Paging Osama Bin Laden: Michael Moore embraces the WikiLeaks controversy

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Somehow I can’t say I’m suprised to discover that Michael Moore has leaped into the WikiLeaks media furor, penning a feisty post where he explains why he put up $20,000 of his own money to help bail Julian Assange out of jail. When it comes to controversy, the famed documentary filmmaker is not shy about taking sides, especially when it comes to a dispute that would allow him to weigh in against his favorite target: the supposedly toothless mainstream media.

If you read Moore’s post, he takes great pains to point out that Assange has been under attack, not only from the usual suspects -- including a Twitter-crazed Sarah Palin and New York’s reliably anti-free speech Republican Congressman Peter King -- but also from media luminaries such as the New Yorker’s George Packer, who Moore quotes as describing Assange as ‘super-secretive, thin-skinned and megalomaniacal,’ adjectives that have often been used, ahem, in conjunction with Moore as well, especially by publicists who’ve had to work with him on his films.


Moore makes a shrewd rhetorical point, arguing that if WikiLeaks were in business back in August 2001, perhaps the notorious secret document the Bush administration somehow ignored -- you know, the one headlined ‘Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US’ -- might have surfaced and caused a righteous furor. As Moore writes: ‘If that document had leaked, how would you or I have reacted? What would Congress or the FAA have done? Was there not a greater chance that someone, somewhere would have done something if all of us knew about bin Laden’s impending attack using hijacked planes?’

Maybe the leak would’ve violated espionage acts, as Assange’s leaks may have done, but maybe it would’ve saved a lot of lives. But Moore and I part company when he goes on to denounce what he calls today’s ‘corporate-owned press’ for having either dismissed the importance of WikiLeaks or painted them as simple anarchists, with Moore claiming that WikiLeaks exists in the first place because corporate owners are ‘making it impossible for good journalists to do their job.’

Simply put, that’s a bunch of hooey. First off, there’s tons of great journalism happening in America today, not just at my newspaper, but at the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, which, its madcap right-wing editorial pages aside, has become an even better newspaper than ever under the ‘corporate’ ownership of Rupert Murdoch, publishing some terrific investigative pieces, especially about the perils of consumer privacy in the era of corporate Internet snooping.

The idea of ‘corporate’ journalism is an easy target for folks like Moore. But if he studied the history of journalism, he’d discover that some of the most horrific examples of bad journalism occurred at newspapers under private ownership, notably owners such as William Randolph Hearst, Col. Robert McCormick and Harrison Gray Otis, one of the early proprietors of the Los Angeles Times, who used the paper to help him make a real-estate killing in the San Fernando Valley. If Moore really thinks that journalism was so much better 50 or 100 years ago when it was free of corporate influence, he’s even more naive than the crazy conservatives who think that an Internet utopian like Assange has ‘blood on his hands’ because he’s shining a light on all the dark corners of secret diplomacy.

--Patrick Goldstein