TV star and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson declined Tuesday to meet with Michael Moore, suggesting the filmmaker instead might want to check himself into a mental hospital after Moore challenged Thompson to a one-on-one debate on health care.
The response follows a letter by Moore in which he scolded the Law & Order actor. Noting Thompson's fondness for Cuban cigars, Moore wrote that Thompson is in no position to criticize Moore for traveling to Cuba with several ailing Sept. 11 emergency responders to make the argument that Cuba's health care system is superior to the United States'.
"Putting aside the fact that you, like the Bush administration, seem far more concerned about the trip to Cuba than the health care of these 9/11 heroes, I was struck by the fact that your concerns (including comments about Castro’s reported financial worth) apparently do not extend to your own conduct," Moore wrote in a letter sent to Thompson dated Tuesday.
"In light of your comments regarding Cuba and Castro, do you think the 'box upon box of cigars — Montecristos from Havana' that you have in your office have contributed to Castro’s reported wealth?" reads the letter, which also points out that Thompson earned "hundreds of thousands" in campaign contributions from the health care industry and worked as an industry lobbyist.
In a video rebuttal, Thompson, cigar in hand, says that he doesn't have time in his schedule to debate Moore, but he may be the least of Moore's problems. The potential 2008 presidential candidate suggests Moore inquire of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro about documentary filmmaker Nicolás Guillén Landrián, who was tortured by Castro's henchman because of his film.
"He did something Castro didn't like and they put him in a mental institution for several years, giving him devastating electroshock treatments. A mental institution, Michael, it might be something you ought to think about," Thompson says.
The latest back-and-forth follows an article written by Thompson in The National Review criticizing Moore for going to Cuba to film "Sicko," his latest feature on the quality of life in America and a follow-up to the Academy Award-winning movie "Fahrenheit 911," which slams the Bush administration.
In the article, Thompson bemoans Moore's storytelling abilities and the cozying up of Hollywood to Castro, who he notes didn't take advantage of Cuba's health care system when he recently took ill.
"According to Forbes magazine, by the way, Castro is now personally worth approximately $900 million. So when he desperately needed medical treatment recently, he could afford to fly a Spanish surgeon, with equipment, on a chartered jet to Cuba. What does that say about free Cuban health care?" Thompson wrote.
Moore is currently being investigated by the Treasury Department for his trip to Cuba, which U.S. officials say may be in violation of a U.S. trade embargo restricting travel to Cuba.
"This office has no record that a specific license was issued authorizing you to engage in travel-related transactions involving Cuba," Dale Thompson, the chief of general investigations and field operations at the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, wrote in a letter to Moore dated May 2. The letter acknowledged that Moore applied for permission to go to Cuba last year, "but no determination had been made by OFAC."
After receiving the notice from OFAC, Moore placed a copy of the film in a "safe house" outside the country to protect it from government interference. The film is premiering at the 11-day Cannes film festival, which opens Wednesday evening.
In his letter to Thompson, Moore made light of the extra protection, and suggested that the winner of the debate could "light a Victory cigar with one of your Montecristos (though we may want to consider shopping them to the safe house where I have put a master copy of Sicko in the event that the Bush administration tries to seize the film.)"