A letter to Michael Moore
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Date: 14 January, 2003

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'If the truth is on your side, you do not need to fight propaganda with propaganda. Fighting fire with fire, you burn both your houses down.'

Steve Tomkins writes an open letter to activist and comedian Michael Moore about his latest book, Dude, Where's My Country

Steve Tomkins
London, England

Michael Moore
Manhattan, USA

Dear Mr Moore,

I've been reading the latest open letters to George W Bush in your new book Dude, Where's My Country? and you know what? I figured it must be kinda depressing sending all that mail and never getting any back. So here's one to YOU!!

And I've done my best to make it just the way you like 'em!

So let me start off by saying there's plenty about your books that I like (this letter has to double as a book review, you see), I love your films (though not without reservations), and I think your causes are good ones.

Expose the mixed motives and misinformation of the President, lose him the next election, impeach him even, and I'm there. Great TV. Heck, if you can impeach a president for having sex, you can sure as hell do it for misleading you about WMDs!! I remain to be convinced about replacing him with Oprah, but she's an improvement on Al Gore.

But here's the thing. Your book is ruined by unbalanced polemic, cheap shots and factual distortions. Ideal for making the disenfranchised American left feel better about itself - and making them feel very good about YOU! But it is also calculated to alienate everyone else, and convince them that liberal values can only be defended by lies and conspiracy theories. Pushing progressives out even further on their limb.

You're shooting down your own F-16, Mike. US liberalism is under friendly fire.

So, I've got some questions for you, Mike. Not "on behalf of the 3,000 that died that September day", or on behalf the American or any other people, 'cause that kinda stuff makes me feel a bit queasy. Just questions that I think you probably ought to answer. You are after all a campaigner against misinformation, and so would, I hope, welcome a chance to put your own record straight.

1. Why do you have to use so many exclamation marks?

A small one to start with, but this bugs me more than anything. On film, your deadpan delivery is great, but in print you completely lose control.

Your very first paragraph has seven exclamation marks, seven words in italics and two in capitals. So where do you go when you REALLY want to emphasise something? You use ALL THREE!!!!

And something you need to know about dramatic pauses is... they don't really work in print.

Then there are words like 'Splainin', and 'um' ("It was made by, um, me.") It's OK to hesitate while you're typing, but you don't have to type the hesitation.

Admittedly, three million people bought your last book Stupid White Men, so maybe not everyone finds this style as annoying as I do. Then again 50 million Americans voted for George Bush.

It's a question of taste, so let's move right along to something that isn't.

2. Are you deliberately misleading us about US trade with Saddam's Iraq?

You condemn the US government for "making a killing" of "$6 billion in trade with the Iraqi dictator" in 2001 (p 69). Did neither you nor your researchers realise that this was entirely through the UN oil-for-food programme? This means that 72% was spent on "humanitarian items", 25% on reparations to Iraq's victims in Kuwait, 3% on UN costs, and none at all to the Iraqi dictator. (Figures from Iraq: Oil-For-Food Program, International Sanctions, and Illicit Trade Kenneth Katzman, 2003 http://www.usembassy.at/en/download/pdf/iraq_oilfood.pdf

Whom do you help by giving the impression that US foreign policy can only be faulted by sleight of hand?

3. Are you aware that your allegations about Bush flying the bin Ladens home are unfounded?

You say that Bush, being close friends of the bin-Laden family in the US, flew them home to Saudi Arabia immediately after the September 11 attacks, during the national flight ban. "While thousands were stranded and could not fly, if you could prove you were a close relative of the biggest mass murderer in US history, you got a free trip to gay Paree!"

In fact, as you know, the first Saudis went home after the flight ban had been lifted. ('Phantom Flight from Florida' Tampa Tribune, Kathy Steele. 5/10/01. 'Fearing Harm, Bin Laden Kin Fled from U.S.' New York Times, Patrick E Tyler 30/9/01 - cited in Dude) In fact, according to The Boston Globe ('Bin Laden Kin Flown Back to Saudi Arabia', Kevin Cullen, 20/9/01) the bin-Ladens went on 18th September, five days after the ban ended.

This was on a chartered plane at the Saudis' expense, according to the Boston Globe article, and after being interviewed by the FBI - as you mention. What's more, the bin-Laden family is a vast network, Osama having about 50 siblings let alone cousins, and it had disowned him ten years previously, when most of the US bin-Ladens were children. ('Did a secret flight whisk Osama bin Laden's relatives out of the USA during a ban on air travel?' snopes.com, 11 Sep 2003) What would justify keeping them in America, apart from their name?

Your basic charge, that the government ferried the Saudis within the US before Americans were allowed to fly, as a political favour, is sound. That's why it's a shame to bury that charge in misleading exaggeration.

4. Are the "myriad mistakes" in Dude, Where's My Country? inept or deliberate?

The magisterially even-handed anti-propaganda website spinsanity.org lists 15 "factual errors or misrepresentations", in addition to the two mentioned above, in 11 chapters. And yet you have three teams of "fact checkers" working for you.

This seems to rule out ineptitude.

Can you refute all 17 points? Or are you deliberately fighting misleading propaganda with misleading propaganda?

5. Do you abuse your power as a filmmaker?

I certainly don't buy all the criticisms of Bowling for Columbine. For example, the scene in the bank that gives you a gun for opening an account: the bank says you had to wait six weeks, you insist ten minutes. Nothing in my experience leads me to suppose that banks are more truthful than filmmakers, and the out takes on your websites back you up.

But the film does seem to enjoy making interviewees look stupid. Sometimes it's in the editing. Or, notoriously, you stand your Lockheed factory spokesperson in front of a huge rocket which, you tell, us is one of the weapons of mass destruction they make there, while he says he can't understand what makes children turn to violence. In fact, all the rockets they make there are for putting satellites in orbit.

It's funny, it's powerful, but is it right?

We value the way you publicise the US government's abuses of power. But wouldn't someone who abuses their power as a filmmaker do the same if they were in government?

6. Are you a conspiracy nut, or are we really all out to get you?

You argue in Dude that there has been a conspiracy to exonerate the real movers behind September 11, the Saudis. This would seem less incredible if your personal life weren't also full of conspiracies.

Admittedly, you have received a lot of flak, much of it unwarranted. But you told Lou Dobbs on CNN last year that you were only ever criticised by people jealous of your success. This does not sound healthy, Michael.

More worryingly, it now seems that your detractors are all insane. Recently, you told bookreporter.com: "the attacks on me only come from wackos no-one pays attention to". Your website dismisses our questions as "lunatic crap". Does that include Christopher Hitchens, The Wall Street Journal, The Times, Salon and New York's City Journal?

"I'm not into conspiracy theories," you tell us in Dude, "except ones that are true." That's reassuring.

7. Do you value fact?

Back on CNN, Dobbs accused you of "glaring inaccuracies". "How can there be inaccuracy in comedy?" was your response.

Does the fact that your books are supposed to be funny, and that your films are, mean that you have a licence to mislead? That does indeed seem to be your philosophy. You might call it the comic equivalent of poetic licence. I call it propaganda and I think it stinks.

You're not alone. Many stand-ups work by the same principle. But the person who told us on Oscar night that he made non-fiction film to combat the fictions of President Bush and his war has to be above that kind of thing.

And this is the crucial point, Michael. A lot of people distrust Mr Bush now. And more would be willing to if they see good clean evidence from a reliable source.

If the truth is on your side, you do not need to fight propaganda with propaganda. Fighting fire with fire, you burn both your houses down.

You say you want to catch the Big Fish. Good luck to you. But if you can't tell a straight story, all you do is muddy the waters.

Links

Moore's site

Moore answers his wacko attackers

Spinsanity

The Daily Vidette: an investigation into Bowling for Columbine by a former fan

CNN: Lou Dobbs Moneyline: interview with Moore

BookReporter: interview with Moore

MooreLies: "Exposing a fictitious filmmaker"

Editor's note: surefish.co.uk has sent Michael Moore this article and invited him to make a response.

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