In his latest movie, Fahrenheit 911, filmmaker, author and rabble-rouser Michael Moore questions President Bush’s long-standing business relationships with the Bin Laden family and Saudi businessmen and accuses the president of using the terrorist attack on America to push his own agenda. It’s typical Moore overkill, a reminder of how improbable it is that the unkempt, overweight, scraggly-bearded liberal has become an American icon—demonic or heroic depending on your point of view. For his politically infused humor and humor-infused politics, Moore, the nation’s best-selling nonfiction author and top-grossing documentary filmmaker, has been compared to Jonathan Swift, H.L. Mencken, Lenny Bruce, Abbie Hoffman and even Laurel and Hardy.
Moore’s latest book, Dude, Where’s My Country?, has been the top-selling nonfiction title of the year. Its predecessor, Stupid White Men, earned the same distinction in 2002, and Moore’s earlier books, Downsize This! and Adventures in a TV Nation, were also best-sellers. His 2002 movie, Bowling for Columbine, about the high school shootings in Littleton, Colorado and the roots of America’s obsession with guns, grossed $21 million—three times more than any other documentary in history—and won the Academy Award for best documentary. His breakthrough movie, 1989’s Roger & Me, documents Moore’s attempt to confront General Motors chairman Roger Smith about the automaker’s plant closings that devastated Moore’s hometown of Flint, Michigan. The film, “a hilarious bit of propaganda,” according to the Washington Post, was a surprise hit.
Moore, 50, grew up in and around Flint in a working-class Irish American family. Both his father and his grandfather worked at GM. Moore was voted class clown in high school, the same year he ran for the local board of education and won. He briefly attended college at the University of Michigan and considered a job at GM after graduation. Instead he edited a series of alternative newspapers and began working for Ralph Nader. He financed Roger & Me by hosting bingo games. Moore’s forays into television include the short-lived series TV Nation and The Awful Truth, both of which became cult hits.
Dividing his time between New York and Michigan, Moore is married to Kathleen Glynn, with whom he produces his movies, and has an 18-year-old daughter. No, he isn’t running for president—despite an independent online petition drive that garnered tens of thousands of fans’ signatures—but he has been actively involved in the election, railing against Bush on talk shows and at michaelmoore.com, his popular website. When Contributing Editor David Sheff met with him, Moore gleefully admitted that Fahrenheit 911, his most strident attack on Bush to date, is timed to do as much damage as possible to the president before the November election.
Playboy: What exactly does Fahrenheit 911 mean?
Moore: It’s the temperature of hysteria that has allowed the Bush administration to get away with a series of unconscionable acts since 9/11. They used the 3,000 victims of the terrorist attack as a cover to enact their right-wing agenda. The tragedy was a bonanza for the administration. Immediately after the dead were buried, Bush’s people realized they had a golden opportunity.
Playboy: Even you wouldn’t suggest that they were happy about 9/11, would you?
Moore: You’ll never see them rubbing their hands together in public, because it would be so crass, but that’s what they did. A tragedy was handed to them, and they decided to spin some gold.
Playboy: Gold in the form of—
Moore: A never-ending war. The problem with earlier wars was that they ended, but the war on terrorism is ongoing. You’ll never catch every terrorist.
Playboy: You can’t deny the threat of terrorism, can you?
Moore: Of course not, but Bush has not addressed the problem in a way that makes us safer. The other day in an airport I saw an 87-year-old woman in a wheelchair being forced to take off her shoes. Does anybody in his right mind really think we’re safer now? Homeland security is an excuse to take away our rights, spy on us and isolate dissenters with accusations that they are unpatriotic and dangerous. They are eroding our rights and freedoms, doing the terrorists’ work for them. We’re telling the terrorists, “You’re not going to take our freedoms away, you bastards. We’re going to do it ourselves.” We will spy on our own citizens in the guise of making them safer. We will read their mail, listen on their phones, search them at will, lock them up without explanation. Yet no one is safer. We are hated throughout the world now more than ever before, precisely because of Bush’s so-called war on terror. Any country operating unilaterally, orchestrating a war, and doing so under the guise of a lie that has been exposed as a lie, becomes a bigger, not a smaller, target. The lying is unfathomable.
Playboy: Let’s face it, all presidents lie.
Moore: Sure, people were up in arms about Clinton’s lie—“I did not have sexual relations with that woman”—but it pales when compared with Bush’s lies. Bush told the American people and the rest of the world that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, and he initiated a war based on that lie. He killed hundreds of American soldiers and wounded and maimed thousands. He killed thousands of innocent Iraqis. Bush used these lies on top of 9/11 as an excuse to attack Iraq, which was part of his agenda from the day he stole the election. As we know from the congressional hearings, Bush was obsessed with Saddam from the day he took office. According to Richard Clarke’s and others’ testimony, the obsession with Iraq diverted attention from Bin Laden and the other terrorists who actually did threaten us.
Playboy: The administration claims Clarke isn’t telling the truth.
Moore: With no success whatsoever. They accused Clarke of timing his book for the election, but he was saying these things well before the hearings. I interviewed him for Fahrenheit 911 months before his book came out. Here is a Republican who felt morally and personally responsible for the attack because the administration, of which he was a part, didn’t do enough. His apology to the families of the victims was powerful and stood out because the other political weenies would never apologize—they view it as a sign of weakness. They don’t understand that being honest, apologizing and asking for forgiveness are signs of strength and courage.
Playboy: If Bush’s war on terror has been ineffective, what would have been the appropriate response?
Moore: Osama did it, right? Not Saddam. Get the perpetrator. That’s first.
Playboy: How do you propose accomplishing what American military and intelligence forces have been unable to accomplish?
Moore: Hire the Israelis to find Osama and kill him.
Playboy: Why the Israelis?
Moore: They’re better at this sort of thing than we are. I don’t support assassination, but let’s face facts. Israel wanted to kill the Hamas leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, and they took him out. When their people were taken hostage at Entebbe, they went in and got them back. Get the culprits, not their neighbors and people who look like them. In my movie a counterterrorism agent from the FBI says the following: “Most people don’t realize that there are only around 190 Al Qaeda members worldwide. That’s it.” They have support cells and people who aid and abet them, but there are only 190 full-fledged members. One hundred and ninety people can do a lot of damage—they pose a serious threat. So get them.
Playboy: Whether it’s one terrorist, like Bin Laden, or 190 or thousands, it’s not as easy as that.
Moore: I agree. But let’s say this were 1939 and we learned there were only 190 Nazis. I think we could deal with the problem. If Abe Lincoln had been told there were 190 Confederates giving the Union a bit of trouble, he probably could have taken care of it fairly easily. We give the Israelis billions of dollars a year. They’re better at this assassination stuff than we are. So we tell them, “We need you to get rid of 190 people.” But Bush wants those 190 people out there because the threat means he can do what he wants with impunity.
Playboy: There have been no attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11. Some argue this is proof that homeland security measures are working.
Moore: After the original attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, the total number of attacks on U.S. soil in 1994 was zero. In 1995? Zero. In 1996? Zero. In 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000? Zero. Who takes credit for that? Bush tries to have it both ways. If we have no attacks, he takes credit for it. On the other hand, if there is another horrible attack before the election, they’ll say, “See, we warned you. You need to keep us in office because of the threat.” In fact, I would argue that the Republicans are responsible for our lack of preparedness prior to 9/11. It goes beyond their obsession with Iraq. In the late 1990s the Republicans should not have wasted the federal government’s time trying to impeach Clinton.
Playboy: How is that relevant?
Moore: At one time during Clinton’s presidency 200 FBI agents were assigned to the so-called Clinton scandals. What if those agents had been doing their job, such as trying to track down those who were here to kill us? Perhaps they could have returned the phone calls from the people in flight-training schools in Florida calling to say it seemed a little strange that students wanted to take flying lessons but didn’t want to learn how to take off or land. Calls like that were ignored. You have to wonder if the Republicans are not somewhat responsible for the lack of preparedness in the country because they were so obsessed about where Clinton had placed his cigar.
Playboy: Republicans would argue that the issue transcended sex.
Moore: That’s nonsense. If they think anyone is having good sex, their heads just start to spin like Linda Blair’s. The thought of anyone enjoying sex sends Republicans into a tailspin.
Playboy: And this theory of yours is based on—
Moore: It’s obvious. Clinton was particularly horrific to them because he represented the guy in high school who got all the babes. It drove them crazy. If you’re Newt Gingrich, Dennis Hastert, Trent Lott or any of those guys, you remember well who the Bill Clinton was in your high school. Those guys never got to go out with the cheerleaders. In fact they had to become cheerleaders—literally in the cases of Bush and Lott. Here was a chance for some payback. Look at the way they went berserk when they saw Janet Jackson’s nipple. Did you know that 24 hours after the Super Bowl incident Bill O’Reilly said on his show—and I’m quoting—“I want to kill Michael Moore.” He was talking to Rudolph Giuliani about the left and the people who attack him. Once he told a caller to his show that he’d like to—and once again I quote—“put a bullet through Al Franken’s head.” The number of complaints to the FCC over that? Zero. Yet after Janet Jackson’s nipple—and it was only 10 percent of her nipple that was exposed, by the way—everything on TV had to be on tape delay, and the fines were tripled. What can I do? I can file a complaint with the FCC, I can sue him, or I can kill him first. That’s essentially what I’ve decided to do.
Playboy: Kill him?
Moore: Make sure you add to that quote, “he said jokingly, and then he reminded us that he is a pacifist.”
Playboy: So how big a factor in the upcoming election are O’Reilly and his ilk?
Moore: They’re preaching to the converted. Only 1 million to 2 million people watch Fox News at any given time. Let’s not waste our time worrying about something as irrelevant as Fox News. If you have cable, it’s a great thing to tune in to for a laugh. It’s better than Comedy Central. O’Reilly is a cartoon. Neil Cavuto is all pompous sincerity. Ann Coulter’s trip is an act. She wants to be hated. It’s part of her charm.
Playboy: How do they compare with the CNN commentators and anchors?
Moore: In some ways CNN’s are worse because you expect more from them. They waste too much time wringing their hands that they aren’t like Fox. They’re obsessed with trying to catch up in the ratings when they should do everything they can to separate themselves. People at The New York Times don’t sit around saying, “Why can’t we be more like the National Enquirer?” CNN should know its place and do the job a lot of us wish they would do, which is to stay true to the path. They don’t have to be liberal or left, just do their job. Tell the truth. Dig.
Playboy: Al Franken is hosting a show on Air America, the new talk-radio network started as a liberal answer to the right-wing stations. Does it have a chance?
Moore: We’ll see. The liberals have lost their sense of humor over the years; it’s disgusting to think that members of the right are considered the funny ones. If you could have Al Franken on 24 hours a day or find five other Al Frankens, it would work. But the heads of the station are saying things like “We don’t want to offend too many people.” That’s the same wimpy, lame tone that has cost the left everything. Instead of fighting as the Republicans fight, they say, “Let’s all be nice.” Nice has lost us the House, the Senate, the White House, the Supreme Court and the majority of the governorships. As a result of “Can’t we all just get along?” we control nothing. It’s a wonderful sentiment, but if the storm troopers are coming down the street, you don’t meet them with daisies.
Playboy: Sometimes it seems you simply demonize Bush in the same way the right demonized Clinton.
Moore: I’m not upset about Bush’s sex life. I’m upset that he sends our young men and women in uniform to war so that his oil-company friends can get control of the oil reserves in Iraq, so that his oil-company friends can finally build their pipeline to Afghanistan. I don’t know if there’s a word in the English language to describe how loathsome this is. Millions of people in this country are like me, still trying to figure out why we went to war. Inside the average American beats a good liberal heart, and Americans are appalled.
Playboy: But many Americans aren’t appalled. At the time of this interview about half the country continues to support Bush. And most Americans do not describe themselves as liberal.
Moore: Look at the issues. The majority of Americans are pro-choice and pro-labor and want stronger environmental laws. They’re more conservative only when it comes to the death penalty, though support for that has dropped from 80 percent to about 57 percent.
Playboy: They also oppose gay marriage.
Moore: Here’s what I want to know about gay marriage: Has anybody told the gays and lesbians what marriage is? We married people are all sitting here asking, “Why are they so damn eager to do this?”
Playboy: Your wife must love it when you say that.
Moore: She agrees with me, believe me.
Playboy: But we presume you support gay marriage.
Moore: Of course. I’m convinced the polls are wrong. When a stranger from some poll calls you at eight p.m. and asks if you support two men buggering each other, you don’t answer, “Sure, I love the idea.” But most Americans want for gays and lesbians the rights and freedoms that everyone else has. They support gays because so many have had the courage to come out of the closet. Most people know someone who is gay—someone in their family, in their neighborhood, at work. It’s hard to hate people you love, unless you’re Dick Cheney, who has a lesbian daughter yet continues to carry out an antigay agenda. There are exceptions to every rule.
Playboy: Meanwhile the president, by supporting a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage, will try to use it as a wedge issue.
Moore: And it will backfire. Don’t forget that 1 million gays and lesbians voted for George W. Bush in 2000. Why would they? But they did. Now he comes out against them, tries to change the constitution to discriminate against them. What do those 1 million voters think about their man? I predict that he just lost a million votes. Bush hasn’t gained any votes by attacking gays. People who agree with Bush aren’t ever going to vote for the other side anyway. The religious right may be whipped into a frenzy by gay marriage, but they’re already voting for Bush. Meanwhile the rest of America has come around. That excludes the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Ashcroft axis, which is completely out of step with most Americans. They are freaks. If the American people only knew just how crazy they are.
Playboy: Some people hold that you’re the one who is out of touch.
Moore: With what? Let’s consider other issues. Americans want stronger environmental laws, believe a woman has a right to control her own body, do not want our sons and daughters dying so that the president’s cronies at Halliburton or Enron or Unocal can make billions more in profits.
Playboy: How about gun control, the subject of Bowling for Columbine?
Moore: The majority of Americans want stronger gun laws, just as I do. As long as the Democrats promise hunters that their hunting guns—which are not the problem—won’t be taken away, even the majority of gun owners support controls.
Playboy: Not the NRA.
Moore: The NRA is a radical, freaky group. They, like the Bush administration, are the extreme, even opposing ballistics fingerprinting. They’re lunatics. Forget about whether you’re liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. What sane person would say no, there shouldn’t be ballistics fingerprinting? We shouldn’t be able to identify a sniper or an assassin or a murderer?
Playboy: Are you still an NRA member?
Moore: I am, but I think they’re trying to excommunicate me.
Playboy: How can you be a member of an organization with which you so strongly disagree?
Moore: I became a member as a kid, when the NRA was a gun-safety organization. It taught you how to fire a gun and bird hunt. Then it got taken over by people with a radical-right agenda.
Playboy: You were criticized for embarrassing former NRA president Charlton Heston in Bowling for Columbine. Some viewers felt you took advantage of an aging, ailing man.
Moore: I take exception to that. I was very respectful.
Playboy: Heston looked ridiculous. He was frail and flustered.
Moore: He was opposing gun controls in the aftermath of high school shootings. That made him fair game. All I did was ask some questions. He said the problem with America is our mixed ethnicity. He said he was proud of the white guys who founded the country. I was stunned. I was respectful when I asked the questions, but at the same time, how am I supposed to treat someone who, after leaving my interview, went back out campaigning for laws that would allow people to have Uzis and cop-killer bullets? Once again, most Americans are with me on this. They understand that duck hunters don’t need Uzis and cop-killer bullets.
Playboy: Yet they mostly support Bush.
Moore: They wouldn’t if the media did their job. If they did, there would be no question that Bush would lose. If Americans knew the truth about this administration, they would be calling for blood.
Playboy: What don’t we know?
Moore: Do most Americans think it’s all right that John Ashcroft never allowed the FBI to look into the gun background-check files of the 19 terrorists who murdered 3,000 people, because it would violate the terrorists’ Second Amendment rights? If Americans understood this, they might be a little upset. Where are today’s Woodward and Bernstein? Who is investigating this? Who is investigating the connection over the past 25 years between the Bin Laden and Bush families? When a journalist does investigate it, such as in the bookHouse of Bush, House of Saud, where are the banner headlines? If you tell Americans the Bushes have been in business with the Bin Ladens for years, they think you’re a lunatic. But then, why would Bush allow a Saudi jet to fly around the country to pick up all the Bin Ladens—relatives of the number one suspect in a mass killing—so they could get out of the country the week after 9/11? Who is investigating this?
Playboy: Richard Clarke discussed this at the congressional hearings.
Moore: And yet where are the headlines? Why hasn’t the administration been forced to answer for this? Planes throughout America were grounded and none of us could fly after September 11. But the Bush administration gave permission for private Saudi jets to fly around America and pick up 24 members and associates of the Bin Laden family in four or five cities. Up to 140 members of the Saudi royal family and other Saudi officials who were in the country at the time also got picked up and taken out of the country when no one else could fly. You couldn’t fly in America on September 12 or 13 unless your name was Bin Laden. The White House approved it. Why?
Playboy: What’s your theory about the lack of attention to these revelations?
Moore: The Saudi PR machine is powerful and effective. Craig Unger, whom I interviewed for my film, wroteHouse of Bush, House of Saud. The publisher has pulled the book in Britain for fear of being sued. The Saudis go after you. I’ve already received threatening letters from Saudi billionaires because of my film. The administration has not been forced to answer these questions, but I’m convinced it will have to. The Watergate burglaries were not taken seriously at first—it was a small item in the back pages of the newspaper. There’s so much here. Cheney doesn’t want to reveal the minutes of his so-called energy task force during the transition when Bush took over. He won’t even release the names of the people who were there. Why? Here’s my prediction: If the information were released, we would learn there was a conversation about how to make nice with the Taliban. Why? Because Unocal and other companies wanted to build a natural gas pipeline through Afghanistan from the Caspian Sea region. While Bush was governor, members of the Taliban traveled to Texas to meet with oil and gas executives about the pipeline. So get this: Back in 2001 we were negotiating with a regime that was providing a base for the very people who were about to kill 3,000 Americans. We wanted to see if we could work with them to help Bush’s oil and energy buddies. If Americans understood this, they might be a little pissed off.
Playboy: Your critics say this is the sort of irresponsible speculation for which you are famous.
Moore: In my book I provide the sources, which include The New York Times, the BBC and The Washington Post, among others. If there’s nothing here, let the administration explain. It’s not speculation that the Bushes were in business with the Bin Laden family. It’s not speculation that Saudi jets picked up members of the Bin Laden family. I want Americans to know the truth.
Playboy: Originally you supported Wesley Clark to be the Democratic candidate. Why did he do so poorly?
Moore: He just isn’t a politician. He doesn’t know how to lie. He couldn’t pull it off.
Playboy: Were you surprised when Howard Dean self-destructed?
Moore: No, because I had met him. My wife and I went to meet him with the idea of supporting him. We brought our checkbook. But we weren’t in the room with him five minutes when we thought, Geez, this guy is kind of a prick. We didn’t write the check. I was not surprised the night of the Iowa caucus. He had spent the better part of two years in Iowa, letting people meet him. To meet him is to be turned off by him, so I wasn’t surprised that he lost. The concept of Dean was incredible. The movement behind him was a revolution. It was exciting to see, but Dean imploding was no surprise.
Playboy: What’s your view of John Kerry?
Moore: Kerry has done a lot of good things. I have great admiration for him for what he did when he came back from the Vietnam war. His whole testimony to Congress against the war was on C-Span last week. It was very powerful. He’s really good on many of the issues, but he voted for the war and for the Patriot Act. I’m hoping he has genuinely changed. If he has, I’m willing to forgive those votes. I want to hear his plan to get us out of Iraq.
Playboy: What if he doesn’t present one?
Moore: I’ll still vote for him, because we have to get Bush out.
Playboy: So you’re willing to vote for the lesser of two evils?
Moore: It would be the evil of two lessers. I have not come out and endorsed Kerry as we speak here tonight because I can’t get past the fact that he voted for the war and the Patriot Act. But he didn’t vote for Bush’s $87 billion to continue funding the war. And I’m a big believer in redemption and forgiveness. I had no problem that Clark voted for Reagan, accepting that he had changed his mind. People are allowed to change. If Kerry has, I’ll support him with enormous conviction. If he hasn’t, then we still have to vote for him to remove Bush, but we must do so with our eyes wide open. As of this interview, he hasn’t put forth a plan to bring the troops home and end this war and the occupation and try to do good by the Iraqi people after the mess we’ve created. So we’ll see.
Playboy: You suggested in Stupid White Men that Oprah be president. Surely you weren’t serious.
Moore: I was half serious at least, because clearly the people, when given a chance to vote outside the box, will do so. They voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger in California. Before him they voted for Jesse Ventura and Ross Perot, until he became a certified cuckoo. The Democrats need to start thinking like the Republicans. Who is our Reagan? Who is our Schwarzenegger? Oprah would be a perfect president. She’s got good politics. She’s got a good heart. She’ll have us up Jazzercising at six in the morning and reading books. How can that be bad for the country? How about Tom Hanks? Paul Newman? Why do liberals turn up their noses at obvious victories? Do they get something from losing, from suffering? We’d rather lose than have an actor. Fine, but meanwhile the Republicans will do whatever it takes.
Playboy: How about Hillary Clinton, whom you once called—and this time we quote—“one hot shit-kicking feminist babe”? Were you serious?
Moore: My feelings about her politically are clouded by my feelings for her. I’ve always been attracted to her.
Playboy: Attracted to what parts of her?
Moore: All of them. An anti-Hillary website has some jokes on it; one is “Did you hear about the Hillary combo at KFC? It’s got two small breasts, two large thighs and two left wings.” I read that and thought, That’s supposed to slam her? That sounds like nirvana to me. Hillary is not uptight at all. She’s got a great sense of humor. She’s got the best laugh. She’s feisty. I like women who are strong and smart.
Playboy: Still, even some of your most die-hard fans might wonder about a crush on Hillary Clinton.
Moore: Listen, Hillary Clinton has stood her ground. She doesn’t back down. From a distance she appears to be a wonderful mother who did an extraordinary job raising a child in difficult circumstances. You didn’t read about Chelsea the way you’ve read about the Bush twins, which is not to knock the twins. I’m a big supporter of the Bush girls. I like that they give Dad a horrible time and remind him of his own errant youth. He said when he ran that they told him, “Don’t run.” He of course ignored them, unfortunately.
Playboy: How do you rate the president as a family man?
Moore: Have you noticed that his wife spends a lot of time in Crawford? She’s not at the White House a lot. But hey, that’s their personal life, and I don’t want to know about it, which is a big difference about people on our side of the political fence. We don’t want to go inside people’s bedrooms. The exception would be if they had an abortion or helped pay for an abortion and then voted against abortion. Then people have a right to know.
Playboy: Ralph Nader is running again. Last election you supported him.
Moore: [Groans] I know. I tried to talk him out of it. I don’t know what to say. He apparently has promised that he will not run in the swing states and will not attack Kerry, but he said that last time about the swing states and Gore. The best way for Kerry to deal with Nader is to move to the left. If he moves to the right, he’ll alienate more people and they may go to Nader, as irrational as that may be. I think Kerry can win. I think we’ll have one of the highest turnouts if Kerry chooses to inspire people instead of bore them.
Playboy: Does he have it in him?
Moore: Yes, he does. Watch the footage of him testifying before Congress after Vietnam. Watch him throw his medals on the Capitol steps. He absolutely has it in him.
Playboy: What specifically worries you about four more years of Bush?
Moore: Four more years means the next 40 years will be ruled by the right. They have a plan called a permanent Republican-controlled country. It’s essentially in place now that they have the House, Senate, White House, Supreme Court and a majority of governorships. The Republicans are operating on two main tracks. One is to reduce the personal freedoms and liberties of the average citizen. The other is to line the pockets of corporate America, not only helping with tax breaks and making it even wealthier but essentially being its partner, a co-governing body of America. The business community—Wall Street—is where the real power is. When I listen to right-wing talk radio I think, Why are they so angry? They’ve got it all. They govern.
Playboy: Is Bush smarter than the left gives him credit for?
Moore: He is not a very bright man. Like a lot of people who aren’t very bright, he knows that the best way to get ahead is to be around smart people. That’s survival instinct, not brains. Bush has his lines down. If you’ve traveled with him at all, if you’ve ever gone on a campaign with him as I did back in 2000, you’ve seen something really freaky. Every politician has a basic stump speech, but he not only had the same speech but the same mannerisms, the little mistakes, the little guffaws, the things you insert between the words or during the applause. Almost a windup-doll sort of performance—really scary. How does the president’s intelligence, or lack of it, play out? When the plane hit the first World Trade Center tower a lot of people thought it was an accident. People didn’t automatically think terrorism. But if you’re the president of the United States, wouldn’t your mind immediately go, Hmm, a plane has run into the only building in America ever attacked by foreigners in an act of terrorism. This could well be another attack. Maybe I had better get on this. Bush didn’t. He continued to sit for another 10 minutes reading My Pet Goat to the kids in some classroom before he and his people decided this was an attack. My point: When you have someone there who is intelligent and engaged, you have a better chance of being protected. The reports from the Bush administration that have come out, whether from Clarke or others, are all testimony to the fact that the president was totally disengaged and that he reveled in being disengaged.
Playboy: How about those around Bush?
Moore: What scares me is that Ashcroft, Rumsfeld and many others in the inner circle are motivated by a sick combination of religious fundamentalism and corporate greed. In fact, their fundamental religion is corporate greed. It scares me because religion genuinely helps explain to them a world they don’t understand. For example, they’re personally revolted by gay sex, and their religion says it’s okay to be revolted by it: God’s disgusted by it. Somebody should let them in on the fact that God actually isn’t disgusted by it. If he created everything, he created gay sex. God’s probably up there enjoying it right now. I mean, he’s enjoying watching everyone. I’m not suggesting God is gay. They may believe in some fundamentalist sort of way that abortion is wrong, but most of all they hate the idea of women having control. It’s threatening to guys who have been losers since high school. Women deciding if they want to have sex and not pay a price for it? That whips them into a frenzy, and religion becomes their solace. The problem for the rest of us is that zealots vote, and 50 percent of the rest of the country doesn’t vote. Who else is left? The poor don’t vote as much as the rich do. Young people don’t vote as much as older people do. The ironic thing is that people who feel they don’t have power, and thus don’t vote, don’t have power—they give up their power to those who vote. The head of GM has the same number of votes as you or I. And there are more of us than there are of him. When we get that through our thick skulls it’s going to be a better country.
Playboy: Are you discouraged that more leaders aren’t mobilizing the left?
Moore: More will emerge. The big movement is on the Internet. Groups like MoveOn.org are where it’s at. They’ve gotten more people to protest against the war than anything that ever happened during Vietnam. There are also musicians such as REM, Eddie Vedder and Lenny Kravitz. One difference now is that some of the leaders are from the middle of America, not just the left. The Dixie Chicks’ lead singer, Natalie Maines, says she’s ashamed to be from the same state as Bush, and they go crazy. They don’t expect it from a mainstream country singer, a woman from Texas. The stakes can be high with someone like that. The Dixie Chicks were banned from Clear Channel, which owns radio stations around the country and is a big financial supporter of Bush. And yet since then the Dixie Chicks have done better than ever. Their shows sell out. I was supposed to suffer after the Academy Awards, but my book sales shot up and more people than ever went to my movie.
Playboy: Do you admit that many people were offended by your speech?
Moore: There was a lot of hostility, though not from the majority of people. Women in the airport told me I should be exiled—not deported but exiled. Yet most of the reaction was supportive.
Playboy: Did you expect to win the Oscar?
Moore: Honestly, no. I was relaxed, enjoying the show, convinced they weren’t going to give it to me anyway so I might as well have a good time. Diane Lane came out, and I was thinking how cool it was that she was giving the award for our category. I’m sure every heterosexual male has a Diane Lane moment in his head. She called my name and I was stunned. I had nothing prepared to say. I was walking down the aisle, and Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore were touching me as I went by. I couldn’t believe it. They had this look in their eye of “Go get ’em, Mike.” Many people were afraid to speak out, but I think they were counting on me to say something. I said my thing. They started booing up in the balcony. Down below, however, not a single person was booing. Some were applauding. But I decided I had to say something. You can thank your tux designer or make it a real moment.
Playboy: Did the reaction surprise you?
Moore: It drove the right wing nuts and drove the people who want the Oscars to be some weird four-hour exercise in vapidity crazy. Some complained about it on TV—James Woods and others, just horrible, disgusting people. I was glad they didn’t like it. Dennis Miller went off on it, but he’s become, as Arianna Huffington said, the Sammy Davis Jr. of this administration. I got an angry letter from Connie Stevens. I may survive that. On the other hand I got incredible notes, phone calls, e-mails and letters from Jonathan Demme, Jeff Bridges, Martin Scorsese, Meryl Streep—I could go down a whole list, but I don’t know if I should out them. Then, when everyone was saying that any person who criticized America at a time of war would be shunned and boycotted and ignored and vilified, the sales of my books and movies went through the roof.
Playboy: Are you surprised that your books and movies have been commercial successes?
Moore: Are you kidding? It’s unbelievable. I thought the title alone would kill Stupid White Men. Then Dude, Where’s My Country? debuted at number one. I was surprised by Roger & Me. We did it over three years with no money. We thought we’d be showing it in church basements. I was surprised by Bowling for Columbine, which earned $21 million. How do you say to your date, “Wanna go see a movie about gun control?” That’s really going to get her in the frame of mind to put out.
Playboy: In that movie you seem genuinely shocked that Kmart, where you show up with wheelchair-bound victims of the Columbine shootings, agreed to stop selling ammunition for assault weapons and handguns. Were you?
Moore: My life of doing this sort of thing is 100 percent rejection. Suddenly someone agreed. Yes, I was shocked. I don’t think they did it for the publicity, either. I think they felt this personally.
Playboy: Has Kmart maintained its commitment not to sell ammunition for handguns?
Moore: It has.
Playboy: Has Wal-Mart followed suit?
Moore: No, it hasn’t.
Playboy: Sometimes your confrontations with companies seem tasteless. The Voice Box Choir stands out.
Moore: Well, I’m proud of it. Voice Box Choir was a group of half a dozen or so antitobacco campaigners, all of whom had had their voice boxes removed to stop the spread of cancer. They had been heavy smokers who could speak only by holding a small amplifier to their throat. We had the choir sing Christmas carols at the New York headquarters of Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds. We also went to the chairmen’s houses. It gets a huge laugh, but it’s the kind of laugh you can’t believe you’re laughing.
Playboy: Have you returned to Flint to investigate whether things have improved or worsened since you made Roger & Me?
Moore: I’m back all the time, and it’s much worse. When I made Roger & Me they had eliminated 30,000 jobs. By now they’ve eliminated more than 60,000.
Playboy: We notice you’re wearing New Balance sneakers, not Nike. In your film The Big One you expose Nike for using child labor in its foreign sweatshops. Do you boycott Nike?
Moore: I don’t buy Nike products. I wear these, though, because New Balance makes shoes in different widths. I have a size 13 shoe with a 4E width, so it’s for comfort. I don’t live my life completely in a PC manner, though these shoes are assembled in the U.S.
Playboy: Do you buy American?
Moore: I don’t believe in buying American, because it’s fraudulent. Your American car is full of parts from all over the world.
Playboy: What do you drive?
Moore: A Chrysler minivan in Michigan and a VW Beetle in New York.
Playboy: Are they political, practical or aesthetic choices?
Moore: We have the minivan in Michigan because we have an extended Irish Catholic family, so we need lots of seats. My wife and I just like the Beetle. It’s red.
Playboy: What’s your take on Martha Stewart’s conviction?
Moore: I go to bed with Martha Stewart every night. Have you ever tried her sheets? They’re really nice. I hope she doesn’t go to jail. They wasted time and money on some rinky-dink $45,000 case that hurt no one while allowing corporate crooks to go loose. Consider Enron. Ken Lay is still a free man, and Martha Stewart is going to jail? It’s unbelievable. Who wouldn’t do what she did? A friend calls and tells you a stock is going to tank, so you sell.
Playboy: But she was convicted of lying about it.
Moore: Yeah, she shouldn’t have lied, but come on. Go after the real crooks. I’m not saying you should break the law. I don’t own stock. I’ve never owned a share of stock. I don’t believe in the stock market just as I don’t believe in Vegas.
Playboy: Why don’t you believe in the stock market?
Moore: I just feel bad for all the average Americans who got sucked into the market in the 1990s thinking they were going to get rich. They ended up losing their pensions, their 401(k)s. They should never have been there. It’s a rich man’s game. It’s Vegas.
Playboy: Maybe this is why you’ve been accused of spouting “socialist blather,” according to Robert Novak.
Moore: It’s pretty funny how we use the word socialist to try to smear people these days. The guy who started the religion I grew up with said you’ll be judged by how you treat the least among us. He said you’re to love your enemy. He said the poor and meek shall inherit the earth. Was he a socialist? He went into the temple and turned over the money changers’ tables because he didn’t like that the have-nots were suffering. He felt the pie should be divided up a little more fairly. That’s the fundamental basis of my upbringing in an Irish Catholic household. I still live by those principles. To try to smear me with the word socialist is anti-Catholic, and I wish people like Mr. Novak weren’t so bigoted. I’ve never read a book by Karl Marx, I’m embarrassed to say. I probably should. It sounds like he had some good ideas. Call it liberal, socialist, whatever—I don’t care. It’s about responding from a good place in your heart.
Playboy: How do you define patriotism?
Moore: Now that’s the scary word, frankly. People need to be true to their conscience and the people with whom they share this planet. I see these signs that say “Proud to Be an American,” and I think, Isn’t pride one of the seven deadly sins? People say, “Support the troops.” The best way to support them is not to send them into harm’s way for anything other than protecting this country. If we were under attack, we’d have to defend ourselves. That’s why we have a military. There isn’t a single American who can look me in the eye and say he was afraid Saddam Hussein was going to kill him. As the pope said, this was an immoral war.
Playboy: Earlier you said Bill O’Reilly preaches to the converted. When you rail against Bush, whether in your movies or books, do you consider that you too may be preaching to the converted?
Moore: I don’t think so. In fact I’m one of the few people on the left who have broken through to a mainstream audience. Before Stupid White Men you would have been hard-pressed to find a book from the left that had gone to number one on The New York Times list. Since then the floodgates have opened. Liberals who were kind of wimps to begin with saw that it was safe to come out. I reach a pretty wide audience. If book sales can predict the election, we have a good chance. But of course we have to work hard for this election, because they work harder than we do. The right wing gets up early in the morning; we sleep in. They’ve already done a lot of damage by the time we’re rolling out of bed. They get up trying to figure out whom they’re going to screw today: “Whose life ain’t miserable today? Because I’m gonna make it miserable!” We have to do everything we can do.
Playboy: Including your new movie? Do you admit that it’s timed to impact the election?
Moore: My hope is that at the end of the film, when the credits are rolling, the audience will already be out of their seats, lighting torches. I want an angry mob.
Playboy: And what if, after it all, Bush wins again?
Moore: Oh man. [groans] I’ve thought about it.
Moore: I suppose I might want to move to Canada, but I can’t. If Bush wins, we’re just going to have to dig in and fight even harder. Part of me trusts this administration to do itself in because of its corruption. It’s likely to happen, though we can’t bank on it. I don’t even want to think about the possibility of Bush winning. It makes me ill. We cannot let him win. One of the many reasons is the Supreme Court. If ever we had proof that there is a God, it’s that we got through four years of George W. Bush without a Supreme Court appointment. Did you ever think that would happen? Nobody did. They must have a hell of a gym at the Supreme Court. Why Rehnquist and O’Connor didn’t resign in order to let Bush make two right-wing, born-again-Christian appointments is beyond me. So we have scooted through four years. The Lord above has said, “Okay, I’m giving you a bye, but this is your last chance. You allowed them to steal the election. But if you don’t remove these motherfuckers this November and do it right, I’m going to give Bush four appointments in his second term. There will be two resignations, and the other two I’m just going to smite. You’re going to have a Supreme Court with five Clarence Thomases. Scalia is going to be considered the liberal.” Of course God probably didn’t say it exactly like that. He probably wouldn’t say “motherfuckers.” But we had better listen to his warning: Bush cannot win.