letter to Michael Moore
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> Dude, Where's My Country
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
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
You're shooting down your own F-16, Mike. US liberalism is under
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
answers his wacko attackers
Daily Vidette: an investigation into Bowling for Columbine
by a former fan
Lou Dobbs Moneyline: interview with Moore
interview with Moore
"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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