August 23, 2007
Shooting Michael MooreBy Henry P. Wickham, Jr.
In a variant of the Golden Rule, Kevin Leffler has recently done to Michael Moore what Michael Moore has done to so many others. In Shooting Michael Moore Mr. Leffler produces a commendable documentary that shows Michael Moore to be something other than that self-anointed, compassionate advocate for the "little guy."
Echoing the format of Moore's first documentary, Roger and Me, Mr. Leffler, a former schoolmate and friend of Michael Moore, seeks out the elusive Moore. It is quickly evident that Moore (not unlike Al Gore) does not appreciate confrontation or having the truth or the effects of his body of work challenged. Moore wants applause and royalties, not debate. It is amusing to see the champion of the ambush interview himself waddling away from Mr. Leffler's ambush interviews.
Michael Moore is certainly no Nazi. However, what is interesting about his films is the extent to which they rapidly degenerate into slick propaganda, illustrative of principles enunciated by Joseph Goebbels:
Goebbels was merely elaborating Hitler's insight in Mein Kampf, where Hitler stated:
Contempt is the overriding sentiment of anyone producing propaganda in this spirit of Goebbels. It is contempt for the truth, and it is contempt for the audience. The body of Moore's work is larded with contempt.
He disdains the people of Flint as he feigns deep sympathy. Like Rosie O'Donnell he disparages American gun ownership while, like her, he has armed security. He hates the rich while living as lavishly as any Kennedy. He has contempt for the American people as he profits handsomely, to paraphrase Lenin, trying to sell us rope with which to hang ourselves.
Moore's contempt for those in his films is manifest not only in the films themselves but in Moore's treatment of his subjects when the cameras stop. Mr. Leffler effectively depicts this aspect of Moore's contempt. Here are a few examples of what Mr.Leffler portrays:
Rhonda Britton and Fred Ross were prominently featured in Roger and Me. Moore needed their consent to use their images in the movie. Rhonda Britton is by her own admission barely literate. Moore gave her $100.00 and a ride in a limousine, and he had her sign a waiver. (Surely he knew that she had no understanding of what she signed.) Mr. Ross refused to sign Moore's waiver. He had to sue Moore before he was paid substantially more than the exploited Rhonda Britton. Moore solemnly tells us in the film that we are judged by "how we treat the least among us." Indeed.
According to former cameraman, Bruce Schermer, Moore regularly instructed his cameramen to lie to their subjects. They were told to pretend that they were from the local news station, or PBS, or the Discovery Channel. They lied to Staff Sgt. Raymond Plouhar, Jr. claiming they were from the Discovery Channel. For Fahrenheit 911 they filmed his recruiting efforts in Flint, Michigan. Moore portrays some of the sales pitch to prospective recruits, followed by a quick cut to terrified Iraqi women, as if this is what Sgt. Plouhar were really promoting.
The emotional reaction of Sergeant Plouhar's parents to the dishonesty toward and manipulation of their son by Moore is the most moving part of the film. They must speak for Sgt. Plouhar because he was killed in Iraq fighting for everything Michael Moore holds in contempt.
Mr. and Mrs. Plouhar were able briefly to confront Michael Moore about his dishonesty and abuse of their son's service, and Mr. Leffler was able to film some of this confrontation. In a response that can only be described as obscene, according to the Plouhars, Moore told them that there really is some consolation for them. Moore told them that his use of Sgt. Plouhar in his movie gave the dead soldier "notoriety."
Here is the essence of Moore's position: if he, the gifted Michael Moore, had not deceived Sgt. Plouhar and used him to disparage all that Sgt. Plouhar stood for, he would have died in Iraq relatively anonymously, known only to family and friends. He would be just another war statistic. But the great Michael Moore bestowed on Sgt. Plouhar "notoriety."
In a cheap imitation of Shakespeare's 55th Sonnet, where he promised immortality to his beloved through his art, Michael Moore sees himself generously conferring fame and celebrity on a dead American soldier whom Moore really despises. Evidently, America needs no Homer or Thucydides when it has Moore. Service to Michael Moore's interests certainly trumps sacrifice for one's country. There must be a special circle in hell for the crude and swinish soul who could believe that supposed "notoriety" would soothe Sergeant Plouhar's grieving parents.
I suspect that Moore is too thick to understand the real implications of his use of the word "notoriety." It means to be famous or known in an unfavorable light. Moore did all that he could to cast Sgt. Plouhar in an unfavorable light. So here is one of those rare moments when Moore was actually honest about what he did, although this honesty was probably unintentional.
Mr. Leffler touches on many of the other seemingly countless sordid aspects of Michael Moore. Among others, we hear of all the inflated and empty promises to the people of Flint, Michigan. We learn of Moore's chiseling on his taxes and his violation of environmental laws. We learn from Mr. Leffler that the worst terror-supporting state in the world, Iran, partially lifted its embargo against American films. This was done by Iran so that Moore's Fahrenheit 911 could be shown to Iranian audiences. Move over Tokyo Rose... way over.
What becomes clear as one watches Mr. Leffler's film is that Michael Moore really believes that his behavior, his sense of ethics, the means by which he amasses and retains his huge personal fortune are subject to no standards, scrutiny, or judgment beyond those of Michael Moore himself. Propagandists masquerading as "artists" evidently get a free pass in the universe of Michael Moore.
For Moore, as for others who have excelled at propaganda, truth is, by definition, that which furthers a favored political objective. If someone's eviction had nothing to do with General Motors' plant closings as Moore misrepresents in Roger and Me, or if a soldier's heinous injuries were not a result of enemy action as Moore implies in Fahrenheit 911, or if Moore publicly promises to hire blacks to make a political point in Stupid White Men, then hires none, he simply defines truth accordingly. Amassing a personal fortune and promoting his inane political views justify any means. It is the cynical elasticity of Moore's "truth" that provides these means.
Mr. Leffler does not have pretensions of being a professional filmmaker. The film has its flaws. Like all of Moore's films, it too runs too long and at times belabors points. He could have strengthened his case of Moore's lying to Sergeant Plouhar had he tracked down the second Marine who was exploited by Michael Moore. Some of his points have been made by others in the print media.
However, as we sometimes fight fire with fire, there are times to fight film with film. Shooting Michael Moore is a worthy rebuttal to Michael's Moore's pomposity, avarice, and dishonesty. The film helps us understand why Michael Moore, so filled with contempt for much of what is good, is himself so utterly contemptible.
For more information on the film, go to ShootingMichaelMoore.com.
Send comments to: HWickham@LNLattorneys.com