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David Poland

By David Poland

Michael Moore Is Not The Best Manager Of His Genius

Adding (7:30a, 2/27)

Michael Moore spoke to The Atlantic yesterday as his way of responding to the Buzzfeed stories. He also wrote his own “final word” on the issue.

Unfortunately, as much as Michael doth protest, even the friendly piece in The Atlantic cuts the entire timeline – from the minute Burnat & his family walked off the plane to the minute they were free to exit LAX however they so chose – to under an hour. And that hour included waiting in line at regular old customs, which rarely is less than a 20 minute wait. It seems that the “detention” was, indeed, just under a half-hour.

It also seems that the excitement over the whole thing was ratcheted up by a dinner party Burnat was expecting to attend as he got off the plane. He was running late for the party, texted Moore – who was at the party – and the inflammatory attitude and then rhetoric ensued.

Now… I am not saying that Buzzfeed didn’t have a limited perspective on the facts on some level. They committed a form of legitimacy suicide by having to correct the initial story from “sources” to “source.” However, the reporting – even though it came from a source at LAX who was clearly speaking to them anonymously in order to protect the reputation of LAX and the Customs/Homeland Security apparatus there – turns out to be pretty accurate. There are now multiple confirmations of the basic storyline generated by Michael Moore’s attempt to paint them or their anonymous sources as liars.

The biggest problem I have with the story from Moore’s side is that he and now others following his lead – like Glenn Greenwald – are doing to Buzzfeed exactly what they are attacking Buzzfeed for having done. There is one source for the story, Burnat. And they have done, at least as is indicated by the combined publishings on the subject, no independent investigation at all about what actually happened to Burnat & Family at LAX. Basically, everything that Buzzfeed or anyone at LAX is saying is considered to be a lie because of the anonymous sourcing.

So mostly, on the Moore side, there is an emotional plea, an initial story (as told by Moore) that is now pretty clearly inaccurate, and an attack on Buzzfeed that is so ferocious that I guess Buzzfeed is supposed to just go away.

On the Buzzfeed side, there is the fact (every indication now pointing in the same direction) that they uncovered significant hyperbole by Moore. But they then allowed it to be couched in a few personal presumptions of their source (claiming it was probably a publicity stunt) that have become convenient hooks by which to attack the publication on secondary issues while sidestepping the important ones. The “what terrible journalism” thing being thrown at Buzzfeed is really about editing choices. They seem to have gotten the story correct… but the tone – and is often the case at Buzzfeed – was as hyperbolic’s as Moore’s. They laid on the “publicity event” angle when the only news in the story was that the Moore tweets that started all this and the media blitz that followed was being exaggerated by at least a third… and as it turns out, probably two-thirds.

But that’s not how we do things in media these days.

And this is the power we give celebrities who can broadcast to the world on a Twitter feed instantaneously.

Now, both need to defend somewhat indefensible positions. Moore is spinning what actually appeared into Buzzfeed into some “willful ignorance of racial profiling” meme… which is like accusing your sibling of stealing gum when your mom catches you with your hand in the cookie jar. Moreover, there is now some mysterious set of extra rooms being brought up by Moore, which may exist, but only blur the point. Burnat and his family seem to have spent about an hour before exiting LAX, about half of which was spent being held as the authorities determined his status.

Honestly, would any of this gotten picked up by news wires as a story – much less TV – if the tweet was, “Authorities holding Emad Burnat at LAX being overly officious about his paperwork. Meanwhile, he’s missing a really cool doc party at Cipriani’s. Some Hollywood welcome!”?

As I have noted before, I kinda adore Michael, but I know what it’s like to be on the “wrong side” (read: not his side) of an argument with him. The more wrong he is, the more dramatic the explosions.

I am not a Buzzfeed fan. But they are getting unfairly abused here. Moore twisted the dagger fairly, citing the ridiculous sidebar of puppy stories and lists they run endlessly, more kitsch porn than anything resembling journalism. But they caught Moore is a somewhat extravagant exaggeration here… one, admittedly, that I felt I could smell the minute I read it. But it was always a gossip story, from Moore and from them. Emad Burnat suffered no tragedy or travesty at LAX. He suffered an inconvenience… one many of us have suffered in the US and elsewhere. (I was always very closely shaved when traveling the world right after 9/11… and was still searched multiple times in every country I went to or exited.)

Michael is right to have said his “last word,” because he has already said too much.

And Buzzfeed should be more careful about sticking to the facts. They got good facts this time… and their sloppy editing choices, in the name of hype, made them wide open for unfair attacks.

And so it goes…

2/26-5:42p after the jump

I love Michael Moore.

Genuinely. What is wonderful about Michael Moore is so singular and so special that it is undeniable (unless you have a bias going in). He has passion and the skills to transform his intelligence into ideas that are accessible to the public.

On the other hand… I consider Michael Moore to be one of the great jackasses of our time. What it irritating about Michael Moore is so irritating and in conflict with his brand (for lack of a better word) that it is shocking… every time he breaks out the big bag of righteous bullshit.

This last week was classic Michael Moore. Outrage over Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat was “detained” for 90 minutes at LAX when he and his wife & child arrived for The Academy Awards. Even the details that were correct in Moore’s tweets were hyperbolic in tone.

“Emad, his wife & 8-yr old son were placed in a holding area and told they didn’t have the proper invitation on them to attend the Oscars.”

Sounds ominous, eh?

“Although he produced the Oscar invite nominees receive, that wasn’t good enough & he was threatened with being sent back to Palestine.”

I’m pretty sure that LAX Customs are not in the business of knowing what kind of invitation Oscar nominees receive. He and his family flew in from Turkey, not Palestine.

“Apparently the Immigration & Customs officers couldn’t understand how a Palestinian could be an Oscar nominee. Emad texted me for help.”

“Apparently” is, I guess, meant to allow for inflammatory conjecture by Moore.

In a later tweet…

“After 1.5 hrs, they decided to release him & his family & told him he could stay in LA for the week & go to the Oscars. Welcome to America.”

Sounds like Argo or something, no? Why did they let Burnt and his family go after 90 minutes? No indication, except for the suggestion that Moore and The Academy’s lawyers were on the job. But there is no indication or even claim anywhere that either Moore or The Academy had anything to do with the ultimate disposition of the situation.

I immediately smelled a case of Michael Moore grandstanding and tweeted about it. There was no “win” available. Voting had closed. But Michael Moore was telling a story and damned if the facts were going to get in his way.

Yesterday, Buzzfeed (a site about which I have similarly mixed feelings to those I have for Michael) got an unnamed source at LAX telling them:

“When Burnat arrived at the Customs and Border Protection desk at LAX, the source said, he was asked to state the purpose of his visit; when he said he was here to attend the Oscars, he was asked to produce his ticket.

When he wasn’t able to produce that document on spot, the source continued, Burnat was taken to a secondary inspection area where he found the ticket, showed it Customs officers, and was immediately allowed to proceed to the baggage claim.

This source insists the whole process took no longer than 25 minutes total, and was standard practice for anyone entering the country.”

Okay… so one source reporting. And there was an inflammatory comment suggesting that this was a publicity stunt for the film. (I don’t believe that to be true.) And this got Moore rolling again… against Buzzfeed…

“Buzzfeed quotes a “source” at LAX who said that Burnat was simply asked to produce his ticket to the Oscars and when he “couldn’t” he was moved “to a secondary inspection area where he (Burnat) found his ticket” to the Oscars & was then “immediately allowed” into the US… Well, there’s just one little problem with this story – and if Buzzfeed had bothered to ask any of the 6,000 Academy members… they would have learned how they were played by the “source” from Homeland Security… You see, Buzzfeed, there was no way for Emad Burnat to show Customs an Oscar ticket on Tuesday because there were no Oscar tickets on Tues! Nobody, no nominee, had their tickets on Tuesday because the Academy didn’t release them to Oscar-goers until 2 days later — on Thursday.”(connected tweets)

Notice how Moore shifts the focus of the conversation to whether Bernat had his Oscar tickets? No one is suggesting that he did… or even that he should have.

The question that tells us whether this was a bad case of profiling by Customs/Homeland Security or just a fairly normal delay over paperwork is not whether Burnat could have had a hard ticket to the show, but whether his family’s paperwork was in order and whether there was anything particularly unusual in the handling of this by the US Government. Customs at LAX does not work for The Academy… though I suppose it would make a lot of sense for The Academy to reach out to Customs/Homeland Security and give them a list of visitors expected from other countries… but that wouldn’t make a good scandal would it?

Moore went on to smear Buzzfeed relentlessly, but without adding any facts or disputing anything directly… just suggesting that Buzzfeel was a sucker, Homeland Security was lying to cover up the situation, and playing the race card repeatedly.

The drama continued, as Buzzfeed got access to an allegedly handwritten log of the afternoon this all happened (the 19th), the timing of which says the Burnat family was “detained” for 25 minutes, not 90 minutes.

Moreover, Buzzfeed contracted Burnat’s publicist: The film’s publicist, Rodrigo Brandão, did not dispute the timeline, but said it did not include the time it took Burnat to advance through the first inspection station, including time spent waiting in line.

Moore’s response?

None yet. But if the publicist is now hedging and, basically, saying that Burnat spent an hour waiting for customs – as all frequent travelers have at some point – before being “detained,” I am comfortable believing the 25 minute claim.

What do I think really happened? Probably close to what Buzzfeed reports, perhaps with a little more anti-Arab racism. But it’s not hard to believe that Burnat said/texted, “We’ve been stuck here for 90 minutes” and Moore went to war, assuming that all 90 minutes was in some back room at LAX with torture instruments lining the walls. Of course, the fact that Burnat was communicating – no cell phones allowed in Customs lines these days – suggests that perhaps Moore was wildly overreacting. And then, when he made it a media story, up on his high horse, the tale just got better and better.

And then, his rep was on the line. And you rarely – if ever- see Michael Moore say something like, “Sorry, I overreacted a little. You should still pay attention to how Palestinians have to live, but the US Government was not treating Burnat like they caught him climbing over the Berlin Wall because they are racist pigs.”

He is a great storyteller. A provocateur. A madman. And I truly adore him.

But sometimes, he is just wrong… goes too fast… gets too excited… whatever. And then all that genius is like the first act of an Adam Sandler move… stupid and angry and laughable.

And if Moore shows up tonight with some real news about this overblown story, I will happily bow to my unfair presumption and apologize profusely.

But I suspect we will hear an angry screed about why he was held for even 25 minutes, demanding answers from LAX that he knows they cannot answer, as he did in his most recent tweet, “Dear LAX: There were scores of foreign Oscar nominees arriving at LAX last week. Please provide the names of the non-Palestinians u detained”

See what he did? Make the other guy answer the questions when you don’t like the ones being asked of you. Genius.

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9 Responses to “Michael Moore Is Not The Best Manager Of His Genius”

  1. AdamL says:

    I went to Israel last Christmas on vacation and was detained for about 25 minutes in a holding room. Reason: I had visited Malaysia (a “Muslim” country) and they wanted to ask me about that visit. Wad this a big deal? No. Did they let me in after 25 minutes once they’d satisfied themselves that I was not visiting Israel for any untoward reasons? Yes. Dis I complain about this or expect people to tweet on my behalf? No. Moore is clearly being a dick here. 60 minute wait in line with a 25 minute wait in a holding room is no big deal at all.

  2. Foamy Squirrel says:

    Shit, I’ve been detained in Japan by US officials prior to even boarding the plane. It was for a grand total of 15 minutes, but hey…

  3. anghus says:

    “But Michael Moore was telling a story and damned if the facts were going to get in his way.”

    You just summed up his entire career. As a carnival barker, i find him marginally amusing. As a documentarian and so-called purveyor of truth, i find him woefully lacking.

    Michael and Me is amusing. In that kind of train wreck way when you see someone so desperately trying to insert themselves into an issue. He was from Flint, there was a personal angle. It’s amusing, but calling it a documentary seems like a stretch.

    I don’t see much of a difference between what Michael Moore does and Sascha Baron Cohen does in something like Borat or Bruno. They are both looking for reactions and willing to go to embarrassing lengths to accomplish their goal. What’s the difference between Cohen pulling his pants down in a room with Ron Paul and Moore driving around Washington in an ice cream truck talking about the war on terror? At the end of the day, very little.

    Bowling for Columbine is such a terrible movie with so many straw man arguments. An employee of an American Bandstand themed restaurant suffers the tragedy of her latch key kid accidentally killed by a gun. So what does he do? He tracks down Dick Clark who owns the American Bandstand copyright. Who has nothing to do with the issue other than the most tenuous of connections to the tragedy. Because people know Dick Clark and Moore seems only interest in swinging his hammer at icons instead of issues.

    The Heston thing is equally laughable. When he leaves the house and puts the picture of the dead girl at the gate. It’s supposed to be this powerful moment, but it’s such a phony, pointless gesture that has no real weight.

    Moore is a shameless huckster.

  4. christian says:

    Well, instead of quoting MIchael Moore you could go to the source:

    “When I arrived at LAX with my 8 year old child and wife, excited to attend the Academy Awards, the last thing I expected was for them to doubt who I am. I’m a Palestinian and a documentary filmmaker — with a valid visa. What about that made me suspicious? I was so shocked that I didn’t keep track of time but I can tell you this — the “secondary” inspection that people seem to be focusing on was definitely just that — secondary. What the whole experience added up to seemed like forever to me and my family, and I don’t understand why I’m being asked whether it was 23 minutes (it definitely was not) or more. That is the wrong question. And I think Americans should be proud that there are people like Michael Moore and so many others I met in LA who are willing to ask the right question: why was I held in the first place?”

  5. Sam says:

    It’s called security. Look, a WASP flying from Cincinnati to Denver stands a decent chance of being “held” for a 23-minute secondary inspection. So why is this guy, coming in on an international flight, whining about it?

    I’m convinced true racism persists in this country in part (obviously not in whole) because there are so many people crying wolf over imagined slights that people just get sick of being outraged. Then when something genuinely unjust occurs, people don’t have the energy to fight it that they ought to.

  6. christian says:

    ’m convinced true racism persists in this country in part (obviously not in whole) because there are so many people crying wolf over imagined slights”

    That really explains the justified rage of Birthers and George Zimmerman apologists…

  7. Sam says:

    Maybe I wasn’t clear. I’m not saying that a racist becomes a racist because he sees other people crying “Racist!” without legitimate cause. Racists aren’t that logical anyway.

    What I’m saying is that people who are not racists — people who, were they to be exposed to the true racism that happens in the world but maybe outside their own daily lives, would be outraged by it and motivated to fight it — are not going to be as outraged and motivated if they’re constantly hearing rallying cries over non-issues.

    Fighting racism or indeed any social injustice tends to come down to a matter of education. If you educate right-thinking people in the world about the injustices that so often prevail and rally them to change the world, they’ll band together and do it. Michael Moore would be a great educator and rally-er, if only he weren’t such a blowhard, more interested in spectacle than in truth.

    So what happens? People hear his call and consider rallying to his cause. Then they dig a little deeper and find that the so-called injustice was a minor inconvenience that every traveller in the world, regardless of race, has experienced at one time or another. They don’t feel so outraged anymore.

    Then the next time someone has a rallying call, they’re a little more wary, a little more reluctant, a little less interested in getting all worked up about it.

    Too many false alarms, and people stop paying attention.

  8. anghus says:

    “Too many false alarms, and people stop paying attention.”

    You summed it up nicely. A guy got stopped travelling from Turkey to the United States for a security check. He got held up why they verified a few things. I was stopped once travelling internationally for three hours while they went through every bag i had. It wasn’t an international incident, it was a day that ends with “y”. This thing happens. Why does it have to be an incident?

    Check out some quotes from the source:

    “I’m a Palestinian and a documentary filmmaker — with a valid visa. What about that made me suspicious?”

    The Palestinian part. Is that a difficult question to answer? I would expect many Palestinians are given additional screening. That’s the world we live in.

    “What the whole experience added up to seemed like forever to me and my family”

    Yes. I’ve stood in line at Disneyworld before. I understand the perception of ‘seemed like an eternity’. Sound. Fury. Signifying nothing.

    “I think Americans should be proud that there are people like Michael Moore and so many others I met in LA who are willing to ask the right question: why was I held in the first place?””

    Because you’re Palestinian. And we live in a country that is still insanely high strung about potential terrorist threats. Even though they are hardly a daily occurance like in his part of the world.

    If the guy had a real gripe, i’d have no problem agreeing with him. But his entire argument feels like someone who is saying “Don’t you know who i am”, like he’s standing in line at a club and the Bouncer won’t let him by. I don’t know if the guy has ever read Drudge, but there’s a story once a week about a Grandmother or an 8 year old girl who is subjected to ridiculous security screenings and protocols. Trying to reduce it to racism is so utterly bogus. And again, it falls right back into the conversation we had about the oscars: People seem like they’re hunting for reasons to be offended. This is not even remotely close to being something to get upset over.

    The guy doesn’t come across like a persecuted victim of racism. He comes across like an entitled jackass who is upset he was held up for roughly twenty to ninety minutes, based on the version of events you’re willing to believe.

    Such a non-story. And as Sam says, it’s this kind of thing that turns legitimate complaints into white noise.

  9. Dan says:

    Hmm, what about this?

    The real story about how border officials behave is far more complex.

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