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Excerpts From: Michael Moore is a Big . . .

Michael Moore Book

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Excerpts About Westfall From : MICHAEL MOORE IS A BIG FAT STUPID WHITE MAN      

. . . During this period, Moore made some crucial connec­tions. A group of Flint community activists had taken on General Motors on several fronts, and Ralph Nader had joined forces with them, to the point of assigning staffers to live and work with them in Flint and in Detroit. Nader himself was working on a book, one of whose themes was a none-too-flat­tering personalization of Roger Smith, GM's top executive. (Nader's concept was that, rather than blaming impersonal firms for their harmful conduct, one should understand that the conduct was the product of specific human beings and their choices.)

          The activists contacted Moore in hopes of adding his un­derground newspaper to their coalition, and introduced him to Nader when he visited Flint to speak on how they should personalize Roger Smith rather than pressuring GM as a cor­poration. One of their number, Mike Westfall was a union ac­tivist trying to find funding for a documentary on GM's practices, the proceeds from which would be used to benefit Flint. Westfall's concept was given to Moore in the hopes his connections would be useful in finding the required assis­tance. "We had major, major plans back in 1985 to do a movie using the same material that Moore used," Westfall would 

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later note, "the difference is the money was to go back to the community-every dime of it." Westfall got Moore into GM shareholder meetings where community members questioned Smith and asked that he meet with them on key issues. Moore, however, found other opportunities.

It was time to leave Flint, the supposed hometown that Moore has since portrayed as his Xanadu, akin in reverence and misery to the famous mansion of Citizen Kane. In 1986, Moore set out for San Francisco, an ideal place for his musings, where he was picked (above an internal candidate) to be the savior and next editor of the leftist magazine Mother Jones. His star was on the rise.

But within a few months, Mother Jones canned him. The publisher described Moore as "arbitrary; he was suspicious; he was unavailable." Moore's response was a harsh one: He imme­diately sued the magazine for $2 million, claiming the parting had occurred over ideological differences.

To make his case, Moore immediately went to the streets. The former Mother Jones employee who had been passed over for Moore's job described how the recently fired provocateur stood on the front steps of San Francisco's City Hall to assail the magazine. To make him go away, Mother Jones reluc­tantly settled his $2 million claim out of court for $58,000.

Who was the former employee who'd been passed up in favor of Moore? He was none other than David Talbot, who in 1996 founded the influential and hugely popular magazine Salon. And how did he come to relate this story about Moore.s early example of overblown grandstanding? Not surprisingly. the issue surfaced more than ten years later, in 1997, when Moore wrote an angry letter to the magazine following the publication of an article that dared to criticize him, detailing his now legendary record of outbursts. This time, Moore's 


conspiracy theory suggested that Salon's editor had surfaced to whack him for a relatively insignificant (to all but Moore) occurrence a decade earlier. 

1987-1989: THE LOST YEARS 

With his career at Mother Jones at a dead end, Moore re­turned to Flint, but not for long. In 1987, settled in Wash­ington, D.C., Moore started a weekly newsletter, "Moore Weekly," which was partially funded by Ralph Nader's orga­nization. Unsurprisingly, before long the duo had a falling out. In Moore's version of events, the firing was fueled by Nader's jealousy over a $50,000 advance Moore had been of­fered to write a book about GM. "He'd never gotten an ad­vance like that," Moore later told the New Yorker. "He got really upset." (Nader's office contended that Moore was told to move out because he was spending more time in Flint than on the newsletter.)

Moore's career then took an unusual turn: toward filmmak­ing. During his previous Flint sojourns, he had become familiar with Mike Westfall's proposal for a documentary on General Motors' practices and how they harmed the community, and with Nader's idea of personalizing corporate executives, in par­ticular GM's Roger Smith. While working in Nader's operation, friends of Westfall had discussed the potential such a docu­mentary would have, and how the story could be told with humor. Moore saw the potential and began filming.

Eager to assist, Westfall provided Moore with hundreds of pages of his own research, and again got him into a share­holders' meeting, where Moore questioned Roger Smith exten­sively on camera. Later, Moore got to question Smith during a press luncheon and on an exhibit floor. Moore also gathered 


footage of Westfall and other activists. All anticipated a docu­mentary on the community's conflict with General Motors.

Somewhere along the line, however, the theme began to change. The story of the activists vanished, as did all acknowl­edgment of their aid and of Westfall's ideas. The theme would now be Moore's single-handed and heroic crusade. The title summed it up: Roger & Me. Since its running joke would be Moore's unsuccessful attempts to interview Roger Smith, the footage of him doing just that would likewise be deep-sixed.

After the film became a hit, Moore spent a good deal of time denying the aid of Mike Westfall and the others. On live television, Phil Donahue asked, "But you got a lot of help from-and under way here in Flint, among others, Mike West­fall, a proud UAW member, Jim Musselman, an attorney, drew up the idea for a film about what's happening here.

Moore snapped back, "Oh, that's not true. Oh, they lied." He claimed that, "Attorneys from Ralph Nader's office hand delivered a statement to you today saying that these people are out on a limb, that the Nader office supports this film.

          When Nader's office denied sending any such letter, Moore proclaimed in the Flint Journal that "they want money and they're trying to extort it from me." Needless to say, the mil­lions that the film earned did not go back to the community. save for a trifling amount: Moore proudly told Donahue that he did demand that the distributor pay the rent for the four evicted families depicted in the film. . . 

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Excerpts About Westfall From: MICHAEL MOORE IS A BIG FAT STUPID WHITE MAN: David T. Hardy, Jason Clarke: Harper Collins, 2004