Forbes Attacks "Bowling for Columbine"

In Roger Ebert's Ocsar picks last week he repeated the claim, originally printed in Forbes magazine, that Michael Moore made up some of the scenes and information in his blockbuster documentary about gun culture, "Bowling for Columbine."

Ebert called the movie "a hybrid of documentary and invention."

"Slippery facts" said Forbes about the scene in which Moore gets a gun for investing at North Country Bank and Trust.

But there is nothing slippery about the facts in that scene.

I live in the town of Traverse City, where the bank scene was shot. The bank in question does indeed still offer guns as a premium for an $859 investment. The bank is decorated with targets. The gun theme is impossible to miss.

When I heard there was some controversy over whether the bank gave out guns I went into the bank and asked if I could still get one. They said yes and gave me a catalog to choose from. Bank management told me that "Bowling for Columbine" had created negative publicity. "They made us look like a bunch of stupid hicks," said marketing director Lee McDonald.

"Hunting is a proud tradition here in Northern Michigan," MacDonald said. "it is not as if we are handing out these guns in Detroit."

So, North Country does hand out guns but feels it is uniquely OK to do so in a rural, northern (white, Republican) area.

MacDonald said she worked with Forbes magazine to put out an article discrediting the movie.

Michael Moore fans may recall that Steve Forbes was himself a subject of ridicule in Moore's 1998 film "The Big One," in which Moore wondered whether Forbes might be an alien since he never seemed to blink during the presidential debates.

Rather than address any of "Bowling for Columbine's substantive claims -- that the US leads the industrialized world in gun deaths or that Lockheed Martin, the largest defense contractor, is investing in damaging welfare-to work-programs -- Forbes focused on strange details.

So what if most people pick up their guns from other locations? The bank was willing to give Moore the gun right at the bank. Why? Because they are proud to be handing out guns! How weird is that?

So what if some people claim that the Columbine shooters skipped their bowling class the morning they shot up the school? Redirect and confuse. This tactic is not new.

When Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury news broke the story that the CIA sold crack in LA to fund anti-democratic Contra soldiers in Nicaragua, something similar happened. Cultural gatekeepers set about picking apart his story, amplifying misinformation in an attempt to distract from the awful truth.

Webb's story was largely eclipsed by blackout. Moore's story of America's love affair with guns is too obvious and too obviously true to meet that fate. As the U.S. war machine revs up, the idea that fear and guns and greedy corporations mix up into a terrifying culture is not extreme.

It's hard to say whether the Forbes crusade to cast doubt on "Bowling for Columbine" will detract from Moore's chances for an Academy Award. But as war heats up and domestic politics intensify, keep an eye out for more attempts to silence truth.

And memo to Steve Forbes: North County Bank and Trust, as American as apple pie and the Ku Klux Klan, is still here and still willing to give me a gun.

Earth Melzer is a freelancer writer in Traverse City, Michigan.

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