Michael Moore's new book narrowly avoids shredder in post 9-11 free speech clampdown
The following is from filmmaker Michael Moore, written February 5, 2002.
I'd like to tell you a little tale, a personal story of what it is like to fear losing your freedom of speech, how it feels to be drowned in a wave of patriotism which threatens with all its might to suffocate your ideas and stifle dissent.
For nearly four months, from September through December of last year, I did not know whether the book I had just written for HarperCollins--Stupid White Men--was ever going to be read by the American public. HarperCollins, one of the major publishing houses in the world, was trying to decide whether the words I had written were now "too offensive" to a nation which had suddenly fallen in love with George W. Bush.
By the morning of September 11, 2001, the HarperCollins printing presses, located in Scranton, Pennsylvania, had already printed 50,000 copies of an announced 100,000-copy first printing of my new book-and then the world, for all of us, came to a standstill.
The next day, I spoke to the people at HarperCollins, and I was told that they were going to put most of their books on hold for the moment. I thought that was a good idea. "We'll take this a day at time," my editor told me, just as the siren in his building went off, the first of many bomb scares that emptied the buildings of Manhattan that week.
I was in no mood to think about a "book" when all that was on my mind was how my wife and I were going to get across this country and back home to be with our daughter in New York. I had no desire to go on a book tour, and the only tour that concerned me at the moment was the rapid one I was on, in a rented minivan, for the 3,000-mile trek home.
Once back in New York City, the days turned into weeks, and I began to make calls to the publisher to inquire when my book would be coming out. The scheduled release date of October 2 had long since passed.
It was then that I was informed that there were "problems" with Stupid White Men.
I was told that, unless I re-wrote large sections of my book (sections mostly dealing with my harsh but funny criticisms of the W.), plus change the title and the cover-and then, after all that, reimburse the publisher of up to $100,000 out of my pocket (!) so this new version could be reprinted-then the powers-that-be might actually destroy the ENTIRE run of 50,000 copies that had already been printed! My book would be sent to the shredder and "pulped." I would then have to wait for up to a year before I could take it to another publisher. In other words, the book would be toast.
I refused to rewrite a single word of my book. I was proud of everything I had written. In my opinion, Stupid White Men seemed even more relevant than before. Enron, Kenneth Lay, Arthur Andersen-it's all there in my book-and I wrote those passages last spring! What if my book had been released when it was supposed to, on October 2nd? The stuff I had dug up on these guys-I would have been talking about them all over the airwaves long before they skipped outta Dodge with the cookie jar.
There's lots more in the book that I wanted out in the public arena months ago: An open letter to Yassar Arafat on how to really win and stop the bloodshed; a report on a chance run-in I had with Jeb Bush two weeks before the 2000 election on a deserted street in Tallahassee; my exploration of the three times (that I know of) that George W. Bush has been arrested and charged with crimes by the police-it's all there, and I saw no need to change a single thing.
But I was told that "the political climate has changed in America" and that my attacks on Bush and his cronies would not be met with open arms by a Bush-adoring public.
I then had a number of meetings, on the phone and in person, with executives, lawyers, and editors at the publishing house. They asked for some sort of compromise, for me to at least "tone down" my dissent. Again, I responded that would not be possible, and that I could not, in good conscience, alter anything. I did this knowing full well it would result in the death of my book.
Word began to leak out about Stupid White Men being "banned." Articles appeared in Publishers Weekly and Salon.com. I was trying to remain quiet about whole affair, but once a number of reporters found out (not from me), and a group of librarians organized a letter-writing campaign, HarperCollins, after weighing all their options (and the potential reaction to those options), decided finally to release the book AS IS-unchanged and uncensored, on Tuesday, February 19th.
They did the right thing, and I appreciated and admired their courage to do so when I know this was not an easy decision for them to make, considering the pressure they must have been under.
I have avoided writing this letter to all of you for weeks. In part, I did not want to say or do anything that might jeopardize the good working relationship I have now with the publisher. I have put nearly a year of my life into this book, and the thought of it not being available because of what you saw in this email just didn't seem worth it.
HarperCollins is doing their best to get the book out there-but now, even they have run into resistance, with some bookstores telling them that they are not interested in having me come to their stores on the book tour "due to the controversial nature of the book...and the change in the country's political climate." Can somebody tell me why weather patterns have suddenly become everyone's primal political fear?
Lately, I started getting a lot of mail from around the country (and the world) as this story spread. People wanted to know the truth about what had happened. Some had seen the issue of Entertainment Weekly a few weeks ago which had named me their Winner of the Week for succeeding in getting my book released. I decided it was best to let you know from me personally what has transpired-and that the outcome was a good one, a rare victory these days for our side, and for the cause of free expression.
For me, it really came down to the fact that, as an American living during a time where our own government (and a mostly compliant press) seeks to silence discussion and "manage" the truth, it was important to tell you what I have seen, what I have been through, and to wonder what would have happened if I had not been a writer who was known and had an audience and an email list that on a good day reaches a few million people. I don't like this feeling, and I would greatly appreciate it if this country would come to its senses and start acting like America again (or least our IDEA of America!).
My book comes out two weeks from today, on February 19th. I'll be hitting a couple dozen cities on the book tour (click here to see where), and I'll probably add a few more (if you'd like me to come to your town, let me or HarperCollins know!). 100% of whatever royalties I make on each book sold in every city on the tour will be donated to a local social-change group. ...
Over the next couple of weeks, I will be also adding new items to my site (www.michaelmoore.com) such as "Vote for Your Favorite Stupid White Man!" and "Take the Stupid White Man Quiz!" You'll also be able to read in the coming weeks sample passages from the book, plus two new online chapters I have written for it (post 9-11).
Oh, and if you want to get the book right now (its full title is STUPID WHITE MEN...And Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation!) you can order it from the website for independent bookstores, BookSense, or at the sites with the deep discounts: Amazon.com or BarnesAndNoble.com. And, on the 19th of February, it will be at your local independent or chain bookseller, right next to the wrestlers' tomes and Pat Buchanan's Book o' Laughs.
Needless to say, the publishing industry, much of which believes that now is NOT the right time to be selling a book of political humor like this, will be watching to see just how well people respond to an author who thinks it's funny to suggest that falling off couches usually has something to do with a beverage, and not a solid salted food product.
Michael Moore is a filmmaker (Roger and Me, The Big One) created two TV shows (TV Nation and The Awful Truth) and is the author of Downsize This: Random Threats from an Unarmed American and Stupid White Men and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation. Before all that he was editor of an independent paper, the Flint Voice, later the Michigan Voice. His website is: www.michaelmoore.com
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