Letter to Michael Moore (Nov. 12, 1997)

Dear Michael,

You probably thought to yourself, with that blend of self-righteous self-pity you have made your own, that when Mugger had sharp things to say about you in a recent New York Press column, “Well, Mugger’s a right-winger, and they’re always after my blood.” The news here, Michael, is that I’m a left-winger who’s known you and stood up for you for years, and I say, this: Mugger understated the case, about the stew of self-aggrandizing (notice how many times the word “self” comes up in connection with you) hypocrisy in which you’ve been marinating for years.

A little biography. I knew you back in the days when you were editing the Michigan Voice. You used to reprint material by Jim Ridgeway and me. Then came the big day when you were hired by Adam Hochschild of Mother Jones, to be the editor. There was lots of hoopla about the boy from Flint. Then, as you well remember, there came a day, not far into your editorship, when those Bay Area liberals gave you the shaft, dumped you as editor and presented you with a one-way ticket back to Michigan.

You called me. I rallied support on your behalf, helped find you a lawyer. . It became a very nasty fight. I wrote a column in The Nation reviling Mother Jones, Adam Hochschild and Don Hazen, who was MJ’s publisher at the time. There were abusive exchanges of letters. Needless to say, the column I had just started writing for Mother Jones, was abruptly discontinued. You got a good settlement

I bring this up because every few years you send me a book — as you did not so long ago with Downsize This! —and on the flyleaf you write, “To Alex - You were there when it mattered and when few others were. I will never forget that…” This particular one is dated 8/28/96. Yes, indeed, I was there when it mattered, and this lends a certain strength to my response, and what I would write in my next book if I felt like sending you one, namely “To Michael — Who has never been there when it mattered.” And, I should add, there have been a couple moments recently when a word of support from you would have been pleasant. But no. When it comes to Michael Moore and relations with the rest of the world, sympathy travels on a one-way street.

But I nearly forgot! You sympathize with the working class, (although, since you reiterate endlessly that you are a working class boy, you are in fact sympathizing with yourself, which is par for the course.) Before me lies your latest effusion in The Nation, about which Mugger made his recent sharp and entirely appropriate comments. Your column — which I gather was more or less a repeat of your remarks at the Congress on Media and Democracy — is entitled “Is the Left Nuts? (Or Is It Me?).”

Your basic take is that no one knows about the working class except you. No one ever talked to a working stiff except for you. No one has ever been a working stiff except you. No one has ever watched a ball game except for you. No one has ever travelled west of the Hudson or east of the Sierra except for you. No one has ever been sensitive to the daily grind of the ordinary folks except you. By “no one” here I mean that vast mass you designate as “the left,” cowering under the lash of your contempt.

Michael, the first thing you have to understand is that there’s a huge gap between the real working class (RWC) and Michael Moore’s Working Class (MMWC). The MMWC is a mythic body of folks living in Flint and serving as extras in Michael Moore’s movies and columns. As far as I can see, the MMWC doesn’t read anything, eat anything and go anywhere, except maybe to a ball game. Because if they did read something (like The Nation, or George, or Vanity Fair) they would cease to be MMWC and become RWC. Of course the RWC does many of the sort of things Michael Moore sneers at liberals for doing. Many of them like to talk about wine, and even make it. They eat brie, sometimes with Chardonnay!

You don’t talk to the RWC, Michael. If you did, you’d have to learn to stop mumbling. I remember an evening in Detroit, at which we both spoke. It was stuffed with the RWC all of whom leaned forward excitedly to catch Moore’s message, which was delivered in a low mumble in the direction of Moore’s solar plexus, and therefore inaudible to all. Michael, you say the “left” doesn’t talk to the WC, but you do. How the hell do they know what you’re saying?

Ah! They get the message from your movies. But the message I get from your movies is that your take on the RWC is somewhat Lettermanesque. You despise people. Outside your film extras in Flint and maybe the guys at the airport who recognize you and say “Hi Michael,” I don’t think you meet the RWC. I don’t think you meet many people outside your immediate circle.

Back to The Nation and your column, We’re in the sixth paragraph now and you’re hitting your stride. “Where were you [‘the left’] when we needed you? The people of Flint were ready — Jesse Jackson beat Dukakis by a 9-1 margin there. In the white suburbs, Jackson beat him by a 4 - 1 margin! You should have come! The right wing did. They organized the Michigan Militia. It’s no accident Terry Nichols is from the Flint area.”

More news for you, Michael. The “left” did come. They supported Jesse Jackson. That particular year, under the influence of Andrew Kopkind, The Nation actually endorsed Jackson. We wrote pages about the Michigan vote, many of them by me. The people who didn’t want to pay attention to the Michigan vote were the liberals backing Dukakis. If you’d got a memory instead of a set of one-liners you’d remember that, and you’d attack the liberal Democratic mainstream. But it’s somehow more fun to flail away at that poor old famished nag, “the left,” in which activity you’re at one with the entire political mainstream. And as for the right-wing in Detroit, I remember going to the Gunstock meeting in Detroit a couple of years ago, and chatting with RWCs there and writing them up in sympathetic terms in The Nation. I didn’t notice you there, Michael. Maybe you were up in Flint, with your film extras.

Like many people who’ve got their foot over the celebrity threshold in America, you’ve made a commodity of yourself, The Boy from Flint, baseball cap askew, impish grin and a nice line in effrontery. I’ve enjoyed some of your TV Nation sketches. You know how to make a point. But it’s maybe time you realized that the act has run too long and a lot of people think you’re a blowhard and a jerk. In your Nation piece you urge us all to “have a chat with the human operator,” as though Big Mike was often in habit with joshing with the workers of AT&T. A good many hollow laughs at that one, Michael, considering you’re harder to reach than George Soros. Our mutual friend JoAnn Wypijewski, managing editor of The Nation , a member of the RWC from Buffalo, who speaks to more RWC people in a week than you do in a decade, has been trying to contact you for many years. She helped you too in that Mother Jones crisis. Do you have the manners to call back? Of course not. You’re probably worried that JoAnn is going to hit you up for money, on behalf of some cause whose merits you would have to evaluate, or pay someone else to evaluate. You might have to put out, maybe even have to sign a cheque. So better not answer the phone, and get on with your cannonades at “the left.”

Years ago in England, in the decade I spent there between life in Ireland and the United States I used to go to left meetings and there’d be fellows clad in blue truckers’ jackets, sometimes with leather patches over the shoulders. They sneered horribly at the middle-class types in the audience, as though everything the MCs said was automatically suspect. In the pub they swigged mighty pints and often affected a northern English accent. It took me some time to realize that these folks were usually impeccably middle-class in origin, and the whole act was a put-on. You remind me of them, Michael, and so the thought arises: Are you really and truly from Flint? RWCs from Flint would have better manners and be less philistine. I’ll bet your father was in middle management, then in real estate and you grew up in Coral Gables.

Down the years various people have mentioned that maybe there’s less to you than meets the eye. I heard stories about editors on your TV series who came to you with labor grievances, only to be told that you’d make sure they never worked in the industry again. This is Michael Moore, the friend of organized labor? I’ve heard from personal assistants who’ve said you’re a nightmare to work for. Okay, I said to myself, these are the sort of stories that follow anyone lofted to the semi big-time, like you.

Then I got your last book and I really began to wonder. “My forbidden love for Hillary,” for example. Cute headline, backed up by your manly declaration of love, “Hillary Rodham is one hot shitkickin’ feminist babe.” It became clear to me that you are absolutely indistinguishable from those self satisfied types driving their Volvos with a “Clinton/Gore” sticker on the rear bumper. We’re speaking here of Hillary Clinton, the big-time corporate lawyer who worked for the incinerator industry; who helped sell nursing homes, jacking up their rates and kicking the oldsters into the snow; who decided to get rich quick in Arkansas in a powerful law firm; who made $100,000 in commodity trades with the help of a man connected to Tyson, one of the big-time oppressors of working people in its country; who destroyed the last best chance of health reform with a plan so crazily complicated that even its friends couldn’t explain what it meant.

Yes, we speak of your true love, Michael, the woman who wrote It Takes a Village, that appalling sermon on behalf of the therapeutic cops, prognoses and inquisitors who make poor peoples’ life a hell from day to day. Your wannabe girl friend. No wonder you mumble. If anyone heard what you really think, you’d be laughed out of town. So give up the Flint act, join Americans for Democratic Action and give us all a break.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FEMINISTS (continued): A week ago I reported Katha Pollitt’s censorious remarks about my use of the phrase “Poxy Doxies.” She said it was demeaning to women. I hope Katha doesn’t read that distinctly feminist poet, Edith Sitwell, who pleasantly invoked Poxy Doxies in her suite of poems in Facade.

Meanwhile my niece Laura phoned in a rage at being called “adorable.” “How would you like being called adorable,” she asked fiercely. I said it would be wonderful, but it rarely happened. “Well, you wouldn’t call Elizabeth Streb ‘adorable’.” She had me there. “No, I wouldn’t. I’d call her ‘divine’. And from now on I’ll call you ‘divine’ too.” Laura was mollified, sort of. 

A friend of mine (female) said to me later, “Children and young girls don’t mind being called adorable. And women in later years don’t mind either. It’s the cohort in between you have to be careful about.

2 Responses to "Letter to Michael Moore (Nov. 12, 1997)"

  1. Pat Kittle   October 3, 2020 at 10:09 am

    Back when I was a knee-jerk lefty I too voted for the race-hustler Jessie Jackson (1980 Democratic Primary if I recall correctly).

    Every now & then politicians blurt out something honest.

    In Jessie’s case:

    “There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps… then turn around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”
    — [ https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/5978-there-is-nothing-more-painful-to-me-at-this-stage ]

    BTW, I likely have more experience in the (Alex’s words) “real working class (RWC)” than Alex & Michael combined.

    As for the Michigan auto industry, I worked for all the “Big 3” in 5 different assembly plants (Ford Thunderbird-Continental in Wixom, GMC Truck & Coach in Pontiac, Pontiac Motors in Pontiac, Ford Upolstery Trim in Utica, Chrysler Sterling Stamping in Sterling Heights), as well as for grimy auto industry subcontractors.

    I’m 73 and still do hard manual labor, and a damn good job of it according to anyone I work for.

    Now that I’ve established my working class credentials, allow me to recommend a website run by a Jew who’d I’d gladly vote for President:
    — [ https://www.unz.com/ ]

    Reply
  2. Ann   October 5, 2020 at 7:04 am

    I don’t know why this was reprinted at this particular time, but I am currently a Michael Moore fan. I actually always dismissed him as that Hollywood guy who got famous for making Roger and Me. Then I listened to his new podcast Rumble, and felt like I had discovered gold. So yes, I am currently a big Michael Moore fan. I think he does sell himself over and over, but at my advanced age, I find that many very well known, successful men do this, they sell themselves 24/7. I would find that so tedious and exhausting, so I think it takes a lot of energy to do that. I used to read Cockburn a long time ago, and found him amusing. But this whole letter just seems like one giant ego having a spat with another rival big ego.

    This kind of criticism, when I hear it, reminds me of when I had to ask my father to please be nice to this man I had invited over to dinner, that I worked for. A very accomplished director of a big medical clinic. I just knew my father’s ego would come to the fore and try to take this guy apart. Or another radical friend I had, who had all sorts of criticisms of this person and that person. And I said to my radical friend, geez, they’re not an ax murderer, so why all this animosity. Clash of the snobbish egos.

    Also as the above person mentioned Jessie Jackson. I also assessed him as a huckster. My father worked in the field of neighborhood housing integration to make sure black people could live where they chose to live and he was a Jessie Jackson supporter. When I criticized Jackson, my father would hear none of it. So I saw he had on some kind of blinders.

    Reply

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