“Every fact in my films is true. And yet how often do I have to read over and over again about supposed falsehoods? The opinions in the film are mine. They may not be true, but I think they are.”
– Michael Moore in Time magazine interview, May 28, 2007
Michael Moore is a documented liar who uses “omission, exaggeration and cinematic sleight of hand” to make his political points. But that doesn’t seem to matter to the media who cover his movies.
Now journalists are using “Sicko,” which opens June 29, to make a giddy, unabashed case for socialized health care in America – and even urging Moore to run for office.
He shows “compassion” and “generosity,” he’s a great “campaigner” and an “adroit politician,” reporters have declared.
He’s “taking on America’s deeply flawed health care system,” said Terry Moran on ABC’s “Nightline” June 13. And “… the point his movie ultimately makes: fixing health care is a moral, even a religious obligation.”
Moran led Moore into a dialogue about “Sicko” as a statement of “faith.”
“Father Michael Moore – hard to imagine, maybe, or maybe not,” Moran said, after learning Moore once ventured to seminary. “Well, try this one: Senator Michael Moore.”
The media have been in awe of Moore’s film and Moore’s charisma, and enthusiastic about the idea of socialized medicine. Overall, coverage has glossed over Moore’s distortions in favor of keeping the snowballing policy discussion going.
A May 2007 CNN poll  indicated 64 percent of respondents “think the government should provide a national health insurance program for all Americans, even if this would require higher taxes.” Compare that with November 2006, when Gallup asked whether people would maintain the current U.S. insurance system or would replace it with a government-run system. Only 39 percent said they would welcome the government-run system.
Media health hype has certainly increased this spring, using “Sicko” as a jumping-off point.
“Americans may be inching toward the idea that a truly universal system may be the only way to guarantee that we can all afford some coverage,” wrote Howard Fineman in the June 18 Newsweek.
Some journalists couldn’t hold back the gushing praise for Moore and the film:
· “The film emerges as a fascinating exploration and powerful indictment of a pressing national problem,” wrote Claudia Puig in the June 22 USA Today. Puig praised Moore’s “biggest, best and most impassioned work,” claiming it was not “too politically charged.”
· “There’s something different about this Michael Moore movie,” said ABC’s Terry Moran on the June 13 “Nightline.” “For all the laughs, it’s very serious and laced with qualities not usually associated with his films: pity, compassion, generosity, sorrow.”
Using Extreme Examples to Push Socialized Medicine
Moore is hardly making his case for socialized medicine alone. In addition to coverage of him and “Sicko,” the media have taken the ideas in his movie and run with them.
In just the two weeks before the opening of Moore’s movie, ABC, CBS and NBC have done numerous health care stories including: the “national disgrace” of children who don’t have health insurance; children of illegal immigrants who don’t get health insurance; baby boomers caring for aging and sick parents; how the Dutch are taller than Americans because of better health care; a homeless patient who got kicked out of a hospital; and failures of the military’s mental health system.
ABC used one extreme, tragic example in the wave of stories advocating a health overhaul. The network did two segments on a Los Angeles emergency room where a woman in urgent need of treatment was ignored by ER personnel and died.
“It is stories like this that have led us to take on health care as a major focus for us here on ‘GMA,’” said reporter Chris Cuomo on the “Good Morning America” June 13. But those stories weren’t a coincidence – they were tied in with ABC’s coverage of “Sicko.”
Cuomo: “It’s an election year; this [health care] is a big issue facing everyone. We want you to go to the Web site at ABCNEWS.com, tell us stories about what has gone wrong, about what has gone right, because obviously this is a situation that we need to change. Robin?”
Robin Roberts: “Yeah. And right, and your talk with Michael Moore. More of your conversation in our next hour.”
Cuomo: “He is certainly taking on the issue.”
Roberts: “Yes, he is.”
Socialism: Bad or ‘Just Different’?
When they weren’t using examples of bad hospitals to advocate socialism, reporters were acknowledging critics of “Sicko” existed – without including their criticisms.
On the June 22 “CBS Evening News,” reporter Jeff Greenfield said “Sicko” “champions more or less uncritically a government-run health care system,” describing the film as “affecting stories of personal suffering at the hands of indifferent corporations” and a celebration of Canada, France and Britain.
“The film does not include critics of those systems,” Greenfield said.
Neither did Greenfield.
Greenfield featured health analyst Paul Ginsburg of the Center for Studying Health System Change, who was supposed to explain why no presidential candidate has thus far announced a Michael-Moore-style health care policy.
The reason? “Americans are just different,” Greenfield said.
“We’re much less willing to have government make decisions for people than is the case in Canada and Europe,” Ginsburg said. “It’s a cultural difference.”
Greenfield could have interviewed a health expert who had facts to compare the countries’ health programs – in economics, availability and quality.
Michael Tanner, director of health and welfare studies at the Cato Institute, has written about some of those differences.
“Every year, shortages force the NHS to cancel as many as 50,000 operations,” Tanner said. “Roughly 40 percent of cancer patients never get to see an oncology specialist.”
Though Moore used life expectancy as a main measure of U.S. care compared to Canada, France, Britain and Cuba, Tanner explained that wasn’t a measurement experts would choose.
“Most experts agree that life expectancies are a poor measure of health care,” Tanner said, because so many outside factors affect them – including violent crime, poverty, obesity, tobacco and drug use.
“When you compare the outcome for specific diseases such as cancer or heart disease, the United States clearly outperforms the rest of the world,” Tanner said.
So This Is All Free, Right?
Throughout “Sicko,” Moore referred to health care in Canada, France, Britain and Cuba as “free.” That notion has been only nominally challenged in the majority of media coverage.
Chris Cuomo questioned Moore on the June 12 “Good Morning America” about the “huge tax burdens” of the countries with “free” health care in his movie. But when Cuomo asked, “Do you think you pay too little attention to that in your film?” Moore said “No,” and Cuomo left the topic.
Just as ABC’s Cuomo paid lip service to the taxes that fund socialized medicine, Moore’s film dismissed it with a ludicrous example.
In “Sicko,” Moore visited what he called an “average middle-class family” in France to prove that taxes weren’t a burden to them. The couple, who had two children shown on the video, said their combined income was $8,000 per month. That’s almost $100,000 per year – not exactly “average middle class.”
But Moore expected viewers to be satisfied with this well-off couple’s smiles and nice house, accepting that “free” health care wasn’t really costing anyone anything.
USA Today’s Richard Wolf provided some refreshing honesty in his June 22 piece, reporting the drastic difference in countries’ tax rates: “In France and Britain, the tax burden is 42% and 27% respectively, as opposed to 12% in the USA, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.”
Wolf also noted Moore’s exclusion of insurance industry and U.S. health care representatives from his film and said “‘Sicko’ uses omission, exaggeration and cinematic sleight of hand to make its points.”
Castro Knows the Truth about Cuban Care
Cuban dictator Fidel Castro himself had to admit his surgery was “botched” by Cuban doctors last year, as The New York Times reported May 27. Moore left that detail out of his film, which depicted Cuba as one of the supposedly utopian health care sites.
In a rare display of enlightening context, NBC’s Matt Lauer addressed Cuba’s “free” health care system with other information about the country on the June 5 “Today” show. Far from Moore’s free-prescription paradise, he told viewers “the typical Cuban family uses the black market for even basic goods.” People aren’t exactly free there – “most Cubans are not free to use the Internet.”
“Dissent in any form is not tolerated by the Cuban government, which limits outside influence,” Lauer explained.
Yet, in a June 13 “Nightline” interview on ABC, Moore had the audacity to say Cubans enjoy “artistic freedom.”
“I hung out with artists who, who are critical of Castro, and very freely speak their minds,” Moore said. ABC’s Terry Moran added that “human rights groups, like Amnesty International, say Cuba continues to repress nearly all forms of dissent.”
Clearly, Moore had spoken from ignorance or outright lies – but the media at large didn’t hold him accountable for such statements.
A rare source showed up in Anthony DePalma’s New York Times article May 27: Dr. Leonel Cordova, who has practiced medicine in both Cuba and the United States.
Cordova said Cuba has two health care systems – “one is for party officials and foreigners like those Mr. Moore brought to Havana,” DePalma wrote. “But for the 11 million ordinary Cubans, hospitals are often ill equipped and patients ‘have to bring their own food, soap, sheets – they have to bring everything.’”
In his movie, Moore said he had asked the Cuban doctors to give the Americans with him the same care they would give anyone else. He acted as though that disclaimer was enough to make it true.
Will the Real Michael Moore Please Stand Up?
Despite Moore’s omissions and misleading portrayals in “Sicko,” at least one journalist suggested he might make a good candidate for office.
ABC’s Terry Moran, who had teased his audience with “try this one: Senator Michael Moore,” gushed about the “unmistakable political energy” surrounding Moore: “… a press conference in the [California] Capitol, where Moore sounded very much at home … then, it was off through throngs of supporters, just like a campaign …”
Moran couldn’t contain himself and urged Moore to run for office, mentioning the filmmaker’s long-past stint on a local school board. This exchange with Moore followed:
Moran (ABC News): “Would you run for political office again?”
Moore: “No. … I can’t imagine doing anything like that.”
Moran (ABC News): “Seriously, you got pretty good name recognition out there, a lot of people who agree with you, and it looks like you enjoy it out there. Would you do it?”
While mainstream media have fawned over Moore and his films, others have dug up facts that are less widely known.
The Los Angeles Times reported on two other filmmakers, Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine, who made a Michael-Moore-style film – about Moore. Not surprisingly, they haven’t been able to find a company that will distribute the film to U.S. theaters.
“They were kicked out of Moore’s Traverse City (Mich.) Film Festival after questioning his nonprofit’s investments in defense contractor Halliburton and drug maker Eli Lilly,” Gina Piccalo reported June 24.
That’s right – Moore, a loud critic of Halliburton and drug companies, has invested in both. Peter Schweizer wrote extensively about Moore’s investments in his book, “Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy.”
“The year Moore claimed in Stupid White Men that he didn’t own any stock, he reported to the IRS that his foundation had more than $280,000 in corporate stock and close to $100,000 in corporate bonds,” Schweizer wrote. He listed energy companies, health care companies and even McDonald’s as stocks Moore had held at some time.
According to Piccalo’s Los Angeles Times article, however, Moore has even denied his foundation’s existence. The article said that in Melnyk and Caine’s movie, “Manufacturing Dissent,” “when Melynk confronts him over his nonprofit’s investments, Moore first denies having a personal foundation.”