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Michael Moore Trains Eye on Health Care

On June 11, Michael Moore discussed a federal investigation into his trip to Cuba to film scenes for the movie.
Andrew Walker
Getty Images
On June 11, Michael Moore discussed a federal investigation into his trip to Cuba to film scenes for the movie.

It seems as if Michael Moore is everywhere at once these days as he promotes Sicko, a film that finds plenty of fault with the U.S. health care industry while praising systems in place in France, Canada and even Cuba.

Madeleine Brand spent a few minutes with Moore at the posh Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, hours before he moved on to attend a premiere on Skid Row, which has become known as a location for so-called "patient dumping" by local hospitals. (The text version of the interview has been edited for clarity.)

What's it like, this junket here in the Four Seasons?

Well, the first thing I had to do is get them to take down the poster of the movie that they always have in these interviews — the TV interviews, you know they put up a big poster of the movie behind you like it's an ad. This should be news. I mean, it should be a discussion with news people. Why are they participating in an advertising things?

But that's what this is — a junket.

I guess that's what it usually is. But I'd rather have an intelligent conversation about the issues that I raise here.

Is there any compromise from the no insurance company, single payer health-care system you demand in Sicko?

Sure. Like, I'd be willing to leave 12 million Americans off the rolls, uninsured. You know, what's 12 million? Right? We're a big country. No, obviously I'm kidding. There is no compromise. Some things, there is no compromise. Would you be willing to accept a compromise of letting some women vote, but not others? Or some African Americans having civil rights but not others? No. Some things there is no compromise. Some issues are black and white and this is one of them.

Single payer is the only way to go when it comes to health insurance?

That you should not have a private, profit-making insurance company in the middle between the doctor and the patient. That is crazy. The doctor should be able to decide what the patient needs and then perform the procedure. And the patient should not have to worry about whether or not they can afford it — just as if your house was on fire, you shouldn't have to worry about whether or not you can afford to have the fire department put it out.

You made Bowling for Columbine, basically advocating for gun control. [Then] Fahrenheit 9/11. In both cases, what you wanted — gun control and a change in leadership at the White House — didn't happen. Are you thinking that in this case ... you'll have made a very popular movie ... but that in the end nothing really happens in terms of public policy?

The film [Bowling for Columbine] wasn't so much a plea for gun control as it was a plea for Americans to ask themselves why they feel a need to have a quarter-billion guns in our homes. And why when we have these guns do we use them on each other, when it doesn't happen in other countries? In Fahrenheit 9/11 I proposed the possibility that we were being led to war for false reasons. Now, three years later, 70 percent of the country is against the war. You know, somebody had to get the ball rolling here. Somebody had to say it first. So I was willing to take that risk, and I said it. And I got booed off the Oscar stage for saying it. I knew at that time that once people had the information — they'll come along. They'll do the right thing.

So you feel optimistic in this case that they will?

Oh, absolutely. If anything, I don't have to convince the American public that we have a broken health-care system. I think the majority of Americans since they have to go through that health-care system, already know it.

You're known for your kind of guerrilla tactics and confronting people ... Now that you're so well known ... is it impossible for you to do that any more? Do you miss doing that?

It is hard to get into places. You're right, it is. On the other hand, I've also found that because I'm known I get stories from everyday people that otherwise I would never have learned about these things. But they know that I'm the one who's going to stand up and say something — do something, maybe — and so they reach me through the Internet, whatever, and so I get a lot of great stories that way that otherwise I wouldn't get them.

Did you get this idea from people writing into you?

Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Most of the people — the Americans in the movie — are stories that we heard about, people wrote to us about. You know, before the Internet, how would I have ever learned of those stories? We would have had to rely on the media to do its job. (Laughs) There's a scary thought.

Do you consider yourself a journalist?

Yeah, I think of what I do as a work of journalism. It's more like the op-ed page, though. These are my opinions. My point of view. The opinions are mine and I let you make up your own mind.

Do you want to move to France?

No, I want France to move here. I want the French thinking to be our thinking. I like their way of thinking. We have a lot to be grateful to the French for. You know, they helped us with our revolution. We might not have beaten the British without the French help. They gave us that beautiful statue that sits in the harbor in New York City. And they invented sex. We should be grateful to them for that. Before the French it was just procreation. Then they came along and made it interesting.

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Madeleine Brand
Madeleine Brand is the host of NPR’s newest and fastest-growing daily show, Day to Day. She conducts interviews with newsmakers (Iraqi politicians, US senators), entertainment figures (Bernardo Bertolluci, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Gervais), and the everyday people affected by the news (an autoworker laid off at GM, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq).