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His Lecture Is Canceled, but Moore's Still Talking

Cal State San Marcos cites need for balance. The filmmaker says school gave in to pressure.

September 18, 2004|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Filmmaker Michael Moore is jousting with officials at Cal State San Marcos over cancellation of his planned lecture at a campus event three weeks before the Nov. 2 election.

Campus President Karen Haynes this week canceled Moore's lecture out of concern that the university would appear to be taking sides in the presidential race.

Haynes said there was not time before the lecture to find a conservative speaker of "comparable significance" to balance Moore's strong antipathy toward President Bush.

"Universities are about the exchange of ideas," Haynes said. "That said, however, it is important that discussions be balanced."

Moore accused the university of trying to break a contract and threatened to file a lawsuit. He said Haynes had been pressured by Republicans to block his appearance -- an allegation that university officials denied.

"I feel bad for President Haynes, but maybe she's giving a good lesson to her students," Moore said Friday from New York.

"They're going to have to learn sooner or later that there are people like President Haynes and Michael Eisner and Judith Regan out there who think they get the right to decide what the public can see and listen to," he said.

Moore feuded with Eisner, chief executive of Walt Disney Co., when Eisner refused to distribute Moore's film "Fahrenheit 9/11," and with Regan, president and publisher of ReganBooks, when she asked that he rewrite major portions of his book "Stupid White Men."

A university spokesman said the school does not take Moore's threat to sue seriously. "I think what he's doing is just venting, which he does a lot of," said spokesman Rick Moore (no relation).

Although the university withdrew the invitation for Moore to speak, "Fahrenheit 9/11" will still be shown on campus on Oct. 5.

The student government now hopes to have Moore lecture at an off-campus location on Oct. 12 and has collected $46,000 from anonymous donors to pay Moore's $35,000 fee and another $11,000 in hall rental expenses.

The students plan to have Moore appear at the California Center for the Arts in nearby Escondido, the same 1,500-seat venue where the original speech had been scheduled. The difference is that Moore's fee and the hall rental would be paid by the contributions, not university funds controlled by Haynes.

"Our main goal is to get him here and to create a buzz on campus to get students involved in the election," said Lura Poggi, executive director of the Associated Student Body.

Poggi said the names of the donors may be released next week, once details are worked out between the students and Moore's agent.

Moore, however, said the university should honor its contract. He said that he had never asked to speak at the university but was responding to an invitation.

The university had hoped Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would be part of the lecture series to help provide political balance. But an invitation sent to the governor months ago received no response, officials said.

The university considered inviting either Rep. Darrell E. Issa (R-Vista) or Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-San Diego) to provide a "balancing" lecture, but decided against the idea. Both are running for reelection.

Moore leaves next week for a 40-day, 62-city tour that he hopes will help defeat Bush in November. His lectures include prizes, voter registration and an event he calls "Ashcroft karaoke," a gibe at Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft.

Moore said that, "contrary to popular perception," he does not relish controversies like the San Marcos flap. But he accepts them as part of being a political activist.

"Politics is not a spectator sport," he said.

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