FUN - AND MEDIA-BASHING - WITH HOWARD AND MICHAEL. The line snaked from the front of the Royal Sonesta Hotel, on Land Boulevard in Cambridge, around the corner, and way, way back down Cambridge Parkway. I had no way of measuring it, but it might have stretched half a mile.
These were the Deaniacs, mostly young, waiting to see Howard Dean, the man they had tried to get elected president, and filmmaker Michael Moore. You could even hear celebrity Dean supporter Joan Jett singing "I Love Rock & Roll" from somewhere amid the boats floating on the Charles. Was it her, or was it a boombox?
The afternoon event, sponsored by the progressive Campaign for America's Future, was not a masterpiece of planning. It was hardly surprising that many hundreds of people would turn out to see perhaps the two biggest celebrities on the American left. As it was, only a fraction of those hoping to get inside were allowed to squeeze into the second-floor meeting room where the event was held.
Those of us in the media, not surprisingly, were well treated, given good seats with a decent view. We soon learned why: we were the main course.
Dean, the former Vermont governor, went first. These days he's running something called Democracy for America, an outgrowth of his campaign organization, Dean for America, that is working to elect local progressive candidates across the country - even a candidate for library trustee. "I like to think library trustee is a pretty important position in an administration where they like book-burning better than reading books," Dean said. (Media Log guarantee: all quotes are 95 percent accurate. Both Dean and Moore talked so fast, and the cheering was so loud, that I may be taking slight liberties.)
After a bit, Dean turned his attention to Teresa Heinz Kerry's telling a reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review to "shove it," and asked, "How many of you would like to tell reporters to shove it?" Whoops and hollers all around. Dean then told the crowd that the Tribune Review is owned by right-wing financier Richard Mellon Scaife. "That," Dean said, "even tops the Boston Herald," which he compared to "the National Enquirer."
Not that the Herald doesn't often deserve it, although the New York Post would be a more accurate, and somewhat kinder, comparison. Later, though, another speaker later noted that a Republican official had recently denounced Michael Moore as being part of the "hate and vitriol from this John Kerry celebrity set." The source: a July 22 story in the Herald by Dave Wedge. Only no credit was given.
Moore was running a good hour late, and other speakers, including former secretary of labor Robert Reich, filled the time. Finally, following an awkward pause created by what was apparently a pit stop to the men's room, Moore bounded on stage, blasting the media for failing to report on weak evidence underlying the Bush administration's case for the war in Iraq.
Conceding that George W. Bush is the villain of his film Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore continued that "there is an unstated villain in the film, and that's the national media.... The film outs them. It outs them as shills for the Bush administration. It outs them as cheerleaders for this war." And this admonition: "You can ask any question you want and not be arrested. So what has prevented you from asking the questions? You haven't just been embedded. You've been in bed with the wrong people."
At one point, Moore quipped, "I'm not picking on the press here today. I'm sure they'll kick the piss out of me later." Well, not here. Certainly not when Moore went on to point out that General Electric, which owns NBC, has $600 million worth of contracts in Iraq, making them "war profiteers." (That's harsh, but it's certainly true that NBC News's corporate parent has a direct interest in not crossing the White House on the war. How come Tom Brokaw doesn't tell us that?) Or how about Moore's contention that Disney, which refused to distribute Fahrenheit 9/11, turns out to have accepted a $300 million bailout from a member of the Saudi royal family for EuroDisney ... brokered by the Bush-connected Carlyle Group. A splendid story for Peter Jennings, whose employer, ABC News, is part of the Disney family.
Moore also urged progressives to work for the Kerry-Edwards ticket, saying of the Bushies, "They're not going to go without a fight, and believe me, they are better fighters than we are. They are up at six in the morning trying to decide which minority group to screw today. Our side, we never see six in the morning. Unless we've been up all night."
Dean and Moore were both terrific, full of fire and passion, bringing their supporters to their feet repeatedly. Dean was as unpresidential as ever, which was a reminder of why - once the caucuses and primaries started - almost no one actually voted for him. But he remains the guy who energized the Democratic Party, who dared speak out about the Bush administration's depredations when most Democrats were hiding under their beds, terrified they would be accused of lacking patriotism.
As for Moore, Fahrenheit 9/11 isn't perfect, but it's been unfairly caricatured as nothing but a factually deficient exercise in Bush-bashing. The truth is that it is a deeply moral statement about America in 2004. No wonder the Republicans are so eager to tear it down.