AMY GOODMAN: Our guest for the hour is Michael Moore. His new book is, Here Comes Trouble: Stories From My Life. Your early years, Michael. Why did you choose to write this book?
MICHAEL MOORE: I actually—-I decided to write this book because I like to read short stories. I’ve always wanted to write a book of short stories, and I thought, why don’t I just start with not made up stories, but those from my own life, because I had a very interesting, to put it mildly, life before I was a filmmaker, before anyone knew who I was. So…
AMY GOODMAN: Your parents didn’t even know?
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, no, my parents knew very well, actually. Perhaps maybe encouraged it on some level, because my mother had made the mistake of teaching me to read and write by the time I was 4 years old. So, I was already doomed at that point, as soon as I entered school. Also, as I remember it, it was, asking questions was an OK thing in our household. So as a little tyke, that was not put out, the flame of that was not extinguished.
AMY GOODMAN: Though, it did it to kick out of the seminary, didn’t it?
MICHAEL MOORE: Yes, by the time I was in ninth grade, I was very enamored, inspired by the Berrigan Brothers, the two priests who had led anti-war protests, who had committed acts of civil disobedience against the war, and also the whole Catholic community around Cesar Chavez. And at that time there were a lot of these radical priests, and there was one actually in our parish, and so I thought, this is what I want to do. But, of course, I’m 14 years old. So, I turned 15 while I went away to the seminary, in the first year, and the priests there probably not that pleased with me, again, probably because I was asking all these questions; why this, why that, and the Catholic Church is not the institution where you want to ask a lot of questions. So, anyways, by the end of that year, between that and the fact normal hormones had kicked in and I read the rule book and figured this probably wasn’t the best place to be for a teenager. I went in to tell them I wasn’t coming back, and I sat down—-before I had a chance to say anything, the Father Dewicki said to me, you know, we’re asking you to leave and not come back. I said, wait a minute, you can’t fire me, I’m quitting. He said, great, we’re in agreement, so, for once. So, anyways, that was the end of my years as a potential Catholic priest.
AMY GOODMAN: Talking about illustrious Catholics, can you talk about your encounter with Bobby Kennedy? How old were you?
MICHAEL MOORE: I was 11 years old. My mother’s idea of a summer vacation was not to take us up to the lake to go fishing and swimming and all that. She convinced my dad that we should go to Washington, D.C. or Civil War battlefields or places like that to learn American history. She’d load us kids in the car, we’d drive from Flint, Michigan down to our nation’s capital, where we would spend days at the National Archives reading the documents or at the Smithsonian walking through all their exhibits, and taking as up to Capitol Hill because she thought it was important for us to meet our elected representatives from Michigan. So, one day we’re in the Capitol Building and I got separated from them, and I’m wandering around, I’m 11 years old, then I start to realize I’m never going to see my parents again, and so, I just, I see an elevator, doors open. I walk into this elevator. I’m in tears. There’s a man reading a newspaper in the elevator. The doors close. He hears this little boy crying. He puts the paper down. I turn around. It’s Bobby Kennedy, and he’s like, what’s wrong, young man, and, I lost my mommy. We got off the elevator and he took me to go find my mommy. He ran into a Capitol police officer. The officer said, that’s Ok, Senator, we’ll take it from here. He said, no, I’ll stay with him until you find the mother, and he stayed there and comforted me, and I had this conversation with him. It was very sweet thing for him to do. It’s something that I held it for many years after that.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you know who Bobby Kennedy was?
MICHAEL MOORE: Yes, of course, I was Irish Catholic. Yes, I would have known if I was 5 years old. Yes. Of course, this is really just a year-and-a-half after his brother’s assassination. So, you know, very affected by this, everybody was affected, and certainly, you’re going to Catholic school, you are really affected by this. In the country’s history, only one Catholic had been elected president, so it was big deal. So, yes, I knew exactly who it was, and I was grateful for him being there.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, you were a Catholic who was elected as well, one of the youngest people to run for office in this country.
MICHAEL MOORE: Yes, right after 18-year-olds got the right to vote, I was still a senior in high school and we had this very brutal vice principal who carried this wooden board around and gave swats to students whenever he felt like it, and He gave it to me one day; made me bend over because my shirttail was out. You had to have your your shirt tucked in back then. And I was just so upset, I went home and I saw in the paper that two school board members were retiring and there was going to be an election in June and I started thinking, I wonder if I could run for office and be this guys boss? So, I call the county clerk and found out I could. I got the required number of signatures and I ran.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, wait a minute, how many signatures did you need?
MICHAEL MOORE: When they said I had to get all these signatures, I’m thinking I had to get thousands of names to run, and I was a young man filled with a lot of lethargy, so I was not inclined to want go door-to-door to get signatures. And the county clerk said, you only need 20. And I said, 20? And he said, 20. And I’m thinking, jeeze, I know 20 stoners who will sign anything. So, I got the petitions. Within an hour, I got my 20 signatures. I was on the ballot. And I was a senior in high school. I had kind of long hair. The Republicans in town were just, oh my God, this hippie is going to be on the school board. So, a whole bunch bunch of them go and get petitions to run also to try and stop me. But, it made no sense because they would just split the adult vote. Which is what they did. Six of them ran against me, and I won with a plurality of votes and became one of the first 18-year-olds in the country elected to public office.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what did you do with his trusty charge of the public?
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, my first position on my platform was to get the vice principal fired.
AMY GOODMAN: Wait, you were both a student at the time and his boss?
MICHAEL MOORE: Yes, for like the last week of school, yes, I was one of his bosses and I was under fear of being hit with that board. It was an odd situation, and frankly, I had quite an epiphany in line for graduation, at my high school graduation. It was the night of June 17, 1972, which coincidentally, was also the night of the Watergate break-in. But, we didn’t know anything about that.
AMY GOODMAN: You definitely were not involved.
MICHAEL MOORE: I was not involved, knew nothing about it.
AMY GOODMAN: Though you were a Nixon admirer.
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, yes, when I was 14, when Nixon was running against Humphrey, I was so upset at Johnson and Humphrey for this war, that my 14-year-old brain just couldn’t process anything other than, I’m not going to vote for these guys, or I wouldn’t vote for these guys. And Nixon, if people remember, said he had a secret plan to end the war and we would be out of there in six months. That sounded good to me. So, I was just this little tyke going door-to-door and putting up posters for Richard Nixon. Of course, again, as I became older as a teenager, my views on him quickly changed once he got elected. It was one of the early, sort of, oh wow, they don’t actually tell the truth, nor do they have to. But, I was very much against the war. That’s all that really mattered to me at that age, and if you said you’re going to stop the war, that was good enough for me. But, you know, I was 14 years old.
AMY GOODMAN: But, moving ahead a few years, four years, to this elective position that you had. So, you get the vice principal fired as his boss, and one who’s going to be threatened by his paddle. These school board meetings, you recorded them?
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, I was started getting misquoted in the local paper, because I would make motions to do certain things that I thought would make the schools better, give students more rights. We had an elementary school that needed a name, and so I proposed that we named it Martin Luther King Elementary School. Of course, it was an all white school. You know, you’re only supposed to name black schools, Martin Luther King schools. I thought, it would be good, actually, for these white kids to go to a Martin Luther King school. Oh my God, the town just went nuts. They started a recall election. So, I brought my tape recorder into the meetings just so I could record the public meetings. They reached over they turned it off and they said, you can’t record these meetings. I said, well, this is public meeting. No, you can’t do that. And they passed, like, a rule saying nobody could record the public meetings. So, the next meeting, all the press showed up and everybody put their tape recorder on the table, and people brought cameras. It just descended from there.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about high school graduation.
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, yes, so I started to say that I was in line for graduation, and boys had to wear a tie under their gowns. So, this vice principle is going down the line, checking under everybody’s gown to make sure they have a tie on, and this kid in front of me; the assistant principal says stops and he says, where is your tie? He says, I have a tie. Andhe had one of those string ties.
AMY GOODMAN: Bolero.
MICHAEL MOORE: Bolero, yes, yes. And he says, this is a tie. And he said, this is not a tie. He yanks the kid, physically takes him out of the line and says, you’re not graduating. He was going, but Mr. Ryan. He says, out! He just takes the kid out to the door, and that was it. Twelve years of going to school and the kid couldn’t graduate because he had on the wrong kind of tie. But, the real thing that bothered me about that, wasn’t so much what Mr. Ryan did to this student,
AMY GOODMAN: He didn’t graduate?
MICHAEL MOORE: He did not graduate, that’s right, that’s right. But, that I stood there, and I had just been elected five days earlier to the board of education. I stood there and said nothing. I and all the other students. Nobody said anything. Nobody objected. And I was so bothered by that. And then I heard from the boy’s mother the next day and she called me crying, and she said, why didn’t you say anything? I said, I was still a student. She said, but you’re also on the school board. And I thought, wow, this is the way it usually is. I really—-I probably—-I didn’t want to risk me not being able to graduate. So I turned the other way. I didn’t want to stick out my neck because it might get chopped off. And that’s really how we’re trained. I mean, we’re trained from an early age, the system, the society, the schools, whatever, that wants to make sure that we don’t upset the applecart too much. I felt so bad about myself after that and I said to myself, that’s the last time you’re going to remain silent; you see somebody being picked on like that, you see something that’s wrong, just wrong, you have to say something no matter what. So, at 18 years old, it had a real—-but, don’t you think, though, in our lives, it’s sometimes those small things, those little incidents that really have profound implications for us in terms of how we are formed and how we, sort of, decide to live? When you’re born, you didn’t come out of your mother on the day you were born in say, I will someday host a show called,DEMOCRACY NOW!. Although, you may have, I don’t know. I shouldn’t say that. But, you were formed—-you were formed by the experiences you had, things that you saw, things that bothered your conscience, and you became who you became as a result of that. I think we’re all like that, and I think we all have stories to tell.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your parents, what they did.
MICHAEL MOORE: My dad was an assembly line worker and AC Spark Plug, which was a division of General motors, and his job was to build and then inspect the spark plugs as they came off the line. My mom was a secretary, a clerk, in a township office, and they had a middle-class life. They were able to, by working eight hours a day, five days a week—-my dad had four paid weeks in the summer of vacation time we had 100 percent health coverage, dental coverage, all of this. That was a time when the children of factory workers could, actually, look forward to going to college, and this was, really, a first in history because the children of the working class never really aspired or thought about going to college. But, that was something that happened in that generation after World War II. So I was very lucky to be—-to have that kind of life and have parents that really encouraged me to follow my conscience and stand up and say what I thought was right, and be willing to take the consequences for it; be who you think you are.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to play a quick clip from, Roger & Me, that first film that took the world by storm. But, just before we get to it, what led to it, you being the editor of, The Flint Voice, and what that meant.
AMY GOODMAN: What led to me making, Roger and Me?
AMY GOODMAN: No, and Flint voice.
MICHAEL MOORE: I had my own newspaper. I started a paper called,The Flint Voice. I ran this for almost 10 years in Flint.
AMY GOODMAN: How old were you?
MICHAEL MOORE: I was 22, something like that. I’ve always loved journalism, and I started my first newspaper when I was in fourth grade, and The nuns shut it down. So, then I started one in the neighborhood and the neighbors got upset. I was listing people’s homes for sale and just coming up with prices.
AMY GOODMAN: What were you exposing?
MICHAEL MOORE: I was really just exposing why our sports teams weren’t doing very well. It wasn’t anything hugely political at that time. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t even write about that; that it was just so tightly controlled. The more they tried to control it, the more—-I started up the paper again in sixth grade. They shut that down, and I started it up again in eighth grade. They shut that down.
AMY GOODMAN: When did the police raid your paper?
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, then I started the Flint Voice, and we did a story on the mayor and how he was having city employees campaign for him on city time, and he was using federal funds to pay these employees, essentially to campaign for him. We did a story on it. He wanted to know where we got the story. We wouldn’t tell him, and so, he sent the police to our printer, which was at another newspaper. And they, with a search warrant signed by a judge, went in there and seized everything to do with our paper, including the printing plates right off the—-from the press. It was just a shocking, shocking thing. It became national news, and then a few months later, there was another newsroom raid out in Boise, Idaho of a CBS affiliate where they went to snatch some videotapes of a demonstration. After these two incidences, with my paper and the local TV station in Boise, a number of congressmen got behind and then passed a newsroom shield law that prohibited police from going into newsrooms to seize things. That became the law of the land. Jimmy Carter signed it, and it had its origins in part from this raid that occurred in Flint, Michigan with my little paper.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go on to, Roger and Me, and go beyond as well. We’re talking to Michael Moore for the hour. He has just written a new book, Michael Moore, the provocateur laureate, the best-selling author, the Oscar-winning film-maker. His book, Here Comes Trouble: Stories From My Life. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest for the hour, Michael Moore, Academy Award winning film-maker, activist. His new book, Here Comes Trouble: Stories From My Life. Now, your book really, sort of, more ends with,Roger & Me, but, we’re going to go to just a bit of the trailer from Michael Moore’s first film.
MICHAEL MOORE: Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3, 4. Is this on? Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?