Death of a President is a new film that has been generating both controversy and acclaim. It is the winner of the International Critics’ Award from the Toronto Film Festival. The film’s web site describes it as…
“a fictional TV documentary broadcast in 2008, reflecting on another monstrously despicable and cataclysmic event: the assassination of President George W. Bush on October 19th, 2007.”
Sadly, the media’s martinets of virtue are again patrolling the avenues of our psyches, deciding what is safe for our aesthetic consumption.
CNN and NPR are refusing to air advertisements for the film. There is nothing in the ads that is inappropriate for broadcast. Indeed, the ads were approved by the Motion Picture Association of America for all audiences. But that fact has not deterred the programmers from engaging in censorship. CNN issued a brief statement that virtually admits its intention to censor, saying that…
“CNN has decided not to take the ad because of the extreme nature of the movie’s subject matter.”
By basing their decision on the movie’s “subject matter”, they have installed themselves as the public’s nanny. They believe that they are in the best position to decide for us which subjects matter. While they are a couple of yards further over the line than NPR, the public radio network’s excuse is not much better:
“The movie is fairly likely to generate significant controversy and we’ll cover it as a news story. To take a sponsorship spot would raise questions and cause confusion.”
One wonders if that criteria also applies to sponsorships from Ford or McDonald’s. Surely they have generated controversy connected to their products. Has their sponsorship raised questions or caused confusion?
This film already has an uncommon burden to overcome as a result of its premise. Two of the nation’s biggest movie exhibitors, Regal Entertainment and Cinemark USA, have announced that they will not play the movie in any of their ~8000 theaters. Newmarket Films, the movie’s distributor, insists that they will be able to open in plenty of theaters. They say that they are getting support from many exhibitors including the Landmark Theater chain.
These broadcasters and exhibitors, who have appointed themselves the protectors of the public’s tender sensibilities, deny that any partisan motive is at play. But an objective observer would note that they all previously played nice with another controversial release distributed by Newmarket, “The Passion of the Christ.”
So what is the reason that this film is getting such a different reception? It couldn’t be the subject matter, could it? Look at the trends:
- The Dixie Chicks criticize the president and they’re thrown off the radio. Has that ever happend to a right wing artist?
- A network TV biopic about Ronald Reagan is protested by conservatives and it gets shuttled off to cable. But ABC’s Path To 9/11 airs despite opposition.
- An artist exhibits a work entitled, “The Proper Way to Display the Flag,” and the gallery is told to shut it down. But when Bush walks on a flag at Ground Zero, it’s just another photo-op.
It appears that everyone has an equal right to protest, but only Republicans can turn their protests into edicts that deny all Americans access to the embattled works. It’s called censorship, and it’s alive and well in America.
Update: Tim Graham at NewsBusters takes issue with this story. Responding to my criticism of NPR he asks…
“Can’t this blogger differentiate between a Bush assassin and Ronald McDonald?”
Tim is veering off on a detour to address a point that’s right in the middle of the road. If NPR declines an ad for this movie because of the appearance of bias in the event that they cover it editorially, doesn’t that same consideration come into play for any sponsor that they might cover editorially? And by the way, I can differentiate between a Bush assassin and Ronald McDonald. The Bush assassin in the movie harms no one except another character in the film. Ronald McDonald’s influence on real children harms thousands of them every year.