Filmmaker Michael Moore, has just published a new book.
The Guardian extract focused on the period after Moore’s famous 2003 Oscar acceptance speech when he condemned the Iraq War and President George W Bush. According to Mr. Moore, this speech was thought of as “career suicide” and more alarmingly made him “the most hated man in America”.
Death threats followed and Mr. Moore decided to hire bodyguards – “nine ex-Navy Seals surrounding me, round-the-clock,” he writes in the book.
Then when he made the documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” – which was acutely critical of the Iraq invasion and the Bush administration – the bodyguards were really needed because the hate poured in.
As Mr. Moore relates in “Here Comes Trouble,” the hate was “generated toward me by the Republican pundits. It had the sad and tragic side-effect of unhinging the already slightly unglued. And so my life went from receiving scribbly little hate notes to full out attempted physical assaults – and worse.”
Mr. Moore outlines three attacks in particular to illustrate the level of violence he was enduring.
However, his accounts raise questions about these incidents and reasonable doubts if they happened as outlined.
Having doubts, I emailed his spokesperson a few detailed and pointed questions asking for times, dates, locations and police and medical reports that would normally be generated by such incidents.
In response, I received a somewhat defensive email from the Gavin de Becker the owner of Gavin de Becker & Associates, the security company Mr. Moore hired to protect him during this time.
“Security agents from my firm were present at all events and I can confirm the book’s account entirely. Each event occurred just as Mr. Moore described it,” said Mr. de Becker.
Notably missing from Mr. de Becker’s email were any of the details which I requested. These details would make it easier to independently verify Mr. Moore’s accounts of the alleged assaults.
One of the most serious and most public attacks was in Tennessee.
According to Mr. Moore:
“In Nashville, a man with a knife leapt up on the stage and started coming toward me. The Seal grabbed him from behind by his belt loop and collar and slung him off the front of the stage to the cement floor below. Someone had to mop up the blood after the Seals took him away.”
However, Officer Don Aaron of Nashville Police Public Affairs Department said there is no record of such an incident involving Mr. Moore occurring in the area.
Granted the details offered in “Here Comes Trouble” are vague but Officer Aaron said an extensive search of their database found 700 incidents involving a “Michael Moore” but none involved the filmmaker (either the wrong date of birth or incorrect middle name). And none of the incidents in the database involved an assailant trying to attack a Michael Moore with a knife.
And no detectives had any memory of such an armed attack on a public figure at a public event with the alleged assailant being seriously injured by Mr. Moore’s bodyguards.
It is possible the police were not called which would be very strange given that Mr. Moore was apparently being defended by professional bodyguards from a reputable company. It’s not unreasonable to expect that they would not report such a serious event to the police – even if it was just to protect them from litigation. After all, due to the reaction of an ex-Seal bodyguard, blood from the knife welding assailant had to be mopped up.
Mr. de Becker, the owner of the company which supplied the Seals, failed to provide details of the specific incidents described in “Here Comes Trouble” but did say:
“While thousands of people at these public appearances observed several of the security incidents involving Mr. Moore in 2004, few such incidents are ever documented in “police reports,” even though police are involved. “
Mr. de Becker said that “our protectors are trained to always hand off assaulters to police and/or venue security staff, and they did so in every instance described in the book.”
“Not surprisingly, police and/or venue security people virtually never make arrests for crimes that fall short of successful attack at public appearances. (my emphasis) There is no time, and typically, no inclination for police to conduct extensive assessments of people who failed in an attempt to harm or interfere with a public figure,” Mr. de Becker added.
However, it is difficult to accept that the police would not make an arrest in the Nashville attack. But strangest of all, a good faith search found no news reports of the Nashville incident. Michael Moore attracts hundreds and sometimes thousands of people to his public appearances and yet no journalist or blogger I could find reported this violent incident, or if they did notice it – failed to mention it in their reports.
Also, we are being asked to believe that no one in the audience photographed or recorded the attack on their phone and that even if they missed the initial incident no one even photographed or videoed the blood that had to be mopped up where the attacker fell.
Furthermore, Mr. de Becker’s response about arrests is even more bizarre given that other two incidents outlined by Mr. Moore did not “fall short of a successful attack.”
They involved a stabbing and second degree burns which required hospitalization.
Mr. Moore states that whilst holding a press conference in New York City, “outside one of the cinemas showing ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’, a man walking by saw me, became inflamed, and pulled the only weapon he had on him out of his pocket – a very sharp and pointed graphite pencil.”
According to Mr. Moore, in a dramatic last minute move one of his bodyguards managed to put his hand “between me and the oncoming pencil. The pencil went right into the Seal’s hand.”
Again a serious incident but there is also a serious lack of corroboration. At the time of writing the New York Police Department have not responded to questions as to whether they have a record of the incident.
But more than any other of the incidents a police record of the event is perhaps unnecessary. The attack happened in the media capital of the world at a press conference given by a public figure who at the time was fronting the number-one movie in America and was the self-described “most hated man in America.”
But again, a good faith search did not find one newspaper, TV station, blogger or website in the most competitive media environment on the planet having ever mentioned or reported on the incident.
And the third incident mentioned in the book extract also has verification issues.
The filmmaker describes how in Fort Lauderdale, a man “in a nice suit” saw him on the sidewalk and “went crazy.”
Again Mr. Moore was saved because of the heroics of his ex-Navy Seal bodyguards:
“[The man] took the lid off his hot, scalding coffee and threw it at my face. The Seal saw this happening but did not have the extra half-second needed to grab the guy, so he put his own face in front of mine and took the hit.”
The alleged assault was the most serious of them all. According to Mr. Moore, on this occasion the Seal needed medical treatment.
“The coffee burned his face so badly, we had to take him to the hospital (he had second-degree burns) – but not before the Seal took the man face down to the pavement, placing his knee painfully in the man’s back, and putting him in cuffs,” the book states.
According to Fort Lauderdale Police Department there are no police records of this incident ever happening.
“Our electronic records go back to 2000 and nothing shows with an incident involving Mr. Moore,” a police spokesman said.
The spokesman even went the extra mile and asked the local media if they knew of such an event affecting such a prominent national figure.
“The local media said they had never heard of it,” he added.
One Fort Lauderdale detective added that Mr. Moore’s description of the incident read like “a fantasy novel.”
“It just doesn’t make sense in the real world. Real life assaults are much more messy than that. It sounds like an assault that took place not in the real world.”
Michael Moore has often been accused of having difficulties with the truth. Sometimes these criticisms are unfair because they attack his opinions rather than his facts.
But it is now clear that there are serious questions surrounding the assaults that he is supposed to have suffered. Apart from Mr. de Becker, who was a paid employee of Mr. Moore, there is no independent evidence that the assaults happened as Mr. Moore described.
Mr. de Becker. in a series of peculiar emails, that ranged from argumentative to joking, consistently stated that the filmmakers accounts were accurate. However, he also consistently declined to supply dates and locations for the incidents or details of police reports.
Mr. de Becker made vague claims that at least one of the incidents could be viewed online: “I’ve given you that YouTube hint several times; it would sure enlighten you on the specific topic you’re evaluating,” he said in an email.
However, he refused to provide a link to the particular YouTube video.
Perhaps the YouTube video does exist. Mr. Moore can clear up this matter very quickly by releasing the link. He could also explain why there are no reports of these violent assaults in the media (that I could find) even though two of them took place at a press conference and a public event. He should also hire new publicist – because their failure to release these records has led to unnecessary and unwelcome publicity.
Mr. Moore could also release medical records, suitably anonymized to protect the ex-Seals identities. He could tell us the date of each alleged assault and exact location – and the names of independent witnesses who were there.
And Mr. Moore could release copies of the relevant police reports and let us know what happened at subsequent court hearings – if there were any.
He could do this, but if he does not then there are serious questions about his honesty and reliability. Unless, of course, he wants to tell us that the disclaimer that opens his book is his explanation:
“This is a book of short stories based on events that took place in the early years of my life. Many of the names and circumstances have been changed to protect the innocent, and sometimes the guilty.”
Until then, there will be questions over the truth of his stories.
As a documentary filmmaker there is no worse fate.
“Here Comes Trouble” indeed.