Michael Moore, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker (“Bowling for Columbine”) and general muckraker, has done it again.
A few weeks back, while Gen. (ret.) Wesley Clark was still holed up at his Arkansas headquarters ostentatiously mulling whether to enter the Democratic presidential nomination race, Moore made a public plea for him to run, calling him a peace candidate. Moore hadn’t done his homework though: Gen. Clarke, it turns out, had been a supporter of the war until very recently, and also has an unsavory history as a military commander that includes actions that should be considered war crimes, such as the deliberate terror bombing of civilian targets in Serbia during NATO’s Kosovo campaign. The general also risked getting the U.S. into a shooting war with Russia when he ordered NATO troops to push Russian troops from an airport in Kosovo (a rash and stupid move that was only foiled by the insubordination of a British officer who refused to comply with the order).
Now Moore has ignored the facts again, this time saying long-time Pennsylvania death-row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal “probably killed” Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner back on Dec. 9, 1981.
Moore’s comment appears on page 189 of his hot new book, “Dude, Where’s My Country?”, and it is expressed with typical Moore flippancy, and with no evidence to support it.
Here’s the quote in full:
“Mumia [the campaigning Pennsylvania journalist who was sentenced for the shooting of a police officer and has been on death row since 1982] probably killed that guy. There, I said it. That does not mean he should be denied a fair trial or that he should be put to death. But because we don’t want to see him or anyone executed, the efforts to defend him may have overlooked the fact that he did indeed kill that cop. This takes nothing away from the eloquence of his writings or commentary, or the important place he now holds on the international political stage. But he probably did kill that guy.”
It would be interesting to know how or why Moore–who back in 1997 wrote in the Nation magazine, ” I want Mumia to live, I’ve signed the petitions, I’ve helped pay for the ads — hell, I’ll personally go and kick the butt of the governor of Pennsylvania!” and who in 1995 signed an ad in the New York Times saying Abu-Jamal was “probably sentenced to death” because of his political views–came to this peculiarly incongruous conclusion.
As the author of the only independent book to investigate this controversial case (Killing Time: An Investigation Into the Death row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Common Courage Press, 2003), I can state with conviction that the evidence that was used to convict Mumia Abu-Jamal of first-degree murder was weak at best, and in some cases probably falsified (while other evidence that might have exonerated him was hidden from the defense). I’ve concluded that the only two witnesses who claimed at the trial to have seen all or most of the actual shooting of Faulkner were probably (and unlike Moore I use this word advisedly) not even at the scene of the shooting as they claimed.
On what do I base this damning claim? Nobody who was a witness at the trial, including police officers testifying for the prosecution, said they saw prostitute Cynthia White on the sidewalk where she claimed she was standing when the shooting occurred or afterwards. And nobody except for that same White claimed to have seen taxicab driver Robert Chobert, or even his taxi cab, which he claimed he had parked directly behind Faulkner’s squad car (a taxicab is a hard thing to miss!). And even White only said she saw the taxi there after the shooting was over (a crime scene drawing she provided to police, which included cars not involved in the incident at all, and which I included as an illustration in my book, did not include a taxi). Adding to suspicions about White, she was the only alleged witness to the shooting that police did not bring to the paddy wagon to identify the wounded Abu-Jamal. Curiously, though she was the prosecution’s star witness, she was rushed off directly to Homicide without being asked to ID him as the shooter. Subsequently, the prosecutor argued strenuously (and successfully), based upon a false assertion to the pre-trial judge, that White was not going to be an identification witness, against her having to ID Abu-Jamal in a line-up. Yet at the trial, White was asked by the prosecutor to point him out.
As for the claim that Abu-Jamal had shouted out a confession at the hospital, I make clear in my book that this testimony by a police officer and a hospital security guard reeks of being a perjured story manufactured weeks after the shooting. Neither the cop nor the guard who testified about the confession had mentioned it to police investigators for months after the shooting (a wholly incomprehensible lapse, especially for a police officer), and indeed in two interviews with police investigators, one done the day of the shooting, the police officer who had been assigned to stay with Abu-Jamal from the time he was arrested at the scene to the time he was operated on for a bullet lodged near his spine, stated flatly that during that entire period, “The negro male made no comment.”.
The truth is that this trial stank from the beginning, with the trial judge, Albert Sabo (who sent 31 people, 29 of them non-white, to death row), actually being overheard (by a fellow judge and his court stenographer) to tell his court crier, while exiting the courtroom at the end of the first day of Abu-Jamal’s trial, “Yeah, and I’m going to help them fry that nigger.”
Sadly Moore, who I guess is trying to be funny, or perhaps to make a case he’s been working at for several years now that the left is “out of touch” with mainstream America, has joined a short-list of other purported leftists like Todd Gitlin and Marc Cooper, who seem ready to bolster their “independent” credentials by trashing Mumia supporters.
It matters little that these people, like Moore, generally hasten to add that they don’t support the death penalty. Even the fact that Moore, unlike Cooper, at least concedes that Abu-Jamal “shouldn’t be denied a fair trial,” a backhanded way of implying that he didn’t get one the first time, hardly compensates for the damage he does with his ill-founded assertion of Abu-Jamal’s “probable” guilt.
If he didn’t get a fair trial–and he surely didn’t, as I document clearly in “Killing Time”–then on what possible grounds does Moore come to his conclusion that he “probably did kill that guy”? If the evidence presented at the trial was weak, cooked and hidden, how can he or anyone come to any kind of “probable” conclusion based upon it?
I actually sent Moore a review copy of my book back last fall, when I was seeking prominent readers to provide me with blurbs for the back cover. He never responded to my request.
Judging from his comments in his own new book, it seems clear that he never cracked mine.
His apparent lack of curiosity is unfortunate. It is also inexcusable in a journalist.
People like Michael Moore owe their readers more than to spout this kind of uninformed and ignorant drivel while posing as journalists. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but unless it’s just barroom argumentation, those opinions ought to be based upon the facts.
Abu-Jamal deserves a new, fair trial, not this kind of ignorant passing of judgement by people who should know better.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html