Our Man Asks Moore: Sir, Have You No Sense of Decency?

08.16.2004 | Jonathan Leaf | Film | 19 Comments
This article isn’t about all the lies Michael Moore has told. I have made a brief list of just a few of his more bald-faced misstatements for those who may mistakenly think he’s truthful, or that he even cares about the difference between truth and fiction. That list was not extensively researched, but it is extensive.

It’s extensive because Moore’s lies are routine and because he makes little effort to disguise them since he obviously doesn’t think enough of his audience — the American people — to bother covering his tracks.

No, the issue is the effect Moore is having on a serious discussion of the issues he purports to be concerned with, many of which are real and serious. And that’s where a very real problem lies.

Communist infiltration of the United States government was a real issue in the United States of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Alger Hiss, who was part of the small group that accompanied Roosevelt to Yalta, was a Soviet agent. So was key Treasury Department aide Harry Dexter White, among more than a few others in positions of real power. The Soviets collected masses of data on Anglo-American atomic bomb research based on evidence accumulated by spies like Klaus Fuchs and sympathetic scientists like Niels Bohr. John Howard Lawson, the Communist head of the Hollywood Screenwriters Union, was trying to prevent anti-Communist films from being made and engaging in harassment of those who sought to make a movie based on “Darkness At Noon”.

But once Joseph McCarthy had been shown to be the demagogic fraud that he was, the issue of Communist activity in the United States ceased to be taken seriously.

Michael Moore has the same effect. Like McCarthy, Moore doesn’t care about slandering innocents, and he will never acknowledge he was wrong no matter how outrageous the lies he tells. Has he admitted that his calling Bush a deserter was wrong now that Bush’s war records have turned up and shown that Bush fulfilled his National Guard requirements? Please.

Moore’s first film, “Roger and Me”, dealt with a serious and important issue, the flight of U.S. manufacturing jobs away from the rust belt. There were many reasons for this movement. At the time the film was released, General Motors was re-locating jobs to Canada because company health care costs there are lower. They had also set up their Saturn project in Tennessee where union influence is weaker. And they were losing out to foreign competitors.

Moore’s film could have talked about all these things, especially including the very real problems that arise from unionization. And the movie could have examined the costs and benefits of expanded international trade, provoking a real debate on an important issue. It might have asked us if creating an economy that provides far greater rewards for people with broadly transferable skills and offers far lesser opportunities for minimally-skilled labor is always and everywhere desirable. But Moore’s film didn’t examine those issues and that debate still hasn’t really taken place. His film swallowed up all the oxygen in that room.

“Bowling For Columbine” might have been a meaningful examination of the extraordinary degree to which violent crime in America is principally a product and a problem involving a remarkably small number of people, mostly minority, living among overwhelmingly law-abiding minority populations — the most likely victims of this criminal cohort. But Moore instead produced a sometimes amusing but utterly confused film that misused statistics to suggest that the idea of black crime is either a complete fiction or the fault of Wal-Mart or some other, unnamed parties.

The issues that might have come up in the wake of a serious movie about crime in America, of course, have been little discussed in the wake of “Bowling For Columbine”.

Now Moore has come out with “Fahrenheit 9/11”. The film brings up many serious topics. Moore is upset, for example, about Saudi influence-peddling. And rightly so. As Daniel Pipes recently demonstrated, the Saudi government is covertly paying for the hiring of ostensibly neutral speakers who are charged with the business of defending the Saudis against justified criticisms. Moreover, Saudi Arabia has corrupted State Department policy by making a habit of later employing in lucrative positions U.S. diplomats who had been sent there. And George H.W. Bush, among others, has taken significant sums from the Saudis.

But is this issue (among many others) getting the Page One attention it deserves? Has the work of Pipes and others exposing secret Saudi funding in the U.S. been picked up in the last week? I think you know the answer.

Moore is like McCarthy in that he de-legitimizes serious issues and makes real discussion impossible. Moore’s real agenda is himself, and his real effect is to harm liberals — at least as much as he slanders conservatives. One wonders where the Edward R. Murrow is who will ask him, “Sir have you no sense of decency?”

A Very Brief List of Some of Moore’s Lies

From “Roger And Me”:
  • The movie’s cash register story is false.
  • Roger Smith did consent to a sit-down interview with Moore.
  • Moore isn’t — as he claims — from Flint. He was actually raised in the upper-crust, nearly all-white suburb of Davison, Michigan.

From “Bowling For Columbine”
  • Moore claims Canada and America have roughly the same racial mixture. In fact, Canada is 2% Black. The U.S. is 13% Black.
  • The gun Moore receives in the bank he was actually given unloaded on another day.
  • The NRA rally in Columbine shown in the film was planned before — not after — the Columbine school shootings.
  • Heston didn’t make the “cold, dead hands’ comment shown in the film at Columbine. Moore combined footage from an event in North Carolina a year later.
  • Heston didn’t arrange a pro-gun rally in Michigan following another shooting. The event was a political fundraiser and in a different town than the one in which the shooting took place.

From “Fahrenheit 9/11”
  • The date on the newspaper which claims Gore really won the 2000 election was altered — as it appears was the newspaper headline’s type size.
  • Moore’s claim that almost all major media outlets question whether Bush received more votes than Gore in Florida in 2000 is false. Even a study undertaken by The New York Times and The Associated Press ultimately concluded that Bush did receive more votes in Florida than Gore did.
  • Bin Laden family members in the U.S. weren’t secretly spirited back to Saudi Arabia by the Secret Service after 9/11 without being questioned. Nor was Bush behind their exit. The decision to let them leave was made by Bush critic and sometime aide Richard Clarke. The 9/11 Commission investigated Moore’s claims about the event and debunked them — and Moore had weeks before the release of his movie during which he could have corrected this.
  • The happy Iraqis shown lolling about in Baghdad before 9/11 — supposedly representative of the pre-invasion population of the country — aren’t. The building shown in the film before which they stand was the Iraqi Defense Ministry. Only Ba’ath Party members were allowed anywhere near it. Most every opinion poll clearly a clear majority of Iraqis are glad Hussein was overthrown.
  • Moore claimed Bush lied in referring to intelligence reports that Iraq was trying to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger. The 9/11 commission — and such liberal journalists as Scott Woodward - have determined that Bush examined these reports critically, and that he was only gradually persuaded of their accuracy. Further, it now turns out that even Bush critic Joseph Wilson, who first cast doubt on these claims in an oped in the Times, wrote a report saying that the yellowcake story might well be true. And evidence increasingly suggests that it was true.
  • Moore knew for over a year before its release that Walt Disney would not release the film. It is not true, as he has claimed, that Disney suddenly sprung this on him near the film’s proposed release date.
  • Moore seems to say the Saudis have paid the Bush family $1.4 billion. This is, of course, absurd. As The New York Post’s Jonathan Foreman pointed out, “the Bushes aren’t billionaires.” If you watch the film a second time you’ll note Moore saying that they paid $1.4 billion to the Bush family and (added very quietly and quickly) its friends and associates.”
  • It is not true that the Afghan War was undertaken to profit a gas pipeline being built by Unocal. In fact, Unocal no longer has anything to do with the project and hasn’t since 1998.
  • It is not true that no congressman have children serving in the active duty military. Two Senators do — as does Attorney General John Ashcroft.



I'm confused. Are you implying that the Saudi influence story isn't getting the attention it deserves because of Moore's inclusion of it in his film? That he has made it declasse to cover this story?
08.15.2004 | Joshua
The Saudi issue was decathected before Moore's film, and there seems to be little lasting public outrage because of the film.
08.16.2004 | Steven Howard
I don't understand for one moment how a lying demagogue of a US Senator, perverting the US government with innuendo while rewarding his friends and lovers and punishing his petty enemies, can be compared to a filmmaker making a work of overt propaganda, labeled as such!

One is the despicable abuse of government power, the other is exactly what Mr. Leaf is doing here, enjoying free speech with biased and dubious accuracy:

To wit,

-- for not the first time on this website, Mr. Leaf has misstated the conclusions of the independent newspaper analysis of the 2000 Florida vote. That analysis concluded that the outcome of Bush v Gore had no effect on the outcome of the election ONLY because Gore wasn't asking for every vote to be counted. The votes as actually cast and cast legally favored Gore by most of the models they used (an inexact science what with hanging chads and the stuffing of military absentees after Election Day).

-- Pres. Bush's military records show that he skipped his physical after drug testing was instituted, was grounded for that, did not attend drills as required, yet made up time at his leisure and, as a VIP's son, got waved through and was given an honorable discharge. What he "fulfilled" were the minimum requirements for VIPs, not what the average soldier would necessarily have gone undisciplined for. And many of those records are still missing, with changing stories of what happened to them. Still a very dirty tale.

-- The yellowcake uranium story was known by Pres. Bush to be counterfeit when he made it, regardless of Mr. Leaf's acting as apologist on the President's behalf. If he lied in the State of the Union, and gets proven correct later, that doesn't mean he was being honest in the first place (and the latest evidence in support of the uranium story is hearsay at best anyway)!

Debate is good. Screaming foul because your opponent has scored important points is whining.

Half this country thinks the President is a fraudulently elected lying incompetent oligarch subverting the Constitution while blithely starting World War III. The more voices enunciating that view that don't get censored by corporate media the better.
08.16.2004 | David L Steinhardt
The author is mistaken in his attribution of the final quote Murrow. It belongs to Joseph N. Welch, chief attorney for the Army at the time. It was in response to a libelous attack on one of Welch's assistants, Frederick G. Fisher Jr. Here is the quote:

"Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you no sense of decency?"

Murrow's famous quote from the affair was :
"The line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one and the junior Senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep into our own history and our doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes which were for the moment unpopular. This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthty's methods to keep silent. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result."

While I do not find the comparison between McCarthy and Moore compelling (Rush Limbo would be a far superior comparison), I do find the general thesis to be quite intriguing. That by ill serving the truth, you are ill serving the very positions you purport to support. The virtue this argument will be for historians to decide.
Still I cannot reject any mode of discourse that opens a conversation. Speech that strives to close a debate, this I would oppose. In this sense I must praise Moore. While he might not be the best person to speak on certain issues, and while he never has the first word on certain concerns, he certainly never has the last word. Nor does he intend to.
08.16.2004 | J.E. D'Ulisse
Mr. Steinhardt is wrong. So-called "dimpled chads" (what might more accurately be called blank ballots) aren't recognized and have never been recognized as valid by the courts of any state except, ironically, Texas. In fact, the claim that these chads could be counted votes under rulings issued previously in the state of Illinois was one of the errors in the Gore petition to the U.S. Supreme Court that was grounds for the Bush appeal to the Court and is acknowledged to have been one of the most serious problems with the Gore brief. The case that Gore's legal team led by David Boies cited, Pullen Vs.Milligan, had NOT been used on behalf of counting so-called dimpled chads. In fact, this procedure was expressly questioned in Pullen. Whether he's aware of it or not, Mr. Steinhardt is actually confirming the statements I presented in my article regarding the election. As to Mr.D'Ulisse, thanks for correcting me about the quotes and for your thoughts.
08.16.2004 | Jonathan Leaf
As to Mr.D'Ulisse, thanks for correcting me about the quotes and for your thoughts.
08.16.2004 | Jonathan Leaf
Excuse me, Mr. Leaf, but you're asserting the untruth of arguments I haven't made.

Read what I wrote.

I did not mention "dimpled chads."

I assert that the Gore case before the Supreme Court would still have produced a Bush win in Florida.

You still do not acknowledge your own misrepresentation of the conclusions of the newspaper consortium. Why don't you reread it?

As for misquoting and mischaracterizing my response and responding to your own inaccurate version of it, have you, in the end, no decency, Mr. Leaf?
08.16.2004 | David L Steinhardt
Michael Moore is (one faction of ) the left's analogue to Fox News Channel.
Long live freedom of speech and the creatures it breeds.

I am not sure that I understand Mr. Leaf's obsession with minute details in Moore's self-consciously propagandistic presentations. I also think that if we were to display all of Mr. Leaf's assertions in one place (or anyone else's for that matter), we would find that some fraction of them were patently false.
Can you say "human fallibility"? (I thought you could.)

As regards the overall quality of the film, we may well be in complete agreement. But one must bear in mind that Moore and many others like him are truly worried about a world ruled by their gun-slinging president. (Why else, to offer only one of many possible examples, would Bruce Springsteen be writing editorials in the New York Times?)

I think that David L. Steinhardt expressed the idea quite nicely above:

"Half this country thinks the President is a fraudulently elected lying incompetent oligarch subverting the Constitution while blithely starting World War III."

That Moore might actually be sabotaging those whom he ostensibly represents by putting an end to all debate, I find highly dubious. But, ultimately, it's an empirical matter about which neither Leaf nor I can speak ex cathedra.
08.16.2004 | ts brock
No, David, you still have it wrong. The point is that those weren't ballots that were "legally" valid under precedents established within the United States. And you, not I, are the one who used the expression "cast legally".
08.16.2004 | Jonathan Leaf
Well, Mr. Leaf, if you choose to quote me correctly this time, congratulations.

You're still not copping to misrepresenting the newspaper consortium's conclusions, even though you apparently don't respect them.

None of which even addresses the tens of thousands of legally qualified voters who were disenfranchised by the State of Florida!

No sane person can question that if every legal voter who showed up at a polling place in Florida had been permitted to cast a vote that was subsequently counted, that Gore would have won. Which, in Mr. Moore's film, is precisely the point he's making, no matter how you dance and dodge to mislead your readers about distracting issues of your own choosing.
08.16.2004 | David L Steinhardt
Mr. Leaf,

Regarding your statement that Michale Moore is not from Flint but was actually raised in the "...upper curst, nearly all-white suburb of Davison, Michigan" is like splitting the proverbial hair.

I would hardly call Davison, Michigan "upper crust". It is a typical American middle class community, unlike the truly "upper crust" communities of the Down River Detroit area or the Newport, Rhode Island area.

Davison is located in Genesee County, Michigan
which consists of 3 villages, 17 townships and 11 cities, 2 of which are Davison and Flint. These communities grew up around Flint and the automobile industry, specifically General Motors. The vast majority of the population of each of these communities was employed by General Motors, and most of General Motors' manufacturing facilities in the area were in Flint. Because of this the citizens of Genesee County had very strong ties to Flint, so much so that until the release of Mr. Moore's film, "Roger and Me" the names Genesee County and Flint were synonymous. If you lived in Genesee County you were from Flint. It wasn't until after the release of "Roger and Me" that these bedroom communities of Genesee County actively began to distance themselves from Flint. So to set the record straight, even though Michael Moore lived in Davison, he is from Flint.

I realize that this is an extremely small point to make, however when you say that Michael Moore is from an "...upper crust, nearly all-white suburb..." you demonstrate that you are not above using the same fact distorting techniques used by Mr. Moore.

Now, regarding "upper crust". The only truly "upper crust" area in Genesee County is the City of Flint's Woodcroft Neighborhod which has some truly magnificent mansions that are the equal to the majority of "upper crust" mansions any where in the United States.
08.16.2004 | Marcus Rossie
David, you write that I'm "still not copping to misrepresenting the newspaper consortium's conclusions". No, I'm not. Why? Because I didn't misrepresent their conclusions. Moore, however, did. The Times and AP - as you yourself say(!) - admit thwt Bush got the greater number of legally cast votes in Florida. That's the issue. And that's what Moore disputed.
08.17.2004 | Jonathan Leaf
This has become utterly tiresome.

No, I did not say Bush got most of the legally cast votes in Florida. I said, ARE YOU LISTENING, Mr. LEAF?

THAT BUSH V GORE DID NOT DECIDE THE ELECTION BECAUSE GORE DID NOT ASK FOR ALL THE VOTES TO BE COUNTED.

What the consortium found was that using "most" of their models, Gore received the most legally cast votes. "Most" because it is an inexact science, especially distinguishing which military absentees, lacking postage and postmarks, were fraudulently cast, which chads were hanging enough to be counted, etc.

You never actually read the newspaper consortium report, did you?

I did.

I can only assume, by your obstinance, that you're parroting what you've heard about it, blithely and obliviously indifferent to the actual document you keep pretending to cite.

You've been busted here, and not just by me, for having no greater regard for truthfulness vs. political agenda than the man you're trying to bust and, worse, compare to Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

Your sources stink, your original research looks to be nil, and your style of argument is fundamentally dishonest.

Now go invent something else I didn't say, argue with that, and proclaim yourself the victor. I'm done here.
08.17.2004 | David L Steinhardt
It's becoming tiresome because you refuse to adress the subject of my article.

1. Moore claimed that Bush really "lost" the election and that the mainstream media has said this - a preposterous falsehood. To do this Moore faked a headline from an obscure paper called the "Pantagraph" and then lied about the results of the studies done by The Times, the AP, etc.
2. You misuse the words "legally cast". This phrase implies that certain disputed votes were valid, which as you note, EVEN GORE'S LAWYERS NEVER BOTHERED TO CLAIM. Throwing money into a gutter may be "legally cast"ing the money in the street. However, it is not payment to a merchant. This is what Moore was suggesting. If you're going to contest my essay, why don't you bother addressing the criticism of Moore it sets forward?
08.17.2004 | Jonathan.Leaf
P.S.: I did read the newspaper consortium story when it originally ran. And its meaning was - and is - clear. Even you seemed to have largely (if not entirely) grasped it. Moore, though, is completely misrepresenting its findings.
Further, you're also wrong regarding the Niger yellowcake story. As Scott Woodward, the British government, and, it turns out, even Joseph Wilson have at various times said, there were reasons to think the story was true.
Moreover, Bush never said the story was true. He merely said British Intelligence believed that it was true. And they did. And evidence is growing that the story is true.
Finally, I did not claim my piece was heavily researched. I expressly pointed out that it didn't need to be. Like McCarthy, Moore is such a fraud you don't need to do much research to reveal that he's a phony.
08.17.2004 | Jonathan Leaf
Touche on the Davison Michigan connection to Flint. Michael Moore did indeed grow up in the working class/ middle class city of Davison. He occasionally visits his parents there still.

He was also the youngest school board member ever elected to the Davison School Board at age 18.

For many years, we enjoyed his broadsheet newspaper which tried hard to retain and regain the Flint that was created and then abandoned by General Motors.

This was produced, printed and distributed free in Flint out of Moore's house.
08.17.2004 | Ric Marion
I continue to be intrigued by Mr. Leaf's thesis. I must ask: If a person who forwards a position, in a mode that does not pursue truth, serves to de-legitimize that issue, then is the best way to de-legitimize an issue to put forward a representative who does not pursue truth?
Why is the media focus on Michael Moore or Al Franken for that matter as opposed to an Eric Schlosser, or a Barbara Ehrenreich? Why do we hear so much about Al Shapton, or Louis Farrakhan as opposed to the near infinite number of civil rights leaders who continue to struggle? Why do we have to have Alan Colmes inflicted on us?
Of course, it works the other way also; why do we hear from Alan Keys and not Shelby Steele?
Perhaps those who decide what goes on the air are most interested in the simplest positions because complexity is boring? Perhaps those who decide have an ideological perspective (being humans one would assume they do) and look for the most discrediting faces of their advesarys? Perhaps those who decide what is put into our broadcast media sources are the human equivalent of weasels, eating their own young and trying to claw their way up their clan status chains so that they can breed with their own mothers?
Personally, I go back and forth.
It remains an engaging thesis.

08.18.2004 | J.E. D'Ulisse
Both Mr. Leaf and Mr. Steinhardt are wrong on Florida. For 3 1/2 years, people have been accusing Gore of either (a) being stupid or (b) trying to 'game' the system, by not calling for a statewide recount or at least including the GOP controlled counties in his request. The fact is that Florida law required that a candidate state specific reasons to believe that there had been an improper count in each county in which he requested a recount; if the county officers found the reasons to be inadequate, they didn't even have to do a partial hand recount to see if a county-wide hand count was necessary. This requirement, tied to a very short time period within which the recount had to be requested, meant that Gore had to make his request before information about voting irregularities and the irregularities in the automatic machine recount in other counties came to light. Florida statutes had no provision for a candidate to request a statewide recount.

As to the standard for a recount, Florida statutes provided that counters "determine the voter's intent in casting a ballot" and that the canvassing board shall "determine the voter's intent" if the counters are not able to. Cases around the country have held that this standard requires that a vote be counted if the voter makes any mark on a ballot that indicates his intent. Thus, even if a voter had not pushed on a chad at all, but instead made a check mark on it, colored it in, circled it, wrote in a name, or made a mark next to the chad that clearly wasn't just a random dot (an "x" or check, for example, and certainly if she heavily dented one and only one chad for a particular office, the vote should have been counted,

My reference to irregularities in the automatic recount is to some (GOP controlled) counties that did not re-run the ballot counting machines at all - they merely looked again at the talley shown on the machine by the first count. Later results showed that had those re-runs been done, as the law required, then Gore would have been declared the winner without regard to any candidate requests for recounts.

As to who won under most reasonable recount 'scenarios', it was GORE. The Miami Herald study showed that Gore the winner in 7 out of 8 scenarios; the consortium recount of the NY Times and other papers had Gore winning 3 out of 5 scenarios. The ultimate result is that, had the Florida Supreme Court's order been carried out, Gore would have won by less than 200 votes, but he would have won. Obviously, none of this depends on including the many people, mostly black, who were wrongly turned away from the polls and denied the right to vote at all.

Finally, it must not be forgotten that the intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court was wholly improper. There was no basis for the Court to interfere with the Florida process. Scalia's expressed reason for granting Bush's appeal was partisan on its face, and had no basis in the Constitution, any statute or any prior court decision. The ultimate vote of the fabulous five was even more irrational. No one expected any better from Rehnquist, Scalia or Thomas, but the rationale expressed by Kennedy and O'Connor was a sick joke, turning equal protection on its head.
08.19.2004 | W. H. Hinkle
I thank Mr. Hinkle for the clarification, which demonstrates that Mr. Moore's statement about "major media" was essentially correct and that Mr. Leaf's criticism of it was an ad hominem exercise.
08.24.2004 | David L Steinhardt

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