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Michael Moore: Reel, or Reflection?

Take several large behemoths with differing agendas, marketing departments, legal teams and legions of investors and mix them together in the glare of the international media spotlight and you’re likely to see some sparks. Sparks sometimes lead to fires, and while fires sometimes burn down reputations, if you’re lucky and clever, they can also help you sell a movie.

Determining the real spark behind that fire is a hard thing to do and with so many competing interests behind every situation how can any of us tell the real from the reflection.

One such controversy is the current spat between the US Treasury Department and film director Michael Moore. As media friendly as these two are I’m sure we’ll have the whole summer to sort through the facts but Mr. Moore for one has come out swinging.

If you’ve read the various statements from the Moore camp recently you’d be forgiven for believing that this is a government attack of earth shattering proportions, however, as it now stands the controversy revolves around a single letter from the US Treasury Department requesting more information.

In October of 2006 Moore submitted a request to the US government for permission to travel to Cuba, a country that is currently part of a 45-year-old travel ban for American citizens. In March of 2007 however, despite not having received a response, Moore decided to fly 9 or 10 Americans to Cuba anyways, in order to film part of his new movie slated for wide release across the US next month.

Mr. Moore, the only party currently speaking to the press, is outraged over the fact that on May 7th he received a letter from the US Treasury Department requesting copies of the appropriate documentation for such a trip. Documentation that he’s not likely to have given that the US Treasury Department had not yet arrived at a decision regarding his request.

It’s hard to fully convey the amount of venom in his responses but in an open letter to the US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Moore claims that in investigating his trip “the Bush Administration is abusing the federal government for raw, crass, political purposes.” He states that he “can understand why President Bush would want to harass, intimidate and potentially prevent this film from having its widest possible audience” and says that the timing of this investigation is indicative of the government’s unsavory agenda. Although the Bush administration is “coming after him” Moore is quick to claim: “I have broken no laws and I have nothing to hide.” His official response ends on an even higher note of outrage as Moore “demands”, yes demands, that the Bush Administration immediately end the investigation.

Upon reading all this I was a little taken a-back by the tone of the response to a seemingly legitimate single letter inquiry. After all this is Michael Moore, the everyman, just a regular modest guy trying to tell the truth. Sorry, I have to pause here, I’m trying to picture myself publicly demanding anything from an investigating judge let alone an immediate end to the investigation. So does he have a point?

As much as Michael Moore is indeed amongst President Bush’ most obvious detractors, it’s hard to tell the point at which the upholding or enforcing a 45 year old law becomes personal. If he did in fact fly US citizens to Cuba in violation of the sanctions then it seems like an investigation is perfectly legitimate regardless of his politics.

The simple fact is that the Treasury Department’s actions have created a windfall of priceless publicity for a film that is about to debut at the Cannes film festival in one weeks time and open nation wide next month. Far from discouraging viewers, the ultimate effect will be to have increased the size of the movies audience. Moore must be well aware of this. Harvey Weinstein himself, whose Weinstein Co. is releasing the movie, said the investigation would only help publicize the film.

"The timing is amazing. You would think that we originated this. It reads like a fiction best-seller.” Mr. Weinstein said.

Moore’s camp is certainly happy to let it be known that they have moved “quickly” to ensure that a master copy of the film was “transferred to a safe house outside the country.” Some quick background from a

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