'The Big One' Close to a Big Zero
by L. Brent Bozell III
April 15, 1998
A story in the April 17 Entertainment Weekly on "Hollywood's Biggest Jerks" dealt mostly with the recent crop of nasty film and television characters (e.g., Jack Nicholson's Melvin Udall in "As Good as It Gets") and skewered a few real-life annoyances like "Titanic" mastermind James ("I'm the king of the world!") Cameron as well. Having seen Michael Moore's "The Big One," I found it disappointing that the article failed to include him. Given Moore's career in general and, in particular, his new movie - an exercise in egomania and know-almost-nothing socioeconomic activism - he deserved to be Case Study #1.
In case your memory needs refreshing - which it very well may, inasmuch as Moore is a star only in the ranks of hardened leftists, and even with them his celebrity quotient peaked quite early in this decade - he's the guy who made "Roger & Me," the second-highest-grossing non-concert documentary ever. (Talk about damning with faint praise.) "Roger," which focused on the closing of a General Motors plant in Moore's hometown, Flint, Michigan, was meant to shine the media spotlight on corporate avarice. Unfortunately for Moore, he was thoroughly embarrassed when enterprising journalists turned that spotlight on the film's plentiful factual distortions.
Since then, Moore's career has stalled. He's been responsible for the short-lived leftist newsmagazine "TV Nation" (aired, and canceled, first by NBC and later by Fox); the movie "Canadian Bacon," a box-office bomb; and the book "Downsize This!" "The Big One" was filmed during the fall 1996 promotional tour for this book.
Throughout "The Big One," Moore almost always can be found doing one of two things. First, speaking on college campuses, at bookstores, or in broadcast interviews. In these settings, he spends a good deal of time performing what amounts to a standup comedy act. But he's irritating, not funny. (On the plus side, every second Moore uses for an anecdote about his grade-school teacher is a second in which he's not disseminating economic misinformation.)
His other major activity is visiting supposedly greedy companies - which is to say: any successful company - and trying to meet with their CEOs, Mike Wallace style. He usually gets only as far as the lobby, where he routinely browbeats security and public-relations personnel about policies that are none of their concern. The exception is Nike, where boss Phil Knight agrees to chat with him. And in typical Moore style, creative editing allows for creative storytelling, which ought not to be confused with truth.
Knight takes a PR hit when, after telling Moore he'll consider opening a plant in Flint, he declines to do so. (By the way, in the April 12 New York Times, when a reporter asked Moore if he would start a business in Flint, he said "no.") But as Nike's web site0 points out, there's more to the story of Moore's dealings with the shoe company than what's in this movie.
At one point during "The Big One," Moore offers to pay for Knight to accompany him to Indonesia so they can tour Nike's factory there; Knight turns him down. Omitted from the film, though, is Knight's subsequent on-camera offer for Moore to accompany him, at Knight's expense, to Indonesia; Moore passed. Moreover, when Moore presses Knight in the film about twelve-year-olds working in the Indonesian plant, Knight replies to the effect that the minimum employee age is fourteen. Yet Knight too was mistaken; the minimum age is sixteen. Nike executive Dusty Kidd told Moore exactly that, on camera, but that footage conveniently never made it into "The Big One."
It's significant that Moore doesn't react well to those who question or contradict him. (For instance, "The Big One" features no free-market economist who could point out the canyon-sized gaps in Moore's reasoning.) It seems, however, that he's seldom challenged about anything. Judging from the movie - perhaps not the most reliable source - the audiences at his public appearances are adulatory, and his broadcast interviewers don't exactly grill him. When in "The Big One" Moore makes a fool of himself, such as when he analogizes the Oklahoma City bombing to the "economic terrorism" of a factory shutdown, no skeptical voice is heard.
Many years ago, Moore was touted as the left's answer to Rush Limbaugh, but P.J. O'Rourke needn't bother writing "Michael Moore Is a Big Fat Idiot." As Al Franken realized, Limbaugh is a force to be reckoned with. Moore isn't - not at book length, anyway. There's nothing wrong with being a political humorist as long as you're a) knowledgeable and b) honest about politics. Moore is neither.
On the April 11 "McLaughlin Group," Eleanor Clift predicted that "The Big One" will make Phil Knight "the face of corporate greed." Perhaps this says it all: If you like Eleanor Clift, you'll like this film.