Like I said after a screening on Wednesday here in L.A., Michael Moore's new movie, Capitalism: A Love Story is awesome and I want to recommend it (again) to everyone-- except for one part. As soon as Moore dealt with Chris Dodd I turned to my friends and said "this looks like trouble." The Washington Post noticed the same thing we did:
But then things get interesting -- in building his indictment against the ill-fated marriage of Wall Street and Washington, Moore zeroes in less on Phil Gramm or other GOP string-pullers than he does on White House economic adviser Larry Summers, Robert Rubin and Sen. Chris Dodd. Especially Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat and chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. Moore gets an on-camera interview with the mortgage officer who handled the special VIP loans provided to Dodd and other big names, which have dogged Dodd's reelection bid.
Dodd had appeared to be clawing his way back onto safer political ground in recent months, as he filled in for the dying Ted Kennedy as chair of the Senate health committee. But if Capitalism packs them in in Wallingford and Danbury, watch out.
Now understand I say this with love -- I have enjoyed all of Michael Moore's movies; I've seen every one of them in the theater except Roger and Me (which is one of my favorite documentaries); I own all of his books in hardcover, and I still can't believe TV Nation, was both allowed on TV and then canceled And this movie, aside from this one scene, could well be his best so far. What was he thinking? Is he really repeating, without the benefit of his vaunted fact-checking operation, a long and often discredited right-wing smear?
Apparently so, using Dodd as an example of an overall repulsive meme that defines Rahm Emanuel's Washington. Emanuel, one of Wall Street's most powerful and long-time destructive players inside the government, never gets mentioned in the film, not once. So is Dodd the right target for Moore to be going after?
First, everyone who has seriously looked at the claims of a sweetheart deal has dismissed them: the Senate Ethics Committee; an independent compliance firm; the (not exactly Dodd-loving) Hartford Courant. And not once, but twice.
This is not the definition of the word "is." The man got a mortgage. He was told that he would get enhanced customer service, and assumed it was because of his good credit score. He got the exact same mortgage rate that anyone else buying a mortgage at the time would have gotten. He didn't know the CEO of Countrywide, nor anything about a Friends of the CEO program.
Sounds simple, right? No special treatment, no special rate, no problem.
Enter professional interviewee Robert Feinberg.
Before he left Countrywide, Feinberg took copies of loan documents for seventeen V.I.P.s, which included ten prominent Democrats and their relatives. These documents ostensibly constituted smoking gun evidence of corruption associated with a company embroiled in the mortgage crisis. But the evidence does not withstand scrutiny.
Selected details on loans extended to Senator Chris Dodd were revealed by Portfolio.com on June 12, at a critical juncture in Dodd's long-standing effort to bring his housing bill, intended to increase regulatory oversight on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to a floor vote.
What a coincidence! And Feinberg has a little credibility issue:
Feinberg recounted nothing, but he had no doubt in his mind about what Senator Dodd knew. Feinberg never considered that his phone taglines might sound like the shopworn marketing cliches.
...How does Portfolio know that Countrywide waived a fee that it might have otherwise charged? Not because of anything in the documentation. They reported the waiver based solely on Feinberg's recollection. It's quite remarkable that Feinberg would remember this detail on loans he processed five years earlier.
...Yes, the Countrywide V.I.P. loan story does raise some serious questions, about Robert Feinberg.
CARUSO-CABRERA: Mr. Feinberg, do you stand to gain in any way by coming out publicly? Are you suing the company? Do you have any financial incentive to talk?
FEINBERG: Not to sue the company. I am not in a position to do that. I'm just coming out to talk because I feel there is a need for this information to come out because of the situation we are in now.
Feinberg did not say, "I do not stand to gain in any way." There are an awful lot of coincidences about the Countrywide story that make you wonder, not only about Feinberg's motivations, but also about how sources can manipulate journalists in a way that crosses over into political P.R.
And-- Surprise!-- Feinberg (who miraculously had high priced criminal defense attorneys who specialize in making deals to avoid jailtime) turned out to be the star of Rep. Darrell Issa's (R-CA) non-jurisdictional partisan fishing expedition!
On December 22, 2008, Congressman Darrell Issa's staff interviewed Robert Feinberg, the fabulist "whistleblower" who accuses Chris Dodd and other Democrats of receiving "sweetheart deals" on their home mortgages with Countywide Financial. Feinberg's statements, plus the confidential company documents that he stole and handed over to Issa, represent the only direct evidence used in Issa's 63-page report, "Friends of Angelo: Countrywide's Systematic and Successful Effort to Buy Influence and Block Reform." Issa released his report, which he falsely characterized as a work product of the House Oversight Committee, on March 19, 2009.
Nothing in Issa's March 2009 report suggests that his findings are preliminary or incomplete.
...Any journalist who had done his homework would have questioned Issa about his decision to have Feinberg do a rerun of his testimony in secret last month. Issa chose to have Feinberg testify one day before testifying for the Senate Ethics Committee, three months after Issa's report was completed, and six months after Feinberg first testified the same information for Issa. In other words, any competent reporter would have questioned whether Feinberg's testimony to Issa was, in fact, real news.
Did they? Or did the media once again decide that scandal is fun!?!??! I wonder...
Larry Margasak of the Associated Press left readers with the impression that Feinberg's testimony was brand new information.
Margasak's unacknowledged rehashing of Feinberg's testimony touches on the real scandal surrounding the Countywide VIP loan story. He and other mainstream reporters are unwilling to report facts that undercut the false premise of their narrative. It's as if they recount demands to investigate Obama's birth certificate, but they never bother to read the actual birth certificate.
...To understand why Issa's effort is a complete sham, you need read his report. It soon becomes apparent that he lies about everything, sort of like Liz Cheney on steroids. Unfortunately, Margasak takes his claims at face value.
Well, okay, the traditional media, sure, the AP, of course, but not a liberal media source like Michael Moore, right? Right?
Moore: As I point out in the film, I have an exclusive interview with the VIP loan manager at Countrywide Loans, the largest mortgage company in the country, was giving sweetheart loans to Senator Dodd where he didn't have to pay fees, they did away with the paper work for him, he got all-- things the average person couldn't get. ... I think people are going to be surprised.
Hell yeah, they are going to be surprised! Surprised that Michael-freaking-Moore ate this guy's story up without even the most basic fact check! Sure, it fit his narrative well, but c'mon, could you at least check to see if he, in fact got a special deal? Time to hand over that $10,000, Michael.
Also, if you are Michael Moore, and you have basically made a career out of getting powerful people, people who you have no business interviewing, on film, how is it possible that Chris Dodd is not interviewed in the film? Roger-- check. Charlton Heston-- check. Chris Dodd-- [crickets]. If you get the accuser on video, making wild accusations that everyone now agrees are completely false, how is the accused not here, allowed even a moment to mention that HE GOT THE SAME FUCKING RATES AS EVERYONE ELSE?
Why does this feel like, in the interest of being able to sit on Leno and say, "I went after Democrats too!," Moore passed up the real story here? It would have been really powerful if he made the connection between the bullshit allegations about Dodd and the banking industry desperately wanting to put the breaks on important housing and foreclosure legislation that Dodd was championing in the Senate at that very moment. Well, mission accomplished assholes, excuse me, the Sheriff is here to foreclose on my house (is it possible its the same one from Roger and Me? Oh, the irony).
Finally, exclusive? You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. Maybe what he meant was that, even though the Feinberg Interview Express has more miles on it than the Madden Cruiser, he was only getting interviewed by Moore at that particular moment, so it was exclusive as to that particular place and time. Or something. (Seriously, not counting Darrell Issa's I-am-doing-the-bidding-of-the-NRSC's sham investigations, Feinberg has done roughly seven quintillion interviews. You can look it up.)
All in all, still love Moore, still want everyone to see the movie, but kind of wish he hadn't decided to jump ugly with one of the most progressive Senators in the Senate -- the guy responsible for the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Credit CARD Act, who voted for cramdown, worked to make that disaster of a bankruptcy bill better, then voted against it twice, voted for a 15% cap on interest rates, and is co-sponsoring another cap that is likely to come up again, is a leader on direct-student-loan reform, is in favor of a consumer financial protection agency and stripping the fed of some of its regulatory authority, and just last week introduced legislation to reign in the diabolical overdraft fee practice-- all stuff, if you are keeping score, which Moore clearly wasn't, that banks would rather paint a hammer and sickle on their walls than accept! I wish Moore hadn't got played like a three dollar harmonica. He should donate the 10 grand to Dodd's campaign.