The Oscar winner talks Cablegate, freedom of speech, the banks and what a journalist is in 2010
The following is the second part of my interview with filmmaker Michael Moore.
We spoke on December 14, the day after he'd pledged $20,000 of Julian Assange's $316,000 bail, prior to his appearances on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann and The Rachel Maddox Show. In this segment, we talked about the upcoming WikiLeaks documents from Bank of America, the massive fines against BofA for fraud and conspiracy, and how accused Private Bradley Manning slid down the pivotal crack between the Espionage Act and international law.
LW Let's talk about the material itself. What has WikiLeaks given us? The political equivalent of Gawker or People Magazine? Or is it another Pentagon Papers? Or is it another version of the Valerie Plame affair with some musical chairs going on — with Julian Assange and Private Manning swapping places with the Washington Post journalists and the White House leakers?
MM It's all of that and more. And it began when WikiLeaks released a classified military video that showed US soldiers stationed in Iraq firing upon a group of civilians, killing them as well as two reporters.
Then they released field reports about devastating incidents in Iraq. The reports also revealed that our US soldiers felt very bad about the innocent lives lost at the hands of the army. Then came information about Afghanistan. Afghanistan documents revealed new things but also confirmed things that many people felt. The connection between Karzai's brother and the heroin trade, for example. There's this corruption in the Afghan government and our guys in the field are scratching their heads wondering what the heck we were doing there.
The wholesale characterization of the cables as gossip is not accurate. I think it does, however, pertain to some of the cables.
But from the recent drop of the 250,000 cables, we've only seen a few. When the word got out last week that WikiLeaks obtained corporate documents from whistleblowers at Bank of America it threw this whole thing into another arena.
On December 7th the IRS fined them around $130 million. Then back in September of 2009, the SEC fined them $33 million. Then earlier this year the SEC fined them $150 million…they've been caught doing so many heinous things.
When I was doing the research for my last film I found out that they train their collection agencies to beat up homeowners who are behind in their mortgage payments. Bank of America had a special section for training people on how to collect from the relatives of a dead owner's house. They were trained to call the next of kin and try to convince them they were legally responsible for the debts left behind of the deceased. First of all, this is fraud. If your parents die, you are not responsible for their debts. But all they had to do to turn a profit was convince 4 or 5% of the people they called.
I've read through a portion of the raw cables — from the cheeky remarks about heads of state to some extremely cogent, highly methodical analyses. I read a cable written by a US diplomat that outlined how we should get France to handle its young, dissatisfied immigrant minorities: by getting the French government to create, essentially, outreach programs and more employment opportunities.
The cable displays America's convictions about furthering equality in France and conveys the sentiment that a France frought with racial disparities will create instability in the very region where we need a strong ally.
But have these cables done us any favors in terms of dispelling this widespread notion abroad that we are hypocritical, arrogant and manipulative?
They've just confirmed what most already feel about us.
But what about American interests? WikiLeaks has weakened us, weakened our ability to negotiate, weakened diplomatic relationships around the world. Are you concerned about us? Our safety?
I don't like us being the policeman of the world, pretending that we're #1. Where are we in terms of math and science? Healthcare? Longevity? We're not #1 and we're not even in the top 10. It's a good time to reassess and think about who we are.
To be sure, we know that the leaked cables are not classified as the most sensitive ones. In light of the current climate and the reaction to the leaks, do you think We the People can handle a leak of a greater magnitude with even greater disclosures?
We're going to have to because it's coming.
Many have accused Julian Assange of being an anarchist. How would you define anarchy?
I don't see him in that way. I see him and the people at WikiLeaks as a growing force of new journalists using the internet and the digital revolution to have a better informed public. Any time something like this happens, people reach for terms like that. But there's something much smarter and more interesting going on here.
That ten-letter word, "journalist", may define whether or not the US government can try Assange under the Espionage Act. But many have said that Assange is not a journalist.
I think this is journalism, because the source and the sources have decided to go to him. They could have gone to the New York Times or CNN. But they didn't. And why didn't they? Because they perceive WikiLeaks to be the true journalists who act without fear or favor while the main media outlets are perceived as being part of the machine and part of the problem.
In addition to contributing money to Julian Assange, you contributed money back in August to help Private Manning, who is accused of leaking the cables to WikiLeaks. He's 22 years old (at the time of this interview) and if convicted he may see the sun again when he's 74. As far as you know, how are things going for him?
He's quite despondent. If in fact he was the one who leaked the information, he too has done a very brave thing. If he's the one who did this, he did what we set the standard for in Nuremberg when we said that we expect the private on the field to behave in such a manner that is moral and correct.
Principle VII of the Nuremberg Tribunal expressly states that complicity in war crimes or complicity in crimes against humanity is an international crime.
Have you had any contact with him?
No. I've had no contact with him.
As a result of Cablegate do you think there will be a newfound and unspoken pressure among public officials to be open so they won't appear to be covering up lies?
Absolutely. This is why I believe WikiLeaks will save lives. It's going to make those in power much more nervous about committing acts of wrongdoing knowing they may be revealed. WikiLeaks may prevent the next unjustified war.