'America Does Not Love George W. Bush'

Michael Moore has always been an iconoclast. But even the irreverent filmmaker is taken aback by the runaway success of his latest book, "Stupid White Men ... and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation!" (ReganBooks, 2001).

The book, which Moore describes as "a vicious broadside against George W. Bush," is now entering its ninth week on best-seller lists around the country. In spite of almost being pulled by its publisher and then largely ignored by the major media, Moore's essay collection-on topics ranging from American racism to Middle East violence to instructions for men on putting down the toilet seat-has touched an unexpected chord in centers ranging from New York to Atlanta to Los Angeles.

"The publisher told me before the book came out that [I was] out of touch with the American people, so don't be disappointed if it doesn't do well," says Moore, who is probably best known for his documentary "Roger & Me" on General Motors. "Clearly I wasn't the one out of touch." Moore spoke to NEWSWEEK's Arlene Getz in New York. Excerpts:

Your book has received minimal promotion and few mainstream reviews. How-and why-has it become a best seller?

A large part of it has to do with the Internet and word of mouth. It's been a real eye-opener for me. I used to think that you had to be on "Good Morning America" and Jay Leno, Charlie Rose, NPR in order to get people to buy your book.

Does this change the way we should think about publishing and promotions?

I've come to the conclusion that the traditional media is irrelevant. The way to reverse that is to take a cue from the Internet and start becoming more relevant and start getting in touch with where people are at.

Why has the book struck such a chord?

I think that the media and the politicians have completely misread the American public in the last seven or eight months since September 11. They've been chanting a mantra, and they've been chanting it in lockstep with one another. "America loves Bush; America loves Bush; America loves Bush." That's not true. This has not been about America loves George W. Bush. This is more like "love the one you're stuck with."

Who's buying the book?

It's being bought by a mainstream audience that doesn't like the policies of George W. Bush and doesn't like how corporate America has ripped off their livelihood.

If people really don't like Bush, why is his approval rating so high?

His approval rating has dropped 20 points.

But it's still very high-77 percent according to the latest Gallup poll.

It's high because any group of human beings, when attacked as we were, will rally behind the leader. He just happened to be who the leader was. He was who we were stuck with. We weren't going to go get a new leader at that point ... But look at the other polls. The American public disagrees with Bush on virtually all the issues. The majority of Americans now are pro-choice; the majority of Americans now are pro-environment, the majority of American now are pro-labor. We're very liberal when it comes to the issues, we just don't like to elect liberal leaders because they're usually wimps and they don't lead.

In your "Dear George" chapter, you ask Bush: "How do we know you won't turn to the bottle when faced with a serious crisis?" Have you revised your opinion of him since September 11?

You mean since he fell off the couch [after fainting while eating pretzels in January]?

Well, that was some time after September 11.

Yes, I have revised my opinion of him. I'm more frightened with him in the White House. I think that he and his people are using September 11 as a cover to push forward their right-wing agenda, which is not a majority agenda in this country, and they use the 3,000 dead of September 11 as their excuse.

Much of the publicity the book has received has centered around ReganBooks' initial reluctance to publish such harsh criticism of George W. Bush-the man you refer to as the "Thief in Chief." But many of the Bush criticisms and jokes have been out there for a while. Why didn't they want to publish?

They were caught up in the same kind of blind fever that much of the media was caught up in directly after September 11. Much of the media had this attitude of, "we shouldn't do anything to rock the boat."

Your book has been described as sloppy with the facts.

There are 2,000 facts in the book. I would assume there are probably two or three facts that may be wrong, or there may be two or three typos in the book. I had three full-time researchers and fact checkers work on this book. We're very careful, because I want people to at least listen to my argument when I put this stuff in the book. On the other hand, because it is a book also of humor, I shouldn't be footnoting humor. You don't fact-check humor, because many times I'm making a satirical statement or I'm using hyperbole for comic effect.

One British reviewer describes your Northern Ireland analysis as "prejudiced and glib" and says he hopes you aren't doing the same to America?

That's true.

Which part?

The Northern Ireland part. It's completely prejudiced-against the Thatcherite attitudes that still persist to this day regarding the problem of Northern Ireland.

You argue that Yasir Arafat could resolve the Mideast crisis by adopting Gandhi-style tactics of nonviolence. But in the same chapter you suggest that one way to solve Northern Ireland's problems is to entice Protestants to convert to Catholicism by promising them more sex.

Encouraging Catholics to have more sex in Northern Ireland is certainly non-violent.

You also advise your readers to stage a "counter-coup" against Bush by running for office. Are you planning to do that?

It's already started. I'm going to do something here in my precinct in New York City. In the next election cycle I'm going to take some friends with me and try and use the Democratic Party as a means to push the Green agenda.

You're going to be a delegate for the Democratic Party?

Yeah, and at the same time I'm going to work to build a strong Green Party movement. The reason you have to work on both tracks is that the Green Party and other independent parties will never have the true ballot access they deserve until the laws are changed. The only way we're going to get the laws changed is to take the Democratic Party more to the left.

You say in the "Kill Whitey" chapter of book that you will now only hire African-Americans to work for you. Have you done that?

As soon as I wrote that, the next four people that I hired were all African-Americans.

Isn't that racist?

No, absolutely not. How could it be racist?

Because it could be argued that you're discriminating against whites who apply for the job.

Oh, I'm definitely discriminating, but it's not racist. Racism means that you have the power to enforce your bigotry, the power to enforce your prejudice. A black person cannot be racist. They can have prejudices-and this isn't just a matter of semantics. Racism means that you have the political power to back up your prejudice, and to enforce and to make certain that your prejudices become either law or the way your society functions. Black people in the United States cannot do that.

But you're not black, and you do have the power to give people jobs.

I'm trying to undo centuries of people of my race purposely not hiring black people, specifically in the professions I work in, in film, in television. It is a very white profession....

Obviously when I make a statement like that-the same as my comment about the sex with Catholics-I'm being somewhat facetious. This is satire. I'm making a point about how businesses hire [a] black receptionist to make it look that there's black people that work there. I feel very strongly about this issue; I think it's the open wound on American society that hasn't been healed, and I want to figure out how to heal it.

Former presidential candidate Ralph Nader is very excited about the sales of your book. What's your relationship like with Nader now?

Good.

You've made up all your differences from the 2000 campaign?

Oh, yeah. He respected my feelings then, and I respected him. I disagreed with him on the issue of campaigning in the swing states in the final weeks of the election. I think most people involved in the Nader campaign in the early stages just assumed that [Al] Gore was going to win. After Gore lost all three debates, it was like, "Oh, my God," because who would think that a smart guy like Gore wouldn't wipe the floor with the dumbest guy ever to run for the White House.

Do you ever hear from Gore and the Democrats?

Yes, some of them. The good Democrats I hear good things from. I'll say this about Gore: He's never blamed Nader. He's been man enough to accept the fact that he did a number of things that cost him his own state, that cost him Arkansas when he wouldn't let Clinton campaign there.

You describe in your book your unexpected meeting with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush days before the election. Any further encounters with the family?

No, they've not called, I haven't been invited over. You'd think having the No. 1 book in the country, I'd at least be invited for tea.

At one time you were having problems getting mainstream stores to stock your book. Has that been resolved?

It's less of a problem now. HarperCollins [ReganBooks' parent company] has gone into their 20th printing of the book now, and the only thing I've heard is that some stores are still nervous about putting a book out front with a title "Stupid White Men." They're worried that some person unfamiliar with me or my humor may think this is some kind of racial statement.

You've just come back from a national book tour. What kind of reaction did you get?

Oh, my God. I just did 47 cities with an average of 2,000 people a night in these cities. The high was Tampa, where there were 7,000. The first stop was in a bookstore, [then] they had to schedule these things off-site, because the crowds were so huge. It's probably the first thing I've done that's penetrated this deeply into the mainstream, where it's not just the choir that's reading it.

Does that mean you're going mainstream too?

I think what happened is that the mainstream came toward me and others like me. I think the country has shifted. This is the story that the mainstream media has missed, to the point where I wouldn't even call the mainstream media mainstream anymore-they're now behind the curve where the country is at. I've seen this with this book. I can laugh at how it got to No. 1 without any help from the media, but even once at No. 1 I still haven't been on single national NPR show, I haven't been on PBS, Charlie Rose, any of that. I just got onto the "Today" show, but they would only put me on if they could put a right-wing author on with me.

Your current project is "Bowling for Columbine," a documentary about the shooting at Columbine High School near Denver. What can you tell us about it?

We got some incredible news in the last few days. It's been accepted into the Cannes film festival in competition, and it will premiere there on May 17.