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The Convention's Agitator-in-Chief | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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The Convention's Agitator-in-Chief

BOSTON--Michael Moore was set to leave this Democratic National Convention city today on his way to Los Angeles, where the maker of the hit film "Fahrenheit 9-11" will appear on "The Tonight Show."

That's a good thing for John Kerry because, even in the town that is preparing to nominate the Massachusetts senator for president this evening, the film maker's star might well have eclipsed the candidate's.

There is not much doubt that Michael Moore was one of the hottest, perhaps the hottest, commodity in Boston during the first several days of the convention. Everywhere he went, the man who may now be the best-known film maker in the nation was mobbed -- by crowds, and by reporters.

When Moore walked the floor of the convention hall on Monday morning, veteran journalists rushed past U.S. senators and party leaders to get within earshot of the man in the black t-shirt. The same was true over the next several days, as the Michigan native who made Bush bashing – or is it truth telling? -- an art form appeared at events sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus, the Campaign for America' Future, Veterans for Peace and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, the public employee union that sponsored a private screening of Moore' documentary for its members on Tuesday.

Every group that had the film maker on its bill suddenly found that their gathering was, at least for the time that Moore was present, the hottest ticket in a town of hot tickets.

When Moore returned to the convention hall Wednesday night, he was mobbed, drawing crowds that included not just reporters and delegates but members of the U.S. House and Senate.

At times, Moore marveled at the response. "I stood on the Oscar Stage and I was booed five days after the war began," he said, recalling the night in March, 2003, when he condemned the war in Iraq while accepting an Oscar for his documentary, "Bowling for Columbine." "That was when 70 percent of America supported the war. Even Democrats were for the war. I guess America came around."

At every appearance and in every interview during the convention, Moore delivered a steady stream of hard hits on the usual targets: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, middle-of-the-road Democrats, multinational corporations and mainstream media.

Turning the slogan of the Fox News Channel on itself, Moore said, "There has been no fairness and no balance from any of the news networks on this war." On the convention floor Monday, Moore confronted a CNN reporter. Later, he ran into Bill O'Reilly, the Fox commentator who has frequently questioned the patriotism of the Academy Award-winning documentary maker.

Moore agreed to appear Tuesday night on "The O'Reilly Factor. When O'Reilly went after Moore for opposing the war in Iraq, the film maker asked whether the host was willing to say, "I, Bill O'Reilly, would sacrifice my child to secure Fallujah." O'Reilly refused.

Moore's fight with the media is likely to heat up this fall. "In the coming months," he promised this week, "I'm going to present some things to show the American people how the news was being manipulated -- how the news media served as cheerleaders for this war."

"I've already put a movie out that's outed our media, that shows what a miserable job they did before the war," he said, referring to "Fahrenheit 9/11. "I intend to bring out some material that will provide more evidence of the manipulation."

Moore also hopes to put out a book of letters he has received from members of the military who share his anger with the Bush administration's approach to the war. "People are going to ask: Why didn't we hear from them? How did the embedded reporters miss this story? Where was our mainstream media?"

Moore's got another project coming up, as well. This fall, he'll be visiting battleground states where the race between Kerry and Bush is considered close. "I'll be all over the battleground states from now until the election," says Moore. "I've got a few more things I want to say about George Bush."

Democrats from the contested states say they will welcome Moore with open arms. "He's a troublemaker and this party needs more of those," says Michael Lowery, a Howard Dean delegate from Wisconsin. "Michael Moore challenges this party. We need that kind of gadfly. He keeps us honest."

Be that the case, there were no plans to get Moore together with the other man of the hour: John Kerry.

"If they would give me 15 minutes with him, I'd love to talk to him," Moore said. "I'd tell him how to win this election."

And what should Democrats do to win?

"Kerry's job is to get the base out," explained Moore, who has a long history of involvement with electoral politics, going back at least to when he was elected to the Flint, Mich., school board when he was 18. "This election is not about trying to convince the small percentage of the American people in the center to come over to the Democratic side. It's about energizing the base."

Moore mentioned a predominantly African-American precinct in Cleveland that was overwhelmingly Democratic, but where only 13 percent of the eligible voters turned out for the last election. "That's where Kerry should be working," said Moore. "He should be working to get the people out in that Cleveland neighborhood.

He's got some other political advice. For instance, he says he hopes that progressive Democrats campaign at screenings of his movie. Former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., did just that, as part of a comeback campaign that last week secured her the Democratic primary nomination in an Atlanta-area district.

"I'm glad Cynthia McKinney's coming back to Congress, and I'm glad if my movie helped make that happen," declared Moore.

McKinney hailed ""Fahrenheit 9-11," as have most Democrats. But not every political figure is of the same opinion.

Even as he was at the convention Wednesday night, "Fahrenheit 9-11" was debuting in a new town: Crawford, Tex., where President Bush's ranch in located. "We're setting up a big screen," Moore explained. "I hope Mr. Bush comes to see it. He's on vacation in Crawford, you know, so he might want to take in a movie."

Then again, he might not.

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