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Nike Challenges Filmmaker in 'Big' Battle

The shoemaker goes online with its own excerpts of Michael Moore's interviews with its CEO. Moore counters with more clips.

April 17, 1998|JOHN CLARK | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In Michael Moore's muckraking new film, "The Big One," he has included about five minutes from his two interviews with Phil Knight, the chief executive of Nike. In the footage, he asks Knight whether it's OK with him that Nike employs 12-year-olds in its Indonesian factories. Knight says they aren't 12, they're 14. And does that bother him, asks Moore. The answer: No.

Nike has decided to take public exception to this representation of Knight's views. And it turns out that the company has the means to do so. Nike had its own camera rolling during the two interviews, and it has posted outtakes from the footage on its Web site (http://www.nikebiz.com /media/media_nj.html) to set the record straight, especially regarding the issue of minimum age.

"Nike is really not in the habit of looking backward," says Vada Manager, a spokesman for the shoe and apparel company. "Our interest is really fairness and balance, just to make sure that individuals know that they weren't getting the whole story and that there were what we consider some intellectually dishonest moments with what ended up on the screen."

Moore, best known for the General Motors-bashing movie "Roger and Me," is, of course, not going to take this lying down. He is putting unedited footage of the interviews on his own Web site (http://www.dogeatdogfilms.com)

"I'm ready and loaded and waiting for them," Moore says. "It's one thing for Nike to try to manipulate the truth and mess with me on this, but in the process they are taking on [Miramax head] Harvey Weinstein, and he will not tolerate any B.S. If you're Nike and you are really the marketing geniuses that you seem to be, you would sit this out."

It's too late for Nike to take that advice. The athletic shoe giant is doing what many large companies have done in recent years to protect themselves, aggressively challenging the credibility of journalists or other critics using recordings of interviews made by the company itself.

The Nike counterattack, begun earlier this week, features such audiovisual aids as "You're Not the Bad Guy" ("I honestly think Nike is the good guy," Moore says), "Good Citizen" (Knight: "We want good labor practices in all these countries and try to be the best citizen we can be"), "Making a Contribution" (Knight lecturing Moore on trickle-down economics), and "Dusty on Indonesia" (Nike labor practices department director Dusty Kidd telling Moore that their Indonesian factories have a minimum working age requirement of 16).

Also on the site are claims that though Knight refused to accompany Moore on an impromptu trip to Indonesia to visit Nike's factories, Moore refused a later invitation by Knight to do the same thing.

To Nike, the key omission was the one involving Kidd. The company says that Knight "misspoke" when he said the minimum age in its Indonesian factories is 14 and that Moore should have included Kidd's correction in the movie.

"Even if he misspoke," says Moore, "the more important question to him wasn't what the age was but when I said, 'Doesn't it bother you that 14-year-olds will be working there?' And he goes, no, it didn't bother him."

Moore then reads from his transcript of the footage, which includes not only Kidd's claim but also Knight's subsequent hedging about whether the age requirement is in force in all Nike factories. According to Moore, Knight makes a distinction between the footwear and apparel factories. In the footwear factories, the policy is adhered to, but in apparel, it's a "different deal." Nike can't control the employment practices in factories where the company is "a minor buyer."

" 'Where we're a major buyer,' " Moore says Knight said, " 'we're going to move toward 16.' "

"I had to deliver this film three weeks after this interview with Phil," Moore says. "He tells me by the end of '98 they're trying to get it all up to 16. I can't put that in the film when: a) he hasn't done it and b) there's no way to check what he's going to do in the next 12 months. So la-di-da."

Moore also says that he does believe that Knight is a good guy and that he said as much in the movie. Moore also says he was indeed invited to tour Nike's Indonesian facilities--but without his camera crew. So he refused.

"You telling me I can't bring my camera is like me telling you you can't wear your Nikes," Moore says.

"If he wants to verify the age of the workers, that's one thing," spokesman Manager says. "But to go in and put this as part of his movie when we had no confidence that he was going to treat it with due diligence--we declined."

Moore says that if he couldn't be trusted, why did Knight invite him to sit down for a second interview?

"There were a couple of unresolved issues," replies Manager.

The Moore film is in limited release (33 theaters), and over its opening weekend took in a respectable $4,452 per screen, on average.

Columbia Pictures, meanwhile, has brought suit in federal court against Miramax Films, claiming promotion posters for Michael Moore's new "mockumentary" were lifted from posters for the blockbuster "Men in Black."

The "MIB" posters feature Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones dressed in black and wearing sunglasses, in front of a nighttime New York City skyline and carrying oversized weapons. The caption reads: "Protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe."

The posters for "The Big One" feature Moore in a black suit and sunglasses in front of the same New York skyline, carrying an oversized microphone. The caption reads: "Protecting the Earth from the scum of corporate America."

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