BOB GARFIELD: Filmmaker Michael Moore gained fame with the 1989 movie Roger and Me, a look at the closing of General Motors plants in recession-racked Flint, Michigan. He was denied a Academy Award nomination for best documentary that year either because the film was too anti-establishment -- that's his explanation -- or, as it later came out -- because it wasn't much of a documentary. In that film, chronology was significantly changed to fit the narrative. OTM producer at large Mike Pesca went trolling through Moore's latest documentary Bowling for Columbine.
MIKE PESCA: In 1999 in Germany, 381 people were killed by guns. In Canada, 165. United Kingdom, 68 people killed by guns. Japan, 39. Of the 11,127 people killed by guns in the U.S. in 1999, 13 were students at Columbine High School which provided the dark inspiration for Michael Moore's new film about the causes of gun violence in America, Bowling for Columbine. Armed with a rifle he got for opening a bank account and shocking statistics like the ones you just heard, Moore had plenty of fodder. But still, he was not satisfied. To properly emphasize the point that our country is a veritable shooting gallery, Moore embellishes, grandstands and ignores inconvenient facts. Fine. Fish gotta swim; birds gotta fly; provocateurs gotta provoke. For purposes of this story, a lack of countervailing viewpoints will not be faulted. The use of cliched happy-songs over images of war crimes -- not once, but twice -- will be unremarked upon. As will the point that Michael Moore would have no career if he just called ahead for an appointment. This is a fact check -- an accounting of distortions that would give pause to even the most enthusiastic fans of the movie. Michael Moore was unavailable for comment. We start with the story of a 6 year old boy who shot and killed a 6 year old girl in Flint, Michigan. The youngest school shooter in history. [SOUNDTRACK FROM BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE]
MICHAEL MOORE: Tamarla Owens was the mother of the 6 year old boy. In order to get food stamps and health care for her children, Tamarla was forced to work as part of the State of Michigan's welfare to work program.
MIKE PESCA: Moore uses the tragedy as an indictment of Michigan's welfare to work program. What he doesn't tell you is that Owens sold crack and that she sent her children to live with her 22 year old brother even though he sold drugs out of the house and left guns lying around. Tamarla Owens did have to travel a great distance to work two jobs at a mall, taking her away from her children for 10 hours a day. And just as we're asking who could possibly support and even benefit from a system that left a 6 year old dead at the hands of another 6 year old, Moore comes up with an answer. Dick Clark. Tamarla worked at Dick Clark's American Bandstand Cafe and Restaurant and Moore tracks down Dick Clark with a picture of the 6 year old killed by Tamarla Owens' son. Clark is supposed to feel shame, because he's ogre enough to employ at 50 percent above minimum wage a former welfare recipient who told the New Yorker magazine that she loved her job. Or, as Michael Moore puts it--: [SOUNDTRACK FROM BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE]
MICHAEL MOORE: Tamarla did not see him take the gun to school because she was on a state bus to go serve drinks and make fudge for rich people.
MIKE PESCA: American rich people. If they were rich Canadians, Moore might not have a problem. In Bowling for Columbine, Canada is painted as a kind of frosty, violence-free wonderland. Yet Canada, he tells us, is just like America. 13 percent non-white. A large appetite for violent movies. And even a taste for firearms. [SOUNDTRACK FROM BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE]
MICHAEL MOORE: Wow. Canada was one gun-loving, gun-toting, gun-crazy country! [GUN FIRES]
MIKE PESCA: It's true. Canada has 8 million guns for 30 million people. But there, guns don't kill people; and neither do people. The reason they do in America? Moore blames the news media. America, he says, is gripped by fear, fueled by scary TV news where reports of murder have increased by 600 percent even as actual murders have dropped by 20 percent. Moore goes to Windsor, Ontario -- right across the river from Detroit -- and finds that gun murders are practically unheard of. He's confused, until-- [SOUNDTRACK FROM BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE]
MICHAEL MOORE: Until I looked up at the TV in the bar and noticed what they watch for their evening news.
MIKE PESCA: It's a report about speed bumps. Scare-free TV -- Murder-free city!
MICHAEL MOORE: Night after night the Canadians weren't being pumped full of fear.
MIKE PESCA: There's only one problem. In Windsor, like much of Canada, they like to watch American TV news. Ted Shaw is the entertainment writer for the Windsor Star.
MAN: The two Canadian newscasts get about 40 percent of the audience. The, the 5 American newscasts, as an aggregate, get about 60 percent of the audience.
MIKE PESCA: Blaming the disparity in gun violence on the news doesn't make nearly as much sense as citing the difference in gun laws. Moore never mentions that 7 and a half of the 8 million guns in Canada are rifles or shotguns. Hand guns are very hard to come by. Most are smuggled in from America. And we know there are 8 million because they're licensed -- a major difference in gun cultures says Dave Austin, spokesman for the Canadian Firearms Centre, a division of their Department of Justice.
DAVE AUSTIN: In Canada now, to own a firearm you have to have a license, and every firearm, whether it be a long gun or a hand gun has to be registered. But you cannot have a hand gun for self-protection.
MIKE PESCA: Bowling for Columbine ignores these facts. It also uses fake footage, sometimes to great comic effect, and sometimes because it would have been really cool if someone had videotaped a story Michael Moore wants to tell. When a state trooper tells the true tale of a hunter accidentally shot by his dog, we see the videotape of the incident. Here's Michigan director of hunter safety education, Lieutenant Suzanne Koppelo, reading from the original report.
LIEUTENANT SUZANNE KOPPELO: [READING] Shooter, 39 year old white male, attempting to put a loaded 308 rifle on large dog for photograph at deer camp. Dog began jumping around. Four rounds discharged. One passing through victim, 50 year old male, leg.
MIKE PESCA: And so you have no evidence or record of there being any videotape of this.
LIEUTENANT SUZANNE KOPPELO: No.
MIKE PESCA: Not a lie per se, but the effect of the faked footage weakens the credibility of the parts of the film that are true. The strongest scene in the movie happens when Moore shows up at Kmart headquarters with two kids who were shot at Columbine. A PR person, Mary, offers non-answers for a while, and then-- [SOUNDTRACK FROM BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE]
MICHAEL MOORE: Mary went back upstairs, and two hours later she brought down this guy whose job it is to buy the bullets for Kmart.
MIKE PESCA: Moore instructs one Columbine kid to lift his shirt, to show the wounds caused by bullets purchased at Kmart. But the Kmart official leaves and eventually so do Moore and the kids, a hulking Everyman and his human props, shut down by the Man. The next day they return, and as yet another publicist steps before the microphones, we're ready for more evasiveness. Then the unexpected happens. Kmart caves. [SOUNDTRACK FROM BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE]
WOMAN: Kmart is phasing out the sale of handgun ammunition. The business plan calls for this to be complete in the continental U.S. within the next 90 days.
MIKE PESCA: To Moore, this announcement is proof that his methods, his shamelessness and his crusades have effected social change. Yes, it's a drop in the bucket; yes, Kmart is bankrupt and may no longer exist by the next school shooting. Still, the scene makes you want to cry. And when you think about it, so does the whole rest of the movie. There's so much tragedy in this subject; so much unnecessary loss and bloodshed in the story of America and its relationship with guns. Michael Moore will tell you he has to speak truth to power by any means necessary. The other side of the story is that distortions and deceptions serve to insult the victims and supply those who stand in the way of progress with all the more ammunition, which we already know is available just about everywhere expect Kmart. For On the Media, I'm Mike Pesca.