It seems as though the Bush administration is bowling for Michael Moore’s
head. Hopefully, they’ll throw a gutter ball. The U.S. Treasury Department
announced in May that it was investigating filmmaker Michael Moore for
going to Cuba as part of his new documentary SiCKO, which debuted at the
Cannes Film Festival.
Last March, Moore took ten 9/11 first responders who suffered chronic respiratory
problems due to toxic conditions at Ground Zero in New York City to Cuba
to get medical care. Moore’s new film focuses on the problematic United
States healthcare industry and HMOs. The point of Moore’s trip was to show
that America’s health care system is inferior to Cuba’s socialized medical
Moore’s request for travel documents to Cuba had been filed six months
before his trip. Now the Treasury Department is investigating whether Moore
violated the U.S. embargo of Cuba. The travel and trade ban excludes anyone
other than full-time journalists, media, government officials, members
of international delegations, full time professionals, and family members.
Moore had requested permission to legally visit Cuba, a request similar
to those previously granted to such filmmakers as Steven Spielberg, but
never received an answer. The recent Treasury Department inquiry asked
Moore for proof that he works for a “news gathering organization” and for
information about who else went with him to Cuba.
Citing U.S. Census Bureau Statistics, National Public Radio reported at
the same time that the number of uninsured Americans rose from 31 million
in 1987 (13 percent of the population) to 46.6 million in 2005 (16 percent).
The Orlando Sentinel reports that 17 percent of Florida’s children are
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, family health insurance premiums
averaged $11,500 per year in 2006 while a full time minimum wage employee
earns $10,712 a year. The World Health Organization ranks the U.S. healthcare
system as 37th in the world, behind countries such as Canada, Chile, and
Costa Rica, and just two spots ahead of Cuba.
The journal Health Affairs has reported that uninsured patients and those
who self-pay for hospital care were charged on average 2.5 times more for
hospital services in 2004 than what health insurers paid, and three times
more than Medicare-allowed costs.
Several right-wing commentators, including Glenn Beck and John Gibson,
have argued that Moore should not be considered a journalist. Though predictably
reviled by the right wing, Moore is better viewed as a muckraking investigative
journalist, exposing corruption and hypocrisy in society, corporations,
and the government and championing the causes of average working class
people. In Roger and Me, Moore focused on the sky high profits of auto
executives contrasted with massive layoffs of auto employees. In Bowling
for Columbine he exposed the flaws and hypocrisy of the National Rifle
Association. In Farenheit 9/11 he took a bold and unpopular stance against
the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq.
It’s true that Moore goes into his projects with a point of view—the video
equivalent of articles written by columnists and op-ed writers, who gather
facts and then interpret them and make persuasive arguments based on those
facts. So if Moore isn’t a journalist, then neither is George Will, Leonard
Pitts, Charles Krauthammer, Cynthia Tucker, Cal Thomas, or Ellen Goodman.
Fox News is a biased propaganda wing of the Bush administration and the
Republican Party, yet they consider themselves journalists.
For millions of Americans, our country’s health care system is a mess.
Michael Moore is pointing that out in his new film. Don’t shoot the messenger.
Our government needs to fix the underlying problem before we all become
Larry Atkins teaches journalism at Temple University and Arcadia University.