Michael Moore, the big bopper of investigative journalism, is only months away from what could be the biggest film of his career, Sicko, a "comedy" about the 45 million Americans without health care. He also promises The Great '04 Slacker Uprising, a documentary based on his 70 campus 2004 tour aimed at defeating George Bush.
Both films will benefit from the director's unique ability to find other people to blame for his problems, further enhancing Moore’s myth among the Left. In my new book, Citizen Moore: The Making of An American Iconoclast, more than 200 insiders who have been close to Moore tell the backstage story that defeats many of the myths central to his career.
One of the things I discovered, for example, is that while working on his first film, Roger & Me, he interviewed General Motors CEO Roger Smith (who allegedly “dodged” him) three times, twice on film, and left the footage on the cutting room floor. Also, for reasons that remain a mystery, he walked away from a weekly NBC audience of over 9 million, even though the network wanted to renew his show, “TV Nation.” He jumped to Fox (a network he loves to trash) which killed a number of episodes and ultimately dropped the program. And some of his former colleagues at Mother Jones magazine, a publication he once edited, suspect he may be an anti-Semite, a charge he denies.
I was told that he’s a man who wants people to "worry and be happy." I knew that Moore likes to see himself as a provocateur. But I was surprised at some of his weaknesses--a soft spot for Hillary Clinton and surprising compassion for O.J. Simpson, the first guest on the pilot for his talk show that was never produced (a crowd chanting "The Glove Didn't Fit, We Must Acquit" was cut from “The Awful Truth,” the Bravo successor show to “TV Nation”).
Clearly, Moore has come a long way from the days when he was editing a nearly bankrupt community newspaper in Flint, Michigan, or writing an ignored Washington media newsletter which hammered at NPR’s Nina Totenberg and the New York Times's Maureen Dowd for alleged plagiarism, charges they both deny. Now, with Sicko about to be released, the health care industry has put profilers to work teaching employees how to disarm the muckraker if he shows up unannounced for an interview: "Compliment him on the weight loss and ask him how he has done it. Bring up any Detroit sports team - the Tigers, the Red Wings. That will distract him."
For those who loathe Michael Moore, here's the good news. His two new movies will provide plenty of opportunity for new attacks on his ability to manufacture dissent. But attackers beware, you may be making his day. He’s a lightweight who enjoys being seen as a heavy, particularly when it comes to subjects like health care where it’s much easier to assign blame than sort through complex issues. His former manager Douglas Urbanski who fired him as a client puts it this way: "I don't believe that Michael Moore has politics. His work is definitely about him. He loved the spotlight..... I don't view Michael as a significant figure on the landscape. He's a vaudevillian."
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