July 10, 2007
Leave 'Em Wanting Moore
By Mary Lyon
I've been wanting to write an Ode to Michael Moore for a long time. Now, I have positively no excuse whatsoever any longer. I'm not speaking strictly about his new insurance industry expose, "Sicko," though, because Michael Moore's powerful influence on progressive thinking, and thinkers, and truth-telling everywhere goes beyond that.
First, "Sicko" is great, and long overdue. It's long past time that the health insurance racket was forced under the microscope. It's about time America got a second opinion on this issue. It's WAY past time that mainstream public attention was yanked away from trivia - Paris Hilton and other assorted blondes in distress, "American Idol," and the latest can't-live-without electronic toy. Michael Moore can tell a story and weave it around your conscience as almost no one else can. Who can see that film without feeling personally punched in the gut, and angry as hell, and wanting to agitate for change? Good. That's how it should be.
It's a larger thing that Michael Moore has done and "Sicko" is just one symptom that's manifested itself. In the most basic terms, he's not afraid to confront baloney-sellers. And he followed his confrontation of the nation's health insurance crisis with even more urgent care: he confronted Wolf Blitzer, live on CNN, and nailed the simpering journalist-lite for refusing to seek recovery from an even greater malady.
Blitzer's been on my radar scope, too. He and FAR too many others on the air, on cable, and in print, have, up til very recently, done absolutely nothing to tell the truth to the audiences they serve.
This has been excruciatingly galling for me, personally, since I used to be proud to say I'd been in the news business. It was quite literally a thrill to be able to use whatever position I'd reached, at whatever network or leading major-market station, and tell the truth from a larger or higher vantage point, or at times, one closer to the action. I was greatly privileged to work for some big-name broadcast outlets, which gave me clout. Important people would take my calls, or return my calls. The nagging questions or follow-ups I had, that I didn't hear many other people asking, I could ask. I could pursue some topics at length and try to get to the bottom of something I knew my listeners or viewers would want to know, or might need to know in order to be better-informed. I'm not trying to pat myself on the back here. It was part of the job. It still is.
I can't count how many times I've screamed at my TV since George W. Bush first ran for president. I've forgotten by now how often I've smacked my hand against my forehead, or felt driven to rise out of my seat in indignation. I've lost track of how many times I WISHED someone would have put Bush on the spot, or Cheney on the spot, or Rove on the spot, or Contradicta on the spot, or, heck, ANY of them. And no one did. I watched in frustration as former peers or new star-arrivals sat there, obediently taking notes, asking mostly lame questions, seldom following up, happily taking whatever spin, talking points or blast-faxes were presented as though these were Gospel truth, and shipping them out over the airwaves or the column inches unvetted, unchallenged, unscrutinized.
The questionable 2000 election came and went. September 11 th came and went. The run-up to the war came and went, as did the war itself. So did a second questionable presidential election, and more. I watched as the fawning White House Pets clung to their cute new Bush-issued nicknames and their recognized duty not to stir things up, make a fuss, or probe too deeply. They were all over Bill Clinton like poison oak after an ill-equipped mountain hike. They couldn't have probed more deeply or intensely if they'd had their own personal proctoscopes. But this president somehow glided past, untouched. In Bill Moyers' recent infuriating PBS effort, "Buying the War," you saw the dereliction of duty by the White House Press Corpse. In Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 911," you saw - pardon the pun - even more. As with "Sicko," people left the theater questioning each other (probably because there was no network news bigshot or political VIP to grill about this). Then, they wondered about that protest the film documented along the inauguration parade route. They asked - do you remember seeing anything about that on the evening news? ANY of it? They threw eggs at Bush's limo? There were protest signs? So many outraged demonstrators that the parade actually had to stop? How come that wasn't covered? Why didn't we see any of that? And that was only a small part of it. Why didn't we see the war wounded? Why didn't we get a more honest and objective view of Iraq ? Why didn't we hear from more quarters than just those the White House wished us to cover? Why was there nothing reported about Bush's close ties to the Saudis? Why didn't we hear more from those who knew the truth back then, but were ignored, marginalized, and silenced. So MANY why's. At least Michael Moore finally showed them.
And lo these many years later, Michael Moore was a one-man Truth Squad. This time, he took on the hapless Wolf Blitzer and not just about the distortions of his movie that were being paraded around the clock on CNN. His smackdown demanded to know why Blitzer and the rest of his colleagues never asked the hard questions about the war, why they took so long to even begin to try exposing the truth and nailing the lies. Poor Wolfie was clearly not expecting this, and didn't realize that in one way, he himself had now become the story. But Blitzer's not anywhere near alone. Just zip down any list of media names, marquee glitzers like Tim Russert, Chris Matthews, Charles Gibson, Diane Sawyer, George Stephanopoulos, the "60 Minutes" crowd, ANY of them - and that's just on the airwaves.
Michael Moore tells a story about an example of this disgraceful media timidity involving then-"Today Show" star Katie Couric. She'd interviewed him about "Fahrenheit 911" during which he complained about the media's one-sided coverage of the Bush admnistration. After the segment ended, and they were unclipping their microphones during the commercial break, she leaned over to him and said "oh, you're SO right!" She then went on to describe how her own leash had been yanked, hard. She'd evidently annoyed someone high up in the White House during an interview with another administration figure. She confessed to Moore in that off-camera interlude that a memo had arrived "from upstairs." The complainer had called the network objecting to the tone of voice she'd used during the interview, and the subsequent message from the NBC brass was for her to cool it, bigtime. Michael Moore recalls that he asked her with incredulity - "WHY don't you say something? Why don't you write an op/ed piece about this? You're Katie Couric! You're probably one of three people in the entire country who can't be fired (well, at least, not while she was still on the 'Today Show')! Why don't you talk about this or write a book about this?" He says her disappointingly milquetoast response was - "someday, I will."
Someday. Yeah. Like WHEN? We need that courage NOW. We needed it THEN, too. I can almost guarantee you that once Bush/Cheney Inc. are out of power, you'll see book after book start to appear. Each will mewl either about how that regime rode the press in general so rough, or how hard it was on the individual author. They'll surely whine about how awful it was, how deftly and subtly they were "managed," intimidated, threatened with loss of access or White House Press Room credentials. Some of them will claim that they knew this even then and longed to blow the whistle. Others will lament how badly and callously they were used. Fine. Too little, too late. Every last one of them deserves to be frogmarched out to the woodshed and left there. Their deliberate negligence means the blood, carnage, chaos, waste, corruption, lies, and wanton criminality of the last six-and-a-half years is on THEIR hands, too. They're every bit as at fault as any genuflecting, excuse-making republi-CON or neoCON is. They were uniquely positioned to get their phone calls returned and their questions answered, and to summon responses from ALL quarters, not just the monochromatic lock-steppers in and around the "loyal Bushies." They were perfectly able and equipped to demand the truth and dig beneath the verbal dung piles to expose what this White House was so determined to hide. And they did not.
It took Michael Moore not just to hold the health insurance industry's feet to the fire, but also Wolf Blitzer's. Blitzer, in this case, merely a pathetic surrogate for ALL the Rip van Winkles on the air and in print now. A precious few of them have finally started waking up. The purveyors of what MSNBC's Keith Olbermann appropriately dubs "Fixed Noise" are beyond help, but there's no excuse for the rest of them. Their negligence can be proven by the single public opinion poll that, to this day, shows roughly four out of every ten Americans still clings to the misbegotten belief that Saddam Hussein was connected to al Qaeda and to 9/11. If our news people had been doing their jobs, the sad ignorance of the public on this, and other issues, wouldn't be an issue of its own.
BRAVO, Michael Moore! Too bad there aren't any more at home like you.