'Sicko' struck by D.C. investigation

As if documaker Michael Moore didn’t already have a marketing campaign lined up for the imminent Cannes bow of his latest work, “Sicko,” the Bush administration and its allies have handed him one on a silver platter.

The U.S. Treasury Dept. recently opened an investigation into whether the Oscar-winning helmer violated a federal travel ban to Cuba by taking “ailing Sept. 11 rescue workers” there for medical attention for a segment in “Sicko,” according to the Associated Press.

Moore isn’t commenting, the AP said, but he doesn’t have to; one of his producers is: “Our health care system is broken and, all too often, deadly,” Meghan O’Hara was quoted as saying. “The efforts of the Bush administration to conduct a politically motivated investigation of Michael Moore and ‘Sicko’ will not stop us from making sure the American people see this film.”

Whether the investigation truly is politically motivated is irrelevant. Attacks on “Fahrenheit 9/11” from Bushies and their defenders not only validated but enhanced Moore’s efforts to position the film as a speaker of truth to power, regardless of whether it actually was. More people paid to see the film than otherwise likely would have.

Earlier this week, the Weinstein Co. announced that Lionsgate had come aboard to release “Sicko,” which bows June 29. Lionsgate will book theaters in the U.S., with TWC handling international rights and offering the pic at Cannes after its world preem there. TWC is handling marketing and publicity and putting up P&A costs.

The administration is now on the verge of doing the same thing — and with timing so near to perfect that it should be worth a least a thank-you note from Moore. Disney, original distributor of “Fahrenheit,” announced it was dropping the film just prior to its Cannes preem in 2004. The ensuing uproar of allegations of political censorship and intimidation made the doc a cause celebre.

“The government going after Michael Moore is like Paris Hilton going to the clink: It’s a brand extension,” said crisis management and PR expert Eric Dezenhall. “It can only help his career. It validates his shtick that he’s the little guy being silenced by a large and sinister voice.”

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