Sunday, September 10, 2006

Black is white... day is night... free speech is censorship

Scott Holleran at Box Office Mojo got so worked up that he wrote a commentary that has nothing to do with the box office. It's about the Democratic senators who complained to ABC/Disney about the "Path to 9/11" TV movie / made up history.

Like a lot of opinion-havers on the right, left, and middle, Holleran (who I'm guessing from his language is a libertarian) doesn't seem to understand what the word "censorship" means. He's upset, you see, about a letter that five Democratic senators (including the minority leader) wrote to Bob Iger asking that ABC not air "The Path to 9/11". He writes:

In a free society, government exists primarily to defend the nation against attack and protect individual rights and, to that end, it has a monopoly on force. That is precisely why the Democrats' demands are immoral. Any government communication calling for cancellation is censorship; the Democrats are state-sanctioned bullies.

If Disney deserves criticism, it is not for yanking the program if it comes to that—which it may—because, in this era of rule by force and intimidation, no business or individual can be expected to easily withstand the power of the welfare state with a gun. Of course, Disney should air the program—but a threat from fascist senators and ex-presidents is not to be taken lightly.

But let's quote the call to action in the letter: "We therefore urge you to cancel this broadcast to cease Disney’s plans to use it as a teaching tool in schools across America through Scholastic."

Holleran is completely wrong. The definition of "censor" is "to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable" or "to suppress or delete as objectionable."

Are these senators supressing or deleting "The Path to 9/11," or examining it in order to do so? Obviously not. They're urging Bog Iger not to air it. Republican politicians regularly urge expectant mothers not to have abortions. Are they controlling women's bodies and thus violating their privacy rights? Duh. No.

Senators are, like the rest of us, citizens, and thanks to our constitutional right to free speech, we are allowed to urge corporations to do whatever we want: make better jeans, cut prices, or not air a program. And corporations are free to consider the request and follow it or not based on whatever criteria they choose.

Obviously, senators are a lot more likely to get attention due to their status. But what's wrong with this? There is a great history in our country of political leaders using the "bully pulpit" to push for change. Take President Kennedy's exhortation of citizens to "Ask what you can do for your country." By Holleran's logic, I guess this was the instituation of state-sponsored slavery.

If these senators use their power to strike back at Disney in some way, that is of course very wrong. And if they tried to use the government's power to stop "The Path to 9/11" from airing (i.e. actual censorship), that's obviously completely immoral, and would be struck down by any court in an instant.

But senators who take a stand on an issue aren't "fascist[s]." They're elected officials exercising leadership. And since they don't have an ounce of government power behind them, Bob Iger can (and likely will) feel free to ignore their letter.

Holleran says "every freedom-loving American must defend Disney's right to air ["The Path to 9/11.]" Which is great, but completely irrelevant. Everyone agrees Disney has the right to air it. The question is whether Disney should air it. Those who scream "censorship" are attacking a non-existent straw man to avoid engaging the actual issue at hand.

(On a lighter note, here's Dateline Hollywood's take on the issue: ABC 9/11 movie shows Clintons destroying World Trade Center.)

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