what supposedly separates that kind of society from every other kind. So just the whittling it down now to just a few companies, or a few white men owning most of the media in this country, is just simply not a good thing.
BUZZFLASH: Is there any particular network that you feel you can watch with any confidence? And what do you think of the influence of television in general? It seems, as we move on in years, television becomes more pervasive. The Internet, as you said, may be picking up. But nonetheless, most Americans still get their political images from television.
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, I watch the BBC. It's on your cable system. Watch the BBC News. If you live on the Canadian border, within a hundred miles of a Canadian border, you can pick up Canadian television and news. That's good. And then you've got to really look. You've got to really look for those few places, up and down the dial, where little bits and pieces of information will be allowed to flow out, and you can piece it together.
BUZZFLASH: What do you consider -- moving to another topic -- would achieve real campaign finance reform.
MICHAEL MOORE: The complete elimination of any kind of private money from our campaigns. One hundred percent publicly financed. A short campaign period. Debates open to all candidates who have proven that they are able to get a certain percentage of the vote. And I think that would go a long way toward cleaning up things.
BUZZFLASH: Now specifically, a little bit about your book. You've written in your columns that after September 11th, your publisher was going to deep-six the book unless you took out critical comments on Bush. You held firm. Is it true that the librarians of America came to your defense and saved the day?
MICHAEL MOORE: That's what it looks like. I mean, I didn't know who any of these people were. They -- this one librarian found out about it, and she got in a, I don't know, library chat room. Or she sent a letter out to a list of librarians, and they sent it out to a bunch of people, and the thing kind of mushroomed from there. So, I'd say it's a combination of these librarians and the Internet, because they started sending letters to Harper-Collins, and Harper-Collins saw that it wasn't gonna be a good thing to ban the book. But I'm really happy about it. I really didn't realize the librarians were, you know, such a dangerous group.
MICHAEL MOORE: They are subversive. You think they're just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They're like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn't mess with them. You know, they've had their budgets cut. They're paid nothing. Books are falling apart. The libraries are just like the ass end of everything, right?
BUZZFLASH: But they saved the day. How are you doing on your tour? Are you getting a good reception?
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, the response has been incredible. I mean, in my fifth night I've been here, they've turned away hundreds of people every night. There's never -- there hasn't been an empty spot in any of the places where I've spoken. The book has already shipped more copies than we sold of my last bestseller in a whole year, so it's pretty amazing. I mean, it's -- I saw it -- it went to number one today on the nonfiction list there in the independent bookstores. And so it's real -- you know, for everybody who said that this book wasn't in keeping with the new political climate -- that the country -- that the President -- so-called President had a 90% approval rating -- I hope that this book goes a little ways toward exploding that particular myth.
BUZZFLASH: What do you think, beyond your book, can make a difference? BuzzFlash readers are people who feel very angry, very outraged by what is going on with the Bush administration. What can people do to make a difference when you have a person in the White House who has high approval ratings, seeming to run on a permanent war platform, while committing outrages against the environment, against reproductive rights and so forth. What can the average person do? They can read your book and then how do we go about winning over that 80% who are allegedly giving the man in the White House such high approval ratings?
MICHAEL MOORE: Don't believe the ratings, first of all. Understand that, because people are a little creeped out now with the way our civil liberties are being taken away from us; and people are being taken out of their homes and not charged with anything, and just sent to prisons. Right now, we don't even know who they are, how many there are. You know, that climate right now. And so you're sitting at home, at nine or ten o'clock at night, and somebody, some stranger, calls up and says, "I'm a pollster and I have one question. I would like to know if you approve of the President of the United States." You know, what are most people going to say?
MICHAEL MOORE: Yes, I do. Yes, I approve. I approve. My wife approves too. The dogs approve. You know, I think that the other part of it too is that the American public, whenever it feels threatened like this -- or there's a crisis -- generally wants to get behind whoever the leader is. That's actually pretty basic human nature. It says nothing about how they feel politically about Bush. If other questions were asked on the specific issues instead of "Do you approve of the President's job?" -- "Do you like where he's going on the environment?" for instance, or "Do you like where he's going on giving bigger tax breaks to the rich?" -- the vast majority of Americans are opposed to his policies. So that should be not surprising, considering how the majority didn't vote for him. You know he's there illegally. You know he was not elected either by the popular vote or by the vote in Florida.
BUZZFLASH: Let's get back to Enron for a moment. What can people do in terms of trying to ensure that there's more corporate accountability? Can the average person do anything?
MICHAEL MOORE: I think there are a number of groups and a number of things that have started up in terms of corporate watch and corporate campaigns to keep an eye on these guys. I think individually, people have to start just right with their own business -- who they work for and the businesses in their town -- and really keep an eye on them, and really keep their feet to the fire to obey the law and to be good corporate citizens. But we also -- we've got to get people elected to Congress, and we've got to get some laws passed. And we've got to get back to the days where there weren't monopolies -- when there was a real choice and all that. So, there are the smaller actions that people can take on a daily basis. But, there are the larger issues that we're just going to have to address in Washington. And that won't happen until people that are looking out for our best interests are elected there. And that won't happen until people show up and vote, or think about running for office themselves, instead of just always waiting for some numbskull who doesn't give a shit about us to put themselves on the ballot.
BUZZFLASH: In the meantime what do you recommend that people do, given living under the current administration, to make themselves heard? Sometimes our readers say: "Well, what can I do? I read your articles. I read Michael Moore. I read different people and agree with them. And I'm just left sort of depressed. I don't know what to do."
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, the main thing is don't be depressed. That's exactly what those in power want you to do. They want you to feel hopeless and powerless, when, in fact, the exact opposite is true because you live in a country where it's one person, one vote. And there are more of us than there are of them. There'll always be more of us than there are of them. So we should just look at the sheer numbers -- always be in charge.
It's only because we don't choose to exercise the power we have that we find ourselves in the place that we're in. And anyone who's reading this now and who says, "Well, yeah, but I do. I'm active. I'm involved. It's the other people who aren't." Well, you've got to kind of see yourself on a bit of a Mother Teresa mission here. You've got to go to those places where you're not used to going. And you've got to start talking to people. And you've got to start talking to them in a way that engages them in our political system, instead of turning them off.
Most people have become cynics, and they don't like to talk about politics. That's not true in other countries. You go to other countries, you go to a bar in Canada or wherever, people talk politics like they talk about sports or the weather. We don't do that here. We think it's un-cool. We just sit back and say, "Yeah, they're all crooks." Well, that's pretty damn lazy.
And if you just want to hang back, then I guess, hey, that's what happened with that Australian skater, right? He just hung back there at the end of the pack, let the five guys crash into the wall. He won the gold medal, you know? If that's the kind of citizen you want to be, then I guess you're a lot like George W. Bush because he's lived his whole life like that skater -- just hang back, do very little. And then skate through and collect the gold medal, even though you really didn't deserve it because you really weren't the best.
BUZZFLASH: Let me ask you just one -- I can't resist one more question. This issue of patriotism -- it seems, particularly since September 11th, it's changing a little bit now. And the reception you're receiving is certainly an indication of that change. But patriotism was defined by the Bush administration as not dissenting. You couldn't be a patriot if you dissented from whatever the Bush administration said, or whatever policies they sought, including the "New Patriot Act" and so on. There seems to be reluctance on the part of people who are progressives, independents, and Democrats, to say that they're patriotic, when BuzzFlash really views what we're doing as part of the pro-democracy movement.
MICHAEL MOORE: Oh, absolutely. That's exactly how I feel. The patriotic ones are the ones who are not afraid to ask questions, who are not afraid to dissent, who are not afraid to say and remind those in Washington that you are there to serve us. "You are the servants, not the masters." I mean, that's what real patriotism is.
Anybody can go to Wal-Mart and get a flag, and stick it on their car. It takes real courage to go out and actively work for the things you believe in, and to stand up for the things you believe in. What's always been great about people who are Democrats and progressive people, liberals, independents, whoever classifies themselves along that end of the political spectrum, it's that you're there because you have a good heart. And you care about your fellow man and woman in this society.
And you want to see laws enacted where everyone gets their fair shot at the American dream. The other side, what they believe in, is in their own kind of sick Darwinism that says only a few shall survive to have the American dream. And they spend their time trying to enact laws to guarantee that the majority won't. So people who read BuzzFlash, people who come from this political place on the map need not feel one bit depressed or one ounce of despair right now. Now is the time to wake up, stand up, speak up, fight back. We're in the right. They're in the wrong. It is that simple. And take heart in that.
And we will survive this. We will do and make sure that this country does what it should be doing. And we will not allow this to happen again in terms of our White House being taken over by somebody who wasn't elected to it. And I've got to say, just in closing, that the chapter that's received the most attention in the book -- and I'm kind of surprised, because I didn't think this would get the most attention -- is the chapter "A Very American Coup."
People who read BuzzFlash or people like ourselves, we know all those facts about Florida and what Katherine Harris did, and the private firm that took African-Americans off the voting rolls and prohibited them from voting. But I've been surprised in this first week how many average Americans were not aware of all of the trickery and deceit that took place in the year before the election to fix it for George W. Bush. And if people read that -- I mean, you should see some of the letters I've received -- they have the sickest feeling in their gut. They're just . . . they cannot believe that the Bushes got away with this.
And they're sick about it because they're Americans, because it goes against everything we believe in. Because they have people in their families who died for this country, for that very basic of rights, which is the right to vote and have your vote counted. It's been very reassuring to see the response to this chapter. And I wish more people had this information or had it a year or two ago. But you know what? Whenever they get it, it's fine with me, because I've got a feeling that the majority of Americans will never allow this to happen again.
BUZZFLASH: Well, Michael, thank you for your time. Good luck on your tour. Your book is a great public service. And we thank you for spending time with BuzzFlash.
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, thank you very much. And I think BuzzFlash is doing a great job, and all of us love reading it.
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