Editor-At-Large: Michael Moore: the man, the myth, the millions. The pizza

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The Independent Online

Whatever happened to Michael Moore, the man who told us his mission in life was to stop President George Bush getting re-elected? The man who loathed Bush so much he spent millions of dollars making a film, Fahrenheit 9/11, the main purpose of which was to discredit the President. The man who went on national television and relentlessly toured the US begging people to vote the Republicans out of office. Moore never missed an opportunity to ram home the fact that he sought nothing less than total humiliation for Dubya. But since Bush was returned to the White House, Moore has been strangely silent - obviously he found the result extremely unpalatable, and Moore is not someone who likes to lose an argument. At 20 stone plus, the largest man in movies is pretty hard to miss. But, apart from launching a film festival in a remote part of Michigan a couple of months ago, he seems to have vanished into thin air. There were stories that he'd been shacked up at a Florida fat farm trying to lose weight. There were rumours that he's toured New Orleans after Katrina, but reading his website, it's clear that while keen to rally support for the homeless and jobless, he was not actually there in person.

Now a new book, Do As I Say (Not As I Do) - Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy, by the right-wing commentator Peter Schweizer, criticises Moore for not living up to the high moral standards he claims to espouse. The author, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, went through publicly available IRS (tax) documents to discover that Moore's foundation bought shares in some of the companies he has spent a career in the media attacking. Not just a few shares either - don't forget Moore has always said he doesn't own any stock and doesn't have a broker - but his foundation owns tens of thousands of shares in Boeing, Sonoco, Eli Lilly, and Halliburton, the same defence company that Fahrenheit 9/11 attacked for making huge profits out of rebuilding countries like Afghanistan and Iraq after American military intervention.

Even more damaging, try logging on to the Name the Hypocrite website, and read claims that Moore, who says conservatives are racist because they don't support affirmative action, has only managed to employ three black people out of a workforce of 135 people working on his books, television shows and radio projects. Moore, who says that Americans who live in white neighbourhoods are racist, has lived for the past seven years in a waterfront home in Central Lake, Michigan, a community of 2,600 residents. The 2000 census records that the number of black people living there is zero.

Fourteen months ago I wrote in this paper "he makes politics seem as exciting as a ball game, as partisan and one-dimensional as a comic. He aims so low it's extraordinary". Even so, I have always saluted Moore's achievements as a communicator, putting complicated subjects across to the mass audience. I commented that denigrating Moore because he distorted the truth in his movies and books was missing the point, and if every major politician was judged on how often they got their facts right Tony Blair, George Bush and Jacques Chirac would have been impeached and removed from office years ago. Over the past year, however, Moore has not only got richer than in his wildest dreams, but his celebrity status has meant that he now mingles with the glitterati. Stories of his giant ego and huge tantrums abound - but how many were manufactured by those on the right fearful of his influence? I decided to go to America and make a documentary about how America's champion of the underdog has morphed into one of the creatures he originally so despised.

Now Moore is more unapproachable than the Pope, more obsessed with his own security than Elton John. There's a dangerous gap between the Moore of myth and the reality. For a moment during the presidential campaign it seemed as if he sought public office as a way of cleansing the system and achieving a fairer redistribution of wealth in his country. But many would argue by taking on Bush in such a heavy-handed way, he actually helped his arch enemy win, galvanising wavering Republicans to turn out and vote. Meanwhile, Moore alienates everyone who has to work with him (outside his small trusted team) by imposing demands that make Mariah Carey seem like a reasonable woman.

In my film I discover just how appallingly he behaved during his British tour, ordering pizzas and stuffing himself while the audience waited for him to go on stage. Refusing to meet a woman who knew his mom, who'd come from his home town and baked him an apple pie. Crowing on the phone in the interval to his mate in New York, about the fact that Vanessa Redgrave and Bianca Jagger were in the audience, while the public waited for him to entertain them. The same man who did a deal with two of the poorest people in his film Roger and Me whereby they earned a measly 100 dollars, while he made millions.

In the end, I conclude that Moore is a victim of his own success, with a lot more in common with Bush than he would care to admit. He's said to be planning a film about medical insurance in the States, but, with his track record, shouldn't it carry a healthy warning?

Michael and Me is on Sky One tomorrow at 9pm

Fluffy reads #1: Stella - a quite remarkably silly little child

I don't know if you ever pick up 'Grazia' magazine, but it's what I call a 'fluffy' read, something that gets you through half an hour of a boring train journey, comprised entirely of fashion pages, beauty tips and recipes, with a couple of features. An hour later, you can't remember anything about it.

Imagine my surprise when last Sunday that bastion of the establishment 'The Sunday Telegraph' dispensed with its excellent colour magazine and offered something called 'Stella' instead. Its editor says her new baby is founded on the pleasure principle, and adds tantalisingly 'what more could a woman want?'. The assumption that if you've got a vagina you need even more features about managing your wardrobe (rather than the economy), painting your living room (rather than joining the boardroom) and deciding what vitamin supplements to take rather than exposing how cynically the Conservative leadership contenders treat women, is breathtaking.

Fluffy reads #2: Think of the news, and apply airbrush

The feminisation of serious newspapers like the 'Telegraph' is part of a strategy to appropriate precious 'Mail' readers, with a new daily section pontificating on cancer, kids and shopping. We seem to have gone back 30 years to when 'The Guardian' and 'Mail' produced pages labelled for women. The 'fluff' section at the newsagents is already crammed with glossies and gossip magazines, so why are daily papers devoting less space to news and more to PR-driven piffle about colonic irrigation and aura cleansing? The answer is revenue - with readership falling, advertisers need to be cultivated at all costs.

Although the pay gap has narrowed the average woman in full-time work earns £100 a week less than a man. For many, reading about fancy eyeliners, age-defying night creams and luxury ribbed tights is a sick joke. Feminising the news means real issues get airbrushed off the agenda.

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