Michael Moore's Hometown Feels Betrayed, Scorned

Published: Feb. 10, 2005 at 2:40 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 15, 2005 at 10:44 PM EST
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By Eric Flack

(FLINT, Mich., February 10th, 2005) -- The name alone sparks debate: Michael Moore. The man behind some of the world's most famous and controversial documentaries. He's targeted everyone from the NRA to President Bush. His next project is aimed at the pharmaceutical industry, including Indiana drug maker Eli Lily. But first, WAVE 3 Investigator Eric Flack goes in search of the truth in Flint Michigan, the place where Moore launched his career, and left a city scorned.

There are places in Michigan too beautiful for words to describe. And places words can.

It's a city of 125,000 people, made famous by one man.

"You tell em you're from Flint," said resident Frances Patterson, "and they think of Michael Moore. And if they believe what he said about Flint, well it's not good."

Michael Moore is anything but a hometown hero.

"I think that the name brings up a lot of disdain," said Greg Nicholas, of the Flint Economic Growth Alliance.

Rhonda Britton and Fred Ross were two stars of Moore's 1989 documentary, "Roger and Me," the story of General Motors layoffs of 30,000 Flint workers.

Ross, a sheriffs deputy, was shown throughout the movie evicting residents. Moore's movie gave the impression the layoffs led to the evictions.

But Ross told us that was a lie. "They didn't have nothing to do with General Motors."

But did Michael Moore know that, we asked.

"Yeah he knew that," Ross said. "He had to. He talked to those people too."

Moore's movies suggests that Britton's eccentric money making scheme, selling rabbits for pets or meat, was also a result of hardships caused by the GM layoffs.

But Britton says the reason her husband stopped working for GM was because he died -- more than a decade before the movie was shot.

"He's a fraud and a cheapskate," Britton said.

Moore sold the rights to "Roger and Me" to Warner Brothers for $3 million. But Ross and Britton were all but cut out of the profits.

"He wanted me to sign a release," said Ross, "and that's where the trouble started."

A release obtained by WAVE 3 that was allowed for a paltry payoff for those who appeared in the movie.

"One hundred bucks," said Ross. "That's a slap in the face, man. A lousy hundred dollars."

Ross told Moore's representative he wasn't going to sign.

"He got Michael on the phone," Ross said. "So Michael told me at that time, if you don't sign the release, you can't ride in the limousine."

A limo ride to the premier wasn't enough to change Ross's mind.

"I got on the phone and talked to Mr. Moore," Ross said, "and I told him I had owned 10 Fleetwoods, so riding in a limousine didn't mean nothing to me."

But Britton took the money.

"Cause I have difficulty reading," said Britton, "so I didn't even know it was a waiver until years later."

And Ross took Moore to court, winning an undisclosed settlement. "It was more than $100," Ross told us with a smile.

Flint's residents slowly turned its back on a star, feeling he had turned his back on them.

"I'm not sure the community has much use for Michael Moore," Nicholas said.

In fact, economic development officials say more than 15 years after "Roger and Me," the city has yet to shake what it considers to be an unfair representation.

"A lot of times, they say Flint, 'you've got image problems,'" said Nicholas. "GM's no longer around. But then you have to bring them a dose of reality."

GM never left town completely as "Roger and Me" implies. In fact, the company has invested $2 billion in Flint since 1998.

But Flint officials say Moore hasn't put one penny of his millions back into his hometown. Maybe that's because it's not really his hometown.

"He ain't even from Flint," Britton said. "He was born and raised in Davison! He wasn't even raised here in Flint."

Davison is a white collar suburb 13 miles away. And even at his old high school, Moore's name evokes anger.

A $2,000 a year Michael Moore scholarship ended a couple years back, when Moore stopped returning calls from the principal. And a nomination to put Moore in the Davison High School Hall of Fame was shot down earlier this year.

"Mike is always out for Mike, Mike is always out for money," said former high school classmate Kevin Leffler.

Leffler is making his own documentary aimed at exposing the truth, called "Shooting Michael Moore."

"I have no problem with someone saying I'm going to make a lot of money," Leffler said. "By god, go do it, I think that's the American way. But don't tell me you're out for the little man, when in reality when you have the chance to help the little man, you screw the little man."

We wanted to know what Michael Moore had to say about all this. But e-mail, after e-mail requesting an interview, went unanswered.

So we did what Michael Moore would do, paying a visit to his $2 million lake house in Northern Michigan.

But Moore wasn't there.

And a staff member who wouldn't identify himself also wouldn't tell us how to find Michael Moore.
He did take our card, and promised to pass it on to Moore or one of his assistants.

But the man who makes a living out of forcing the high and mighty to answer his questions wouldn't answer ours. We never heard back from Michael Moore, or his staff.

Which does not surprise the people he left behind.

"He rips people off and uses 'em and betrays 'em," Britton said.

"I think somebody needs to say to the world, this is what Michael Moore is really like," added Leffler.

In 2003, Michael Moore won an Academy Award for best documentary for his film, "Bowling for Columbine."

But we found a number of misleading scenes and untrue statements, not just in that film, but also in his latest movie, "Fahrenheit 9/11."

You may have heard about the controversy surrounding that film, but Thursday night at 11, judge for yourself, as we break down the truth behind Michael Moore, from past to present.

Online Reporter: Eric Flack

Online Producer: Michael Dever