OTF: When Michael Moore Yelled At Me

So I guess I’m going to see “Capitalism: A Love Story.” It will be the first Michael Moore flick that I’ll have watched in the theaters. My guess is that I’ll agree with about half of it, think the other half is bullshit. But I appreciate a guy like Moore sticking it to the man. He’s like “Noam Chomsky for Dummies,” and I say that as compliment.

A sweeping generalization: I think Moore and Chomsky both offer a very useful analytical framework on how to view our corporate dominated modern life. I think they both stumble a bit with the actual reality of that life, but who doesn’t?

(I should probably elaborate on this, but it would take me awhile…)

I interviewed Moore once, way back in 2003. I was young and naive; he was, as advertised, schlubby and large. We were at a MoveOn.org event. The 2004 presidential primaries were getting intense. I asked him who he was going to endorse for president. He hinted that he was going to endorse Gen. Wes Clark. I asked him if he was worried that his endorsement would actually do Clark more harm than good–that, in essence, a Michael Moore endorsement would be a “kiss of death” because he was considered a “radical.”

Moore went off on me for a good few minutes, basically saying I was an asshole. (He’s probably right, but Moore is kind of a prick, too. I consider it a wash.) During the diatribe, as memory serves, Moore said that most Americans agree with his point of view–on everything from the environment to healthcare–so how could he be a left wing “radical?” He told me he sold more books than Bill O’Reilly and had more of an audience than Rush Limbaugh. He also went on to say that any Democratic candidate would be glad to have him.

Anyway, I was right about the “kiss of death” thing. Moore’s endorsment of Clark was a disaster(for many reasons, one them that I pointed out at the time in this juvenilia piece for Slate.) About two weeks later, Clark dropped out. Moore went on to endorse Howard Dean(who lost) then John Kerry(who, yes, lost.)

I think, though, Moore was correct for taking me to task for implying that he was “a radical.” I don’t know if I’ve ever bought into the left-right division, at least not for any significant length of time. But back in 2003, as a too-ambitious-for-my own-good reporter, I was happy to use those conventions. Hence playing into the dominant media narrative about Moore with my question. (I didn’t think I was being a corporate stooge; I was just trying to provoke a newsworthy response from him…)But it’s clear that the biggest division in this country isn’t the Ann Coulter/Michael Moore split. It’s the elite versus the non-elite. Personally, I’m much more comfortable with the views of Ron Paul and Ralph Nader(supposedly opposite sides of the political spectrum) than I am with almost any two establishment candidates of either party. Because what Paul, Nader, Chomsky, Moore (and even to a certain degree, depending on his mood, Glenn Beck, or a Pat Buchanan) remind us, repeatedly, is that it’s not a left-right thing, it’s an elite/non-elite thing.

(I wish there were better words for describing this–using a word like elite makes me sound like “a radical,” some kind of C. Wright Mills throwback!)

BONUS CONTENT: For kicks, here’s my interview with Chomsky from a few years back.


About michaelhastings

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3 Responses to OTF: When Michael Moore Yelled At Me

  1. joeh says:

    I think unfortunately the word you’re looking for, or the word I wish you were looking for, is class. Those who own the means of production and those who work it. But I guess talking about class conflict is much more taboo/radical then elite, go figure.

  2. Zaid Jilani says:

    That was a pretty eloquent commentary not only on Moore but the political dialogue in this country as a whole. I had a chance to meet him recently, and I think I was much better off for it.

    • Michael Hastings says:

      Thanks Zaid, very much appreciate it. One of the things that interests me, that I haven’t really fleshed out, is how this kind of insider/outsider view has gained in such popularity since ’04. On both sides of the political spectrum, but I’m thinking mainly of liberals here. The fact that Rachel Maddow has a hugley popular show, Glenn Greenwald a popular blog, Naomi Klein a best seller. I could add John Stewart to this list–essentially delivering a Chomskyesque/Moore critique. That just wasn’t the case in the 90’s, I don’t think, or even in the eary 00’s. So I think Moore and Chomsky’s influence has been quite profound,really–Chomsky being the academic precursor, and Moore showing how those view points could be popularized. (Farenheit 9-11 is basically Moore’s version of Manufacturing Consent, in a way.) Maybe I’m stretching here, but I think there’s something there…

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