"The Big One" -- Up Close With Michael Moore
Flint's most famous native son entered the book store almost incognito.The trademark baseball cap had vanished, replaced by a whispy beard. Michael Moore's fans were not fooled, though, as several met him at the front door of Horizon Bookstore in downtown Traverse City, MI, where he was promoting his book "Downsize This!"A partial list of Moore's impressive accomplishments include: the youngest elected governmental official to ever serve (18 years old), founder of the Flint Voice and Michigan Voice newspapers, radio talk-show host, writer/producer/director of mega-award winning movie Roger and Me, creator of the nationally syndicated television series "TV Nation," author of current New York Times bestselling book "Downsize This!" and coming to theaters everywhere in April -- another Michael Moore movie, "The Big One."Welcoming an impromptu interview, Moore invited me to sit beside him while he signed books that afternoon. Our interview sometimes turned into a roundtable discussion, with autograph seekers asking the questions and, in turn, Moore virtually interviewing me and those standing in line for signed copies of his book.As strident as his views seem to political opponents, it is difficult to imagine anyone really disliking Michael Moore. He received each person with humility, congeniality, and especially -- humor.ne: There are many rumors about where you live these days -- New York or Flint or Northern Michigan ... ?MM: Who's starting these rumors?ne: I don't know.MM: What do people say?ne: They say you have a place in Northern Michigan although I thought you were living in New York.MM: We do live in New York. We come back to Flint every month or so and have family there. We've been coming up to this region for the better part of ten years in the summer time and are building a house in the Traverse City area. We had always come up here as kids and stayed at Young State Park and Traverse City State Park. It's so nice here, maybe I'll retire and come up north. You all live here, why can't I?ne: As a former Flint resident myself, I remember you quite well from the mid-'70s in Flint for your benefit movies, the talk-radio show, and of course the Flint Voice newspaper. You seemed to receive a lot of negative publicity even back then.MM: Yes. It was actually about that time I predicted that General Motors would essentially pull out of Flint by the end of the century and close down factory after factory. The city was giving them all of these tax breaks and I said all you are doing is giving them money to pave their way out of town. The layoffs actually began in the late '70s. I would go down to the City Council meetings (Flint) and make these big speeches about how General Motors has a plan. I would say "They are not going to stay here. They are going to leave. Either fight to keep those jobs or start diversifying." George, it's sad.On this book tour I've been going around to different cities and I've been to places where the local citizenry and politicians have actually gone out and found ways to employ people and bring jobs to their areas. These are formerly depressed areas -- Western Massachusetts, the Pittsburgh area, upstate Wisconsin. There is nothing that has been done in Flint in 20 years to find new jobs! I don't understand it.It's like this book I just read about holocaust survivors. When they were asked, "Why did you get on the train?" -- they said, "We couldn't believe it would be that bad, even in our wildest imagination." It's a weird thing, that process when you've been oppressed, discriminated against and had the shit kicked out of you -- when you are unable to act, paralyzed.ne: Have you gotten much flak about your chapter on the O.J. Simpson case in your book Downsize This!?MM: I actually did an interview with O.J. just after the trial. By the time he left the room after our meeting, he had convinced half of the audience he didn't do it. That's how compelling his defense was.ne: How did you feel after the interview -- did he do it?MM: This is what I said. "Your alibi that night should have been that you were in jail doing time for beating your wife if the system had worked. You would be doing time and we wouldn't be wondering if you committed the murder because we would know where you were (doing time for beating your wife). But every time the cops showed up, they came to get an autograph. When she called the cops for help, it was, "Hey, Juice, give me an autograph!"I said, "This is what I believe. I don't believe the prosecution's version of this (Simpson's murder trial). They did plant the evidence -- no question. I don't believe the defense's version of this, either. I believe you were there. I believe you were at the scene. I don't know in what capacity -- whether you did it or whether you did it with someone.""Or maybe quite innocently you were stalking her like you used to do, getting in a little stalking time before your flight to Chicago, and suddenly there appeared two dead white people. If you function like any black man in this country when you've got two dead white people there, especially when one of those white people is someone that you used to beat, you get the hell out of Dodge! Right?""But you contaminated the crime scene in the process. So, you are there. Your footprints are there." (Pause) Who knows?ne: You told O.J. all of this?MM: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Other people were saying, "I can't believe you said that. He's a murderer, don't you know?"He's not going to hurt me. It's funny, during the whole interview, he looked me directly in the eye and was very, very collected. But when I said to him, "I don't know if you did it or not but I believe you were there" -- that is the only time his eyes were all over the place.Moore: "Come on, you were there."Simpson: "No, I wasn't there."Moore: "I'm not saying you did it. I'm just saying you were there. There's a difference. Who are you covering for?"I couldn't bring myself to say, "Was it your son who killed them? Is that why the DNA is so similar?" The lab can actually make a mistake on that because the DNA between a father and son is so close.His son, Nicole, and Ron Goldman were all seeing the same therapist. There are rumors out there that his son and Goldman were having an affair.ne: Since conservative Republicans dominate the Northern Michigan political scene, what can people of other persuasions do to make an impact? MM: If you are a Democrat, I would attend the county Democratic meeting. If there are five Democrats at that meeting, me and my five friends would become a majority of the Democratic Party. Then, put together a plan to reach out to people. I honestly believe there are a lot of people who vote Republican who would go a different way if an alternative was presented to them or if the truths were defined in a different way.The Republicans and Engler, here in Michigan, get people excited about welfare mothers and crime. That's because we let them define the terms. We let them make welfare mean "single mothers taking all of our money from us", whereas companies here in Northern Michigan and throughout the State of Michigan are getting so much welfare from the state and federal government. This is free stuff that they can afford themselves. Nobody reports that welfare. Nobody says, hey, that's our tax dollars. What am I getting out of that?The companies will say, "You are getting jobs", but that's socialism. The way it's supposed to work is -- the company makes a product, people buy the product, and the company makes a profit. Therefore, the company employs people and takes some money home as a bonus. (Laughing) You end up having to explain what capitalism is to these people who are supposedly in favor of free enterprise. These companies are the biggest believers in socialism because they want the government to take care of them. They want the government to cut their taxes. They want the government to pave their roads. Everything.ne: How do you respond to critics who contend you've joined the rich CEOs that you rail against, now that you've become rich and famous?MM: Who should get that money -- the film company or Mike?Here's actually a better way to put it -- who will do better things with that money? There is no question that Hollywood, TV, and films pay you an obscene amount of money. There's no question about that.I never made more than $15,000 a year before Roger and Me. In fact, in 1989, the year before Roger and Me, I think my W2 was $8,000. So, I was the first person surprised by all of this. I never worked for it, never tried to get it, never expected it, never thought I was deserving of it.It's what you choose to do with it, I guess. What we choose to do is to give away about a third of our income every year to different groups and projects we support. We try to get the TV and film groups to match us which is often successful. If The Big One is only half as successful as Roger and Me, it will mean Miramax (subsidiary of Disney) will be contributing over $1 million to the people of Flint, Michigan. They are going to contribute 50 percent of their profits from distribution of The Big One to organizations in Flint I support. Before that movie makes a dime, they will put up $100,000. We have also sponsored and supported over 30 independent film makers since Roger and Me. We've set up a foundation to do these sorts of things.That kind of criticism never comes from someone in the working class, but usually comes from some conservative Republican or Libertarian type. I am only doing what they said I always should do, which is -- work hard and make lots of money. That's the system that they believe in. (Laughing) What they are really saying is, "We think it's kind of dangerous that a guy with your politics has money. We prefer that people with your politics don't have money." When the hardcover of Downsize This! came out it cost $22. I get $3 a book -- okay? Random House and the bookstores get $19. I'm the one that created the book. For me to get a measly $3 per book, as far as I'm concerned, I don't get enough. (Laughing) when Bruce Springsteen puts out a CD, he gets $1 off each $14 CD. I want him to have more than that.ne: How many copies of Downsize This! have you sold so far?MM: About 200,000. (Pausing) Look, I believe you should take care of your family, have a decent place to live, you should take a vacation, buy some CDs. Beyond that, what more do you need? We have a three bedroom apartment in New York City. It's an apartment without enough room.ne: With your experience on TV and radio talk-shows, have you ever considered hosting one?MM: I have had a couple of offers to do a nationally syndicated radio talk-show. I would be going up against Rush Limbaugh -- same time of day. The problem is you've got to do it every day. Technology is such that you could do it from anywhere. Still, you have to do it every day. That would mean -- no more movies, no more TV shows, it would kill everything. I wish I could clone myself.ne: What do you think of the future of Rush Limbaugh and conservatism?MM: I believe that most people don't want that kind of mean-spiritness running the country. They are catching on to the fact that they aren't doing better after all these years. They're working longer hours for less pay, less benefits.Also, the national polls show that most people in this country are pro-environment, pro-labor, pro-choice. We tend to elect conservative leaders because at least the conservatives believe in something. The average American would rather have someone in there who has the courage of their convictions than someone who is a whimpy, spineless politician. That's what the Democratic Party has become.ne: What does Michael Moore do for fun?MM: Well ... I'm doing it (laughing). Is that what you mean?ne: Outside of your work.MM: I like to go to movies a lot. I try to see virtually every movie that comes out. I like to go to all kinds of movies. What's at the Bay this week -- The Titanic?ne: Didn't you mention playing the guitar in the militia chapter of the book?MM: No, I know how to play it, (laughing) but I don't play it. (To his friends) Are we ready to go somewhere?As his wife and friends have been hanging at the bookstore for two hours while Moore graciously answered my questions in between signing books, it is finally time for him to move on. If not for social obligations, he probably would have enjoyed interacting with people in the bookstore, indefinitely. Michael Moore can now be reached at his website (www.MichaelMoore.com).George Foster is managing editor of the Northern Express in Traverse City, MI.