Michael Moore on Sandy Hook: No Photos Without Parents' Permission (Q&A)

Michael Moore Horizontal Green Hat - H 2013
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Michael Moore Horizontal Green Hat - H 2013

The filmmaker says a Fox News reporter in Newtown "tried to stir the pot and create a news story that didn't exist."

Parents of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting have targeted Michael Moore in online petitions and newspaper op-eds, claiming the Bowling for Columbine director was mounting a campaign for the release of grisly crime scene photos.

Moore spoke to The Hollywood Reporter on Monday to clarify his stance on the leaking of such graphic images, which he says was misconstrued by victims' families.

The following is an edited version of that conversation.

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The Hollywood Reporter: What is your position on the release of Sandy Hook crime scene photos?

Michael Moore: I never said that I was going to release any photos, nor do I have any intention to. And frankly, I’m opposed to anybody releasing any photos without the parents’ permission. 

THR: So when they said you were advocating or launching a campaign to release these photos, that was incorrect?

Moore: That is absolutely incorrect. What I said is that when and if they do come out in this day of Internet and social media, the likelihood of that happening is reasonable. So what to do when it happens? I was just saying that that’s what will happen, and I ask that Americans not turn away from it. And the example I gave was how Emmett Till’s mother, back in 1955 when he was tortured and then killed by the Ku Klux Klan, released the photos of his body to show what the Klan had done to him. It ignited the country and four months later, Rosa Parks sat down on the bus. It had a cause and effect when a mother chose to do that. But that’s the only way that should be done -- when the parent decides whatever they want to do to let people know just what happens to a child when 11 bullets from a high-powered rifle at close range are fired into their bodies.

Because I made Bowling for Columbine, I looked at a lot of photographs of various shootings, and it’s not like it is on TV. It would be awfully hard to turn away, as it was hard to turn away for the people in 1955 from Emmett Till’s body, as it was hard for Americans in the 1960s when they saw the little girl running down the road, the Napalm having burned the clothes off her body.

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THR: Why do you think the parents misunderstood your intentions?

Moore: I don’t know, because here’s the odd thing. Some of the parents had contacted me directly after [the massacre]. I made no contact with them. I had no interest. I’m not doing anything with this, I’m not making a documentary. I’m not doing anything with it other than being a citizen trying to get gun legislation passed. But I was contacted by some of the kids’ parents shortly after the massacre asking for my advice and help, and I had some interaction with them at that time. Then we were in touch after I wrote this post on Huffington Post about two months ago, actually thanking me for what I had written.

When you read the whole thing, [you see that] I’m not calling for the release of these photos, for Christ’s sake. I’m saying when and if a parent decides to do this, or if sadly they’re leaked, I’m encouraging people not to turn away. It’s our responsibility to these children to know what our laws did to them.

THR: Do you think, though, that perhaps your wording could have been interpreted as having been intended to incite the leaking of the pictures?

Moore: No. You don’t know me personally but you probably think that you know me. If I was going to make a call for something like that, I’d say those words. I’m not afraid to say that. If I want to call people to sit down in the middle of the road to block the next shipment of armaments out to the next war, I’ll say that. [...] More than a lot of people, I’ve been an observer of this, because I’ve been involved in this issue for close to 15 years. There’s probably no better proof than [the fact that] I obtained not just photos but the footage of Columbine. And I didn’t put that in my movie.

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I know that when I first posted this, Fox News got one person up in Newtown to go on the record, and that person, with Fox News, tried to stir the pot and create a news story that didn’t exist. It’s sick. My guess is that somebody up there at some point decided that they could get away with doing this.

THR: Is there anything you’d do at this point to show the parents of Sandy Hook victims that you are on their side and/or support House Bill 6424?

Moore: I just found out about this [petition] in the last 20 minutes. I’m going to contact [victims' parents] tonight. And I’ll make sure that whoever is stirring the pot stops stirring it and stops lying about me. [Take] what I did with photos and footage of Columbine: I only put in security footage of the two killers, but I would not show them shooting anybody. I just didn’t think that that was right. For instance, if somebody sent me crime scene photos tonight from Newtown, there’s no way that I would put them on my website -- and in fact, I’d inform the parents right away that somebody’s attempting to do something without their permission.

THR: Is there anything else you'd like to say?

Moore: I just want to tell you this, because I unfortunately had to view photos like this of other shootings. And when that kind of bullet from that kind of gun is used at close range, I don’t know how to put into words how to describe how horrific it looks. Probably the best way to describe it is what a couple of the parents said after the shooting, which is, the only way they could identify the bodies of the children is by the clothes that they dressed them in that morning. So think about that. And the sick nature of the killer, [Adam] Lanza. It appears that he killed each of them with the first bullet, because he was very close. But he pumped up to 11 bullets in each of their bodies. That’s according to the coroner’s report. And you’re able to do that because we allow our citizens to carry massive numbers of bullets in clips and magazines. Hard to do that when you’re putting a bullet in a musket, the kind of armament that they were talking about in 1790.