He's been called a bully and a monopolist. Al Gore once labeled him "Darth Vader." The Wall Street Journal described him as "ruthless" and alleged "self-dealing" in a maze of complicated business transactions.He is a master of the tax-free deal, completely disdains government and most federal regulations, and has expressed a fondness for Rush Limbaugh. This summer he was slapped with a $1.4-million fine by the Justice Department for illegal stock purchases.
Sounds like the perfect target for a hard-hitting Michael Moore documentary, no? But no, we're talking about Moore's latest sugar daddy: cable mogul John Malone.
That's right, Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story" is being co-financed and distributed domestically by Overture Films, which is a unit of Malone's Liberty Media. Moore, who has been railing against Big Media during press junkets promoting the movie, is in bed with the Goldman Sachs of the media world. Liberty also owns satellite broadcaster DirecTV, a stake in satellite radio operator Sirius XM, a big chunk of Barry Diller's IAC/InterActiveCorp, the Atlanta Braves and a piece of the Denver Nuggets. Malone, who is considered the father of the modern-day cable industry, himself has a piece of cable programming giant Discovery Communications, on whose board he sits.
Obviously there is a little something ironic about Moore's screed against capitalism being backed in part by one of the country's richest and most avowed capitalists. Then again, Moore is nothing if not a paradox. Although he still keeps close ties to his home state of Michigan and has positioned himself as the voice of the common man, Moore is also a shrewd negotiator when it comes to his own vested financial interests. On his last film, "Sicko," he received half of the documentary's gross profit, as detailed in this Los Angeles Times piece. He doesn't mind the perks that can come with being a big-shot moviemaker, such as the five-star hotel and the fancy car service.
Interestingly, while Moore likes the perks that come with fame almost as much as he loves being America's gadfly, Malone keeps a very low profile. Although he's amassed a huge fortune, he is not flashy. He's been known to go home for lunch with his wife and once told the New Yorker that although his children will not go wanting in this world, he plans to leave the bulk of his estate to charity.
Moore, through a spokesman, isn't making any apologies for having one of Malone's companies as a backer of his film. "The movie is about HOW people make their money, and specifically criticizes the beast, our out-of-control economic system. ... And for those folks who make their money in ways that don't exploit or hurt others, then they should be giving a lot more back in tax dollars to help support a more just and fair society. People like John Malone, myself and others who have been blessed, we all ought to be in a 70% tax bracket with the money being used to provide such important services as a real universal and affordable single-payer healthcare system."
We're not sure how Malone would feel that he "should be giving a lot more back in tax dollars to help support a more just and fair society," but we're confident he's hoping Moore's movie will do well enough at the box office to make a decent return on Overture's investment.
-- Joe Flint
Photos: Top, Michael Moore. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press. Bottom, John Malone. Credit: Nati Harnik / Associated Press.