7.24.2004

Fahrenheit Fact no. 36: Moore's misleading Oregon assertions

In Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore tries to convince his audience that the threat advisory system is nothing more than a tool used to control the American populace through fear. In order to "prove" that the Dept. of Homeland Security isn't really serious about keeping America safe, he travels to a large stretch of Oregon coastline that he alleges is only being patrolled by two Oregon state troopers: Andy Kenyon and Josh Brooks. After conducting a few interviews with the two troopers, Moore believes his case to be self-evident and moves on with the film. But how accurate was his information, and was he being honest when he used this segment as a piece of primary evidence against the Bush Administration?

In order to verify some of Michael's assertions, I called Lieutenant Glenn Chastain of the Oregon State Police Department on July 26 and asked him a few questions about the assertions made in F-9/11 (for the full transcript of this interview, go to The Recovering Cynic). The results were interesting:

Grant: Currently, how many [troopers] do you have guarding the west coast against terrorist attack or any other kind of incursion?

Chastain: Well, in Oregon…I can’t speak for the entire west coast, because I have no idea what Washington and California has…

Grant: Uh huh…

Chastain: But Oregon, we have got currently…24 patrol troopers whose primary responsibility is highway and transportation safety, and we have 20 fish and wildlife troopers whose primary responsibility is fish and wildlife and natural resource preservation…

Grant: Hmm. Now, have you had the opportunity to see Michael Moore’s new movie?

Chastain: I have not.

Grant: Ok. Well, in it he makes the assertion that there are only two troops who are guarding a probably 40 or 50 mile stretch of coastline in Oregon[I was at work at the time, and didn't have access to the movie transcript]

Chastain: Um, there are times when there’s none. (laughs)

Grant: There are times when there’s none? Ahh…

Chastain: We don’t have 24 hour coverage, we’ve [had] budget cuts for the last 30 years, and we used to have 665 patrol troopers, today we’ve got 329.

Grant: Hmm…

Chastain: Like I said, the entire Oregon coast is 300 + miles [and] only has 24 people, and we split that between couple of shifts, throw in some training, some other mandatory things, time off for vacation or sick leave, [and that leaves] 24 people for that much highway. There could have only been two people on the coast at that time.

It turns out that Moore is likely correct when he says that Kenyon and Brooks are the only two troopers guarding the Florence coastline. Later on in the interview, Chastain remembered the example he believes Michael used:

Chastain: [... There are] only two patrol troopers out of that Florence patrol office. So, I’m not sure what context it was actually in, [whether Moore ] was talking about […] the entire Oregon coast, or specifically about the Florence office [… but] in fact, there were only two troopers assigned out of that office. [edited for clarity]

However, despite the accuracy of Moore's assertions about police staffing, he makes a gross logical error when he faults the Department of Homeland Security for Oregon's policing deficiencies. The problem is not that Oregon doesn’t want to hire more officers, but that they are financially incapable of doing so. And that's no fault of Tom Ridge:

Grant: [...] Now, is it the responsibility of the federal government or the state of Oregon to make sure that the funds are allocated correctly?

Chastain: Our budget is funded through the state…

Grant: The state…

Chastain: We do get some federal grant funds, but federal grant funds usually have some strings attached to them. Usually we can use that for equipment and training and not for funding of people. So our money comes directly from the state government, it is recommended by the governor, and then it is passed out of the legislature by the Oregon legislature. We’re funded predominately through general funds, so we’re in direct competition with schools and with nursing homes and other human services and all the other services that the state provides through general fund dollars…

Grant: Why do you think the PD’s [have] been taking quite a hit?

Chastain: The “PD’s”?

Grant: The PD. Police department.

Chastain: I have no idea about [other] police departments. Our agency used to be funded through the Oregon highway fund, which is gasoline taxes predominately, and about 25 years ago we were removed out of that and we were placed in the general fund, so we became [direct competitors] for the same dollars for education and other human services. So, our funding has just, over the last 25 years, been stripped and stripped and stripped, and predominately our funding funds positions. We don’t have a lot of pass-through dollars and those things that other agencies can cut. We have to cut people.

Furthermore, the Oregon State Police’s annual performance report mentions the need to attain “Adequate Staffing Levels” several times, and like Chastain it attributes the shortage of state troopers to budget cuts.

Another segment of our conversation further absolved Homeland Security of direct responsibility for Oregon's security problems. Read on:

Grant: [...] Now, how much control would you say that the Homeland Security Department has over the police department? I mean, do they have the ability to make any significant decisions about what you guys do or do they recommend things?

Chastain: They make recommendations. And we do have some people who are in place who work in our office of homeland security in Oregon, which are in direct contact with the federal government’s homeland security office.

There’s another rather important detail Moore neglects to mention in his critique of Oregon's coastal security: besides the vigilant service of Kenyon and Brooks, Oregon’s coastline is also protected by the tireless efforts of the U.S. Coastguard, whose Oregon branches just happen to be some of the most decorated in the service. Of the 43 Coast Guard medals awarded for heroism between 1965 to the present-day, 18 of them have been given to men in Oregon-based units. For the statistically-minded (like myself) that’s a little over 40%.

Furthermore, Lt. Chastain made it clear that the primary duty of the Oregon PD is not to guard against terrorist threats:

Chastain: [...] Like I said, our patrol division’s primary responsibility would be for transportation safety, and safety along highway 101, which runs all the way up the Oregon coast. So, their primary responsibility is transportation safety on that highway, and we also have our fish and wildlife troopers, which are also state troopers, and they’re the ones who primarily do natural resource protection, but they are on the beaches, they are checking people who are angling, fishing, clamming, crabbing, so they’re out there on boats […], they usually have four-wheel drive vehicles, so there are a lot of people who are out there doing other things, but there are also police officers…

So, to recap: Moore took one example of inadequate state policing (a situation that Homeland Security had little jurisdiction over) and used it as his primary evidence to justify two enormous assertions: First, that George Bush's administration isn't serious about Homeland Security and Second, that the terror alert system is a tool of mass propaganda. And he did all of this while omitting that it is the duty of the U.S. Coast Guard, not the Oregon State PD, to guard our coastlines against foreign attack. (All emphasis mine)

-TRC

[To obtain a copy of the written transcript of this interview, please follow this link. Audio segments of this conversation will be provided if valid (i.e. research) requests are submitted to fahrenheitfact@yahoo.com]