What Happens When You Take Michael Moore to a Republican Convention

From Connecting, a daily newsletter written by Paul Stevens for current and former AP staffers:

By Owen Ullman

I cringe thinking about the 2004 GOP convention in New York that re-nominated President George W. Bush. I was deputy editorial page editor at USA TODAY and came up with the idea of having conservative firebrand Ann Coulter write a daily op-ed about the Democratic convention and liberal filmmaker Michael Moore do the same covering the Republicans.

It did not go smoothly. Coulter’s first column was so venomous that we replaced her with National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg. She cried censorship and posted her columns on her own website, drawing us an avalanche of hate mail from her fans.

Moore, by contrast, wrote thoughtful and insightful columns (and was an easy edit), but he decided one night to attend the convention in person, which was not part of our deal. I accompanied him and he drew the attention of every reporter since there was no real news at the convention.

Moore, whose latest film, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” was a scathing critique of Bush’s war in Iraq, insisted on taking an assigned USA TODAY seat in the press gallery. I sat next to him and two GOP security men sat behind us to help fend off reporters trying to interview him.

Then my worst fears came true. Senator John McCain, who apparently was unaware that Moore was in the audience, defended the war and dismissed attacks by a “disingenuous filmmaker,” never mentioning Moore by name. The jumbo TV in Madison Square Garden focused on Moore as McCain said that, and the audience went wild with a thunderous round of boos. McCain, surprised by the response, repeated it.

As cameras focused on Moore, he flashed an “L” sign for “loser.” I tried my best to hide by looking away. I then insisted he leave, and it took a phalanx of police to escort him and me out of the building as delegates screamed at him and reporters shouted questions. USA TODAY’s editor-in-chief at the time, Ken Paulson, later said it may have been his single worst day in the job.

I was sure I was going to be fired. I survived, perhaps because Moore’s online columns shattered all previous records for clicks on op-eds.

Owen Ullmann is Managing Editor for Special Projects at USA TODAY. Prior to joining USA TODAY in 1999, hw spent six years at Business Week, where he managed the Washington Bureau as senior news editor. From 1983 to 1993, he worked in the Washington bureau of Knight-Ridder Newspapers, covering economics, the White House and the State Department. He won two awards from the White House Correspondents’ Association for his coverage of the Reagan Presidency. He worked for the Associated Press from 1973 to 1983, as automotive writer in Detroit, and later as labor writer and chief economics correspondent in Washington. He began his professional career in 1969 as a reporter for the Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal.


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