A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Filmmaker Michael Moore is dodging hard questions being asked by Mackinac Center reporter Kathy Hoekstra. Seven attempts to contact Moore over the last two weeks — four by Hoekstra, and one each from The Flint Journal, The Detroit News and Fox News' John Stossel — have not brought Moore out of hiding to answer questions about a contradictory policy of seeking Michigan's film tax subsidies for work being done on his films. And now the predatory interviewer is looking very much like his old prey — former General Motors Corp. CEO Roger B. Smith — in 1989's "Roger & Me."

But another look at "Roger & Me" — Moore's breakthrough film — reveals that contradictory thinking was there from the start.

In his latest work, "Capitalism: A Love Story" (2009), Moore embarks upon a futile quest to find out what happened to hundreds of billions in taxpayer cash loaned to the financial industry as part of 2008's Troubled Asset Relief Program. Two weeks ago, Hoekstra discovered that Moore or someone working with him appears to have asked for a taxpayer bailout to help cover the cost of making a film that critiques ... taxpayer bailouts. Moore has also publicly criticized the very program that is being taken advantage of: Michigan's generous policy of providing tax credits and outright subsidies to filmmakers who shoot in the state. Referring to film companies that come to Michigan to take the credits, Moore recently asked: "Why do they need our money, from Michigan, from our taxpayers, when we're already broke here?"

And yet receiving assistance from public entities was there at the outset. In the closing credits to "Roger & Me," under the notation "funding provided by," the following benefactor is thanked: "Michigan Council for the Arts." Moore received $5,000 in grants from the state agency.

Muddling his message with contradictory evidence also takes place in "Roger & Me." If there is a unifying theme to the film, it is that the autoworkers and people of Flint did not deserve the economic devastation visited upon them when GM decided to start shutting down the older auto production facilities located there. Moore asks at the beginning of the film why GM — then "one of the richest companies in the world" with profits "in the billions" — should be throwing the people of Flint out of work.

In hindsight, it now appears quite clear that recently bankrupted GM didn't do enough to streamline its production methods and workforce. But for the movie, this isn't relevant: "Roger & Me" makes no attempt to justify saving the Flint facilities or the jobs of the workers therein on the grounds of them being more productive than rivals elsewhere.

Indeed, the film provides just the opposite message. If you take Moore's dubious evidence at face value, then you have a right ro wonder why GM didn't act sooner.

A local Taco Bell franchise is presented as one landing place for the displaced line workers. Moore pays a visit, and the manager tells him "why all the ex-GM workers had been fired" [emphasis added]. The reason, according to the manager that Moore puts on camera, is that the auto workers cannot handle the "pace" and "speed" of providing fast food as compared to their old job.

It is quite an assertion that such breathtaking lethargy would be true of "all" the former Flint auto line workers who secured work at Taco Bell. If this is an attempt at irony, then it fails to answer the charge that "all" of the former GM workers were "fired." One would think that Moore could have presented at least one that quit in disgust because fast food work was a vastly inferior challenge in comparison to car building. No such person is found. While factually questionable as a representative sampling of the Flint autoworker, the Taco Bell anecdote makes it appear that GM's Flint workforce was staffed with people who couldn't competently build a burrito.

Likewise, Moore presents the county jail as another destination for Flint's old assembly line staff. He points out that GM and the United Auto Workers created a program to train Flint's ex-auto workers to be prison guards, and then acidly notes that this gives them "jobs in the jails now filling up with their former line mates." Like the assertion that they cannot handle fast food work, the allegation that UAW members are just a job loss away from becoming felons is left unchallenged by anything else presented in the documentary.

As with the current controversy over Moore taking special tax breaks to bash companies that take special tax breaks, "Roger & Me" purports to champion the plight of the autoworker by presenting autoworkers as individuals with extraordinarily weak character. It is highly unlikely that the late Roger Smith shared anything close to such a dim view of GM's Flint workforce.

Were he alive to day, perhaps Smith would join Hoekstra, waiting for Michael Moore to respond to some tough questions.

Northern Michigan University economist Hugo Eyzaguirre discusses how raising the minimum wage will hurt emerging local economies. See more at "Raising the Minimum Wage, Lowering Opportunity."


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