The Mouse has Spoken:

Disney recently announced it would not allow its company Miramaxto distribute the new Michael Moore film “Fahrenheit 911.” Moore isa liberal favorite who has managed to gain popularity on all sidesof the spectrum. His last film “Bowling For Columbine,” made Disneyand Miramax millions. “Fahrenheit,” also a docu/comedy, examinesthe link between what Moore calls “twin errant sons of differentoilmen,” Osama bin Laden and New Bush, as well as a prominent Saudifamily. The film explores the Bush family’s close personal andfinancial ties to the Saudi royal family, and describes how thecurrent Bush administration helped evacuate relatives of bin Ladenfrom the United States after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

According to the New York Times, a Disney executive said thatthey were blocking the distribution of the film in the UnitedStates and Canada because, in the paper’s words, “Disney caters tofamilies of all political stripes and believes Mr. Moore’sfilm…could alienate many.” The executive said: “It’s not in theinterest of any major corporation to be dragged into a highlycharged partisan political battle.” Except with millions of dollarsin campaign contributions.

Owning, controlling or distributing hundreds of mediaorganizations, Disney already controls a large chunk of what thepublic has access to, and in turn, a share of the publicdiscussion. An unwillingness to represent controversial viewpointsthat some of their customers may not hold is ridiculous. Alsocontroversial is their status quo portrayals of race, class, andgender in their countless animated films. Moore’s film would makethe Mouse plenty of money, so it makes sense that there are otherreasons behind the decision. Moore’s agent issued a statementstating that Disney executives didn’t want to lose hefty tax breaksfrom Florida Governor Jeb Bush for Disneyworld and the Disney owedtownship it sits in. According to media watchdog group Fairness andAccuracy in Reporting, Disney may have another reason to reject afilm that might offend the Saudi royal family. A powerful member ofthe family, al-Walid bin Talal, owns a major stake in Eurodisneyand has been instrumental in the past in bailing out thefinancially troubled amusement park. The project is facing newdifficulties, and al-Walid has been mentioned as a potentialrescuer again.

This isn’t the only recent case of censorship. Many criticalvoices have been fearful to speak or forcibly silenced since thePatriot Act put limits on civil liberties of many kinds. NippleGate (oddly enough, involving former Mouseketeer Justin Timberlake)led to entertainment censorship for fear of FCC fines. As forpolitical speech, pictures of coffins, civilian Iraqi deaths andmany other cases, maybe the fear of a major shift in publicopinion, as in Vietnam, is to blame.

Finally responding to a growing public outcry, Senator FrankLautenberg (D-NJ) has asked the Senate Commerce Committee to holdhearings to address “a disturbing pattern of politically basedcorporate censorship of the news media and the entertainmentindustry.” As evidence, he cited CBS’s decision to not air TheReagans, as well as Sinclair Broadcasting’s refusal to airNightline when Ted Koppel read the names of the soldiers killed inIraq. According to Lautenberg, Disney’s move to block Miramax is “afundamental question of free speech in our society.” That’s a goodstart, Frank, but there’s still a long way to go. With new, andmore disturbing images surfacing every day, most of which thepublic won’t see, all voices and viewpoints, however critical anddisturbing should be heard-especially in an election year when thecitizenry needs to be the most informed.

Disney’s censorship has generated enough free publicity to make”Fahrenheit 911″ exponentially more popular and sought after thanit would have been, so maybe thanks are in order. The film willlikely find a distributor and it will do well thanks to the freepublicity. There are still obstacles though. Variety reports thatDisney apparently rejected Miramax’s proposal to buy “Fahrenheit”back in order to find a new distributor. In the past, Miramax hasbeen able to buy back controversial, un-Disney-like titles like”Kids” and “Dogma.” This shows that Moore’s film really touches anerve, or that Disney just wants to keep third party distributormoney. The case could enter legal arbitration in coming days. Thereis also rumor that Miramax may try to split from the Mouse’soppressive control. This would hopefully be the beginning of anecessary de-consolidation which could broaden mediarepresentations, curb censorship and bring the flavor of dissentback-but it would be a long process.

It’s disturbing how much critical voices get silenced in acountry that was founded on, and once valued dissent. The currentproblem that needs more attention is that politically charged,critical voices are being censored. Holding business and governmentaccountable with critical voices of dissent needs to become likemom and apple pie-core U.S. values represented on the publicairwaves and in our entertainment media.