Copyright 1998 Daily News, L.P.
A Moore Sneak(er) Attack April 5, 1998
By Jim Dwyer

THE MYSTERIOUS phone call came five months ago, when Michael Moore, guerrilla moviemaker, had just finished another mean, nasty, rotten, funny documentary about trying to talk to corporate bosses who have fired thousands of people.

On the line was the head public relations man for the Nike sneaker company. He would be flying to New York to speak with Moore. It was important.

"I said, 'Sure, what do you want to talk about?' " Moore was recalling the other night.

"He says, 'I just want to talk to you.' "

They met at the French Roast restaurant on Broadway and 85th St. in Manhattan. The Nike man didn't take long to make his point.

"We have the tape."

This would be a bootleg video of "The Big One," the new spanking that Moore lays on corporate America. The one fool who agreed to meet Moore on camera was Phil Knight, head of Nike, who appears in the grand finale to "The Big One," which opens this week.

"We meet at the restaurant," said Moore, "and he wanted to know what it would take to remove two scenes from the film."

Too bad Moore didn't film that proposition.

Moore, like no one else, has the gift of capturing the babble of powerful people. In his first movie, "Roger and Me," he tried to speak with Roger Smith, the boss of General Motors, who shut factory jobs in Flint, Mich., without ever appearing in the town he was destroying. This time, equipped with cheap props, a camera, no makeup and absolutely no mercy, Moore shambled into corporate headquarters all over the country. He would tell a luckless security guard that he wanted to speak with the chairman or chief executive. A small squad of midlevel executives would rush to the lobby to smother Moore and crew in fact-free blather.

Then Moore would strike, with the camera rolling.

In Milwaukee, he used the gigantic cardboard check.

Standing in the lobby of the Johnson Controls corporation, Moore hands the great big check to a few unnamed executives. That very day, the company had shut a local factory and moved it to Mexico.

The colossal check is made out to the CEO of Johnson, in a very tiny amount: 80 cents.

"That's the wages for the first Mexican worker," explained Moore. Moore himself is in almost every frame of the movie, a big man slouched over, seen from behind as he plods into crisp corporate headquarters in his baseball cap and zippered jacket. In life, he has made pretty good money from his movie, TV shows and a best-selling book. On camera, he plays a shlub. If you want pretty, go watch Diane Sawyer.

But then you wouldn't be with Moore at the Mall of America in Minnesota, when he runs into a guy who has just gotten out of prison in Ventura, Calif.

It turns out that while he was incarcerated, the man had worked for Trans World Airlines, which runs a phone reservation center with inmate labor. "I think it's like a corporational thing," the man, a paroled murderer, tells Moore, "so TWA doesn't have to hire people and they can pay people less because if you go out into a job at TWA, you're going to be paid, you know, $ 7, $ 8, $ 9 bucks an hour."

In a Hawaii jail, the Spalding company packs golf balls. Washington State prisoners wrap software for Microsoft. Convicts make phone calls soliciting business for AT&T.

"The Big One" isn't a debate on the prison work issue, or the 80 cent salaries in Mexico as opposed to the $ 9 rate in Milwaukee. Moore drops these items into the camera, then gets back in the car. He rides along to a great soundtrack of rig-rock music by a group from Brooklyn called the World Famous Blue Jays.

When he hits Portland, Ore., the Nike public relations department invites him to come up and see Phil Knight, the ultra-cool proprietor of overpriced sneakers made by underpaid labor.

Alone among American CEOs, Knight apparently feels he can handle Moore. After all, Knight does not wear socks with his shoes.

Moore arrives at Nike and bashfully presents Knight with two airplane tickets to Indonesia, one of many countries where Nike has found a labor force desperate to work in its sneaker factories, and a cooperative military dictatorship.

"Let's go," said Moore, smiling.

Knight looks at the tickets to Indonesia with a glazed smile. "When are they for?" Knight asked Moore.

The tickets are marked for Sunday.

"Oh, I can't make it then," said Knight.

But the two scenes that really worry Nike come a little bit later.

Moore: If 12-year-olds are working in these factories, that's okay with you?
Knight: They're not 12-year-old workers. The minimum age is 14.
Moore: Well, how about 14 then, doesn't that bother you?
Knight: No.

Then he says that Indonesia would be a better place because of Nike: And I think you say to those poor little Indonesian workers, "Come back in five years, they'll probably be, one of them probably will be, your landlord."

Nike didn't like those scenes one bit, and so the public relations man flew to New York last autumn.

"I said, 'I'm not removing anything from the film,' " Moore recalled. "But we'll add a scene of Phil Knight breaking ground on a warehouse or a factory in Flint.' "

We called Nike, but for some strange reason, it looks like Phil Knight and pals are retreating to the safety of No Comment.

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