In the first episode of Michael Moore’s new podcast, Rumble, he tells a story of being given a gift of a new reel-to-reel tape recorder as a child, kicking off his media career. He taped everyone in sight, produced his own ad-hoc version of The Tonight Show before nap time, and went on to launch his own newspaper at school. In an amusing precursor of future events, the paper would be shut down almost right away after criticism of school sports programs.
More than half a century later, Moore is still going against the grain. His career arc is unique in the modern media landscape, being one of the very few figures to achieve commercial success and broad audience share without the full support of one or the other wing of the blue/red news media ecosystem.
Moore came to prominence as a critic of corporate sociopathy in Roger and Me, and became a liberal icon in the Bush years with Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine, but his anti-corporate, anti-war, pro-labor message has never aligned exactly with the Democratic Party, either. Most recently he’s been a pointed critic of Democratic policies that opened the door for Trump’s election in 2016, while also voicing criticisms of the cult of Robert Mueller and Barack Obama’s contribution to the Flint water crisis.
He now feels the urgency of the political moment is such that he won’t wait to put out another movie, say, after next Election Day. The Rumble podcast will be a way for him to chime in all year long, and get out a message that is wholly his own, without having to go through studios or editors. “I’m going to say what I want to say,” he says. “I don’t have backers. I don’t have investors.”
In 2016, Moore was one of the few people in the media who correctly predicted Trump’s success in the vital swing states of the Midwest. He was ignored. This time around, it might be worth listening earlier. In a visit to Rolling Stone, Moore sat with Katie Halper and me to talk about about the presidential race, how his new podcast scratches the same independent-media itch he had as a kid with a tape recorder, pedophile coffee shops in Utah, and other topics. Some highlights:
On asking Donald Trump to fix the Flint water crisis . . .
Trust me . . . if the water had been poisoned in Bloomfield Hills, or Grosse Point, or Ann Arbor, this would have been fixed within 30 days. And somebody would have gone to prison. . . . It’s such a heartbreaker for me, I don’t know what to do about it. I even thought, I should just see if Trump would privately meet with me. And I would say, “Look, you and I are about as opposite as things can get, and my mission is to remove you from this house that you’re currently occupying, but if you’d like to be remembered for something good, if there’s one thing you know, it’s construction. I even have a belief that you could operate a backhoe. You should come to Flint and fix the water.”
On Barack Obama drinking a glass of water in Flint . . .
I’ll have [Trump] meet the people who will tell him and show him that the water Obama drank in Flint came off Air Force One. … Do you think the Secret Service are going to let the president of the United States drink poisoned water? It was all a show. The number-one question that I do not have the answer to, and I hope to talk to him someday, is “Why? Why do that?”
On being targeted by mail bomber Cesar Sayoc . . .
He had a big picture of me on the side of his van with a bull’s-eye over it. . . . Frankly, to be honest, out of respect to him, while everyone else had a bull’s-eye over the face, he put mine over the shoulder. And I thought, OK . . . two things. Number one, that’s a really good picture of me! It’s hard to find a decent picture of me. And he didn’t put the bull’s-eye over [my face], he put it over here. …
I said to [my producer], “I wonder if he’s been to any of the Trump rallies that we went to. Maybe we filmed him.” And we started going through the footage, and damn if he wasn’t right there in front of the rope line, screaming for Trump, and “make America great,” right into our camera.
On his unsuccessful attempt to inject humor into the Clinton campaign in 2016 . . .
I’ll tell you a story I probably shouldn’t tell. I won’t mention any names, other than Hillary’s. I thought the way to win this in part would be during the debates . . . if Hillary just had a comedy shiv, just something that she could use to go under [Trump’s] thin skin, to have him implode on national TV. People would go, “He is unhinged…”
We offered this to Hillary and her people that we would do this quietly, nobody would know we would write lines for her, we would help with debate prep. She had political people helping her with lines — how about from myself or some of the top satirist-comedian types? And all she’s gotta do is land one or two of these…
They turned us down. They were afraid if it ever got out, because this comedian is dirty, and that comedian said that once . . .
On the Clinton campaign not wanting to distribute its own signs in Michigan in 2016 . . .
Because, I spent a lot of time at my other apartment in Michigan. Trump signs were everywhere. More than Hillary signs. I found out the campaign in Brooklyn wouldn’t send signs. They were afraid if too many people saw it, it would inflame the Trump people, make them go out and vote. That actually happened.
On New York’s culpability in inflicting Trump on the country . . .
Something I never understood as a Midwesterner is why New York never took care of Trump. . . . If that guy, with the way he is, was from Pittsburgh or Detroit or Milwaukee, he never would have been foisted on the rest of you. He would have been dealt with. The fact that he got away with so much for so many years, and all he was was tabloid entertainment to the people of New York. He was a punchline. The Donald.
On his brief tenure as editor of Mother Jones . . .
The left liberals, whatever you want to call it, they’re not always friends of the working class. … I don’t know how you guys would describe it, that part of the so-called left. … They’re really centrists. They’re not really left. These centrists? These liberals? They love humanity, they just hate people. … I was fired on Labor Day 1986.
The owner asked me to come in. They did not like this [column Moore commissioned by an autoworker], he did not like that I refused to publish things by these neo-liberals about Nicaragua that weren’t true. I wouldn’t participate in that.
But the thing that really upset them … One day I’m sitting in my editor’s office. . . . Fifteen or 20 women came in and shut the door. They were unionized…. They say, “We’re going to go on strike, we’re going to do a wildcat, we’re walking out.” I say, “Whoa, what happened?” They say, “The publisher harasses women. We’re not respected, we’re hit on.
I went to the owner’s house …. he cut me off. He said, “All right, what are you doing listening to these women? They’re always complaining.” [I say], “Are you saying it’s not true?” He said, “What I’m saying is, the publisher is getting help. … And your job is, you’re management. You’re editor. And you’re not to take their side.
Side? It’s Mother Frigging Jones! I couldn’t believe it. I was booted, within the week.
On pedophiles and coffee . . .
The pedophile priests, the real criminals are the bishops. … They should all be in jail. The priests are sick. They have a really bad mental illness. But we don’t know how to fix that in our society. We don’t know the science, how to stop pedophilia. So I would propose we just find a chunk of land out in Utah … so they’re contained there. There are some people who are going to hurt other people, especially kids, and we can’t have that. We pay for the science to try to help them, and contain them in the city. It should be a nice city. You should go to the Cineplex. There should be a pedophilia Starbucks. I’m just saying, why should they be denied their Starbucks?
On the 2020 election . . .
This is going to be the biggest mess. We’re not even prepared for what we’re going to see. … I think if the election were held tonight, Trump would win. Not in the popular vote. Oh, no. Hillary won by 3 million votes? Whoever the Democratic nominee is, is going to win by 4 or 5 million votes. The gap will be even larger. … The popular vote is going to be huge. But Trump has not lost his base. They’ve gotten bigger, and angrier, and whiter, and madder.