Bowling for credibility: Michael Moore, the upstart filmmaker best known for Bowling for Columbine and Roger and Me, causes a stir wherever he goes -- and sometimes where he doesn't.
At UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, a student's proposal to have the rabble-rousing documentarian deliver the 2003 commencement speech was shot down as fast as a wayward dove over an NRA picnic.
The debate played out over the school's internal e-mail system in late November, focusing on whether Moore's brand of muckraking could possibly be called journalism. Many said no. "While ... Moore is a very funny guy," wrote one faculty member, "it would make us the laughingstock of serious Journalism Schools to invite him for commencement, given that Roger and Me is the poster child of problematic historical documentary."
One student chimed in that the speaker should be Chris Rock: "I'd be happy with a comedian, just not a comedian who poses as a journalist."
"I never said he was a journalist," shot back Moore's original supporter, "but I thought he would make a fine candidate. He asks provocative questions that journalists should be asking."
In his defense, the student might have consulted Merriam-Webster's, which defines a journalist as "a writer who aims at a mass audience," especially "a writer or editor for a news medium."
Although that needs updating to include contemporary media, Moore cuts the mustard on both counts. The filmmaker and author lacks a J-school degree, but he was a founding reporter and editor for his hometown alt-weekly, The Flint Voice, which he later helped expand into The Michigan Voice, a statewide paper. That led him to a short stint as editor-in-chief of Mother Jones magazine, a bastion of liberal investigative journalism.
Sure, he was promptly fired, but that doesn't make him a lousy journalist -- it just makes him an ineffective manager. As for Roger and Me, which was financed in part by Moore's Mother Jones severance settlement, it's fair to ask: Does the fact that a documentary -- or book, or article -- is problematic mean that it isn't journalism? If so, a whole lot of so-called journalists are going to have shell out for new business cards.
Stay tuned for next week's debate, in which students and faculty at the California College of Arts and Crafts decide what is, and what isn't, art. -- Brandon Sprague
Doctor Jekyll and Judge Hyde: Didja hear the story about the former municipal court employee who got caught giving a blow job to a criminal defendant in the court parking lot? If not, you can ask Alameda County Judge Ronald Hyde for the sticky details -- just make sure not to do it in mixed company. The Pleasanton judge is in trouble with the state Commission on Judicial Performance for recounting the salty story at a Halloween work party in the presence of female court employees.
Okay, so that's just one of the things the commission is busting Hyde's balls about. He also allegedly ordered a traffic clerk to access the DMV records of a person who cut him off on the freeway; handpicked the judge to preside over his daughter's small-claims trial; and released his friend's daughter -- she'd been busted for reckless driving while drunk -- from probation two years early so she could join the military.
The commission could kick Hyde off the bench if it finds him guilty -- especially since its members publicly censured him in 1996 for misuse of DMV records and for making inappropriate sexual comments. ("Are we having a PMS day?" the jurist reportedly asked one female employee.) A hearing is set for January 21 in Hyde's latest disciplinary case.
At least one of his court colleagues thinks the judge will retire before he can be punished. Just last month, the twenty-year veteran jurist became fully vested in the judicial pension program. That means if he retired today, he'd be entitled to 75 percent of his salary -- which amounts to more than $100,000 -- every year for life. "I wouldn't be surprised if he up and quits," says the insider.
But Hyde's attorney, Jim Murphy, says his client will fight the latest charges. In his formal reply, Hyde says he did nothing improper. Murphy claims a Hyde-hating female court clerk, whom he wouldn't name, has been feeding the commission scuttlebutt on the judge. "I think the person's credibility will be severely tested by some of the witnesses we have," he predicts. -- Will Harper
Bari, Bari, quite contrary: That Judi Bari sure is interesting. She was a carpenter, a labor organizer, a fiddler, and a martyr, suffused with enough contradictions to be comfortable both as neo-Luddite Earth First matriarch and the upper-middle-class sister of New York Times science writer Gina Kolata. Icon of a radical ecology movement, victim of a mysterious 1990 car bomb, and pretender to the passivist throne of Martin Luther King Jr. -- so compelling were these potential legacies that over the last decade Bari's supporters and detractors have waged a fierce struggle to control history's judgment of her. And so ornate and Byzantine is the milieu of Bari's North Coast radical scene that it was only a matter of time before a writer of discernment would see in all this a book just begging to be written. A writer like, say, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Susan Faludi.
Everyone who went to college in the early '90s knows a bit about Faludi. Her seminal book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women put forth a comprehensive, if occasionally overwrought, accounting of the Reagan era's antifeminist zeitgeist, and became required reading in women's studies survey courses across the country.
Her sophomore work, Stiffed, explored the erosion of male identity in a hyper-consumerist era, tying together such disparate phenomena as the Promise Keepers and betrayed Cleveland Browns fans. After Faludi was spotted attending the civil suit brought by Bari's estate against the FBI, word leaked that the writer planned to devote her next book to Bari and the movement she led.
Although the topic is riddled with veins of vivid material, from the gender dynamics of the environmental movement to the Pynchonesque atmosphere of counterculture vibes and conspiracy-mongering, the question of who bombed Judi Bari will always hang over any Earth First narrative. Was it the FBI? Pacific Lumber? Bari's ex-husband?
Oddly, both Bari's closest associates and her contrarian critics are confident that Faludi, who played it too coy to comment for this article, will back their version of events. "I've been impressed with her, and I'm very happy that she's doing the book," says Karen Pickett, one of Bari's confidants. "She's very bright, a great researcher, and her political analysis is astute." Bruce Anderson, the iconoclastic publisher of the Anderson Valley Advertiser -- who considers Bari's ex-husband a damn good suspect and has always regarded the Bari myths as part of a stultifying Earth First orthodoxy -- thinks Faludi has come around to his line. "I got the feeling that she started with the Bari family and then got around to the skeptics, and got a whole different perspective on the matter," he says.
Whatever Faludi will ultimately conclude, there's little doubt how Kate Coleman feels about the issue. Coleman reached national prominence in the 1970s when she broke news about the Black Panthers' history of extortion and brutality in the pages of the New Times magazine. She is just finishing the epilogue to her own book about Bari and Earth First, which is due out in June. Coleman is decidedly unencumbered by rosy images of Bari as a Northern California messiah. "She's still an icon, but of what?" she says. "The politics of Earth First -- the first thing you do is demonstrate. You don't file a lawsuit or anything; you just trespass on land and fuck with the loggers, who are working for a living.
"I think that Bari ruined the ability to extend Earth First by focusing all their efforts and money in her fight with the FBI instead of focusing on the forests," she continues. "Julia Butterfly and Bari would raise money for their shit, and there's no money left to file any lawsuits. They drained energy and funds away from the environment."
Now Coleman is scrambling to finish her book, in part because she knows Faludi's big name may just drain energy and funds away from her own literary efforts. -- Chris Thompson
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