How to Fix a Drug Scandal
Rarely have I been more frustrated by a documentary production’s formal choices and how they interfere with the engaging content of the story they’re trying…
Q. As someone who was at the Kodak Theatre on Sunday, believe me there were more than five loud people who booed Michael Moore that night (as he claims). (Ziggy Kozlowski, Los Angeles)
A. As a reporter, I was offended when Moore walked into the backstage press room and immediately started spin control. Instead of acknowledging he had been booed and dealing with that, he lectured the press to "tell the truth--don't say it was a divided house because five loud people were booing." Everyone in that room had heard a lot of booing ("at least half the house," The New York Times reported). To paraphrase a famous Richard Pryor line, Moore was asking us, "Who you gonna believe? Me, or your lyin' ears?"
Q. I was the "Bowling for Columbine" producer who scouted the bank that gives you a gun. I was there for Michael Moore's only and entire visit to the bank and was dismayed to see you repeating an outright lie about this scene. Mike walked into North County Bank and walked out with a gun in less than an hour. He opened a CD account, they faxed in his check, it came back all clear, and a bank official handed him his rifle. The crew, Mike and I then drove to directly the barbershop where Mike bought the bullets for his new rifle just as you see in the film. All this occurred before lunch that day, the final day of filming. Then everyone flew home. Maybe you ought to expose the origin of this lie rather than repeat this easily refuted fabrication. (Jeff Gibbs, Traverse City, MI)
A. I am happy to oblige. It originated at: www.opinionjournal.com/forms/printThis.html ?id=110003233
Of the bank incident Gibbs mentions, author John Fund writes:
"Jan Jacobson, the bank employee who worked with Mr. Moore on his account, says that only happened because Mr. Moore's film company had worked for a month to stage the scene. 'What happened at the bank was a prearranged thing,' she says. The gun was brought from a gun dealer in another city, where it would normally have to be picked up. 'Typically, you're looking at a week to 10 days waiting period,' she says."
I asked Michael Moore about this report. His response: "I walked in cold. It happened exactly as you see in the film. A producer did call ahead and said I wanted to come in. It is not true that an ordinary person could not have walked in and gotten a gun. No need to go to a gun shop; they had 500 guns in their vault. There's a 2001 story in the St. Petersburg Times about how the bank is proud as a peacock about its gun offer."
Another critical analysis of the film is at www.hardylaw.net/Truth?186-143?About?186-143?Bowling.html
On this site, David T. Hardy, a lawyer associated with the National Rifle Assn., raises questions about the accuracy and fairness of many sequences in the movie. One point he makes is that "Bowling for Columbine" misquotes a plaque on a B-52 bomber at the Air Force Academy. Hardy writes: "Moore solemnly pronounces that the plaque under it 'proudly proclaims that the plane killed Vietnamese people on Christmas Eve of 1972'...The plaque actually reads, 'Flying out of Utapao Royal Thai Naval Airfield' in southeast Thailand, the crew of "Diamond Lil" shot down a MIG northeast of Hanoi during "Linebacker II" action on Christmas eve 1972.' "
Moore's response: "I was making a point about the carpet bombing of Vietnam during the 1972 Christmas offensive. I did not say exactly what the plaque said but was paraphrasing."
I think here he is fudging. Few audience members would have considered it a paraphrase. It would also appear that his depiction of a Charlton Heston speech is less than accurate. You can compare the "Bowling for Columbine" verison at http://ufies.org/archives/000586.html
with this transcript of Heston's original speech: http://www.nrawinningteam.com/meeting99/hestsp1.html
I sometimes suspect that Moore takes as his motto these words by Huck Finn about an earlier book in which Huck figured: "That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth."
Moore told me: "I don't know what category to put my films in. They're like a film version of the op-ed page, and not a traditional documentary. They are cinematic essays presenting my point of view. I may be right or wrong, but if I state something as a fact, I need the viewers to trust that those facts are correct."
The debate about specific facts in "Bowling for Columbine" has grown in such intensity and attention to detail that it requires the dedication of a Kennedy assassination buff. The Answer Man recommends you read both of the sites above, as well as michaelmoore.com, where he says he is posting a point-by-point reply to his critics, complete with documents, affidavits, etc. I also recommend that Moore preface his next film with the quote from Mark Twain.
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