Michael Moore vs. CNN

Brent Bozell

7/18/2007 12:01:00 AM - Brent Bozell

Let's be blunt: Michael Moore is one ungrateful leftist hack. CNN had showered him with three hours and 10 minutes of face time (repeats included) on "Larry King Live" and "The Situation Room," helping him sell his latest socialist film, "Sicko." That kind of attention would make a conservative drool. But when CNN aired a "fact check" piece on his documentary, adding a fraction of balance, he declared jihad, promising in a letter to be CNN's "worst nightmare."

CNN medical reporter Dr. Sanjay Gupta put together a fairly mild report taking issue with some of Moore's cinematic claims. For example, Moore gauzily promoted the health-care promise of communist Cuba. In the film's most publicized stunt, he traveled with Americans suffering from 9/11-related symptoms and had them treated in Cuban hospitals. Gupta pointed out that while Moore highlights that the United Nations World Health Organization cites the United States as 37th in the world for health care, the same study ranks Cuba as 39th.

This is the kind of fact checking that drives Moore into a frenzy. He cannot tolerate someone insisting that the infallible Michael Moore would ever mangle a fact. In a response on his Website, Moore didn't say Gupta was wrong. Instead, he declared, "CNN should have its reporter see his eye doctor," since that list with Cuba two slots down is clearly on screen, even in the trailer. Technically, he's correct. A sharp-eyed viewer can see Cuba. But that's not the point, and Moore knows it. Moore's voice-over was focusing the viewer on how the United States ranks just above poor Slovenia at No. 38.

Then he walked away from the facts, making the outrageous claim that communist Cuba's dismal ranking is all America's fault: "The fact that the healthcare system in an impoverished nation crippled by our decades-old blockade (including medical supplies and drugs) ranks so closely to ours is more an indictment of the American system than the Cuban system."

The chutzpah level is so high he should seek medical attention. Most of Moore's attack on Gupta doesn't claim Gupta has mangled the facts, but instead argues that Gupta's facts are not important. Moore isn't saying Gupta is "untrue" -- he's "true, but." Gupta noted America ranked No. 1 in patient satisfaction. Moore admits: "True, but" when the WHO took patient satisfaction into account in its comprehensive review of the world's health systems, we still came in at No. 37.

Gupta reported that Americans have shorter wait times than everyone but Germans when seeking non-emergency elective procedures. Moore doesn't say that's untrue, but: "This isn't the whole truth. CNN pulled out a statistic about elective procedures."

In his boastful letter to CNN, Moore demanded the network cry uncle and admit that everything Moore says is to be accepted without qualification: "What I want to do is help you come clean. Admit you were wrong. What is the shame in that? We all make mistakes. I know it's hard to admit it when you've screwed up, but it's also liberating and cathartic. It not only makes you a better person, it helps prevent you from screwing up again."

This is incredibly rich coming from Moore, whose M.O. is not to deal in facts as much as in cheap stunts and socialist innuendoes. This is a man who ended "Fahrenheit 911" with the less-than-factual claim that the "war effort" was "always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation." Footnote, please, Mr. Moore? Can anyone forget his gauzy video of Saddam Hussein's Iraq before the invasion, with pastoral pictures of children with kites?

In fact, on one point in Gupta's report, CNN did retract a claim and apologize. Gupta said Moore's film claimed Cubans pay $25 per person a year for health care, when Moore said $251. But CNN's response also pointed out that Moore is playing apples and oranges with the numbers, plucking the Cuba number from a BBC report and then selecting his American cost-per-person number from our Department of Health and Human Services. The HHS number for 2006 is not a fact, but a projection, CNN pointed out: "Actual numbers for the years 2006 and 2007 are not yet available, which is why CNN could not use them."

Even people who don't believe that CNN is always Exhibit A for fairness and accuracy can easily find CNN to be a superior fact-finder to Michael Moore. So why does Moore, sloppily disorganized and so often factually untruthful, register such credibility with the press? Because his work provokes all the "right" people and shoots at all the "right" targets. If they really cared about the facts and people who handle them, they'd take away Moore's 6-foot-high soapbox. Gupta's report was a small step in the right direction.