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Unscripted moments
Desperately seeking Michael Moore

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 2004, NEW YORK -- The Republican National Convention didn’t grant the Boston Phoenix an actual seat in the press riser, so I was lounging in the nearly empty general press seating section in the upper deck behind the stage with about five other unimportant people listening to the Christ Tabernacle Choir Monday night when the Michael Moore commotion started. It happened just a few feet to my right, in the tunnel from the inner concourse to gate 77, section 337. A few people started gawking at the mouth of the tunnel, and then a few more, and finally those of us in the section elected a representative to take a peek. He came back with the news: "It’s Michael Moore."

Apparently he had gotten a press pass, through USA Today if my information is correct, which is not the least bit surprising when you think about it. Why wouldn’t a circulation-driven publication want to hire him to write about the Republican convention? And why wouldn’t the most spotlight-seeking man of our time want to do it?

I took a peek and yup, it was Michael Moore in his cap, discussing the situation with a gaggle of earnest people in suits. I sat back down. It was now around 9:20, and former NYPD commissioner Bernard Kerik was yapping about something, but the media in the building had gotten a sniff of the development, and the crowd of them around the tunnel grew thicker and thicker. I heard several contradictory stories claiming to explain why Moore and the security guys were in the tunnel so long: they weren’t letting him in; he had the wrong kind of pass; they were preparing a special seat. I assumed that they had asked him not to enter during a speech. And in fact after Kerik finished, a video came on the big screen and the men in suits escorted Moore to his seat in the press riser – with media in full swarm. Then, while former assistant US Attorney Robert Khuzami droned on about something, all media focus, and all camera lenses on all the risers, were on Moore. It was a mob scene. A media feeding frenzy over a filmmaker sitting down in his seat in the press riser. I swear to you I’ve seen more famous and significant people do that before, and it doesn’t normally cause this kind of reaction.

But Moore is, at least, unpredictable, and you have no idea how desperately the media want something unpredictable to happen at these deadly boring, scripted, controlled, conventions. It’s like covering the taping of a training video for chrissakes. We all had Kerik and Khuzami’s speeches in our hands hours earlier, and for that matter most of the press could have written tomorrow’s story a week ago. As I write this, late Wednesday night,’s top story begins: "First lady Laura Bush took center stage Tuesday evening at the Republican National Convention, describing her husband as a compassionate conservative, a decisive leader and a man to lean on in tough times." Seriously, if you’re a top CNN political reporter, how many months ago could you have safely written that sentence?

But "Michael Moore unfurls Bush=Death banner at RNC," that you couldn’t write last week. Or "Michael Moore moons John McCain," you didn’t see that coming. Here was a possibility, a glimmer of hope, that we might see something spontaneous. We didn’t; Moore really was just planning to sit and watch the convention. The one moment that seemed spontaneous – when John McCain referred to him as a "disingenuous filmmaker" and the crowd went nuts – was not. McCain’s speech, with those words, was released to the press three hours before Moore entered the building. Had he known Moore was present, I suspect McCain would never have thrown attention at the one person capable of stealing a spotlight from himself. It is, in a way, a sign of just how tightly scripted and run the convention was, that the speakers were the only ones in the arena unaware that something off-script had happened, and they kept on reading their lines.

Even when bated by the crowd with the delegates' lusty overreaction, Moore chose not to drop trou or urinate on the West Virginia delegation. He did flash the L for loser sign. Pretty tame. The media would clearly have been happier with "Michael Moore sprays Iraqi children’s blood on delegates’ heads." Damn him!

Issue Date: September 1, 2004
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