by Ian Driscoll
Michael Moore (seen above, heckled by OWS protestors in Zucotti Park) the acclaimed director of such films as “Bowling for Columbine”, “Sicko” and most recently “Capitalism: A Love Story”, likes to portray himself as just another working class Joe that happened to catch a break.
Upon announcing the sale of distribution rights for his first big picture, Roger & Me, to Warner Bros. for a cool 3M, he recalls a cheer going up in the ranks of the “union guys” standing around him. He describes the feelings and events of the day:
It was absolutely unheard of for one of us in the working class of Flint (or anywhere) to receive such a sum of money unless one of us had either robbed a bank or, by luck, won the Michigan lottery…The day was filled with high-fives and “Way-ta-go Mike!”s. When you are from the working class you root for each other, and when one of you does well, the others are beaming with pride — not just for that one person’s success, but for the fact that the team had somehow won, beating the system that was brutal and unforgiving and which ran a game that was rigged against us…Somehow, I found a crack through the wall and made it through.
And that’s how Moore, and legions of his supporters, tend to view his rise to fame. It was a coup, beating the system at its own game, driving a progressive truck straight through what Moore calls the capitalist loophole: the profit motive. As Moore says: the capitalist will sell you the rope to hang him with if he thinks he can make a buck off of it.
And Moore sees himself as the hangman. A former employee of Moore’s on “TV Nation” recalled that Moore believed himself to be the avenger of the everyman, “trying to sneak a piece of completely subversive, life-changing, revolutionary television onto the network owned by General Electric and Fox that’s going to touch the people of this country and make them take up their torches and pitchforks.”
Any criticism of the man or his methods is painted as right-wing smear tactics, the agenda of the hated banksters and the 1%. Among his supporters, it only tends to fuel the David-v-Goliath mythology.
So before I get in to denouncing Moore’s grandstanding and blatant hypocrisy, I want to be certain there’s no mistake: I’m a political atheist. I don’t trust either party, I believe corporate and banking influence has decimated not only the country, but the world, and I don’t believe in the myth of pure, free-market capitalism. It never existed, it will never exist, and those who presently extoll the virtues of competition are only rationalizing greed, in my opinion.
Just so we’re clear.
But I’ve got a problem with Moore. I don’t mind the bankers reveling in their wealth and their exploitation of the working class. It gives you something to take aim at. But when one of the wealthy descends weekly to fraternize with the common folk, donning a John Deere cap and blue jeans to go unnoticed amongst the crowds, and claiming to know the mind of blue-collar America, I start feeling a little queasy. Something is terribly wrong when a 1-percenter in everything but speech is heralded as champion of the people.
So let’s take a look at Moore, and the choices this “working-class” Joe made after he found that crack in the wall.
Michael Moore has spent decades criticizing the employment practices of big corporations. Nike, General Motors, HMOs, various defense contractors, PayDay candy bars, and on, and on. So you’d expect him to go out of his way to treat his employees exceptionally well.
Not so, according to numerous ex-employees of his various enterprises.
The latest fallout between Moore and his workers occurred during the filming of his most recent picture, “Capitalism: A Love Story”. The movie, which trained a critical eye on the destruction wrought by unregulated greed, provoked ire amongst union employees because it emerged that Moore had snubbed union members during the making of the film, choosing instead to use non-union labor during production.
An internal memo revealed that the non-union employees were, additionally, not offered health insurance.
It’s not the first time Moore has been accused of side-stepping the unions. During the shooting of Rage Against the Machine’s “Sleep Now in the Fire” back in 2000, Mr. Moore hired non-union extras for background work. Responding to the accusation, Moore said that he only became aware of their non-union status after the fact. But the latest tiff revolving around Capitalism: A Love Story, would seem to indicate habitual, non-union hiring practices.
And his general behavior towards his various employees on other projects he’s undertaken was no better.
Moore was fired from his position as editor at Mother Jones magazine back in 1986 because, according to everyone who attempted to work with him, he was “impossible”:
Little by little, he began to alienate people. He disliked sharing credit with his writers. He would often come in late. He didn’t yell at people: if someone said something he didn’t like, he wouldn’t argue; he would simply not invite that person to the next meeting, or the person would be fired.
The following anecdote, told of his days working on a short-lived television series called “The Awful Truth”, is revealing in its portrayal of an opportunistic boss, indifferent to the plights of his employees and their union:
One day during production on the first season of the show, Moore called two of his writers into his office. It was, for both of them, their first job in television, and they had been hired with the title of associate producer. They were not members of the Writers’ Guild, the powerful union for writers in movies and TV, and thus were not receiving health benefits, and would not qualify later for a percentage of video and rerun sales. “Michael said, ‘I’m getting a lot of heat from the union to call you guys writers and pay you under the union rules,’ ” Eric Zicklin, one of the associate producers, says. “ ‘I don’t have the budget for that. But if they keep coming down on me that’ll mean I’ll only be able to afford one of you and the other one’s gotta go.’ ”
Moore appeared to have surmised (incorrectly) that the two writers had been appealing to the union behind his back. (Moore says that he doesn’t remember this and that he insisted that “TV Nation” be a union show.) “He wanted to let us know that this would hurt us if it continued,” Zicklin says. “We were scared out of our minds. It was like a theme from ‘Roger & Me.’ ” Of course, no one would have thought twice about a meeting like that with any other boss—but this was Michael Moore.
His corporate employers accuse him of wanton greed, as well: “Moore’s employers were confronted with ever more regal demands. He insisted that Channel 4 house him at the Ritz when he worked in England on The Awful Truth, a fact he now portrays as the revenge of the working class against corporate might.”
And the reviews only go from bad to worse: ” ‘He’s a jerk and a hypocrite and didn’t treat us right and he was false in all of his dealings,’ said one former worker. His former manager, Douglas Urbanski, has said that Moore ‘was the most difficult man I’ve ever met… he’s money-obsessed’.”
His employees, shocked by his apparent duplicity, became disenchanted, in large part because they had believed in the mythology that Moore had created for himself. A New Yorker profile summarizes the disillusionment of his former colleagues:
One by one, his employees stopped believing in the Cause. The job became just a job, and Moore became just another boss in a business that had an almost limitless tolerance for bad behavior. But, because they had once believed in him, their disappointment was painful. “I have let go of Michael,” the former “TV Nation” employee says, in the shakily resolute tone of a reforming alcoholic. “I have not seen one of his products, his movies, his TV shows, his books. I’m sure they’re all good. I’m sure they’re spreading the message and enraging all the right people. But I can’t accept him as a political person. I can’t buy into this thing of Michael Moore is on your side—it’s like trying to believe that Justin Timberlake is a soulful guy. It’s a media product: he’s just selling me something. For the preservation of my own soul I have to consider him as just an entertainer, because otherwise he’s a huge asshole. If you consider him an entertainer, then his acting like a selfish, self-absorbed, pouty, deeply conflicted, easily wounded child is run-of-the-mill, standard behavior.
Charges of immense wealth and excessive living have been leveled at Moore before. Defenders point out that these attacks constitute ad hominems, and don’t address his body of work. But, as has been mentioned repeatedly, it’s Moore himself who’s made personal lifestyle choices fair game.
In “Capitalism”, he leads a tour to the homes of corporate execs who benefited from the bailouts. In “Fahrenheit 9/11” he stands on a busy corner in Washington D.C., asking elected representatives who supported war in Iraq whether or not their children have enlisted in the armed services. Clearly, Moore believes that the consistency of a man’s character, and the courage of his convictions, are relevant.
With that in mind, the discovery that Michael Moore is one of Hollywood’s wealthiest directors, with a net worth estimated at 50M, may be a difficult pill to swallow. His top three films (“Bowling for Columbine”, “Fahrenheit 9/11”, and “Capitalism: A Love Story”) have grossed a combined 300M at the box office. And “Capitalism” was even subsidized by the state of Michigan, to the tune of 1M dollars. One wonders what was going through his head when he commented to a large crowd in 2004:
“I still believe the lessons I learned when I was raised in a Roman Catholic household. Like, it’s harder for a rich man to get into Heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.”
He lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, in an exclusive penthouse apartment valued at roughly 1.27M, and sent his daughter to an exclusive private academy, where she would be safe from the dangers of public education. Quite a statement from an anti-capitalist. When The Guardian broached the subject with Moore in a 2004 interview with the film maker, he had this to say:
“…we moved to New York and we went to see the local public school and we walked through a metal detector and we said, “We’re not putting our child through a metal detector.” We’ll continue our fight to see to it that our society is such that you don’t have to have a metal detector at the entrance to schools. But our daughter is not the one to be sacrificed to make things better. And so she went to a school two blocks away.”
Presumably it’s up to poorer, less privileged children to jump on that grenade. Moore continues:
“Is that a bad thing? I don’t know. Every parent wants to do what’s best for their child. Whatever I can afford, I’m going to get my kid the best education I can get.”
As Guardian journalist Andrew Anthony points out, although this may be understandable from a parent’s point of view, it’s hard to see the difference between Moore’s mindset and the Republican philosophy of every man for himself.
But Moore’s extravagance doesn’t end there. His primary residence, as we mentioned, is a million-dollar penthouse in New York City. But his vacation home is even grander. Moore recently purchased a 10,000 sq. ft. home on Torch Lake in northern Michigan, valued at roughly 2M dollars. Henry Payne of The Detroit News writes:
Flint-native Moore bought the original 2,500 square foot home, local real estate sources say, then gobbled up two surrounding lots to expand his massive estate. Antrim County public records (see nearby) show the property in the name of Moore and his wife, Kathleen Glynn, and lists its taxable value at nearly $1 million. Local real estate agents estimate the real value of the 7,500-12,000 square foot compound at $2 million (see an overhead view at BigGovernment.com here). A Michigan View survey of the area (see nearby photos) finds an exclusive community of homes and boat slips with housing values ranging from to $500,000 to Moore’s high-end $2 million.
With his sprawling, luxurious getaway, Moore joins the ranks of former Chrysler chairman Bob Eaton, Madonna and Bruce Willis, who all own lake-view homes in northern Michigan.
So rather than encouraging Occupiers to expand their protests to rich suburbs (Moore is quoted as saying “That’s where the money is, right?”), perhaps he should invite them to occupy his living room(s). In either Manhattan or Michigan. His choice.
I’ve saved the best for last.
In 2005, author Peter Schweizer produced a copy of Michael Moore’s schedule D from one of his tax filings, which revealed that Moore, through his personal foundation, quietly invested a combined total of almost 400K dollars in nearly every company against which he rails publicly.
So in which companies specifically has Moore owned stock? Here’s a short list: Pfizer and Merck, major pharmaceutical companies that Moore blames for the dilapidated state of American health care in “Sicko”; Transocean Sedco Forex, owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig that was responsible for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010; McDonalds…enough said; General Electric, Boeing and Honeywell, all defense contractors responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people the world over, and condemned by Moore in “Bowling for Columbine”; AOL Time Warner, one of the largest media conglomerates in history.
Oh, and one more: Halliburton.
That’s right. Halliburton, the nation’s leading manufacturer of outrage and corruption, was owned (2K shares) by Michael Moore’s foundation. Moore sold the stock in 2005, for a 15% profit. Turns out he probably should’ve held on to it. But hey, everyone makes mistakes. How was he to know the wars would continue this long?
In Liverpool, in 2004, Moore made a speech to an audience of eager listeners. He said:
“Who’s the beneficiary of this war? Halliburton…The oil companies, Israel, Halliburton. I would just like to make a modest proposal: from now on, for every Brit or American kid that’s killed in this war, I would like Halliburton to slay one mid-level executive.”
It’s rare to witness such unabashed hypocrisy from anyone other than a politician or a TV evangelist.
And how does Moore respond to these allegations? During an interview on CSPAN, Mike had this to say:
“Michael Moore own Halliburton stock? See, that’s like a great comedy line. I know it’s not true – I mean, I’ve never owned a share of stock in my life. Anybody who knows me knows that, you know – who’s gonna believe that? Just crazy people are going to believe it – crazy people who tune in to the Fox News Channel.”
Although the above basically constitutes an appeal to the Moore mythology in an effort to rebut the allegations, and it does not attempt to deny the authenticity of the copy of his tax filings upon which Schweizer bases his information, Moore is technically correct in stating that he does not personally own stock in any of the above mentioned companies.
It’s only his privately run foundation administered solely by him that owns stock in those evil corporations.
So let’s recap: a multimillionaire Hollywood film maker who splits his time between the Upper West Side and a 2M dollar estate in northern Michigan, who snubs union employees, is “money-obsessed” and owns stock in companies like Boeing, Pfizer and Halliburton.
If his name wasn’t Michael Moore, something tells me no one would have any trouble recognizing him for what he is: the 1%, slummin’ it. Hey, if the John Deere hat fits…