I had a chance to talk with filmmaker Michael Moore shortly after his personal decision to post $20,000 of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange's $316,000 bail. Joining the list of celebrities that included Bianca Jagger, Ken Loach, John Pilger and Jemima Khan, Moore and his cash had a flagrantly politicized feel.
After all, his films “Capitalism: A Love Story” and “Sicko” have provided outlets for whistleblowers, making his contribution to Assange seem like a simple footnote to a Hollywood career that's made its mark thrashing the power elite and knocking the American government.
But underlying any relish for making the U.S. look bad, Moore reveals an appreciation for the internet. And how it makes us look good.
LW: The rape charges against Julian Assange clearly have to be addressed. At the same time, I can separate the two: Julian Assange and Wikileaks the Cause. By posting bail for Mr. Assange are you blurring the line? To support the cause (and not the alleged rapist), you could have made a donation (somehow) to WikiLeaks, no?
MM: First of all, there are no charges. He's not been formally charged with any crimes in any country. If you call yourself an American, he's innocent until proven guilty. He has a right to due process and justice.
Regarding donations, I wouldn't know how to make a donation to WikiLeaks right now because the American corporations that allow you to make the donations online have been threatened by the U.S. government even though the government has made no charges against Assange or WikiLeaks. Assange and Wikileaks has not said, "We haven't said that. We didn't do that."
They haven't been charged. And as they teach you in law school, truth is your best defense.
Regarding the rape allegations, there seems to be a leap to conclusion on both sides: Supporters have decided the allegations are a ruse to get him extradited and slayers have decided he's a sociopath who is also a serial rapist.
It appears the allegations are being used to sway public opinion. But is the public so gullible?
Rape is one of the most loaded words imaginable. It's one of the most horrific crimes that exists amongst human beings. They decided to throw the mother lode at him by using that word. But if we want to have a discussion about rape we can talk about the percentage of women who are raped in the U.S. military. It's a higher percentage than rape in the general population.
Does the public divide break down into two groups — those who think governments should skillfully engage in covert operations under the banner of foreign policy and the protection of national interests, and those who think governments should get out of the deception business because it leads to abuse of power?
I think that's the wrong dichotomy. The divide is more along conservative and liberal lines. For instance, on the right they'd say there should be all these secrets about Iraq and Afghanistan because they want to protect the truth from coming out.
Any position about secrets is also tinged by the political stance you take on a given issue. The Pope, for example, was opposed to the Iraq war. The Vatican may want to hear that people should be held accountable. But the Vatican wouldn't want their secrets told. If WikiLeaks had existed 40 years ago, it might have taken one brave priest to expose the sexual abuse that was going on in the Catholic Church. How many children might have been spared abuse if there had been a WikiLeaks at that time?
I don’t think practicing honesty and openness comes easily. I have secrets. My neighbors have secrets. Dick Cheney has secrets. So if someone forces a hand, reactions can be primal — outrage with a call for punishment, and in the case of Assange, calls for his imprisonment and even death.
So what is more important? Should we protect our right to keep secrets (aka “privacy”) in spite of the fact that such privacy may be covering up deceit, corruption or duplicitous dealings? Or should we protect our right to know the truth, however ugly it may be?
Do the secrets have any impact on the common good? Your personal secrets are your secrets, and nobody has a right to know them. That's your right to privacy. Assange is dealing with secrets that are kept, in the case of Cablegate, by elected officials or persons appointed by elected officials. Those secrets are being withheld from the public.
If the secrets that you hold as an official don't affect me or the people on this planet then the secrets are yours. But if you have secrets that affect us, you have an obligation to reveal them.
I remember when I first discovered that Santa Claus was a lie. I remember thinking: “So this is how grown-ups play.” The kid who told me the truth was accused of tattle telling and got a massive punishment. Her parents told her she'd "spoiled everything for me" and that she "took away the joy of Christmas.” Has Assange ruined Christmas for us?
Yes, and the reason Christmas has been taken from us is because we've been very bad. The need for WikiLeaks doesn't just appear out of thin air. In this case, we invaded a sovereign nation based on the falsification of evidence. A nation was taken to war based on a series of lies. And this has resulted in the deaths of thousands and thousands of people.
We'll pay a price for this war for years to come, not just in terms of the trillions in debt or from the soldiers returning home, but because the world at large has lost faith in us. And we're good people. I don't know how we're going to get our good name back. So WikiLeaks has come along and they've turned all the lights on in the room. And some of us would probably prefer that we stay in the dark but that's not possible now because of all the death and destruction done in our name.
It's true that some of the stuff revealed by the cables might have been better off not revealed, but we don't get to say “better for us.” We don't have that option. We have to go to our time-out room.
Do you think “diplomacy” is a euphemism for “deception”?
No, not necessarily. Diplomacy is a very important thing that occurs between groups of people. We need to resolve the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, but a true and permanent solution won't happen if a lot of lying is taking place. So what will bring peace to the Middle East? Deception? Or honesty and integrity and a moral compass? I think the latter.
For all the opponents of WikiLeaks, can you think of any good way, other than WikiLeaks, that We the People and insiders alike can effectively dial 911 and report a problem when we see that our government is being misguided or is being intentionally misleading?
I think the internet is one giant 911.
Example: with my film “Sicko” I just put a call out to the general public for your worst health-care horror stories. We received over 20,000 emails from people around the country. We needed over a month just to read through them. It was a stunning thing to witness. Twenty or even 10 years ago we would have never had those stories — all the whistleblowers who came out with memos and documents. I've had this incredible access. The internet is an amazing invention that allows people to be in charge, instead of just a select few.
Another example: Pauline Kael at the New Yorker wrote a horrible review about my first film, “Roger & Me,” and printed things that weren't true. Inaccurate. What recourse did I have? It was 1989.
I thought, I'll write a letter to the editor, but the New Yorker had a policy of printing no letters to the editor. So I had no way to address publicly the false statements in her review. Today it would be impossible for her to make those things up. The internet is the great equalizer.
In this Age of the Internet can concepts like “diplomacy by deception” and “transparency” ever really coexist?
The answer is no. It doesn't mean they won't try. But the means now exist for people to find out about the deceit that is being committed in their name.
(Coming: Part 2 of my interview with Michael Moore)