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Michael Moore does a slow burn before blasting CNN anchor

Filmmaker Michael Moore and anchor Bill Hemmer were dead-on during Day 1 of the 2004 Democratic convention in Beantown.

Note to readers: Day 1 of the 2008 Democratic convention dawns Monday, Aug. 25th in mountain-esque Denver. Four years ago, opening day in Boston produced an odd, breakfast hour altercation between provocateur Michael Moore and the Clark Kent-ish Bill Hemmer, then with CNN and now with Fox News Channel. Your friendly content provider was in the thick of it. The resultant blow-by-blow account was first published on July 27, 2004.

BOSTON -- Talk about your convention floor fights.

"That's absolutely the most despicable thing I've ever seen!" Fahrenheit 9/11 filmmaker Michael Moore roared at a surprised Bill Hemmer, who had interviewed him roughly 45 minutes earlier on CNN's Monday edition of American Morning.

Your faithful firsthand witness, who was quietly interviewing Hemmer at the time, perked up noticeably at this sudden surge of indignation. Here's how it unfolded on a morning that began with Hemmer's comparatively uneventful 7:20 a.m. interview with an entourage-escorted Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Mrs. Clinton wore an impeccably tailored salmon-colored pantsuit, caramel pumps and regularly reapplied lipstick during a convivial media go-around that also included one-on-ones with CBS' Dan Rather, CNN's Judy Woodruff and ABC's Chris Bury. Moore was his usual rumpled self in jeans, black T-shirt and jacket, sneakers and a green Michigan State Spartans baseball cap.

Hemmer, operating from CNN's showy new convention-foor anchor stage, decided to parry with Moore amid the empty chairs of the filmmaker's home-state Michigan delegation. Near the end of their live interview, Hemmer told him, "I've heard people say that Michael Moore is the greatest living American."

"Oh, who are those people?" Moore retorted jovially.

"I've heard people say they wish Michael Moore were dead," Hemmer continued.

"Oh, well, jeez, who would say that?" Moore asked in turn.

Any negative reactions to Fahrenheit 9/11, which recently topped $100 million at the box office, are from "that minority of Republicans and right-wingers who are upset because they know their days are numbered . . . And so they're all running around, all saying crazy things like that," Moore contended.

The interview soon ended after the two exchanged pleasantries. Moore then was surrounded by mostly television reporters who peppered him with questions. After about 10 minutes of this, he said offhandedly, "I don't want to do CNN. No more CNN, no."

No one seemed quite sure what he meant, and the remark went unchallenged while Moore continued with his impromptu media conference. Fahrenheit 9/11 has "two villains," he said -- President Bush and the mainstream media.

"With all due respect to network anchors, the movie is a bit of an embarrassment to them," he said. "I think they know that the early days of this war were not their bright, shining moment . . . The patriotic thing to do if you're a reporter is to ask tough questions."

All well and good. But the more he thought about it, the more Moore became incensed by a comment from his exchange with Hemmer. The irate filmmaker came charging toward Hemmer as the CNN anchor talked to yours truly about the plusses of a floor-level stage that, alas, partially blocks the view of the Arkansas delegation.

"Some people want you dead," Moore said, repeating the anchor's on-air remark to him. "Would you say that to (John) Kerry or anyone else? I mean, why would you do that? That's absolutely the most despicable thing I've ever seen!"

Hemmer had no immediate answer, leaving Moore to move on to another interview with a media gaggle still in tow. The anchor then said he had no regrets.

"I've heard it from a number of people," Hemmer said of the "dead" comment. "It's clearly an emotional film that divides people about their feelings."

And as for Moore's feelings toward him?

"He offered to shake my hand at the end of the interview," Hemmer said. "Why he's doing this now, I don't know."

The Arkansas delegation, by the way, will be receiving a gift bag of items emblazoned with CNN's logo, including a visor, T-shirt, pen, buttons and mints.

"I think the other delegations will understand that Arkansas is bag-worthy," CNN spokesman Julianna Evans said.