August 31, 2004
NEW YORK, Aug. 30 -- Michael Moore -- filmmaker, rabble-rouser, citizen -- wandered into a dangerous neighborhood on Monday. As a guest columnist for USA Today at the Republican National Convention, he only wanted to take some notes, he said, to observe.
But from the moment he entered Madison Square Garden, Moore was the one being observed.
For more than two hours, he created a comet's tail of commotion. Holding a rolling news conference as he dragged a clot of some 70 reporters past a growing wave of security officials and hostile conventioneers, Moore came close to disrupting the entire convention.
"Moore, you loser! Get out!" shouted Dan Willard, an alternate Maryland delegate from Rockville.
Others merely scowled -- if not at Moore, then at the traffic jam he created.
Moore, whose anti-Bush film "Fahrenheit 9/11" is a $100 million-plus polemical blockbuster, seemed delighted by the ruckus. It gave him another platform to sound off on a variety of themes: the war in Iraq, the economy, the national debt.
When Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called him "a disingenuous filmmaker" during his speech, Moore said, "Thank you, John McCain."
No offense taken. Only dollar signs.
"Hey, the film's doing $120 million right now," Moore said. "When McCain mentions it, I have a chance to do $150 million. It just creates more interest, more excitement."
It sure did. At the senator's gibe, delegates near Moore started pointing and booing, and the crowd roared, "Four more years! Four more years!" McCain said, "That line was so good, I'll use it again," and the crowd booed Moore some more. In his faded burgundy baseball cap, the filmmaker just smiled and sort of waved.
Moore first attracted attention about 8:45 p.m. as he walked slowly over the temporary bridge that connects the media spillover building to Madison Square Garden. Stopped by a handful of reporters, Moore began to hold court. Video camera lights quickly popped on, and the knot around Moore grew.
It quickly became a crowd-control issue, and officials began trying to corral the unruly scribes. "You were told to stop," shouted one police officer as reporters tried to break through his hallway cordon. "If you don't, I can arrest you."
This set off grumbling in the mob, with several reporters asserting their sacred First Amendment right to chase a celebrity through the corridors of a sports arena.
"This is my big rugby scrum," Moore said, explaining the scene around him to a security guard. "It's a dangerous situation here," yelled a plainclothes NYPD officer. "Please make a lane. Please make a lane."
A delegate from Missouri called Moore a "disgrace," a few seconds after asking for his autograph.
"I could kick his [rear]," said Steven R. Schirripa, an actor on "The Sopranos" who is here as a "correspondent" for NBC's "Tonight" show. "We need to get this Moore guy on 'The Sopranos' in case we need to whack someone."
"I think that guy's the most disgusting human being I've ever seen," said Jimmy Gilbert, a 66-year-old alternate from Lenoir, N.C.
Another passerby got in an anti-Moore plug: "Log into Moorewatch.com and Moorelies.com," he shouted, mentioning two conservative Web sites.
Officials began checking and rechecking Moore's press credential as well as those of his private security detail. He just shrugged and leaned against a white cinderblock wall outside Gate 75. "It's easier to go to a Knicks game, that's for sure," he quipped.
At one point a photographer asked Moore to hold up his credential. He obliged, and the photographer snapped a picture of Moore with a pass that read "Media Messenger."
Finally, after starts and stops lasting almost a half-hour, Moore sat down in the press section inside the arena, where the convention was in progress. But working reporters fumed at those who had collected around Moore.
"I'm Dave Espo and I work for the Associated Press," a veteran reporter thundered to the police. "This is our work space and we need to get our work done. Please get these people out of here!"
The episode left Owen Ullman, deputy managing editor of USA Today's editorial page, red-faced and a bit shaken. Ullman was, in effect, Moore's sponsor, and thus was left to plead on his behalf with waves of security personnel.
"We invited Mr. Moore to write a column for us, and he asked if he could unobtrusively observe the convention," said Ullman, recognizing with hindsight the absurdity of that proposition. "We did not anticipate that many would consider him the story and that it would create such commotion."
Did he think Moore's convention theatrics were planned? Ullman smiled and ducked: "I'll have to talk to him about the experience."