Michael Moore stands up for TV show employees

Exclusive interview

MILWAUKEE – In an exclusive interview with the People’s Weekly World, Oct. 11, author and filmmaker Michael Moore said he was hopeful that workers backstage at NBC’s “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” would win employment benefits long denied them by NBC’s parent corporation, General Electric.

Moore was in Milwaukee to sign copies of his new book, Dude, Where’s My Country, which this week reached the top of the New York Times Bestseller List, bumping off Al Franken’s Lies (And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them). Approximately 700 Milwaukeeans formed a line outside Schwartz Books stretching two city blocks for a brush with the Oscar and Emmy Award-winning documentarian, whose last book was the bestselling nonfiction book of 2002 and had more than 50 printings. Patrons were admitted in small groups to have articles signed by Moore, seated behind a table in a Green Bay Packers cap and a maroon T-shirt. Because of the long queue, conversation time was not permitted.

Still, Moore made time when the World asked him to comment on his Oct. 8 appearance on “Late Night.” While on the show, he confronted his host concerning the working conditions of his staff. In paraphrase, Moore told O’Brien, “I was just talking in back with some of the permanent temps here, people who’ve been here eight years and still have no health benefits because they’re considered temporary.” O’Brien laughed off the matter on air, moving robotically and jesting that GE had “put the chip in years ago” making him spout the company line.

But Moore told the World that offstage, O’Brien appeared to have a genuine concern for the “Late Night” crew. O’Brien had previously intervened with GE to dissuade them from persisting in a demand for concessions from the show’s unionized workers.

Moore said that after the show, he and O’Brien had a meeting with GE executives concerning the issues Moore had raised on air. While nothing was granted the workers immediately, Moore said he felt the meeting was positive. “I left with a very good feeling that things are going to change for the better,” said Moore.

Raising a serious issue of worker rights during a comedy program involved some risk. Moore said that “there was some concern the segment wouldn’t air” as a result. Nevertheless, the segment aired uncut.

Moore cited his advocacy of the “Late Night” crew as part of an obligation that comes with privilege. “It just goes to show what can be done if those few of us who have the opportunity to make a difference just try. It doesn’t take that much effort, but too often, those of us who are in the position to raise these issues just don’t.”

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org